By David Driver
For the Loyola Magazine
Used with permission
Mike Malone, ’94, was just a few weeks from entering training for the Secret Service the summer after he graduated. After passing the mental and physical tests, the one-time Greyhounds forward was headed down a different path from his father’s NBA coaching career.
Those who knew Mike Malone in his playing days might not have been surprised by his reluctance to follow in Brendan Malone’s footsteps. The Hounds struggled on the court most of his career. But Malone feels those challenges helped prepare him for the job he has today—as an assistant coach with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
“You learn more about your team in losing than through winning,” he said. “You have to be able to get through tough times.”
Malone’s path to the NBA was a combination of talent, hard work, and fortuitous timing. Although he considers himself a New Yorker, Malone moved around quite a bit in childhood due to his father’s coaching career, ultimately graduating from Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey. “It wasn’t easy on the family,” he said. “My brothers, sisters, and I got used to changing schools and making new friends, but you knew you couldn’t get too comfortable.”
Fifteen years ago, Malone was living in Michigan, where his father worked as an assistant head coach for the Detroit Pistons. At the time, the Pistons practiced at nearby Oakland University, and Brendan Malone got to know Oakland head coach Greg Kampe. When a position opened up on Kampe’s staff, the elder Malone put in a good word for his son.
“I was interested in the Secret Service, but I grew up around the game and shared a love of it with my father,” said Malone. “I knew I would be happiest doing something I loved.”
After taking the job, the younger Malone continued cleaning office buildings to earn extra money.
“It was a full-time job for part-time pay,” said Kampe, now in his 26th season at Oakland. “I could see he had a future in the business. I wish we could have kept him here.”
Malone stayed at Oakland for just one season before heading to Providence College to join the staff of then-coach Pete Gillen. That led to coaching positions at the University of Virginia, Manhattan, and eventually the New York Knicks.
Now in his fifth season with the Cavaliers, Malone works with such standouts as forward LeBron James.
Malone and his father, an assistant coach for the Orlando Magic, faced each other in the finals of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2009. They made a pact not to talk to each other during the series, but after the Magic won the final game, the two hugged.
“I feel that I was born to do this, that I was my father’s apprentice for many years before I was able to get out on my own,” said Malone. “My earliest memories involve basketball and being in a gym. How many kids were able to shoot at the Carrier Dome or Madison Square Garden and have the court to themselves?”
Last season Malone served as the Cavaliers’ defensive coordinator. But when former assistant John Kuester took the head job at Detroit, head coach Mike Brown made Malone the offensive coordinator for the high-scoring Cavs. “He moved me up to his top assistant,” Malone said. “I am responsible for the game plan, what we need to work on. Mike trusts me. I think he would say my work ethic, passion for the game, and my ability to teach help our team for whatever opportunities we face.”
Loyola Athletics Director Joseph Boylan remembers Mike on the court for the Hounds. “He was a very, very, very tough, hard-nosed player—not the most talented, but he played hard,” he said. “As the son of a coach, he understood the game. He loved to play, and he had a lot of passion for it. What he has done is terrific.”
Malone, who has two daughters with his wife, Jocelyn—“who is the same anchor for our family as my mother was for me, my father, and my five siblings”—is also an assistant coach for the Canadian national team, which will compete in the world championships this summer in Turkey. Before he crosses the Atlantic, however, Malone hopes to help steer the Cavs to their first, elusive NBA title.
“That is the one thing that is missing—that ring,” he said.