The NBA offseason offers players time to hone their craft, but they aren’t the only ones working.
Warriors assistant coach Chris DeMarco has spent his last five offseasons serving as the head coach of the Bahamian men’s national team, which earned a historic road win over Argentina last weekend, its second win over the tournament hosts in five days.
With Buddy Hield and Eric Gordon providing lethal scoring threats and Deandre Ayton manning the paint, the Bahamas surprised at the Olympic Pre-Qualifiers in South America, winning the tournament.
The small island nation of roughly 400,000 has had little success on the international stage. But this time around, the Bahamas stunned Argentina, the fourth-best team in the world, with a fourth-quarter rally to earn a spot in its first-ever Olympic qualifiers. The Bahamas’ win also shut Argentina out of the Summer Games for the first time since 2000.
It wasn’t until the team was hugging one another and celebrating that DeMarco realized the gravity of the win.
“You realize what a monumental moment it is for the national team but also for the country,” DeMarco said.
The play-by-play announcer on the FIBA stream declared it “arguably the greatest moment in the history of Bahama basketball.” But two-time NBA champion Mychal Thompson, a Nassau, Bahamas native, says there’s no argument.
“No question about it,” said Thompson, a two-time NBA champion. “To beat such a worthy opponent… and to qualify to play in another tournament to qualify for the Olympics, that is the biggest moment in Bahamian basketball history.”
DeMarco’s journey to the Bahamanian team began when the Warriors’ coaching staff worked the 2017 All-Star weekend and Hield played in the Rising Stars challenge. That relationship led him to join the Bahamas coaching staff for the 2019 World Cup qualifiers, where the Bahamas beat the Dominican Republic. DeMarco said that felt like a turning point for the nation’s basketball program.
“It ran smoothly, had great chemistry with the other members of the staff and the federation,” he said. “I just felt like we all had a vision.”
The Bahamas have churned out eight NBA players over the league’s history, including the eldest Thompson, who went No. 1 overall in 1978, as well as three first-round picks since 2016. But the country has never made waves on the international stage.
DeMarco wanted to help change that.
The addition this month of Gordon, whose mother is from the Bahamas, was huge in helping the island become a formidable threat. Still, the group had little experience playing together.
“Our messaging and our focus from the start was building chemistry,” DeMarco said. “The biggest thing for us as a staff from the jump was coming together and being together when it matters and [Argentina] is a team that’s played together for [a long time] and we had to find a way for us to really jell on and off the court, and I think we did that.”
The Bahamas swept the group stage, which included a major upset win over Argentina. From there, the Bahamas beat Uruguay in the semifinals to set the stage for a rematch with Argentina in the championship game.
ERIC “CLUTCHTIME” GORDON
— FIBA (@FIBA) August 21, 2023
The Bahamas silenced Argentina and its home crowd with a win and will look forward now to joining 23 other nations next summer in the Olympic qualifying round.
“With the talent that they have, [if] they continue this kind of passion and determination and dedication, they could find themselves going to Paris,” Thompson said.
“From what I understand, the Bahamas can add more players… to be even deeper.”
His eldest son, Mychel, was an assistant coach on the team this summer after playing for the Bahamas in prior tournaments. Whether his middle son, Klay, might consider playing in a Bahamas uniform next summer is a natural question.
The Warriors star obviously has a lot of pride for his father’s native land, bringing out the Bahamian flag to the court after winning the 2022 NBA title. He has also been celebrating the Bahamas’ FIBA wins on his social media account.
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Mychal said Klay “feels very much connected” to the Bahamas and did not rule out the possibility, though there would be hurdles, as the Warriors star won gold with the U.S. in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. (Gordon had also played for Team USA in international play, but not in the Olympics.)
Regardless, Mychal Thompson believes the future is bright for Bahamas basketball.
“It’s about time,” he said. “We’ve had this potential for years.
“You have four legitimate NBA players like the Bahamas have… they definitely are a team to be reckoned with for the world.”
As for DeMarco, he believes the experience with the Bahamas will help him bring more value to the Warriors coaching staff.
“Understanding the personalities and the intricacies of the head coaching job, you can’t really replicate the sort of experience as an assistant,” DeMarco said. “I just feel like you can really grow as a coach and hopefully that really helps our organization. Hopefully it made me better.”