It was a busy winter for Portland native Josh Longstaff, whose first season as head coach of the G League’s Erie BayHawks included a division title, an impressive run to the Eastern Conference finals and more than 200 inches of snow in northwest Pennsylvania.

More than once, the BayHawks’ staff and players were pressed into action pushing the team bus when it got stuck in the snow.

“It was true minor-league, Bull Durham stuff,” Longstaff said. “We always talked about how the journey is as satisfying as the capture. It was a lot of fun.”

After a brief respite, Longstaff is back at work in Atlanta, the NBA parent club of Erie, to help with predraft workouts. Next week he’ll be in Houston for USA Basketball’s training camp in advance of the World Cup qualifying games scheduled for June 28 against Mexico in Mexico City and July 1 against Cuba in Havana.

Earlier this month, Longstaff was named an assistant to head coach Jeff Van Gundy for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers as well as the next round of competition that begins in September. Van Gundy, formerly head coach of the Knicks and Rockets who now serves as a color commentator for ESPN, first met Longstaff when the former Portland High point guard was a video analyst and player development coach with Oklahoma City.

“My first year in the league we were playing the Western Conference finals in Dallas and I’m out doing pregame workouts with Russell Westbrook and I’m defending him,” said the 5-foot-9 Longstaff. “You can imagine how that looked.”

Van Gundy make a joking remark about how he could do better against Westbrook than Longstaff, and they got to talking. Turns out they had common friends and stayed in touch. Eventually, Longstaff was hired by the Knicks as an assistant coach, then let go last spring after three seasons in New York. Van Gundy reached out with advice, and after Longstaff’s successful year in the G League, made another call after one of his assistants at USA Basketball, Ronald Nored (a former Red Claws assistant) signed on with the Charlotte Hornets in a similar capacity.

With the blessing of Longstaff’s employer, the Atlanta Hawks, he joined John Thompson III as assistant coaches to Van Gundy for the World Cup qualifiers.

“I’m looking forward to learning a lot from Jeff and the staff at USA Basketball,” Longstaff said. “It’s going to be a crazy month or two for me.”

Unlike last summer, when there were no NBA head coaching changes, nine franchises opted to make changes this year, meaning there’s a lot of flux at the assistant level as well. Immediately after the qualifier in Cuba, the Hawks plan to send Longstaff to Utah and Las Vegas for Summer League action until July 19.

Oh, and he’s getting married in New York City in early August to Kerri Jenkins.

“So it’s going to be a busy summer,” he said.

The 14-player roster awaiting Longstaff in Houston consists entirely of G League veterans, including two former Red Claws, center Jon Holmes and guard Marcus Thornton. Nine players have NBA experience.

Under a new World Cup qualifying format similar to what is used in soccer, Team USA is one of 80 national teams attempting to join the field of 32 for the World Cup scheduled for Aug. 31-Sept. 15, 2019 in China. The two-time defending champs are 123-27 in World Cup competition and have won 19 in a row since a 2006 semifinal loss to Greece.

At 4-0 with only two games remaining in this opening stage, Team USA is guaranteed to advance to the next round, which is likely to include Uruguay, Argentina and Panama. Eventually, 7 of 16 teams from the Americas group will qualify for China.

“I think it’s going to be really cool,” Longstaff said of his upcoming trips to Mexico and Cuba.

“These are the first two road games they’ve played and I expect the atmosphere to be hostile and pretty competitive. It’ll be awesome for the players to experience. It’s a great challenge to represent the country in another country.”

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