Darren Erman comes to the G League’s Maine Red Claws after serving as an assistant coach with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans the past four seasons. AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

The journey from the Seeds of Peace camp in Otisfield to the Portland Expo takes a little under an hour by car.

Or, if you’re Darren Erman, the next head coach of the Maine Red Claws, it takes years of persistence and an enormous leap of faith. His path to professional basketball has been unorthodox, to say the least.

Erman, 43, stands 5-foot-8 and did not play organized basketball beyond the ninth grade. The closest he came to the hardwood floor was serving as a student coach of the basketball team while at Emory University in Atlanta.

“Nothing more than a glorified manager,” he said.

Erman continued his education at Northwestern University’s law school and landed a job as a corporate lawyer with Latham & Watkins, first in California and then on the 58th floor of the Sears Tower in Chicago.

But the Louisville native was smitten by basketball.

“I’m from Kentucky and we don’t have many other things besides bourbon, basketball and horse racing,” he said. “So I chose basketball.”

Erman was 27 and making $175,000 a year. Still, mergers and acquisitions didn’t measure up to pick-and-roll defense. He wanted to coach. Once his student loans were paid off, he sent letters to various college coaches without drawing much interest. His basketball resume consisted of coaching teams at local Boys & Girls Clubs.

Former University of Louisville coach Denny Crum advised Erman to volunteer at the best high school that would take him. The most respected high school program in the country, in the eyes of many college coaches, was St. Anthony, a small parochial school in New Jersey whose coach, Bob Hurley, had led the team to 22 state championships and two national titles.

Erman called Hurley in January 2003 and spoke of his desire. Hurley was polite, but he had received similar calls before. None of the previous callers, however, was as persistent as Erman.

“I called him once a week, every week, for three months, until he offered me a job,” Erman said. “I think at first it was more, ‘Is this guy crazy or is he legit?'”

That spring Erman visited St. Anthony, which was in need of a science teacher and a soccer coach. Erman jumped at the opportunity so he could also work as an assistant basketball coach for $500 a year under Hurley.

A friend from law school allowed Erman to sleep on an air mattress between the coffee table and couch in her Manhattan apartment. He deflated it each morning, folded it up, tucked it away, and commuted by train beneath the Hudson River to Jersey City to teach and learn at St. Anthony.

The summer before starting at St. Anthony, Erman caught another big break. While working as a counselor at the Seeds of Peace camp in the woods of Maine, he encountered a visiting NBA player, Brian Scalabrine, who was then with the New Jersey Nets and knew of Hurley. Erman told Scalabrine his story and asked if he needed anyone to work at his basketball camp in New Jersey. Scalabrine wasn’t sure, but agreed to take a small scrap of paper with Erman’s phone number.

“I thought, I’ll never hear from this guy,” Erman said. “I only talked to him for 15 minutes.”

Former NBA player Brian Scalabrine, center, poses for a selfie with campers during a basketball clinic at the Seeds of Peace in Otisfield in July 2016. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Back home a few days later, Scalabrine walked out on his dock at 5 in the morning. He placed a hand in the pocket of his sweatpants and came across the scrap of paper.

“Right now? There’s zero chance if people give me their number that I would keep their number,” Scalabrine said. “But I was in a good mood. I thought, ‘Hey, I’ll call the kid.'”

For one thing, Scalabrine was intrigued by Erman’s story. The fact that Hurley had agreed to give the kid a chance gave him credibility. Plus, Scalabrine could use some help. He was involved with contract negotiations and his fiancee was busy planning their wedding.

So from Otisfield, Erman headed back to New Jersey. He not only worked at the basketball camp, he stayed with Scalabrine, who appreciated Erman’s earnestness and the insights of a former corporate lawyer who was only two years older. Scalabrine asked Erman to assist him with individual workouts.

Right away, Erman identified areas where the 6-foot-9 Scalabrine needed to improve, such as shooting faster and concentrating on finishing farther from the basket, because 7-foot defenders would block any shots within 5 feet of the rim.

“He’s a little bit quirky but he’s really smart,” Scalabrine said. “We’ve been kind of best friends since then.”

At St. Anthony, Erman taught environmental science – “Private schools don’t require that you have a teaching certificate,” he said. “I was a chapter ahead of the kids every day” – and coached a fledgling soccer team for a year. Erman continued with Hurley for a second season of basketball while also doing some legal work on the side.

In August 2005, Scalabrine signed as a free agent with the Boston Celtics and convinced Erman to come with him. Once in Boston, Erman continued to do some freelance legal work and applied to a host of small colleges as a volunteer assistant. At Brandeis University, there were no openings but Erman was told he could come to practice. After a few days of that, he was brought on board and stayed with the team for two seasons.

Meanwhile, the Scalabrine connection led Erman to begin working out other Celtics players. One late evening at the team’s practice facility in Waltham, when Erman was working with Tony Allen, Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca took note and asked Erman to do likewise with three of his own kids.

“I never pushed him on anybody,” Scalabrine said. “I allowed him to be around the Boston Celtics. I told him, I’ll let you into the building, but the rest of it’s on you.”

Erman became a fixture at the practice facility. He offered to help coaches with any drill or special project, never asking for pay or an internship. Soon, Erman’s NBA career would take flight.

The Celtics hired him as a consultant in 2007 prior to winning the NBA championship under head coach Doc Rivers the next June. Erman worked two more years with the Celtics as a coaching assistant before joining the Golden State Warriors as an assistant coach for four seasons. In 2014, he returned to the Celtics, first as their director of scouting and then as an assistant to current head coach Brad Stevens. Erman then spent four years as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Pelicans – last season as the team’s associate head coach – before an organizational shakeup in June led to his departure.

Assistant coach Darren Erman goes one-on-one with NBA all-star Anthony Davis during the New Orleans Pelicans training camp in October 2015. AP file photo

Now Erman has a chance to be the man in charge with the Red Claws, a G League affiliate of the Celtics.

“It’s a good opportunity to do some player development, which I love,” he said. “I’ve been doing it in the NBA for a long time, but now I have an opportunity to do it as a head coach.”

“I think he’ll be a good fit,” said Josh Longstaff, the Portland native who is an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Longstaff knows Erman through mutual friends and from working NBA camps together. While considering the Red Claws job, Erman asked Longstaff about his year as a G League head coach based in Erie, Pennsylvania.

“We talked about Portland, what a great city it is and how great the fans are for a minor-league basketball team,” Longstaff said. “And about the experience of coaching your own team.”

He said Erman is both passionate and well prepared. To become a head coach in the NBA, his journey must first pass through Portland.

“He worked in Boston and he loves where he started,” Longstaff said. “He loves the (Celtics) organization, loves Brad (Stevens), loves (team president) Danny Ainge and what they stand for.”

Erman said he plans to be in Boston this week before returning to New Orleans. His wife, Brittany, is due to deliver their first child, a boy, in early September. The Celtics begin training camp Oct. 1 and the Red Claws assemble at the end of that month.

Scalabrine, now a television analyst for NBC Sports Boston, still marvels at his friend’s ascension to the highest levels of professional basketball.

“It’s a really unique story,” he said. “I’m not sure it can be replicated by anybody.”


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