Abernethy had never really considered the possibility of coaching before. Well, at least not seriously. But no basketball player, regardless of talent, plays forever. Every career comes with an expiration date.
Here he was, in his fifth of a six-season tour overseas, on a flight home to Latvia from Germany with his team, BK Ventspils. He started thinking again, weighing in his mind what his life would be once he finally hung up his sneakers. Then came the questions.
And his head coach, Roberts Štelmahers, a retired Latvian professional basketball player and, like, Abernethy, a former point guard, was more than willing to offer some advice.
“He was telling me how natural it is, after you stop playing, to get into coaching,” Abernethy said.
Truer words …
Abernethy, a three-time Ole Miss captain who played for the Rebels from 2004-07, was hired by Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy in a non-coaching, recruiting development, off-the-floor capacity in June. He served as director of basketball operations and video coordinator at IUPUI last season.
However, with Kennedy having yet filled the third and final vacancy on his coaching staff as he explores all options, including recruiting implications, Abernethy was promoted to serve as an on-court instructor as well as a recruiter. Basically, he’s been the acting third assistant for two months.
And he’s impressed in his short time back in Oxford.
“He’ll be a coach sooner rather than later,” Kennedy said. “He’s like everybody - you get in where you get in and you try to move up. He’s had a great opportunity and he’s taken advantage of it. It’s opened my eyes to the fact that he’s a valuable piece to us. So, I don’t feel like ‘OK, I got to name somebody tomorrow because we’re understaffed.’ Because we’re really not.”
“Now that I’m in it, I feel like I was born to coach,” Abernethy said. “Playing is just a little part, I feel like, of a bigger picture. You can only play for so long. I just turned 30. Reality hits. I’m glad I’m getting into coaching. I feel like I have the rest of my life to do it. I’m able to use all my gifts and as I’ve found out, coaching isn’t just about being on the court with players. There’s marketing, selling Ole Miss. There’s doing a lot with technology and social media and being relational. It encompasses a lot of things.”
Abernethy finished his Ole Miss career with 1,036 points and ranks fourth in school history with 431 assists. He earned All-SEC honors in 2006-07 and was voted the league’s Sixth Man of the Year. He ranks seventh in school history for both career 3-pointers and 3-point percentage.
Following his Ole Miss playing days, he embarked on his international playing career that included stops in the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and the Ukraine.
“When I was a player for coach Kennedy, the thing that he brought to the table was empowerment,” Abernethy said. “He sat me, Bam Doyne and Clarence Sanders down and said ‘Hey, this is your team. We need you, I need you. I believe in you.’ He gave us the freedom and empowerment to go do it.
“That’s the same thing as coaching. He treats me with respect and he believes in me. And so, I work my tail off. I think that helps with recruiting. When you love the guy you’re working for and you believe in him and you believe the school you’re working for, it’s easy.”
He’s learned on the fly and he’s embracing the challenge. And whether Kennedy hires a third assistant or not, whether he goes down if/when it happens, Abernethy believes he’s found his calling.
Coaching is a natural fit. He learned as much by asking questions on a plane ride in Latvia. Now he’s experiencing it firsthand.
“It’s been the best experience for me to learn and to see what it really is like to be a coach,” he said. “For me, I feel like it’s natural to me because I love Ole Miss first of all. I had a great experience here. I’m a kid that left Indiana and came down to the SEC. And then also, A.K. He had a huge influence on me coaching me my senior year. He changed the whole culture and the whole experience I had basketball-wise.”