Interview: New assistant coach Mike Batiste on joining the Rockets


LAS VEGAS - "Jabari, you can cut your path to the lane if you take this angle," a loud voice bellows from the sideline as the Rockets summer league team holds practice in preparation for a game versus Oklahoma City. "They are going to try and make you go one way which will take you out of the play. But if you take the angle I just showed you, you can put more pressure on the backside defender."

As summer league head coach Rick Higgins gives the instructions to re-run the play, Jabari Smith Jr., who was selected No. 3 overall by Houston in the first round of the 2022 NBA draft, follows the instructions and gets to the basket easier than he had on the last play.

On the sidelines, Rockets head coach Stephen Silas smiled, as he knew the instructions had come from someone who would be a welcome addition to his staff while helping develop his young team.

Mike Batiste, a new assistant coach, made his name known as a dominant force while playing overseas for Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos Athens from 2003-2012. During that time, he helped the team secure eight consecutive Greek League championships, five Greek Cups, and three EuroLeague championships. He was awarded MVP of the Greek League and named Finals MVP in 2010.

Batiste, 44, was hired by the Rockets this offseason after serving as player development manager for the Washington Wizards last season. Though he had numerous offers to join other NBA coaching staffs, that familiarity brought Batiste to Houston.

"To have some familiar faces where you know these guys believe in you and have confidence in you, that was a deal breaker," said Batiste, who worked with Silas and Higgins at previous stops in Charlotte and Orlando. "Giving me more responsibility to lead, teach, and preach to these guys was an attracting factor as well. I was honored to get the call. Coach Silas has old school rules but has a very innovative, new school way of thinking. He has an open mind and is willing to try new things. I liked that about him, and that brought me here."

The former First Team All-Pac-10 player (1999) at Arizona State knows the importance of helping develop young talent such as Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Sengun, and beyond is vital for a rebuilding franchise like the current Rockets.

"Those guys are trending in the right direction in terms of being better pros," Batiste said. "Being better versions of themselves in terms of their skill sets and fundamentals. I remember last year when I was with the Wizards, KPJ hit a game winner on us."

"So, you got some guys who can really score the ball in a high efficiency way, and it all starts with those guys," Batiste added. "They are a year older, so we expect a lot from them, and hopefully they can answer the challenge in the right way."

Houston finished last season as the worst team in the NBA, only winning 20 games. That was, however, an improvement from 17 wins the previous season. After a strong draft class in 2021, the Rockets were able to add to that by bringing in some very talented players.

Second Team All-American selection and National Freshman of the Year Jabari Smith Jr., who played at Auburn, and SEC Sixth Man of the Year and All-SEC First Team forward Tari Eason from LSU were both selected in the first round in this year's draft. Those additions should help bolster the lineup on both sides of the court.

"I definitely feel that when we all get together, we are going to be one of the most competitive teams on the floor," Batiste said. "I think we are going to be a high execution team and we are going to be that team that that goes out every single night and compete. We want to make teams scrap to beat us. We just want other teams to look on their schedule and see that Houston is coming into town and they have to work to beat us consistently for 48 minutes."

Before leaving the interview, Batiste wanted to make sure that Rockets fans know that he plans on blending in with many Texas residents by purchasing a cowboy hat and boots.

"I have always liked that look but could never pull it off in the places I have been until now," Batiste said with a big smile.

Batiste and the Rockets will have three days of training camp in Lake Charles, Louisiana, before returning home to prepare for their preseason opener on October 2 at Toyota Center. Tipoff between the Rockets and in-state rival San Antonio is at 6 p.m. Central.


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Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire


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