How a KCK basketball star became a Golden State Warriors coach and NBA champion

·6 min read

Golden State Warriors player development coach Kris Weems is proud of his Kansas City, Kansas roots.

Despite living in California and the Bay Area for most of the past 25 years, Weems still rocks Royals hats on the team plane.

“Guys are like, ‘The Royals suck,’” Weems said. “And I’m like, ‘Hey, I represent more than just the Royals.” I represent Kansas City, Kansas, where I grew up, (and) the Kansas City metro area, which has such a rich basketball tradition.”

During a 10-year stretch of a “golden era” of Kansas City high school basketball, Weems was a star at Schlagle High School, winning two state championships in 1993 and 1995 and the title of Mr. Kansas. He still thinks his team should’ve won in 1994 to make it three in a row.

Over 25 years later, Weems can rest easy: he is an NBA champion.

Despite joining head coach Steve Kerr’s staff a year ago, Weems’ work behind the scenes for the team paid off in the Warriors’ 2022 championship run.

He led the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s G-League affiliate, as head coach for two years. In a stint in the G-League bubble, then second-year guard Jordan Poole joined the team, struggling to find his place in the NBA.

Under, Weems’ system, which pushed players to make a decision in half a second or less, Poole found his confidence.

“There’s been a pipeline that’s come through Santa Cruz,” Kerr said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. “We’ve had a lot of players who’ve benefited, and I think we’ve gotten better and better (at) making that connection really strong.”

Warriors star forward Draymond Green would even text Weems during the bubble, asking for updates on Poole’s progress, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Weems first worked as a Warriors player development coach under Mark Jackson from 2011-13, helping develop the current Golden State veteran core, including Green, along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“Now, to see basically 10 years later, how mature Steph, Draymond and Klay are, how their leadership really rings true from the first person all the way down to the last person, that’s probably the coolest thing to see,” Weems said.

Weems’ journey back to the Warriors after his first stint as a player development coach, however, wasn’t easy.

Being let go by Jackson was a “gut punch.” But Weems went back to where he got his start in coaching: the Menlo School in Atherton, California.

Weems initially returned to Stanford, his alma mater, to work as the director of basketball operations after his overseas playing career.

Former Stanford player Kris Weems rises for a jumper. The Kansas City, Kansas star played for the Cardinal after winning two Kansas state championships in high school.
Former Stanford player Kris Weems rises for a jumper. The Kansas City, Kansas star played for the Cardinal after winning two Kansas state championships in high school.

After his former college coach Mike Montgomery left for the Warriors job in 2004, Montgomery’s replacement, Trent Johnson, asked Weems if he wanted to stay on staff for the Cardinal. But by then, the coaching itch had struck: Weems said he didn’t want to continue on the fundraising track he currently occupied.

“I really didn’t want to do the exact same thing. I wanted to coach,” Weems said.

Johnson told him that if he really wanted coaching experience, the best thing to do was to be a high school head coach.

“Sure enough, a couple months after that, Joe Lacob called me and said, ‘Do you know anybody that would have interest in coaching my son’s high school team at Menlo?’” Weems said.

“I told him I might want to do it, and he’s like, ‘You don’t want to do this.’ And then, I said, ‘Give me an interview.’ He got me an interview. And the rest was history.”

His first year as Menlo head coach in 2004 was six years before Lacob purchased the Warriors and seven years before Weems would join the NBA coaching ranks for the first time.

After being let go in 2014, he returned to Menlo, where Weems coached Lacob’s sons Kirk and Kent. Both would go on to work in the Warriors front office, and Kent was the general manager of the Santa Cruz affiliate when Weems wanted to make his return to coaching professionally.

But it wasn’t the Lacob connection that actually got Weems a foot in the door; instead, it was a Kansas connection.

Weems reached out to new Santa Cruz head coach Aaron Miles, a former Kansas Jayhawk, through cousins who knew Miles through KU.

He wouldn’t let the second opportunity to coach at the professional level slip through his fingers.

“My first time around, I kind of was like eyes wide open,” Weems said. “And then this time, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and what the goal was, which was ultimately to get back to the NBA, where I am now.”

“I feel good in my role right now. I feel like players respect me in terms of my grind, where I’ve come from and the fact that I came back to the Warriors as a really different coach, different kind of professional.”

Warriors assistant coach Kris Weems (second from left, front row) takes a team photo alongside point guard Stephen Curry (third from left) and other Golden State players.
Warriors assistant coach Kris Weems (second from left, front row) takes a team photo alongside point guard Stephen Curry (third from left) and other Golden State players.

Weems still credits the influence of the Kansas City area on his coaching career. He played AAU basketball when he was 15 with current Clippers and longtime NBA head coach Tyronn Lue, who went to Raytown High School.

Former NBA player and current Raptors assistant Earl Watson Jr. also hails from Kansas City, Kansas. Another Kansas Jayhawk, forward Andrew Wiggins, was instrumental to Golden State’s title run.

“You can see that history and connection that we have with each other,” Weems said. “My wife even brought it up the other day: ‘You’re talking to Mr. Kansas basketball.’”

His success as a coach came full circle this June after the Warriors clinched their fourth championship in eight years in large part because of the team’s player development system.

In a speech at the championship parade, Draymond Green told the celebrating crowd that it wasn’t just cool that the star Warriors forward had won his fourth championship. It was also cool to see others win their first, Green said.

Fans certainly took it as a nod to players like Poole, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Gary Payton II, all Warriors players Weems has coached, but it was also a full-circle moment for the player development coach himself.

Weems hasn’t had much time to celebrate his first NBA championship.

The Warriors’ Game 6, series-clinching Finals win came on June 16. Draft workouts and coaching staff exit meetings filled his week before the NBA Draft on June 23. This week comes with preparation for the NBA’s Summer League, which could be a crucial step for young talent like James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, as well as rookies Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Ryan Rollins.

But Weems is embracing the grind that he says got him where he is.

“The adversity set me up for the success we’re having right now,” Weems said.