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Persistence Personifies Raptors 905 Lead Assistant Coach Charles Kissi

Charles Kissi | Lead Assistant Coach for the Raptors 905 | Head Coach & GM of the Guelph Nighthawks

It is the perfect time to reflect. When I look back, just seven years ago I was policing. Then, I was coaching university teams. Now, I'm in the G-League!

Charles Kissi

Lead Assistant Coach for the Raptors 905

Head Coach & GM of the Guelph Nighthawks

× The interview with Charles Kissi was conducted via a phone conversation and later transcribed. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as the Lead Assistant Coach for the Raptors 905 and Head Coach & General Manager of the Guelph Nighthawks.

When you break it down, I really have three different roles:

  1. Lead Assistant of the Raptors 905
  2. Head Coach of the Guelph Nighthawks
  3. General Manager of the Guelph Nighthawks

It’s great because I’m learning so much. The biggest take away from being a part of the Raptors organization is being around and learning from Jama Mahlalela, the head coach. He’s got so much experience coaching on an NBA bench and he’s an amazing leader.

As for my role in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) with the Nighthawks, I’m very fortunate to have been offered the head coaching position. In a lot of ways it’s allowing me to take what I’ve learned from the Raptors organization and implement it. I couldn’t have written it any better to be honest. So I am really excited to get back into the swing of things when the CEBL returns.

My experience as head coach at Brock University for 5 years also helped prepare me for playing the GM role with the Nighthawks. When you coach a Canadian university team that’s part of it. You’re definitely a General Manager there as well. It was an incredibly valuable experience. Going to the 905 was the first time I had ever just coached basketball and had a staff around me that took care of all those other duties. You work just as hard, if not harder, but you get to focus strictly on basketball.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Everyday is different. There are game days, practice days, travel days, etc. which is what’s great about the job but I’ll focus on a game day here at home.

It’s a full day of preparation for the game that evening. It starts with a very early morning coaches meeting where we go over the game plan and go over what we want to do and show the team in practice on film.

After the coaches meeting we go straight into a video session with the team and then onto the court to shoot around and walk through what we’ve just gone over. Then there is our only break of the day before were back on the floor about 3-3.5 hours before the game. Then the game is played and as soon as the game is over it’s back to work, getting ready for the next morning, assuming we’re at home again the next day. Game days are long.

It is similar for away games, there’s no added pressure from fans or anything like that when we’re at home. Much like the athletes, it’s tunnel vision for us coaching until the final buzzer goes off.

At what point in your life did you realize you were meant to pursue a career in basketball? What motivated you to change career paths?

Before my coaching career, I worked in the Toronto Police Service. I never thought of coaching as this is what I’m supposed to do.

I think it’s important that when you come, you bring whatever got you there. Bring that first, and then expand.

Honestly, I took a chance. It wasn’t exactly destiny to go from policing to coaching. But I always had passion for coaching and teaching. I love winning, challenges and competition, so the mix was natural for me.

Around the time I became Head Coach of the Brock Badgers Men’s Basketball team in 2013, the team was struggling. They were one of the worst teams in the country. But shortly before, in 2008, they had won a national title. I went there to create a winning culture and breathe some life back into it. I actually did a Master’s in education and leadership at the same time as well.

How do you think the pandemic has changed your daily routine?

Dramatically. When you’re at home you feel like you’re busier at times. Everything has shifted. I’m not on flights and in hotels and back home and spending a ton of time driving on the highway. All of that has slowed down.

It is the perfect time to reflect. When I look back, just seven years ago I was policing. Then, I was coaching university teams. Now, I’m in the G-League! I also think about what I want the next five years to look like. I’ve been kind of racing through life. You try to be present for sure, but you don’t always take the time to reflect and enjoy what you’re doing and what you’ve been able to accomplish.

I’m doing as much development as possible. I’m looking at areas in my coaching that I need to improve and trying to take the time to improve them. I’m trying to really hone in on my craft.

This is an interesting time. I get the chance to go back and look at what I did in year one and apply it again and apply it differently to be better this time. How am I going to manage certain situations? These are the things going through my head.

This gives me a chance to really do it differently and be better at it.

It’s rare.

I can’t think of a time that I’ve had this much time. Sometimes when I’m on a plane I might jot some things down, but for the most part it just doesn’t feel like I usually have the time to reflect. Maybe it’s there, and I just don’t prioritize it [laughs]. I think that’s probably the other piece, trying to get better at prioritizing things.

What are three things that high level coaches like yourself look for in players?

  1. A passion and a willingness to work daily, regardless of what’s being asked of you. Everyone likes a player who just works. Someone who doesn’t complain, has the right attitude, and just comes and gives you everything and is passionate about what they’re doing. There needs to be a willingness to do it openly.
  2. Whatever it is that you do well, do that everyday. There’s a reason why you got to where you are. Whatever your thing is, you need to make sure you bring that and of course continue to build on other skills. It’s just really important that people come with who they are and not try to do so much more. Play your role, but whatever that is. If you’re a scorer, then go score the basketball. If you’re a defender, you better defend. I think it’s important that you come, you bring whatever got you there. Bring that first, and then expand.
  3. Be a sponge and a student of the game. There’s so much to learn on the floor. Take advantage of your coaches, film, all the facilities and services you have access to. But of equal importance is to learn how to be a pro off the floor. Take the pro side serious. Don’t see professionalism as dribbling, passing and shooting at a high level.

Use LeBron or Jordan as an example, they do all these extra things on and off the floor. I think that’s part of why they become great. And consistency is what separates them from the rest.

What are some of your unforgettable moments in your coaching career so far?

  1. The Raptors becoming the 2019 NBA Champions.
  2. Getting our Brock team to the national tournament.
  3. Coaching in my first pro game.
  4. Selling out our first home opener in my second season at Brock. It’s a toss up between that and playing the first game at the Meridian Centre. It was the largest game ever played in Niagara and we won!
  5. Giving players, coaches, and staff “their shot” and it working out. I will always remember that before the wins.

These are the moments of appreciation that you realize, “I have put in a lot of work” and other people have put in a lot of work into it too. These are the moments that took a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice to get to these places.

I appreciate these moments. I could’ve been doing something else or it could have been somebody else so I stay humble to that fact. I think that’s probably why the losses resonate a little bit more with me because I’m looking at them thinking, “Okay, what am I going to do? How do I do get better?” Obviously you’re going to lose again. But, how do you lose better. How do you not make the same mistake twice? I’m going to lose games but what I take from the losses is how to get closer to victory.

If you could coach any current team in the world, which one would it be and why?

The ones I have now. The best job is the one you’ve got.

If I had to choose other than the ones I had, it wouldn’t be the best team out there. It would be a team that has potential but is not quite there yet because that’s more my personality. A team more like the Chicago Bulls rather than Golden State. The challenge of building and becoming the best is the fun part.

How does team performance affect the work environment?

When you’re winning the vibe is definitely better.

I feel like everybody’s happy and things are easier. When you’re losing, you have to figure it out. It does become stressful, especially in the professional environment, but actually in both.

I didn’t like losing at the university level any more than I do now. It becomes stressful in both environments because I want to win, we’re competitive by nature. You need to keep some sort of balance or equilibrium through your whole team and program. You can’t get too high on wins and you can’t get too down on losses.

Do you find it difficult to balance your personal relationships with players with the business side of your job, especially when you are both the GM and coach of teams?

Honestly, the best way to be is very transparent and honest.

You just need to be authentic, direct and consistent. People need to know what to expect.

I’m not at the NBA GM level where you’re having to make deals and trades and things are a little different. There’s no trades in our league. So it’s a little easier to manage.

People aren’t always happy with their playing time and all these kinds of things but it is what it is. I think ultimately everyone knows what you’re trying to accomplish.

Stacey Leawood Stacey's Final Thoughts

Getting to talk to Charles Kissi was a great opportunity to get some insight on what it’s like bet on yourself. He explained how his refusal to lose has been his key to success and how he is driven by challenge. Charles also talked about the importance of prioritizing your time to include reflection and goal setting and its affects on your personal and professional growth. I’m very grateful that Coach Kissi took the time to give us all some really great advice, players and industry professionals alike!

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