Three months after firing coach Lionel Hollins in the midst of one of the least successful seasons in team history, the Nets have named their permanent replacement, and he’s a local. He is Kenny Atkinson, a Northport native who spent four years as a Knicks assistant coach under Mike D’Antoni, was widely credited for the development of Jeremy Lin and the creation of “Linsanity,” and currently serves as the top assistant for the Atlanta Hawks.
The former star at St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington will replace interim coach Tony Brown once the Hawks’ postseason run is over, the Nets announced Sunday.
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“Kenny’s years of NBA coaching experience working under successful head coaches such as Mike Budenholzer and Mike D’Antoni have provided him with the foundation and experience we were looking for in a head coach,” general manager Sean Marks said in a statement. “We believe that Kenny’s core principles, leadership, communication skills and exceptional background in player development make him an ideal fit for the culture we are building in Brooklyn.”
Marks had said he wanted a coach with whom he has some connection. Atkinson works for Budenholzer, a disciple of Gregg Popovich, Marks’ boss with the Spurs. Atkinson and Marks both are represented by the same agency.
Atkinson becomes the Nets’ sixth coach in five seasons. In a statement, he said, “I am truly honored and humbled . . . and I would like to thank Nets’ ownership and management for this tremendous opportunity.”
Atkinson’s confidence and energy were never more evident than they were at Nassau Coliseum on April 24, 1985. The point guard said before the Newsday Classic that the Long Island team could win its annual game against the New York City stars. At that point, the city had won all four times the contest had been held, and it did not appear that the 1985 Long Island team was one of Nassau-Suffolk’s strongest.
However, led by Atkinson’s 18-point effort, the Island ran to an 89-83 upset over a squad that included standout Boo Harvey. Right after the game, Atkinson (then known as Ken) said, “They’re great players, but we can play with them any day.”
When he was reminded of that before a Nets-Hawks game in Atlanta in January, Atkinson said, “That was one of the highlights of my life.”
At the time, he had just finished first in a poll by NetsDaily, which had asked fans to list preferences for the next coach. Atkinson beat John Calipari and Tom Thibodeau. When he was told about the result, he said, “That was all my family voting.”
Atkinson’s brother Mike coached superstar Nicole Kaczmarski at Sachem High School in the late 1990s. His brother Steve has coached football, girls basketball and golf at Hauppauge High School and was an assistant varsity boys basketball coach at Half Hollow Hills West this past season.
Atkinson never played in the NBA, but he played from 1990 to 2004 in four European countries after leading the University of Richmond to the Sweet 16.
As an assistant coach, he helped the Knicks earn playoff berths in 2011 and 2012.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said in a statement that “aside from his tremendous skills and experience, he has the mindset we need to build a winning team day by day, step by step.”
With Mark Herrmann