UMaine assistant men's basketball coach Edniesha Curry (right) watches recent NBA summer league action from the San Antonio Spurs bench in Las Vegas. Credit: Contributed

Edniesha Curry’s unique journey up the coaching ranks has reached a National Basketball Association bench.

The University of Maine assistant men’s basketball coach — and only woman currently serving in that capacity full time in NCAA Division I — returned to the Orono campus this week after spending nearly a month as a guest coach with the San Antonio Spurs working with the organization’s Sacramento and Las Vegas summer league teams.

“It was phenomenal to see such high-level athletes so selfless in everything they did throughout the day,” said Curry, a former WNBA player entering her second season with the UMaine men’s basketball program under head coach Richard Barron. “Everything was really about the team, and it showed on and off the court in their interactions with everybody in the organization from the security guy to the equipment manager to guest coaches.

“It was really a powerful culture to see and it shows why the Spurs have been one of the most consistent organizations from top to bottom for so many years.”

Curry worked under the Spurs’ G League head coach, Blake Ahearn, during the Sacramento tournament and San Antonio assistant Becky Hammon in Las Vegas.

“I really enjoyed my time learning from some of the best coaches,” Curry said, “and just getting a chance every day to be with some of the best athletes in the world was a dream come true.”

Hammon was hired by the Spurs in 2014 as the NBA’s first female full-time assistant coach, and since then the ranks have grown to six women working as assistant coaches in the league with the recent additions of former U.S. Olympian and ESPN broadcaster Kara Lawson to Brad Stevens’ staff with the Boston Celtics and former University of California head coach Lindsay Gottleib joining the Cleveland Cavaliers’ organization.

The 40-year-old Curry has similar aspirations but is content to chart her own game plan for career success.

“I’m not one to say what it takes for another woman to get there versus your own journey,” she said. “In the end it’s about work, and when I was with the Spurs we worked together and enjoyed each other, and that’s what my time there was about.

“Everyone’s journey is different. I just work hard, and wherever my journey takes me, it takes me.”

Curry does see increasing opportunities for women in the NBA. At least two teams, the Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers, employ women in their player development departments, while the league also has three female game officials.

“There is a great presence with women in general in the NBA, and it’s moving more toward coaches,” she said. “Before the end of the year there will be more women hired on staffs, a lot of women were getting interviewed for coaching positions, and it’s something the NBA is finding very beneficial as a whole and something the players enjoy.

“It’s not the norm for the world and the media, but gender’s not a big thing with the players. They understand your depth of knowledge and love and care for them, and all they care about is you helping them achieve their dreams.”

Curry is no stranger to the NBA, having been affiliated with the NBA Assistant Coaches Program for three years. She is currently an ACP mentor coach who teaches former WNBA and NBA players seeking to transition to the coaching ranks about the software and other technology used in the league.

Perhaps she will use the knowledge she is now teaching others in a return to an NBA bench on a full-time basis someday — but it is not necessarily the big leagues or bust.

“I just love coaching,” she said. “I would definitely love a chance to coach the best of the best, what coach wouldn’t?

“But I didn’t set out on this journey to coach men at a particular level. I’m a men’s basketball coach, and the passion I have when I’m working with NBA players is the same passion I have when I’m working with my college players here at the University of Maine.”

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...