After a basketball player ends their playing career, they often miss the game they dedicated so many years to. Getting into coaching can be a natural transition for some, but it can also be difficult for young coaches to find success early in their careers.
AJ Albritton is Western Washington University men’s basketball’s 31-year-old player development coach. He took an unorthodox path to get to this point, having spent time coaching at the professional level prior to joining Tony Dominguez’s staff.
As a player, Albritton thought he was going to play forever. After a redshirt season at Pima College in 2011, he became a personal trainer. His boss, a high school coach at the time, offered him a job coaching an eighth-grade team in his home state of Arizona. He was 22 years old. Albritton began to receive praise after a couple of months of coaching and decided to start taking coaching a little more seriously. He soon landed a job coaching at The Gregory School, a high school in Tucson, Arizona.
In his first year as varsity head coach, Albritton led the Hawks to the state championship game and won Southern Arizona Coach of The Year. After winning the award and taking his team to a state title, Albritton’s name started to float around as a promising young coach.
When Joseph Blair, Albritton’s family friend, got the job as the head coach for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Houston Rockets’ G-League affiliate, Albritton reached out to Blair, interested in a potential open position.
Things fell into place and Albritton was added to the Rio Grande Valley staff. There, he worked with several current NBA rotation players including Isaiah Hartenstein and Gary Payton II.
“I learned more there than I contributed,” Albritton said. “I learned so much at that level, just the ins and outs, the player operations, the professionalism of basketball. I can’t say that I was fully prepared for that opportunity, but how I did get prepared was I aimed high in my approach every day.”
That high-level preparation paid off as the Vipers ended up winning the 2018-19 G-League championship. While Albritton’s first season with Rio Grande was a success, a myriad of circumstances would put a pause on his coaching career at the professional level. Blair received an assistant coaching position with the Philadelphia 76ers, leaving Albritton off of the Vipers’ staff.
Uncertain of his future, he reached out to the Houston Rockets and was able to do summer league and preseason work with the team. Before he could secure a position, however, COVID-19 hit, and Albritton once again had to look for a new opportunity. He found Western and recently completed his second season coaching for the Vikings.
Fellow Great Northwest Athletic Conference coach Alisha Breen spent a highly-decorated career playing for Montana State University Billings from 2013 to 2018. She missed the 2016-17 season after tearing her ACL in the second game of the season.
It was that season on the sidelines where Breen got to witness the game from a different perspective. After getting back on the court in 2017-18 and having a historic season, Breen was content with stepping away from the game as a player.
“I was lucky that my last year at MSUB I pretty much fulfilled all the things I wanted to do,” Breen said. “We won the GNAC tournament [and] the West Region, [and we] went to the Elite Eight. I got to leave my career on a high note.”
Breen remains the GNAC’s all-time leading scorer with 2,001 points. When an opportunity to join Kevin Woodin’s staff as a women’s basketball assistant coach at MSUB presented itself, a 23-year-old Breen seized the opportunity. After three seasons as an assistant coach, Breen was promoted to associate head coach, a role she’s maintained for the past two seasons.
On March 20, Breen was named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association 30 under 30 list. Though awarded such a prestigious honor, Breen remains humble and focused on her role for her players.
“We’re preparing them to be women,” Breen said. “That’s something I really cherish with my job — looking at the roster and seeing the girls that I get to spend every day with, getting to know them through the ups and downs, the triumphs, the losses, all that good stuff. And then watch them step into the world and be successful.”
Another women’s basketball coach, Brady Bomber, has been making a name for himself at the high school level. Bomber spent a four-year career at Saint Martin’s University from 2010 to 2013 before moving back to his hometown, Lynden.
He never had a desire to coach. Having watched his dad coach at Lynden High School since the early ‘90s, Bomber saw all the time that went into it and the challenges that came with it. But after working in accounting for a year, Bomber missed being on a team, having been a part of one for as long as he could remember.
When legendary Lynden Christian girls basketball coach Curt De Haan retired, the Lyncs began their search for a new varsity coach. Bomber decided he would apply, not thinking too much of it at the time until he was hired for the position two weeks later.
As a brand new 24-year-old head coach with no assistant coaching experience, things didn’t come easy.
“It was really hard. I wasn’t a very good leader, I wasn’t a very good communicator,” Bomber said. “I didn’t lead our staff very well, I didn’t lead our players. I knew I wanted to coach, but I knew I had a lot more to learn than I anticipated. I think that’s just being young and a little naive to how hard it is.”
Bomber has since grown into a more complete coach and was named the Washington girls All-Star team coach at the 2023 WAVOR Showcase that took place on April 2. Bomber has won four state titles and has a 179-21 record since taking over the program.
While none of these coaches have spent more than 10 years along the sideline, they’ve managed to accomplish a lot in a short period of time. Coaches are often judged by their wins and losses, and while all three have had significant tangible success, they each view their job as something more than just a record.
“One thing I’ve learned is that it’s all about relationships [and] the impact you can have on people’s lives, whether it’s a colleague or a player that you’re coaching,” Albritton said. “And that’s not just basketball, that’s anything you do in life. Being able to have relationships with people and impact their lives in positive ways, to me, that’s success at the highest level.”
Andrew Foster (he/him) is a sports reporter at The Front. He enjoys listening to music, playing basketball and is working towards a degree in journalism.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.