I entered the Entertainment and Sports Arena, taking a look around the fresh, new arena built in Southeast DC. I didn’t know what I was going to get into as a sportswriter for a league I knew little about, but I knew that I wanted to contribute to the inaugural season of the Wizards’ G-League affiliate, Capital City Go-go. This was the same mindset Capital City Go-go head coach Jarell Christian had entering the season. However, little did he know, the position he wanted would still be be open, and could be his for the taking.
“It goes back to a meeting I had with Tommy, Ernie, Scotty Frank Ross, back in July in Vegas. I told those guys I was extremely interested in the position. At that point I didn’t really know what openings they had I just knew I wanted to be a part of this organization. I wanted to be apart of an expansion team and I knew I wanted to be closer to home and I think that checked all the boxes.”
Christian started his coaching journey as an assistant at his alma mater, Emory and Henry from 2010-2011. He moved on to being an assistant at Tusculum University in Tennessee from 2011-2012. Randolph-Macon College from 2012-2014 would be the last college he would serve as an assistant for before he would enter into the professional league.
In 2016, Christian moved on to the semi-pros, as he would serve as an assistant for the Oklahoma City Blue, affiliate of the Oklahoma City Thunder. At the same time, he served as an assistant for the NBA affiliate, Oklahoma City Thunder from 2017-2018. “Being in the G-League for 4 years, the head coaching step was something I wanted to do sooner than later, but again I wasn’t pressed on being the head coach. I was excited when they told me that is was an head coach opening and I jumped at it and I was elated about it. Initially line I said I thought they had already their staff and I just wanted to be involved.”
When Christian accepted the position as head coach, he would enter into familiar territory: being under the wing of current Washington Wizards head coach and former Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. “My first season, my first introduction to professional basketball was under the tutelage is Scott Brooks. The terminology is all the same. And nothing really has changed. Some of the things they’re doing here he did in Oklahoma so it helps me to know where to start the teaching at. And I understand the progression that it all comes with. I’ve seen it done with the Blue and I’ve seen it done with the Thunder it takes time to develop. The thing I love most with him is he’s willing to put his time and effort with his players.”
With a new position comes new responsibilities, and Christian quickly realized there was much more responsibility to being a head coach. “The biggest difference to me is the amount of management that you have on a daily basis. You have to manage the management with the GM the assistant GM the relationship with the Wizards and their front office and also you have to manage the staff. You gotta make sure your staff and coaches are on the same page. Gotta make sure your trained and strength coaches are on the same page. Then you get to get on the floor and manage your players. All those personalities you have to learn how to manage. It’s been tough at times at times still growing and still developing. I just know that moving forward, I know what to expect a little bit more”
Moving closer and closer to the season, things were coming together for the Go-go organization behind the scenes, now it was time to add to the product by adding players. Going through that process made Christian realize that this was his team and his dream was becoming his reality. “It was definitely surreal. I think looking back on that with Scott we didn’t know what we had. It seems like it was yesterday that we were opening these doors and walking in the community here but to even see some of those guys come back here has been rewarding. Seeing those guys start from the ground up is special . Something I don’t take for granted to see how far we come. I even reminded the team that the other day. We started from nothing. Where we are right now not many people thought we would be here other than the people in that locker room so kudos to them for sticking together and kudos to them for wanting to do better and leave a legacy.”
Putting anything together from scratch is special, but to be in a position to do so where a lot of minorities don’t even get a chance to is something Christian doesn’t take for granted. Christian is only one of three Black coaches in the G-League. Being only one of six Black head coaches in the G-League, Christian is most grateful that he is just trusted. “The thing I appreciate the most is people trust me in this role. Not a lot of minorities are trusted to assume such powerful positions within an organization especially an expansion team. This is our baby. Pops and myself both, we are the first ones we are the faces of it. And for us to look similar to the ones that are surrounded by everyday. by being here in Ward 8 and by being here in D.C, I think it add a lot of value to us but also adds value to what we’re trying to create here. And I talked about building a legacy hopefully this is something the community can embrace moving forward.”
Entering the season as a newbie in the G-League, expectations were most likely not as high, especially since most would not have known who the team was in the first place. However they got to 20 wins on the season, including an undefeated showing in their first ever G-League Showcase in Las Vegas. They looked way ahead of schedule, more than a new team should have looked in their first season. Christian was pleased win they got to the big 2-0. “It felt good I think we got their pretty quickly. Probably quicker than some people anticipated. But I think that’s part of being in the G-League. It’s high turnover, it’s up and down with the roster. We started 30 different starting lineups in 46 games, so it’s not a synergy you can get. It’s a huge testament to the coaches and a huge testament to the guys who were with us from day one. to be able to stay focused and stay grounded and still get their work done, because at any given point you may have to ask someone who hasn’t played significant to start all of a sudden or the guy that’s not playing more than 10 minutes to assume more of a 40-minute role. That was Pe’Shon Howard early that was Noah Allen early. It’s been injuries as well. It has been an up and down year to say the least, but I’m so proud of our guys and the way they persevered through the adversity.
The Go-go finished seventh in the Eastern Conference. It took until the last day of the regular season to find out their fate, eventually losing the last playoff spot to the Grand Rapids Drive. Despite the Go-go missing the postseason, Christian saw his first season as head coach and the Capital City Go-go’s first season as an organization as a success. “It’s definitely a success just from the standpoint that our guys fought and we were in most of the games. Aside from winning and losing, I was so proud of the way that our guys handled themselves on a daily basis. Their work ethic was great, I think Scott, Pops and the front office did a pretty good job in identity talent to give us a fair shot. Our staff has been really good, supportive of me and my crazy decisions at times. But I think our players got better, and that’s the whole point of having a G-League team. Having some guys that can come down and play for us and then go up and contribute for the Wizards. That’s exactly why we’re here.”
Christian’s coaching and success yielded some good results by season’s end. Earlier in the season, former center Thomas Welsh signed with the Denver Nuggets. Star point guard Chris Chiozza signed with the Houston Rockets. Chasson Randle and Jordan McRae each signed with the Wizards. Also Wizard’s rookie Troy Brown Jr. got more significant minutes with the Wizards as the season went on with the help of playing in the G-League. It’s safe to say that jumping on that position last July would work out in his favor.
As an assistant for years, Christian knew all too well being in that role. He was the Robin to a Batman, the Luigi to a Mario, the Scottie Pippen to Michael Jordan if you will. But now, Christian, a Quinton, VA native, would take the reigns of his own, leading a new team near his hometown in the D.C. area, surrounded by people who look just like him. Leadership is a choice, not a position and by choosing to lead, he exemplifies taking people from where they were and leading to them to where they will eventually be.