As a kid growing up in Portland’s North Deering neighborhood, Josh Longstaff was known for his love of basketball. Back in the 90′s it was a regular sight to see him dribbling down Summit Street on his way to the basketball courts behind Lyman Moore Middle School. Even in the dead of winter he would get up early to shoot around before school, and his parent’s driveway on Deepwood Drive was host to countless neighborhood pickup games.
As early as elementary school Longstaff was regarded as one of the state’s top athletes. In the spring of 1995 he was a starting pitcher for the state Little League champs that went to the regional tournament.
Then in middle school he developed a reputation as a devastating outside shooter on the basketball court playing guard for the then high-powered Lyman Moore Falcons.
He made no secret of his goal, he wanted to play in the NBA someday. Problem was, even though he was a great athlete and an elite player in Maine, he never developed in size like his crosstown rivals Nik Caner-Medley, Jamaal Caterina, and Walter Phillips who played for Lincoln Middle School and Deering High.
He would go on to star at Portland High School, contributing to the Bulldog’s 1999 state championship team as a sophomore and earning all-state honors as a senior in 2001.
He even drilled the winning buzzer beater against the Deering High squad that Caner-Medley, Caterina, and Phillips played for in the championship game of the annual holiday invitational tournament held at the Portland Expo in his senior year.
Following that game he had firmly established a reputation as a scrappy player who played with passion and ice in his veins. He was so well regarded for his work ethic that at just 5 foot 8 inches and 140 pounds he walked on to play for Division II Bryant College (now Division I Bryant University).
Following college graduation in 2005, Longstaff moved home to Maine to find his career path. He found his way back into basketball almost immediately, assistant coaching at his alma mater Portland High for three years followed by two successful years as the head coach at Gorham High School. Then, in the spring of 2010 he made the tough decision to step away from basketball to take a sales position with Idexx Laboratories.
He was excited about the chance to put his degree in marketing to use at Idexx, but disappointed to leave Gorham after two years of building the program.
It didn’t take long for the game to pull him back in. After just a few months at Idexx the opportunity of a lifetime came knocking on his door when a former assistant coach from Bryant named Brian Keefe helped him get an interview for an assistant coaching position with the National Basketball Assocation’s Oklahoma City Thunder franchise.
Keefe, who was already working for the Thunder, had previously introduced Longstaff to several Thunder personnel when he invited his former player to visit him down in Oklahoma about a year prior to Longstaff’s hiring at Idexx. Longstaff actually interviewed for a job on that first trip, and even though he didn’t get it he made a positive enough impression to get his name on the short list of candidates the next time an assistant position opened up.
When he went down to Oklahoma the second time he nailed the three day interview process, then came home to let his family, friends, and employer know the exciting news that he was making the move down to the Bible Belt.
It wasn’t exactly the NBA dream that he had as a kid shooting around on those early mornings at the Lyman Moore courts, but he was getting the chance to work with some of the most talented players in the world.
Now in his fourth year with the team, he’s been with them for one NBA Finals appearance in 2012 (the Thunder lost to the Miami Heat in that series, 4-1), and is currently in the middle of another run at a title. On Tuesday night the Thunder evened their best of seven series with the San Antonio Spurs at 2-2 for the Western Conference Finals. If they win this series, they’ll be in the NBA Finals once again.
I reached out to him for an interview with a Facebook message. It’s been years since we’ve talked but to my surprise he messaged me back almost immediately and agreed to a Q & A saying, “ Chris, great hearing from you my man. I would love to give you whatever you need for the story.”
“You know how much pride I have for the city of Portland and the state of Maine. I miss the people there everyday. Let me know what you need.”
I sent him a fairly long list of questions and he was gracious enough to answer them all honestly and thoughtfully:
CS- “How do you feel about the game 4 win?”
JL- “It was obviously a big win for us to even the series at 2-2. To me, it was also a great win because we gave maximum effort on the defensive end and we played like a team, moving the ball on offense showing trust in one another and then scrambling to help each other on the defense end. We are tough to beat when we do those things.
CS- “How do you feel about your team’s chances in game 5, the series, and in winning the championship in general?”
JL- “The Spurs are a great team and we know that they are going to regroup and bring their best game at home in Game 5. If we continue to focus on trusting each other and keeping our focus on the defensive end for 48 minutes then we can live with the results. As far as winning a championship, that’s a tough one because our focus as an organization is to try and get better every single day. That goes for individuals and as a team. That’s our approach each and everyday and I believe in that approach. If we can stay focused on that and block out the exterior noise I like our chances.”
CS- “What’s it like hanging out with stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?
JL- “Its incredible to be around guys like that everyday. Not only are they great talents but they are unbelievable people. I am very fortunate to be close with both of them. They have had a large impact on my experience and development in Oklahoma City. We are all like a big family because we spend literally everyday together during the season.”
CS- “What is your role on the team?”
JL- “My role with the team is player development and video analyst. I work with the players on the court everyday helping them to work on their game. That also includes watching film with them and spending time listening to their concerns and formulating a plan to help them in any way possible. The video part of my job consists of doing opponent scouting reports and putting together edits on the other teams personnel and play calls. This helps paint a picture of our opponents’ identity to our players.”
CS- “What do you do during games?”
JL- “On game days I am at the arena on the court four hours before tip-off helping our players warm up on the court. During the game I am mostly in the locker room watching the game live through a computer and putting in all of the information on what happens in each possession. As I am doing that in the first half, I am also making a halftime edit to show the coaches and they pick out a few of the things to show the team and make adjustments for the second half.”
CS- “How many times per year do you get back to Maine?”
JL- “I get back to Maine three or four times a year, it’s never enough though!”
CS- “How did growing up in Maine (Portland specifically) help to shape you as a person?”
JL- “I really can’t speak enough about what growing up in Portland has done for me as a person. As I have been fortunate enough to meet so many people and travel to so many places over the past four years I have realized that I have some qualities that separate me from other people around the league. They are qualities that are difficult to put into words but the most important one is how much I care about people and want to help them improve and get to where they want to be as players and people. I feel like that is what the city if Portland is all about, it’s a small community where people care about each other and are willing to sacrifice so much for one another. That’s why it’s my favorite city in the country- because of the people. With all that being said, what has helped me more than anything is the way I was raised by my family. I am so fortunate to have a mom, dad, and brother who were willing to do anything to help make each other’s lives better. They’ve had such a positive impact on my life.”
CS- “What are your future career goals?”
JL- “My future goal is to one day be a head coach in the NBA. I just want to keep learning everyday. It’s a privilege to be in the NBA because these jobs are so few and far between and I know that things can change so quickly in the nature of the business. I’m very fortunate to be where I am today and I’ve had a lot of help along the way. I just want to make my family, friends, the city of Portland, and the state of Maine proud.”
With a chance to bring an NBA championship ring back to Portland, a future that holds the possibility of one day becoming and NBA head coach, and genuinely solid character mixed with humility and determination- I think it’s fair to say Josh Longstaff has already made us all proud to call him a Mainer.
Make sure to tune in to the remaining Thunder games to root for Maine’s adopted basketball team. Longstaff will be hard at work in the locker room, so you won’t see him on the bench with most of the other coaches- but I’m betting that he’ll be there someday.
Thunder up Maine!
Writer’s note: I grew up down the street from Longstaff. As I said above, it’s been years since we’ve talked, but he responded within minutes to a Facebook message. For a guy who’s surrounded by superstars all day, I find it pretty remarkable that he’s remained so down to earth. He even sent me his cell number and we text messaged each other for a while just catching up. He asked me how my life is going and was congratulatory when I told him about some of my recent accomplishments. Even with all the success he’s had, he’s remained the same humble, genuinely friendly person that he was all those years ago growing up in North Deering.
He’s even still got a 207 area code on his cell phone.
Now that’s someone Mainers can root for.