Dedication, perseverance lands Mallison on Bulls coaching staff

Published 6:59 pm Friday, February 24, 2017

Derrick Mallison was part of arguably the best Washington basketball team of the last decade. He played alongside Daquan Daniels and Cor-j Cox on a Pam Pack squad that went 12-10 in 2007-08. Mallison chipped in 2.5 assists and a steal per game, and was one of the team’s better sharpshooters.

That year, Mallison and the Pam Pack stormed out of the gates with a 7-0 record. They were ranked as one of the top teams in the state going into the New Year, but fizzled out a bit when they lost their first two games of the 2008 calendar year.

Mallison’s Pam Pack career came to an end on Feb. 26, 2008 when White Oak got a buzzer beater to down Washington, 56-54, in the first round of the playoffs.

“I still remember the play they ran,” he said. “A kid cut backdoor, they threw a lob and he just laid it up. I knew who was guarding him, too, but that’s a different story. On the ride back home, my dad (Daniel Mallison) said, ‘All right, son, you haven’t been recruited yet. It’s time to start thinking about some other things.’ … That was some awful timing. The wound was still fresh.”

Mallison remembers everything about growing up in Washington. For him and his friends, it was all basketball all the time. Even with all the dedication, Mallison’s 5-foot-6 frame simply wasn’t built for playing basketball beyond high school.

Besides not playing the game anymore, life hasn’t changed much for Mallison. As a basketball operations associate for the Chicago Bulls, he still gets to spend all his time around the sport he loves.

“I’m like a coach’s intern. I’m directly under (head coach) Fred Hoiberg,” Mallison said. “I also work with the rest of the coaching staff. … It’s a whole lot of video work, so all day long I’m basically watching basketball. It’s a dream for sure.”

Mallison’s passion for studying the game goes back to high school. While playing for Washington, he’d have his games recorded and he’d study the tape afterwards. It’s a common practice for college and professional basketball players, but — especially at the time — was rare for high-school athletes.

“I’d try to diagram team’s plays and learn plays. Literally, that’s when I started to see the gratification of studying the game,” Mallison said. “That’s when I knew. I just figured I’d coach my son’s team, like my dad did, or AAU. I was really into film.”

That’s what a large chunk of Mallison’s day-to-day life consists of now.

“He loves it. He lives it, he breathes it, he has analyzed the sport in ways I never did,” his father Daniel Mallison said. “He gives me credit for giving his start because I gave him the basics, but he took it to a whole new level, and he teaches me things now.”

Mallison struggled a bit with not playing after he graduated from Washington. Like most young men growing up in North Carolina, Mallison dreamed of one day playing professional basketball. He said that it was tough to watch players his age get drafted into the NBA, but he ended up finding his calling at North Carolina Central.

A lot of his opportunities so far have been a direct result of his ability to develop personal relationships. He got connected with Eagles coach LeVelle Moton, who offered him a spot on the coaching staff. Mallison spent time as the program’s video coordinator — a position that previously didn’t exist — and the director of basketball operations.

“Central over prepared me. I can’t say it enough,” Mallison said. “… I learned more from watching (Moton’s) practices for half a season than I did my whole playing career. … His attention to detail and preparation, I learned so much watching him.”

To make the jump from N.C. Central to the NBA was no easy task. It’s a gamble for a team to take anyone — player or coaching-staff member — from those ranks. Mallison used handwritten letters to help establish relationships with professional coaches. He said he wrote around 300 in the span of about two years, and it paid off.

“I had created a database for the whole entire NBA,” he said. “… In my letters, I’d almost set it up like a frame, and I made sure I added a personal touch. … I ended up making about 45 or 50 contacts.”

Mallison got a bit burnt out and ended up leaving N.C. Central for an insurance sales job that offered more money. He was only there for a few months when an opportunity with Chicago arose.

Associate head coach Jim Boylen said he’d be at a conference in Las Vegas interviewing prospects for a staff opening. Mallison told Boylen he’d be at the conference, and the two set up a time to meet.

“I hadn’t even booked my flight yet. … That was four days away,” Mallison said. “I had to bet on myself again. … The rest was history. He called me a month later and offered me a job. I quit that insurance job the same day.”

Mallison didn’t get the chance to make it big as a basketball player, but he remained passionate about the sport and continues to do what he loves. The Pam Pack standout followed his dreams, worked relentlessly for years, and now finds himself working in the NBA.