HARRISONBURG — James Madison officially added to its men’s basketball coaching staff Thursday, hiring longtime college and NBA assistant Josh Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer, who most recently worked as player development coach for the Brooklyn Nets, is returning to the college game after working in the NBA since 2013 as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets before joining the Nets organization in 2017. Prior to that, Oppenheimer served as an assistant at Duquesne, Delaware, DePaul and Kent State.
“I think I can be an asset to the program and the coaches and players in whatever way [JMU coach Louis] Rowe thinks I can be the best fit for him and the guys,” Oppenheimer said. “I’ve been around a lot of good players. I know good players and I believe we have some. I think we have the ability to do some exciting and fun stuff. I’ve been away from the college game for nine years, but I think I’m pretty good at helping players get better.”
While the hire only recently became official, Oppenheimer has been a familiar face around the Convocation Center for quite some time. His daughter, Nikki, is a member of the JMU women’s team and during visits to Harrisonburg he got to know Rowe.
When former Dukes assistant Tim Johnson left for a position at Furman earlier in the summer, Rowe knew almost immediately he wanted to hire Oppenheimer, who has gained a reputation as one of the best player development coaches in the sport and has been largely credited with helping develop NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo while with the Bucks.
“It’s unbelievable,” Rowe said. “I’m very happy with the guys I’ve been able to hire, all of them. But I’m very excited and very happy to have Josh and I know what he brings to the table. For my players, I want to give them every resource I can to help them get to the next level, to help them reach their goals. When you look at his passion for the game, his knowledge, bringing him in says we’re serious about that.”
Though some issues with paperwork and other logistics held up his actual addition to the staff, Oppenheimer has been in the gym working with JMU players for much of the summer.
“I got to visit with Coach Rowe last year, coming up from time to time to visit Nikki when I could,” Oppenheimer said. “I got a chance to meet Coach Rowe and talk. I watched them practice and play a little bit and we kept in correspondence, but we never really talked about a job or anything, just two basketball coaches sharing ideas. I thought we hit it off really well and it just seemed like a good opportunity.”
It’s been a particularly happy move for the Oppenheimer family, which includes Nikki along with wife Adrienne and the couple’s oldest daughter Gabbi. The life of a coach often means a nomadic existence and Josh Oppenheimer’s career has taken him all over the country while the rest of the family was largely based out of the Chicago area.
“I have an older daughter who works in New York City, but it’s sort of put our family back together year round,” he said. “I have the opportunity to watch Nikki play and be around her, but not be right on top of her because I’m not her coach. It’s great for my wife and I think it’s something that can be a special situation for our family.”