Mike Ladd could probably play basketball professionally right now.
At 26, he’s just entering what would be the prime of his career. His Washington State teammates have fanned out around the world, taking their talents to locales like Germany and Australia, and after starting 26 games for the Cougars his senior year, he’s shown he can hold his own with some of the best college players.
Even now, more than three years after finishing his collegiate career at Wazzu, agents still contact him to gauge his interest.
“If I was single with no kids, I probably would have tried it out for a year or two,” he said. “But I felt like it was better for me to stay home and give back to my community — the community I was raised in — and I feel like all of that’s paying off.”
With a wife and two children at home (and a third on the way), the Seattle native and Rainier Beach High standout is content in the Emerald City. While he may not be playing, he’s taken the first step toward his larger dreams of coaching at the Division I level, by joining first-year head coach Grant Leep’s staff as an assistant at Seattle Pacific University.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity he gave me,” Ladd said. “I’m just hoping to accomplish some big things here.”
As Leep looked to build his staff, he wanted coaches that could boast strong connections to the Northwest basketball scene. With glowing recommendations, and experience as a college transfer — a crucial outlet for the team to build its roster each season — hiring Ladd made sense.
Leep said Ladd brings an, “understanding of the game, his passion for player development, and his ability to build relationships and connect with our players,” to the program.
The transition to college coaching is the next step for Ladd in what has already been a sizeable career in basketball.
Ladd said basketball “runs in his bloodlines.” His grandfather, Gary, played at Seattle University and was drafted by the Sonics, while his dad coached him as a youngster. His sister, Myzhanique, is on the roster at San Jose State, while his aunt played professionally for the Storm and the Los Angeles Sparks.
After starring at Rainier Beach — winning the 3A title as captain his senior year — Ladd committed to Fresno State.
“They get really a lot of love from like the city and the whole area,” he said. “I just loved seeing all that.”
But he always had dreams of playing in the Pac-12. With a friend and high school teammate in Reggie Moore playing at Washington State, Ladd eventually made the decision to transfer after two years in California, happy with the opportunity to play closer to home.
“It’s a crazy college atmosphere,” he said of Pullman. “[There’s] a lot of die-hard Cougars out there. I just felt like it was the best decision for me to go there, and play in the Pac there, and I became a better player.”
As he wrapped up his college career, he was faced with the question that most Division I players grapple with after graduation: Is it worth trying to play professionally?
“I did a lot of deep thinking, and I felt like that was the best opportunity for me,” he said. “Instead of just chasing that NBA dream. There’s a lot of favoritism when it goes to the NBA, and I didn’t really want to go overseas and leave my family.”
Instead, he returned to Seattle. While basketball runs in his bloodlines, so does teaching.
After graduating, Ladd followed the path set by his mother and grandmother, working as an instructional assistant in the Seattle School District. He would also spend a summer in Chicago with Teach for America, leading a group of second and third graders. While he got good reviews in that role, teaching younger children wasn’t what he had in mind.
Now, he spends his days working back at Rainier Beach, before heading to SPU after the school day for practice. With that role is the chance to mentor students roaming the same halls he did less than a decade ago.
“I’m playing a big part in a lot of kids lives right now,” he said. “Some of the kids at the school don’t have people to talk to at home. They come from low income housing [or] parents are not in their lives, I’m the guy at the school that pretty much comes in and gives them the support that their missing.”
And every now and then, he gets to show off some of the athleticism that propelled him to a Division I basketball career.
“Everybody asks me, ‘Why aren’t you playing? You should be playing, you’re crazy,’” he said. “But at the same time, they see me with my family, with my kids,”
Part of giving back to his community, he said, is trying to set an example for the next generation.
“African-American males, they really look up to me,” he said. “They see me doing good, and you know, that shows them, I’m showing them the proper way to do things. They see me, that I went to college and I came back, and I chose not to go overseas, or continue playing to give back and help them, and that makes them work that much harder.”
Not being far removed from his college playing days also gives him a unique perspective as he tries to pass on what he knows to the players at Seattle Pacific.
“A lot because a lot of college coaches are older, so they can tell the players what to do, but I actually can get out there and do it game speed, and show them exactly what to do, the proper way to do it, and it gives them a better idea of how to do it,” he said.
After a full day at a pair of schools — and oftentimes a workout if he can fit one in — he finally gets a bit of quality time with his family. In the middle of the night, he’ll wake up to check on his kids, and reflect on everything happening in his life.
“I wake up at 3:30,” he said. “That’s when I just sit up, for a little bit, do a little bit of thinking, deep thinking about my goals, and things I’m going through with my family, all my issues,” he said. “Then, I feel like I can go back and sleep on that stuff. So I wake up, fresh day, and start all over.”
The bevy of responsibilities make for long days. But, to Ladd, it’s all worthwhile.
“I’m still young, I’m still learning, I’m still observing,” Ladd said, “and I feel like with this time that I’m putting in, it’s all going to pay off for me in the future.”
Seattle Pacific opens its season with an exhibition at Brigham Young University on Oct. 29. The first counting home games are on Nov. 11 and 12 at Brougham Pavilion during the Sodexo Tip-Off Classic. For more information, visit www.spufalcons.com