Windy City coach Cotter is from Australia, but has Midwestern roots
Damian Cotter was a young basketball coach in Melbourne, Australia, anxious to learn all he could about the sport.
So naturally, he took a trip to Indiana. After meeting Evansville coach Jim Crews at an international tournament in Australia, Cotter worked up a four-college itinerary that included a visit with then-Indiana coach Bobby Knight.
"I visited Xavier, Cincinnati, Indiana and Evansville," Cotter said. "It was a great trip. Changed my life. From that moment on, I fell in love with the Midwest people and I did a lot of visits here.
"Jim Crews treated me very, very well. So that started it, then a mentor of mine knew coach Knight and he organized for me to go there. The people at Cincinnati and Xavier, those were just cold calls, and they treated me so well."
Cotter made a habit of visiting Midwestern colleges to learn from other coaches. He remembers making stops at Northwestern and Loyola in those days. But he never seriously considered working in the U.S. until a job offer fell in his lap a couple years ago.
Cotter spent many years working for Australian basketball clubs, which sponsored teams from the youth level through high school. He was an assistant with the Australia women's team at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
He was pondering his next move when another life-changing moment arrived. He ended up as an assistant coach with the G-League's Long Island Nets. Two years later, he's in Hoffman Estates as head coach of the Windy City Bulls, who will open their fourth season at home Saturday at the Sears Centre against Wisconsin. The season opener was on the road Friday.
"I started pursuing some overseas options and Long Island came out of left field," Cotter said. "From some mutual acquaintances, I got in touch with (head coach) Ronald Nored (the former Butler point guard), we hit it off on the phone, Ron hired me and it was one of the best professional experiences I ever had. I've loved living here."
Cotter spent last season as an assistant with the Capital City Go-Go, Washington's G-League team. He was hired to be Windy City's third head coach this summer after Charlie Henry left for a job at the University of Alabama.
"I really can't describe. It was like fate made this happen and brought me over here," Cotter said. "It's been a wonderful move for me."
Windy City made the playoffs for the first time last season, but the main players from that squad have moved on. Among the top scorers, JaKarr Sampson started for the Pacers last week against the Bulls. Walt Lemon Jr. also left to join the Pacers.
There are four players back from last year's squad who played reserve roles -- Ferrakohn Hall, V.J. Beachem, Thomas Wilder and Tre'Darius McCallum.
This year's roster does include a couple of proven G-League stars. Former Loyola guard Milton Doyle averaged 20.5 points for Cotter's Long Island Nets squad two years ago. After playing in Spain last season, he was looking to return to Chicago and the Bulls traded for his rights.
"I think it was just a nice coincidence," Cotter said. "Milt's a Chicago kid, he wants to be in Chicago and I'm happy to have him on the team, let me tell you."
The Bulls also have P.J. Dozier, a Denver Nuggets two-way player who was a G-League all-star with the Maine Red Claws last season. Denver is one of two teams without its own G-League affiliate. So Dozier was sent here and the Nuggets' other two-way player, 7-foot Bol Bol, should arrive soon.
The Bulls' two-way players this year are Paris native Adam Mokoka, who was with the Bulls in summer league and preseason, and former DePaul star Max Strus, who is from Southwest Suburban Hickory Hills.
One thing Windy City has this year is an abundance of 6-5-ish shooting guards, with Doyle, Dozier, Strus, Mokoka and Justin Simon, another player from Bulls summer league and preseason.
"We have a very talented G-League team," Cotter said. "My challenge is to get them to work together, which so far has been no problem at all. It creates a really good situation to train. You've got some competitive friction there that's going to help players keep improving."
The Bulls were planning to send rookie center Daniel Gafford to play in the season opener on Friday at Wisconsin.
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls
No. Player Ht Pos School/Country
2 V.J. Beachem 6-8 F Notre Dame
Power forward averaged 6.5 points last season, mostly in a reserve role.
1 Perrion Callandret 6-3 G Idaho
Zach LaVine's best friend from high school earned spot as backup point guard.
35 Milton Doyle 6-4 G Loyola
Chicago native averaged 20.5 points for Long Island Nets in 2017-18.
15 P.J. Dozier 6-5 G South Carolina
Two-way player on loan from Nuggets was a G-League all-star with Maine last year.
8 Dayon Goodman 6-8 G Westminster
Salt Lake City native averaged 27.7 points during senior season in college.
17 Ferrakohn Hall 6-8 F Memphis
Heading into third season with Windy City, averaged 8.3 points last year.
7 Tre'Darius McCallum 6-7 F DePaul
Former DePaul forward appeared in 14 games for Windy City last season.
20 Adam Mokoka 6-5 G France
Two-way player was with Bulls in summer league and preseason.
16 Darel Poirier 6-10 C France
Averaged 9.1 points for Wizards' G-League affiliate, where coach Cotter was an assistant.
11 Simi Shittu 6-10 C Vanderbilt
Born in England and raised in Ontario, he averaged 10.9 points in lone season at Vandy.
5 Justin Simon 6-5 G St. John's
Big East defensive player of year last season, joined Bulls in summer league.
28 Max Strus 6-5 F DePaul
Stagg HS product averaged 20.1 points for DePaul last year, spent preseason with Celtics.
22 Thomas Wilder 6-3 G Western Michigan
Former Oswego East star appeared in 44 games for Windy City last season.
Head coach: Damien Cotter (first season)
Assistant coaches: Henry Domercant, Martin Rancik