The making of Adrian Autry, SU basketball’s second-in-command
The Making of Adrian Autry
Adrian Autry needed to do something different, so he worked the early-morning shift at UPS. His schedule fluctuated between early mornings and late nights. But usually he drove the brown UPS truck from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., several days per week. After he retired from a professional basketball career overseas, Autry, a former Syracuse standout (1990-94), delivered packages. Deep down, he felt he had to.
It was 2005. He was 33, and he just needed a job, an additional line item to put on his resume. He wanted to be involved in high school or college basketball, but he lacked experience. He applied to a UPS in the Washington D.C. area, and he got the job. The pay wasn’t much and the hours weren’t ideal. But he woke up before the sun rose to hop in and out of the trucks for deliveries. The experience, albeit brief, challenged him because it pulled him away from the place he centered his life around: the court.
“It forced me out of my element,” Autry, now 47, said. “I learned to be who you are and treat people how you want to be treated. Don’t get caught up into everything else. Just try to be who you are, and see what you can become.”
One of his most recent jobs came as the delivery guy at UPS. His next could be one of the more coveted positions in the college game: head coach at Syracuse. As Autry embarks on another offseason on Jim Boeheim’s staff, he inches closer to a head coaching position. Whether the jump comes at Syracuse, or elsewhere, remains to be seen.
But the SU associate head coach — second-in-command for the Orange after Mike Hopkins vacated the position in 2017 — wants to be a head coach at the college level. He wants to continue doing what he’s done for the past eight seasons on the SU sideline: mold newcomers into contributors and help them turn into the best players, the best people, they can be.
How he got here traces not solely to his career as a four-year starter for Syracuse, but to the beginning of his life as a New York City kid from the Martin Luther King Jr. projects. Back then, he said, he was another inner-city player with a big dream.
When he was little, he read the Bible to his mother and sister. His mother taught him to help others — she welcomed friends, neighbors and relatives who struggled to pay rent a chance to stay in their two-bedroom apartment. One friend moved in for two or three years, and Autry let him share his bed.
“Our door was always open to help get people back on their feet,” Autry said.
On the commute home from elementary school, he finished homework while sitting alone on the subway and bus. That way, he could play on the basketball courts where Dwayne “Pearl” Washington’s game was born. And, in time, Autry himself grew into a star. He grew to 6-foot-4. He was a McDonald’s All-American in 1990. He earned first-team All-New York City in 1988, 1989 and 1990. When he recalls his childhood, he thinks of the green fence surrounding the court that also built him into a Division I star.
“I was focused on trying to go to school,” Autry said. “I was the first person in my family to go to college and graduate. When I came up here to visit with Coach Boeheim, I thought I’d be a good fit. I can say this: I never thought I’d be where I’m at.”
His Syracuse career ended in 1994, the year he earned First Team All-Big East honors as a senior. He started all four years at point guard, though he didn’t get selected in the NBA Draft. Instead, he spent 11 seasons playing professionally in Europe. His stops included Germany, Turkey, Italy, France, Russia, Poland and Belgium.
Then Autry worked at UPS, the resume-boosting job that put him on his coaching path. Then he worked as a settle manager in the real estate business. Then he coached an AAU team, which helped him become an assistant coach at Paul VI Catholic High School in Virginia.
It was then, at an AAU event nearby, Autry piqued the interest of Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg. The two-time ACC Coach of the Year had followed Autry’s collegiate and professional careers, and he saw in him a mentor young players could trust — because he was honest. In 2008, when the director of operations position opened up, Greenberg knew the man he wanted.
“He was a coach, not a former player coaching,” said Greenberg, now an ESPN college basketball analyst. “When we brought him here, he was in every scouting meeting, every recruiting meeting, everything. He initiated workouts and meetings on his own. I’ve seen him grow in every aspect, from a guy who chased his dream to someone who’s trying to be a better coach. He wasn’t handed anything.
“He’s a head coach waiting to happen.”
The Virginia Tech job didn’t pay much, and Autry rented a place in Blacksburg, Virginia while his wife, Andrea, kept her job near Washington. Soon, he got promoted to assistant coach on Greenberg’s staff, where he stayed until 2011.
That’s when Boeheim, his former college coach, asked if he wanted to fill an assistant-coaching vacancy. Autry didn’t waver. He hadn’t yet bloomed as a coach, but now he was on an upward path toward his ultimate dream of being a head coach. He moved to Jamesville with his wife and four children.
Congratulations to my son on graduating from my alma mater ???? pic.twitter.com/uy6laqGWIi
— Adrian Autry (@CoachRedAutry) May 12, 2019
Since arriving at SU, current and former players characterize him as a relatively quiet, blunt coach who shows up hours before games and practices to work them out. He rises by 6 a.m. and jots down his goals for the day. From Boeheim, he’s learned to keep the game and his instruction simple. From Hopkins, now a two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year at Washington, Autry learned to spend less time worrying about others and more time thinking about himself.
“Be the best you can be,” Hopkins told Autry. “Whatever the task is. If you’re sweeping floors, be the best floor-sweeper in the world.”
Autry has developed NBA draft picks Jerami Grant, Kris Joseph, Tyler Lydon, Chris McCullough and Malachi Richardson, among others. Former Syracuse stars Michael Carter-Williams and Wesley Johnson, who have both played in the NBA, said last fall that he’s reserved in games. But in practice, he pushed them to extend their skill sets. They joked that he’s always in shorts, always up for a basketball workout in the team practice facility.
Great to see James Southerland back in our gym today. #OrangeFamily pic.twitter.com/Aocbl80Pqr
— Adrian Autry (@CoachRedAutry) August 29, 2017
Fourteen years ago, he was delivering packages for UPS. Now he’s second-in-command at one of college basketball’s premier programs, rising early each morning to ensure he’s got a firm grasp on the day. He remains the opposite of a micro-manager, a relatively young coach with something to prove.
Inside, Autry knows he’s made for this.
“He’s deserved everything he’s gotten and done here,” Boeheim said.