Sacramento Kings assistant coach and chief of staff Roy Rana calls himself an anomaly. He grew up in Canada, a hockey country, but he didn’t develop a liking for it. Neither did he develop an interest in cricket — a sport that is almost a religion for many Indians. He remembers other Indo-Canadian kids gravitating to hockey, mostly to assimilate.
But Rana was interested in basketball.
“Hockey was big in my family at a younger age, badminton was big as well but mostly it was about academics which I was okay with but I wasn’t destined to become a doctor which is a dream for Indian parents,” he told The Undefeated, a sports and pop culture website owned and operated by ESPN.
However, Rana’s passion for basketball was met with initial resentment from his family, especially his mother. “My mom would always say that she needed to take me to the doctor,” he told The Undefeated. “My parents didn’t get it until late when they started to see the success and that it could be a career.”
Fast forward a few decades, and the Toronto native is a name to reckon with in the National Basketball Association or the NBA. Last June Rana, 50, joined the Sacramento Kings as their assistant coach and chief of staff. He also serves as head coach of Canada’s under-18 and under-19 national teams.
Last year, Rana was named among the most influential figures in Canadian basketball. “It is no exaggeration to say that there is not an elite Canadian basketball player in the game today that [Rana] hasn’t worked with at some stage in his career,” Sportsnet’s Michael Grange wrote.
Regarded as one of the most decorated coaches in Canadian history, Rana has over 25 years of coaching experience at the international, collegiate, and high school level.
He is married to Stephanie Rana, of Scottish and German origin. The couple has two kids — Shekher and Priya. In a 2012 interview with the Ryerson Folio, a magazine published by the Ryerson University, Rana described himself and his wife as “city people,” doing the things that regular downtown couples gravitate towards; “dinners, walks and cafe lounging.” The article said Rana is “a family man when he isn’t coaching, but even when he is, his kids are often on the bleachers cheering on dad’s team.” Rana said although both is kids were interested in hockey, they are giving basketball “a shot.”
It was Rana’s extensive history of coaching successes while representing Canada, that made Kings head coach, Luke Walton, hire him. “His [Rana’s] views and his philosophy on what coaching is all about — X’s and O’s [are] great, but it’s more about getting to connect to players,” Walton told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
But just when the Kings were gradually picking up their game, the NBA 2019-2020 season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It was the team’s first season under Rana. He told ESPN that although he’s awaiting instructions from the NBA leadership on how to resume the season, he is handling the situation patiently.
“You focus on what you can control,” he said, and added that once the decision is made, “you get your players back, get them fit, you get them ready, you prepare them like you would always prepare them.” He hoped the team will be ready to perform at a high level. “It’s unprecedented for everyone, not just for the Kings,” he said of the pandemic.
ESPN data says the Kings are currently 11th in the Western Conference “They remain an outside shot for the playoffs if the NBA resumes with the regular season,” it says. Rana told ESPN that although the season has not been overwhelming, it has given him an opportunity to learn at the highest level of basketball. “I am getting a Ph.D in basketball,” he said.
Last year, Rana travelled to India with the Kings during the inaugural NBA India Games. He told the ESPN then that “identifying talent at a young age and coach development” are the two main areas which can help Indian basketball bridge the gap with the rest of the world. “I think there needs to be a coordinated designed effort that there’s alignment in teaching the game across the country,” he said.
The son of Indian parents from Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, Rana was born in Wolverhampton, England. His family moved to Canada when he was 9 months old. His parents split shortly afterward, and he was raised primarily by his mother in Toronto.
It was around fifth grade that Rana became a huge fan basketball. He told The Undefeated that his elementary school had a poster of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar “with the hook shot and the goggles.” It was then that Rana fell in love with the game. “We had a strict Indian family, so I would watch games on tape delay with the TV on mute so no one knew I was up,” he said.
In high school, Rana was starting point guard, but didn’t play in college. “He considered becoming a diplomat or a journalist in college before settling on a career in education,” according to The Undefeated.
Rana began his coaching career in 1994 at CW Jeffery’s High School.
NBA says Rana “entered one of the most prolific stages of his career,” as basketball coach at Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute, a public high school in Toronto, in 2000. “Over the course of his nine years as the head coach at Eastern Commerce, Rana’s teams finished seven of the nine seasons ranked No. 1 in Canada,” the NBA said in its profile of Rana.
He was awarded many accolades during the nine-year span.
Over the years, Rana has observed how the coaching profession has changed. He told ESPN how he would be questioned about his choice of career. “It [coaching] wasn’t viewed as an opportunity to better yourself or to make a life for yourself,” he said. “That has changed.”
And with that shift in attitude, Rana hopes his story can inspire people. “It’s okay to aspire to be a coach,” he told ESPN. “Coaching is a profession and it is an incredible profession. It is something that people can take pride in. So hopefully I can leave a small little mark on those who follow.”