James Borrego is charging through the NBA.
On Thursday, the Albuquerque Academy graduate – who started in the league as a video coordinator in 2003 – was named interim coach of the Orlando Magic.
Borrego steps in after the Magic fired head coach Jacque Vaughn. Borrego had served as Vaughn’s top assistant coach the past 2½ seasons.
“Can you believe it? An Academy Charger is an NBA head coach!” Borrego’s former Charger teammate Josh Skarsgard told the Journal on Thursday. “James and I played together since we were kids and we’ve been best friends our whole lives. … James is all about relationships and loyalty, and that’s what helped him get the position.”
Skarsgard and Borrego helped the Chargers to four straight state title games between 1993-96, winning it as freshmen and sophomores and coming in second as juniors and seniors.
Skarsgard – owner of the Skarsgard Firm, retail development company and law firm – was in Borrego’s wedding and vice versa.
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan wouldn’t disclose a timeline for naming Vaughn’s successor, but said the team is “100 percent” behind Borrego, and that he would have an opportunity to vie for the job on a full-time basis.
Borrego said he plans to focus on improving the Magic’s defense. Despite being as healthy as the Magic has been all season, the team has given up 100 or more points in 14 consecutive games. It’s also lost five of its past six at home, where it is just 5-17 this year. Overall, Orlando is 14-37.
“I’m ready for the challenge,” Borrego told The Associated Press.
He and his wife, Megan, have a daughter, Grace, and two sons, Zachary and Nicholas.
Prior to joining Orlando, Borrego was an assistant with New Orleans. Before that, he spent seven seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. He started as an assistant video coordinator in the summer of 2003 and finished his tenure as an assistant coach. During those seasons, Borrego was a part of NBA world championship teams in 2005 and 2007.
Borrego began coaching at the University of San Diego as an assistant from 2001-03. He played three seasons at the University of San Diego, and during his senior season (2000-01) was named to the West Coast Conference All-Academic Team. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in leadership studies.
“It’s incredible for a guy his age, just 36, and because he’s a guy who never played in the NBA,” Skarsgard said. “But if I had to find a reason, it’s the relationships he built. Every coach he worked with, from Pop (Gregg Popovich at San Antonio), to Monty (Williams at Charlotte), to Jacque, they all talked about his loyalty.
“When Jacque picked him as an assistant, he told him ‘I know you’ll have my back.’ Every coach wants to have that lieutenant they know will support them, and that’s how James has been his whole life.”
Borrego and Skarsgard played high school ball during the heyday of New Mexico prep hoops, with former superstars such as Lovington/NMMI’s Taymon Domzalski, Albuquerque High’s Kenny Thomas, La Cueva’s A.J. Bramlett and Mayfield’s David Moseley all playing in the same few years.
Skarsgard said Borrego led the state in scoring, despite being only a 6-foot-4 center.
“He was so crafty and creative inside,” Skarsgard said. “He always did more with less. He’d put up 20 against (6-10) Taymon. That’s why he works so well with big men. If he gets three months to prove himself, you’ll see an uptick in wins (at Orlando). He’s such an honest and direct guy and has always had open-door policy. He’s committed to making everyone better and will spend a lot of time developing players.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.