You may rarely see his face, but you’ve probably seen his work.
Kings Guard Gaming head coach DJ Layton is not often the focus of many photos, interviews, or broadcasts as he mostly operates behind-the-scenes, working tirelessly alongside the players to improve the team.
Layton stepped into his role as a first time 2K League coach with a roster full of players who had not played together much, if at all. It was a tall task ahead.
However, being in a sports and coaching environment was a familiar feeling for DJ. He grew up in Houston, Texas, playing all kinds of sports – but only one ever really stuck.
“I played baseball, but I quit because I couldn’t hit the ball. I also played football when I was younger but I got hurt in the tryouts,” said the KGG coach. “When that happened, I decided that I was just going to fully commit to basketball.”
Layton’s dedication for playing the game eventually led him to coaching. He has served as a full-time head coach in real life hoops for the past five years, most recently with Faith West Academy in his home state of Texas.
In addition to his affection for real life basketball, gaming has long been a major part of DJ’s life.
“I’ve been playing 2K since the first one with Allen Iverson on the cover,” he said. “I was hanging out with older kids and I would beat them in 2K all the time. Ever since then, I would play it every day.”
When he saw a way to merge his two passions, DJ got to work.
As the 2K League was entering its second season, there were several opportunities to coach a squad, and Layton didn’t want to take any chances on missing out.
He logged a notebook’s worth of notes for each team and its players, putting in countless hours of film study and research to learn about all of them front-to-back.
“I wanted to be prepared,” DJ said.
Kings Guard came calling before the 2019 campaign and he got his chance.
Coach Layton helped KGG leading up to the draft as the team was looking to add five new players in a complete refresh of last year’s roster.
When the team was in place, DJ wasted little time looking to improve his new squad. A revamped and rigorous practice schedule was put in place as the team was looking to build off a disappointing four-win campaign the year prior.
“Coming into a 6-8 hour practice isn’t easy – even though it’s video games,” he said. “You have to be mentally strong to play for that long and be at your best – it takes a lot.”
Throughout the season, Layton learned the intricacies of being an esports coach as opposed to what he had been used to in years past, and what it takes to succeed on the sticks.
“The coaching part comes in more on the mental side than the Xs and Os. Since I’ve played the game, I know how it works and how things move,” said coach. “Coaching basketball in real life has taught me how to get players into the right mentality to compete.”
The hours put in paid off as Sacramento improved to a 10-win team and clinched its first ever playoff berth. In his first season ever coaching in 2K, DJ had made a major impact.
Though it was a quick exit for KGG in the playoffs, there was reason to rejoice for Layton and Kings Guard.
“We accomplished our goals for the most part. Obviously, we weren’t happy with getting beat in the first round, but we weren’t too upset about being in the postseason after being a four-win team last year.”
As the offseason kicks into gear, DJ will be taking some time to clear his mind and have some fun by traveling this summer, but noted that he will be “locked in” as soon as NBA 2K20 drops.
The new season is soon to be on the horizon, but for now Coach Layton can look back contently at his journey.
“It’s a blessing at the end of the day,” he explained. “I’m working for an NBA organization. Working in the NBA was always a goal of mine as a kid – playing or coaching. It’s not real life basketball but it’s 2K, something I love just as much.”