The news surrounding sports can sometimes make coaches appear as competitors rather than colleagues. On the floor and in the recruiting realm, there is no question that coaches are intense competitors. But away from the gym, coaches are colleagues, and coaching levels are hard to spot. In my experience, there is no better place to see coaches as colleagues than at coaching clinics.
Clinics take place all over the country, and at every level of the game. They are invaluable for coaches to share and learn new teaching techniques, new strategies, new concepts, and to network. This summer, I attended "Coaching U Live" in Orlando, Fla., and reviewed notes and materials from Villa 6 by VCU in Las Vegas, and everything I gleaned from those clinics made me feel good about the game, and those that teach and coach it.
Coaching U Live is about the nuts and bolts of coaching, including strategies, concepts and teaching points. Villa 6 is about the business of coaching, and helping coaches prepare to successfully navigate their way through the game and up the ladder in college coaching. Both provide unique perspectives for coaches of any age and any level.
First, while the competitive nature of the game might cause one to perceive that coaches would be loath to share information that might provide them a competitive advantage, nothing could be further from the truth. In my experience, coaches are quick to share what they know, and to advance the game by teaching what they know to others. In fact, the coaches I know believe that sharing basketball knowledge is an obligation.
Second, the humility of the coaches is uplifting. Sitting in the stands at Coaching U Live taking notes and sharing information were current and former NBA head coaches, NBA assistant coaches, college coaches, high school coaches, NBA front office personnel, NBA scouts and college and pro administrators. NBA head coaches were taking notes when college coaches spoke, and when NBA assistants spoke. The voice and opinion of a high school coach was valued as much as any coach in attendance. The clinic wasn't about levels; it was about knowledge and substance.
Coaching U Live is the brainchild of NBA assistant coaches Kevin Eastman and Brendan Suhr, two of the best teachers in basketball. The clinic was two days, and the quality content of teaching techniques, strategies and concepts was staggering. Speakers included Eastman and Suhr, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, former college head coach George Raveling, St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
I am not going to go over all of the X's and O's from Coaching U Live. Suffice it to say, Suhr, Van Gundy and Dunlap were fabulous, and provided more quality X's and O's teaching than could be adequately conveyed and digested here. But there were several points that stood out to me and might be of interest:
• Get ready to see a lot of middle pick-and-roll action in the game going forward. Suhr believes this to be the "next thing" in college and pro basketball.
• Out of pick-and-roll action, reading the defense is the most important thing.
• And you have to know the counters for the ways your actions can and will be defended.
• Doc Rivers questioned how football seems to be able to get 11 players to execute well, and basketball seems to struggle at times to get only five players to execute. Why? Rivers spoke of football's culture of execution and following direction, and the fact there is a huddle after every play. Rivers researched the issue and found that there are 92 possessions in an NBA game, and 47 of those possessions are after a free throw, turnover or other dead-ball situation. Those are opportunities for your team to get together and set up. There are more such opportunities in basketball than we may think.
• Rivers said that he "steals" from high school, AAU and college games. There are good X's and O's elements everywhere, and he pays attention to those opportunities. But, while the strategic aspect of the game is important, the player "buy-in" is more important.
• Rivers spoke eloquently of the importance of roles on a team. To be successful, you need to have everyone embrace being a "star in his role." And a player's role does not stay the same from year to year. In order to win, a player may have to accept a role he does not like, but that is imperative for his team to win.
• Rivers spoke of listening to the players. They are out there in the middle of it, and they see and know things. Often, what they say is right. A coach always has to listen.
• Eastman spoke of the development of a bench mentality, and urging the bench to make a difference, not just give the starters a blow. Your reserves can win you a title, but they can also keep you from winning one.
• Eastman said that there couldn't be an enemy or an opponent in your own locker room. Championships are "we" driven.
• Eastman said a player having "an attitude" is understandable, but it is not acceptable.
• Eastman spoke of the people he trusts as the people who deal in truth. They tell it, they live it and they accept it.
• Eastman stressed that the best defensive teams are "all in" mentally, physically and verbally. He said that the Celtics communicate with voice and fingers, pointing to communicate in addition to talking. It was impressive to see so many NBA people writing down the concepts shared by Eastman.
• Mike Dunlap is an extraordinary teacher. He has been around the game for a long time, and he has studied it beyond most other coaches. But most impressive was his humility and willingness to share and hunger to learn. It is impossible to spend time around Eastman, Suhr and Dunlap and not be inspired to do and learn more.
• Dunlap captured so much by saying that a great game coach doesn't watch the ball. He or she watches the action away from the ball.
• Raveling is as compelling a speaker as I have ever heard. His presentation on the current state of the game and coaches' roles in it was magnificent. Raveling spoke of managing the changing culture in and around the game, and it was incredibly thought-provoking.
• Van Gundy spoke of teaching your team to read the defense rather than simply running an offense. He stressed that no sets or offenses are hard to defend, but players are hard to defend.
At Villa 6, many of the speakers addressed recruiting, and it was clear from the presentations that the NCAA focus on "third parties," while understandable and laudable, is unrealistic and unenforceable. Coaches spoke consistently of recruiting as building lasting relationships with the prospect, and also those around the prospect. From the high school coach, the AAU coach, friends, family and those in a position of influence with the prospect, coaches have to get to know those in a position to affect their relationship with the prospect. Here are some of the points made on the subject:
• Even if you don't get the player, you have to keep talking to your source. You never know what will happen in the future.
• You need to keep contact and relationships with people around prospects, and call them even when you don't need anything.
• When recruiting a prospect, you have to recruit everyone around them.
• Get to know the secretary and janitor at the prospect's school. They know and can provide you with information that nobody else can get you.
• Facebook is a great way to build relationships and get in touch with prospects.
• You need to identify who the key people are in the prospect's decision. Who will help him decide? Who has veto power? There is usually someone who cannot help you get the player, but can keep the player from choosing you. You need to recruit that person on your side.
• Find out exactly who is in the prospect's inner circle, and know his AAU team. You always want to uncover who "the guy" is that will influence the decision.
• The higher the level, the more people you will have to deal with.
Some interesting concepts came from the athletic directors in attendance. The ADs were in favor of dealing with agents in coaching searches. They felt that agents had good suggestions of names to consider, and were simply a part of the business today. Agents help facilitate the process, and can help keep names "hot" in the industry. One AD urged coaches to have agents call on their behalf to get them "into the mix" for head-coaching positions.
Final thoughts: These clinics make you feel good about the game. The boots on the ground in coaching want to win and compete, but they also want to do what is best for the players. They are hungry to learn, and willing to share. While there are things to lament and disapprove of in and around basketball, the game is in good shape because of its coaches.
My view is that coaches should not be in charge of the game, but should be listened to much more in the process. For some reason, coaches are not relied upon enough in the administration of the game, and I believe that to be wrong. Their input does not have to be adopted, but it should be seriously considered.
The thoughts on recruiting and third parties will evoke feelings that there is something wrong. I don't see it that way. It is a reality of the world that prospects have value outside of a room, board, tuition and books. It follows that "third parties" would be involved with prospects. It is easy for the NCAA to suggest that third parties should not be involved, but that is just as silly as a suggestion by the NBA that colleges should not be involved in the decisions of a future NBA player. College coaches have to deal with the realities of the game. In this area, the NCAA rules do not take reality into account.
I find it really interesting that the athletic directors counseled young coaches to involve agents in the process of getting in on and securing job interviews and jobs. It seems obvious that representation can be just as valued to players as it is to coaches and ADs, but that is considered blasphemy to so many. I believe that will change, and that players will someday be allowed representation, but that is clearly a long way off in the minds of many.