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The Secretary of Education's Mentor: Tom Thibodeau

Former Harvard assistant coach Steve Bzomowski spent a lot of time getting to see Arne Duncan -- the appointee as the next education secretary -- play basketball. He blogs about it at Never Too Late Basketball, and says that one of Duncan's great mentors at college was none other than Tom Thibodeau, who is credited with being the mind behind the Celtics' league-changing defense.

When Arne and [former Utah Jazz pick Keith] Webster came back in the fall, somehow they got the keys to the gym. Many a night I'd come back from being on the road recruiting, midnight, 1, 2 am and they'd be in the gym working out, doing all-out, game-speed shooting and ball handling drills. This was not something that you'd see at Harvard. You know, libraries open 24/7, all-nighters every night. But down in Briggs Cage working out? Nope. Another thing I remember is in pre-season pick-up games, Arne never called a foul when a defender fouled him. Never. I think he saw it, calling the foul, as an excuse he did not want to use if something had gone wrong - missed a shot, lost the ball or something. No excuses. Play through it. Get the job done. Overcome the obstacles, nobody bailing him out. Excuses equated to failure and he just did not see things that way. He was a brilliant player, smooth, crafty, unfettered by any defensive scheme or outside pressure, teaming with Webster to sweep Penn and Princeton early season in our gym; even pummeled a Pete Carril Princeton team 78-54! Earlier in the season, Arne led The Crimson to a near upset at Boston College, a game in which we had a 9 point second half lead, but faltered in the end, 87-86. During one stretch, Arne scored 14 straight points by himself. I mean no one else scored from either team (one being a Big East team). Somehow, on our last possession, we neglected to run the play for Duncan. Our bad.

The season sort of went downhill from there; it was too bad. We lost a couple of games and the coaching staff didn't/couldn't figure out how to get the players going in the same direction as the coaching staff thought it should go. Duncan grew much closer to Assistant Coach Tom Thibodeau (now regarded as the top assistant in the NBA, with the Celtics, and seen as the "guru" behind their defensive schemes). Duncan worked hard in the off-season with Thibs (as we called him) to prepare for CBA tryouts but ultimately played four seasons in the top-tier Australian Pro League.

As I mentioned yesterday, Duncan then went on to win several national three-on-three tournaments.

UPDATE: Duncan sounds like a pickup martyr.