Friday, March 20, 2009

Be willing to share

If you've found just one item of value on this blog over the last year or so, then it's been worth it. I've certainly enjoyed it. Even more, I've enjoyed interacting with so many great coaches, managers, and friends all over the world.

For me, the blog was about sharing items that coaches and leaders might find meaningful or worthy or constructive. In many cases, it was something that someone had shared with me first. After all, that's the nature of coaching.

Nearly all of the posts here have included at least one quote. This one will be no different. It comes from a blog reader who passed it along to me recently:

“The greatest difficulty with the world
is not its ability to produce,
but the unwillingness to share.”

Learning the intricacies of the midrange game

How does it feel to go from "one of the go-to players on the 2008 NCAA Tournament runner-up to being an end-of-the-roster rookie in the NBA"?

Nets rookie Chris Douglas-Roberts, who averages a little more than nine minutes a game for NJ and has logged 40 DNPs this season, has worked with Nets assistant Doug Overton on "learning the intricacies of the midrange NBA game."

It paid off earlier this week in a win over the Knicks when Douglas-Roberts had 14 points and three steals in 27 minutes.

"We played a different type of game (at Memphis)," Douglas-Roberts said. "It was more open offense, and there's a lot more sets in the NBA. So I just go over everything. I watch a lot of film. This is my job now. So I spend the majority of my time on basketball. You have to be mentally strong, but I'm not the first rookie to go through this. There've been plenty of rookies who had to pay their dues and later in their career, they became stars. So I just look at it like that. I'm always positive. I stay positive."

Only a small percentage of young guys can come into this league and lead

Great story in the ATL paper today that compares what Matt Ryan did with the Falcons with what Al Horford's doing with the Hawks.

On a team with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Mike Bibby, Horford has evolved into arguably the Hawks’ most indispensable player. Horford is different because he’s leading and he’s not the Hawks’ offensive centerpiece, like Chris Paul in New Orleans or LeBron James in Cleveland. He’s different because he’s 23 years old, and not nearly acting his age. He’s different because he’s a second-year pro and leading this team —- often by example, sometimes by his words, even in the face of a veteran teammate.

Veteran Joe Johnson contends that guys like Horford are rare: “Only a very small percentage of young guys can come into this league and lead. The ones who do usually are the focal point of their team. Al’s different.”

"If I see that somebody is not necessarily putting in the effort or is slacking off and it’s noticeable, I’m going to say something. I did it at Florida when I felt I had to. I did it in high school. Here, I’ve done it a couple of times. Usually I’m very mellow. But sometimes I think something needs to be said, even if I put it out there in front of the whole team, even to the point where the guys might be mad at me for a day or two. I think it’s for the best.”

Forcing it when it shouldn't be forced

The Lakers are 54-14 this season, but 6-3 in March -- a "malaise," as Phil Jackson describes it.

'They got down and disgruntled ... I think it's just the idea that 'nothing's really gone well for me lately, and how am I going to get this going the right way?' Forcing it when it shouldn't be forced, or being too passive when you probably should step up and play harder, or with more aggression. Those are things that we're dealing with."

According to veteran PG Derek Fisher, despite winning 54 games thus far, there is a sense of frustration in the locker room.

"This is real," he said. "It's not a soap opera. So when you're part of a group, part of a team, you have to respect the fact that guys are going to have different, I don't want to say agendas, but just different things you go through. I know we've had a great season thus far, but we want so much more. That's where the frustration is coming from. There's probably not any other team that's frustrated with a 54-14 record, but we know what the end goal is."

A coach who's a friend, but not a buddy

The great Bob Cousy, in today's Boston Globe, talked about home court advantage, Kobe, LeBron, and Doc Rivers' relationship with his players.

On home-court advantage:

"It is neutralized in the playoffs, pretty much," Cousy said from Florida in a telephone interview. "In the playoffs, any player worth his salt comes to play wherever the game is. Of course, you would rather have home-court advantage, but it's easier to overcome in the playoffs than the regular season."

On LeBron and Kobe:

"LeBron is a great one, but the other guys have got to beat you," Cousy said. "They can put two, three, four guys on him and force the other guys to beat you; and when you aren't used to doing it, you can't imagine the pressure. A great player thrives under pressure, a mediocre one collapses. All year long, LeBron has been carrying you, now I'm supposed to hit wide-open shots. And it's the same with LA, to some degree. Kobe is great, but still, in my judgment, there is a lack of defense. Kobe is a good defender, but I don't see improvement on the defensive end. It's a tossup, those three teams."

On Coach Rivers:

"Doc maintains as good a relationship with the guys as any coach in the league," Cousy said. "There is a lot of nodding the head affirmatively, I love you, and yes all the time, but Doc's not that. He's a friend in need but not their buddy. It requires a certain amount of discipline and they know Doc will be there if they need him, and that creates a bond."

Staying tuned in to the basketball channel

Muggsy Bogues, the 5-foot-3 PG who played for 14 seasons in the NBA, on how basketball kept him focused while growing up in inner-city Baltimore.

"Basketball was always my savior. You know how a VCR always has to be on channel 3 to get a clear picture? Well, I was like a VCR: I had to be on the basketball channel to stay focused. If I switched to another channel, things got blurry."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Stay the course; trust the course

Binghamton coach Kevin Broadus (at left), who's been criticized recently for "the academic and behavioral issues" of the players on his roster, says he remembers advice that former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. once gave him:

"Stay the course. Trust the course. Don't forget what you're doing," Thompson told Broadus. "Put the blinders on. Don't listen to the outside folks. They want you to listen. They want to bring you down."

Those are my players

Congrats to Jim Boylen for getting his Utah team to the tourney. According to one Utes player, something Coach Boylen said two years ago at the news conference announcing his hiring laid the foundation for trust.

"Those are my players," Boylen said, nodding at the Utes who were in the room.

That simple statement, says senior guard Lawrence Borha, was the key.

"I never forgot," Borha said. "He did his work, believed in us, thought we could win. That's when I knew we were going to be a good team."

An interesting change Coach Boylen made was to remove the players' names from the back of the home jerseys and replace them with "UTAH."

Says one player: "He let everybody know it's more about the team and more about the program than individuals.

In addition, "down the side of the team's home shorts, starting with Boylen's first year, was placed its new slogan — "U, Us and the Muss." "The U is local parlance for the school; Us is for the team; and The Muss is for the student section. The Mighty Utah Student Section takes its name from a line in the school fight song, "Utah Man" — "No other gang of college men dare meet us in the muss."

Either you use an experience to make you better or it breaks you

Loved how Memphis coach John Calipari turned over practice to forward Robert Dozier the other day in a move designed to force the quiet senior to take more of a leadership role with the team.

As this article describes, "Calipari left the gym, leaving Dozier on his own to coach."

"He thinks I'm too quiet," Dozier says. "He wanted me to be vocal, get on guys and be more of a leader. I was mad at first, because I didn't want to do it. But I had fun with it. The guys enjoyed it. It wasn't a long practice." The usually subdued Dozier said he tried to get as animated as Calipari, a dynamic, demonstrative speechmaker never at a loss for words. "I had to tone it down," Dozier says, laughing. "There were a lot of people in there."

If you're wondering why, at a Memphis practice, "there were a lot of people in there," it's because Coach Cal opens nearly all of the Tigers' practices to the public.

Retired folks stop in with their grandchildren; a postman comes by after finishing his route. For many elite programs, open practices were long abandoned in an Internet age when word can spread fast to rivals about a team's offensive and defensive schemes or a frustrated coach can show up on YouTube for pitching a fit. Calipari shrugs off those possibilities but notes he keeps some practices closed during the NCAA tournament.

Says Coach Cal: "I don't have anything to hide. You've got people, their lives seem to be this basketball program. They come to practice four or five times a week. They're able to get on the phone and talk to friends about what we're working on."

After his team lost the national championship game last season, Coach Cal was criticized for not having his players properly prepared.

"Either you use an experience to help build you and make you better and stronger, or the experience breaks you," he says. "That experience ... it did nothing except good stuff for us. None of it was bad."

The only way you can get commitment is through trust

Continue to work through Joe Torre's book, "The Yankee Years." There's a good excerpt that ties into a post from yesterday from Jeffrey Gitomer's book about trust.

Torre took over a Yankee team that had "played under the tightly wound [Bucky] Showalter, who had played, coached, and managed so long in the Yankees organization, where Steinbrenner's divide-and-conquer style of leadership was designed to keep everyone uncomfortable, that trust did not come easily to him."

In 1996, when Torre was named manager of the team, "they had a tast of the playoffs," Torre said, "and I think they were grown up enough to know somebody has to make the decisions. Whether you like me or believe me, you have to understand that. They were at the point where they knew in order to win we have to work together. And somebody has to point us in that direction."

I pulled the following from page 10 of the book:


Torre provided a complete contrast to Showalter's micromanagement style. He gave his coaches and players a wide berth. One word kept coming up over and over again in the application of his management philosophy: trust.

"What I try to do is treat everybody fairly," Torre said. "It doesn't mean I treat everybody the same. But everybody deserves a fair shake. That's the only right thing to do. I'd rather be wrong trusting somebody than never trusting them."

"I'm of the belief that the game belongs to the players, and you have to facilitate that the best you can. I want them to use their natural ability. If they're doing something wrong, you tell them, but I'd like it to be instructive, rather than robotic. The only thing I want them all to think about is what our goal is and what the at-bats are supposed to represent. And that simply is this: 'What can I do to help us win a game?'"

Players quickly bought into Torre's management-by-trust style, and they did so because its abiding principle was honesty.

"Honesty is important to me. Where does it come from? I don't know, but even when I think back it was always something that was ingrained in me. Even now I may have trouble when I have to tell someone the truth if it's not a pleasant thing, but I won't lie to them. I can't do that. The only way you can get commitment is through trust, and you've got to earn that trust."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What makes one person a champion and the other one not?

Good quote from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a seven-time Mr. Olympia, in Barbara Walters' autobiography:

"What makes one guy a champion and the other one not?" [Walters] asked.


"It's drive. It's the will. There are certain people that grow up with a tremendous hunger and it's usually kids that have struggled when they were young. When you grow up comfortable and in peace and happiness, all those things will produce a very balanced person and a good person, but it will not create the will and determination and hunger that you need to be the best in the world."

It's called growing up

In HOU, Aaron Brooks is experiencing some growing pains now that he's moved into the starting PG position.

In his words, "it's a little bit of a burden."

While Brooks is settling into his role, he does not fit into the traditional point guard mold, someone who looks to set the table. Without Tracy McGrady in the lineup — especially at the end of games — Brooks is the primary creator. That means he’s going to be more offensive-minded, because that is what is required of him.

What leaps out are games such as Saturday’s, when Brooks played 31½ minutes, took 18 shots and did not deal a single assist

According to teammate Shane Battier, for Brooks, "the next step for him is to find a way to use his speed to make his people better. It’s part of the maturation process, and you can’t rush it. It’s called growing up. It’s called living."

Shaq changes his workouts to extend his career

Posted recently about Derek Fisher and Stephon Marbury's workout routines. Today, I see a note about how Shaq has changed his fitness regimen.

Before a recent game, "he did 200 sit-ups and 200 push-ups in a concrete corner, an area more suited for 200 crates."

That does not even count the times the Suns center bench-pressed strength-and-conditioning coach Erik Phillips in the locker room before scoring 26 points in a 154-130 win at Golden State.

According to this article, "O'Neal is doing more off and on the court than expected of the NBA's fifth-oldest player. He comes to US Airways Center on off-nights for workouts or free-throw practice and has joined Jared Dudley on 'the (Steve) Nash diet - no meat, no sugar, no starch, no soda, no nothing.'"

"The biggest misnomer is the fact that everybody says we can't play [uptempo] with Shaq," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "We can play that way with Shaq because he allows us to run and take quick shots. But when there are dead-ball situations, we're able to throw the ball inside. We have the best of both worlds. We can be an up-tempo team and have the most-dominant big guy to ever play the game."

O'Neal says PHX trainers found that "a posterior muscle... was not 'firing.'"

"I thought I was done (last season) because those doctors didn't know what was going on," O'Neal said. "When I got here, it wasn't even a hip problem. Those guys, Nellie and Mike Clark, they saved me."

The function of basketball is penetration

As he's done from time to time this season, DAL coach Rick Carlisle "hatched a surprise" recently against the Lakers -- a zone defense that "caused confusion" and "bog[ged] down the Lakers offense."

"We hadn't seen a zone for a long time and it came out of nowhere," Vujacic said Monday. "For 60 games teams played man-to-man against us. No team played zone."

LA won the game, but the zone worked for time, as "the Lakers offense went stagnant."

"When the zone got sprung on [the second unit], they had that hesitation and ended up shooting nine 3-pointers that didn't go in," Coach Phil Jackson said. "That was a loss of focus because they lost the function of basketball, which is penetration."

To prepare for the next time they face a zone, "the Lakers spent the majority of Monday's two-hour practice working on the principles of their zone offense. The focus was on the best ways to attack a zone, which include moving the basketball to make the zone shift, making sharp cuts without the ball, and maintaining proper spacing."

Trying to make your opponent uncomfortable

Good story in the Minneapolis paper about 31-year-old veteran Brian Cardinal, who's proving in MIN that he can still contribute.

"After he watched for the season's opening month, he has become a valuable, contributing member of coach Kevin McHale's rotation, playing as many as 35 minutes Friday against New York when his team had about seven healthy bodies."

As evident from this quote, one of Cardinal's strengths is his attitude:

"It's tough to just sit over there and watch, but I knew at some point in time something was going to happen because that's just how this league is," Cardinal said. "It's crazy: Some days, you play. Some days, you don't. Sometimes, your number is called. Sometimes, it's not. You have to be ready at all times. I'm just lucky Mac has had some faith in me."

According to the Star-Tribute article, when they traded for him, "the Wolves... received a veteran who didn't complain when he didn't play and who has contributed with his defense, his ability to make the right play and even with his three-point shooting, whether he plays five minutes or 35. He has made seven three-pointers in the past three games."

"The last game, he had three steals, and he took three charges," [Coach] McHale said. "That's six possessions. That's huge."

Cardinal is one of those rare NBA role players who, as Dr. J said here, understands his role and is happy to be in the league. Cardinal is first to acknowledge that he's "heavy on will and seemingly light on skill."

"I'm not the greatest of athletes, the greatest of jumpers," he said. "The list of things I'm not very good at goes on and on. I try to make up for that with hard work and just knowing the game. I try to make people somewhat uncomfortable. Anytime you're in your comfort zone, you're at your best. So I try to make the other guy uncomfortable."

You can give it everything and still lose, yet it's still worth it

Mike Montgomery is in his first season as head coach at Cal but he "guided Stanford to 12 NCAA appearances including the 1998 Final Four."

To get his Cal players excited about the tourney, "after the team's regular season had concluded at Arizona State, Montgomery assembled his players. He showed them a video about the NCAA tournament, featuring big moments and big plays. Montgomery then spoke of his own March Madness experiences to a locker room in which 10 of the 15 players had never been on the court in an NCAA game."

"I told them," Montgomery said, "how they don't understand how hard it is to win in the tournament, how they don't have any idea yet how big a deal this is. It's something you'll look back on and you need to cherish it. I talked to them about the heartbreak that can happen when you give it everything and sell your souls out and still lose — but how it's all worth it."

"He got a little emotional about it,'' point guard Jerome Randle said. "He was talking about the memories you can have, about how once you get there, anything can happen. It's a serious deal for him."

Difference-makers in the NCAA, NIT tournaments

A big key to winning in the NCAA Tournament is having pro prospects, whether NBA, D-League, or European League.

Here's a list of guys I'd consider "difference makers" at the college college level who are playing in the NCAA tourney. [Ranked by pro potential.]


1. Blake Griffin - Oklahoma, PF
2. James Harden - Arizona State, OG/SF
3. Ty Lawson - UNC, PG
4. Willie Warren - Oklahoma, OG
5. Tyler Hansbrough - UNC, PF
6. Jonny Flynn - Syracuse, PG
7. Austin Daye - Gonzaga, SF
8. Gordon Hayward – Butler, SF
9. Ed Davis - UNC, PF
10. Manny Harris - Michigan, OG
11. Trevor Booker - Clemson, F
12. Marcus Thornton - LSU
13. Jeff Pendergraph - Arizona State, PF
14. Wayne Ellington - UNC, OG
15. Jeremy Pargo - Gonzaga, PG
16. KC Rivers - Clemson, OG
17. Matt Bouldin - Gonzaga, OG
18. Danny Greene - UNC, SG/SF
19. Josh Heytvelt - Gonzaga, PF
20. DeShawn Sims - Michigan, PF
21. Dionte Christmas – Temple, G
22.A.J. Slaughter -Western Kentucky ,OG

Others of note in South Region: Tasmin Mitchell (LSU), Matt Howard (Butler), Mike Tisdale (Illinois), Artsiom Parakhouski (Radford), Matt Kingsley (SFA),Orlando -Mendez-Valdez(Western Kentucky), Chester Frazier (Illinois/injured).


1. Gerald Henderson - Duke, OG
2. Jrue Holiday - UCLA, OG
3. DeJuan Blair - Pittsburgh, PF
4. Kyle Singler - Duke. SF
5. Darren Collison - UCLA, PG
6. Damion James - Texas, PF
7. Eric Maynor - VCU, PG
8. Sam Young - Pittsburgh, SF
9. AJ Abrams - Texas, PG
10. Tyler Smith - Tennessee, SF
11. LeVance Fields – Pittsburgh, PG
12. Scotty Hopson - Tennessee, OG
13. Derrick Brown - Xavier, PF
14. Toney Douglas - Florida State, OG
15. Jon Scheyer – Duke, G
16. James Anderson -Oklahoma State, SF
17. Larry Sanders -VCU, PF
18. Corey Fisher – Villanova, PG

Other East Region players of note: Scottie Reynolds (Villanova), Dante Cunningham (Villanova), Dexter Pittman (Texas), Lawrence Westbrook (Minnesota),Solomon Alabi( Florida State ), Ralph Sampson (Minnesota), Elliott Williams (Duke), Marcus Landry (Wisconsin), Derrick Mercer (American), Courtney Pigram (ETSU), Jeremiah Dominguez (Portland State), DJ Rivera (Binghampton).


1. Jeff Teague - Wake Forest, G
2. Jordan Hill - Arizona, PF
3. Earl Clark - Louisville, SF
4. BJ Mullins - Ohio State, C
5. Al-Farouq Aminu - Wake Forest, F
6. DerMar Derozan - USC, SF
7. Evan Turner - Ohio State, F
8. Terrance Williams - Louisville, SF
9. Cole Aldrich - Kansas, C
10. James Johnson - Wake Forest, F
11. Chase Budinger - Arizona, SF/OG
12. Samardo Samuels - Louisville, F
13. Devin Ebanks - West Virginia, F
14.Kalin Lucas (Michigan State), PG
15. Sherron Collins - Kansas, PG
16. Raymar Morgan - Michigan State, F
17. Taj Gibson - USC, PF
18. Tyrese Rice - Boston College, G
19. William Buford - Ohio State, OG
20. Tony Woods - Wake Forest, C/PF
21. Luke Nevill - Utah, C
22. Tyshawn Taylor – Kansas, PG
23. Daniel Hackett – USC, PG
24. Nic Wise – Arizona, PG
25. Ben Woodside – North Dakota State, G
26. Chris Wright – Dayton, F
27. Kenneth Faried - Morehead State, PF

Other Midwest Region players of note: DaSean Butler (West Virginia), Brandon Brooks (Alabama State), Goran Suton (Michigan State), Jeremy Chappell (Robert Morris), J'Nathan Bullock (Cleveland State), Chief Kickingstallionsims (Alabama State),Ty Walker ( Wake Forrest )


1. Hasheem Thabeet - UConn, C
2. Tyreke Evans - Memphis, PG
3. Jarvis Varnado - Mississippi State, C
4. Jerel McNeal - Marquette, OG
5. Kemba Walker – Connecticut, PG
6. Greivis Vasquez - Maryland, G
7. AJ Price – Connecticut, PG
8. DeMarre Carroll - Missouri, SF
9. Robbie Hummel - Purdue, OG
10. Jon Brockman - Washington, PF
11. Lee Cummard - BYU, OG/SF
12. Wesley Matthews - Marquette, SF
13. Jerome Randall - California, PG
14. Ryan Whitman - Cornell, OG/SF
15. Patrick Christopher - California, OG
16. Isiah Thomas - Washington, PG
17. Jeff Adrien – Connecticut, PF
18. Gary Williams -Utah State, PF

Other West Region players of note: JaJuan Johnson (Purdue), Josh Carter (Texas A&M), Dominic James (Marquette/injured), Theo Robertson (Cal), Justin Dentmon (Washington).

Top NIT players ( ranked as pro prospects):

1. Greg Monroe - Georgetown, PF/C
2. Stephen Curry - Davidson, PG
3. Patrick Mills - St. Mary's, PG
4. Patrick Patterson - Kentucky, PF
5. Jodie Meeks – Kentucky, G
6. Korvotney Barber – Auburn, F
7. Jerome Jordan - Tulsa, C
8. DaJuan Summers - Georgetown, SF
9. Talor Battle – Penn State, PG
10. Nick Calathes - Florida, OG
11. Luke Harangody - Notre Dame, PF
12. Jack McClinton - Miami, PG/OG
13. Curtis Jerrells - Baylor, PG
14. Tory Jackson – Notre Dame, PG
15. Tony Danridge – New Mexico, OG/SF
16. LaceDarius Dunn – Baylor, OG
17. Chad Toppert – New Mexico, OG
18. Darryl Monroe – George Mason, PF
19. Glenn Andrews – Tulsa, F
20. Lawrence Kinnard – UAB, SF
21. DeQuan Jones - Miami, OG
22.Omar Samhan- St. Mary's, C
23. Damian Saunders - Duquesne, PF
24. John Vaughan – George Mason, G
25. Diamon Simpson-St. Mary's, PF/SF
26. Devan Downey – South Carolina, PG
27.Taylor Rochestie- Washington State, G
others of Note
Aaron Jackson (Duquesne)
Jacob Pullen ( Kansas State )
A.D.Vassallo ( Virginia Tech)

Are you willing to bet on yourself?

Found a great little book by Jeffrey Gitomer the other day titled "Jeffrey Gitomer's Little Teal Book of Trust." It's only a couple of hundred pages, but it's a wonderful book -- one that I'd consider giving to other coaches and players.

Here's a good excerpt from the first part of Gitomer's book:


Have you ever looked back at a decision you made and scolded yourself, almost punished yourself, for making the wrong decision or realizing you could have made a better decision?

Monday-morning quarterbacks are always correct. They see what could have been done or should have been done on Sunday, and talk about it on Monday as though they could have gone back to Sunday and done it themselves.

People who go back and chastise themselves, or second-guess themselves, for making a wrong decision continue to set themselves up for failure in future decisions simply because they don't trust themselves.

I maintain that your judgment should always be trusted and never be second-guessed. That doesn't mean you won't make errors. That's why they call it judgment.

But I'm challenging you to look at incorrect decisions as lessons, life's lessons.

Mistakes in judgement are the best teachers in the world, and if you choose to learn from them, then you will begin to trust yourself and understand that, correct or incorrect, you were decisive and moved on.

Oh, you may rely on others. Oh, you may be dependent on others. But reliance and dependence are mutually exclusive of trust.

In order to build trust and become a trusted advisor to others, you have to first trust yourself. This means you have to trust your thinking, your wisdom, your knowledge, your judgment, your instincts, your powers of observation,your powers of dedication, your ability to reason, and your ability to discern.

You must be decisive. Trusted people are not wishy-washy. Trusted people do not pass the buck. Trusted people are willing to bet on themselves. It's not "trust me." It's "trust yourself."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A team that's unafraid

UConn's women's coach Geno Auriemma, whose team is 33-0 and favored to win another NCAA title, says this year's team has something in common with great UConn teams of the past:

We’re not afraid to lose. That’s the biggest thing. We might play bad. We might get beat. But, generally, the years we’ve had great teams, we’ve been unafraid.”

If you're looking for someone to follow, why not follow the one who is sure the outcome of the journey will be positive?

In Joe Torre's book "The Yankee Years," there's a section about Derek Jeter that really jumped out at me:

What was it about Jeter that enabled him to succeed in clutch situations? He was comfortable with himself. There were never doubts about who he was or what the mission was all about.

"I'm an optimist by nature," Jeter said. "That's why when it comes to any negative stuff, I don't like to hear about it. I don't like to read about it. I don't like to know about it. I try to be positive."

Such a strong belief in a positive outcome sustains Jeter, lifts him above any self-doubt or any awareness of the consequences of failure. It is a characteristic he brought to the Yankees as a 21-year-old rookie, not a vestige of the big leauge experience he gained.

Teammates tapped into that quality immediately. If you're looking for someone to follow, why not follow the one who is sure the outcome of the journey will be positive? Why not follow someone, even a kid in his first full year in the big leagues, who stays cool at all times, who is unfamiliar with worry and anxiety?

Monday, March 16, 2009

The need for a "killer instinct"

The Lakers are 53-13 but coach Phil Jackson has noticed that something has been missing from his club in the second half of the season:

"I thought we had perhaps a better killer instinct earlier in the year, if you can use that term," Jackson said. "I'm not fond of it, but when we had a team [down] 15, we'd try to extend it to 25 and tried to take the heart out of teams earlier in the year. Right now, I think that we've kind of played around with teams at times and allowed them to stay around in games and this is one of them."

There's always teaching to be done

Was happy to see Maryland get into the NCAA tourney after fighting through the season. The Terps' ability to get to the Dance is a credit to coach Gary Williams.

Here's an excerpt from a Baltimore Sun story today that really captures his essence (and the essence of coaching):

There was a moment late in yesterday's game. There was less than a minute on the clock, and Duke was inbounding the ball on the baseline near Maryland's bench. Williams stood just a few feet away from where the play would begin, his eyes and attention focused on Landon Milbourne, who was guarding the inbound passer.

"Move! Move! Move, Landon! Move!" Williams screamed, his face turning redder than his necktie.

The Terps' chances of winning were slipping away, but Williams was still teaching. He wasn't ready to stop. He knew he had more coaching to do. He has always known, in fact.

And now everyone else knows that, too.

You think you're tough, but are you really tough?

Good note here about how USC's turnaround began "two weeks ago during a film session before a game against Oregon, when assistant coach Phil Johnson (pictured here) had a harsh assessment of the team."

"He got up and told us we were not a tough team and it was time to show people how tough USC was," guard Daniel Hackett said. "We did by winning five consecutive games."

"Coach Johnson is like Papa Angry," forward Taj Gibson said. "He doesn't say much often, but when he lashes out, it wakes you up. He turned off the Oregon film and just said, 'You think you're tough, but are you really tough?' Guys snapped out of it."

USC swept Oregon and Oregon State to finish the regular season.

"We took that as a challenge," guard Dwight Lewis said. "Someone saying you're not tough, when you know you are? We wanted to prove we were a tough team and we had heart."

When asked about his team's toughness," USC coach Tim Floyd said:

"They can kill you, but they can't eat you. Obviously, when you had to take the path we had to take to get there, you're just thrilled to be in this field," Floyd said. But, he added, "At this point, that's yesterday's news. Put the DVD your mama made under the bed and start getting ready for the next one, Boston College."

One AD's list of requirements for prospective coaches

Bowling Green's AD Greg Christopher has a list traits he looks for when hiring a coach. It's the same list he used when he hired Louis Orr (pictured here) last year to coach the BGSU hoops team.

Any coach he hires must...

-- Exhibit absolute integrity and high character.
-- Have a solid reputation of success and work ethic.
-- Show a passion to recruit and evaluate talent.
-- Work as a team member in an 18-sport athletic department.
-- Commit to his or her players' academics.

"If they don't have one of those things on that list, they won't be considered for the position," Christopher said.

According to this post of Hoops Coach, what helped Coach Orr "separate from other candidates was his success at Seton Hall."

Said Christopher: "He kept standing out because of his credibility."

Real coaching is teaching people to play the game better

Interesting thoughts from the late Bill Walsh in David Harris' book "The Genius" about how he formed his coaching philosophy.


"[When he began his coaching career], there was this religion of 'toughness' in coaching circles those days and all coaches were trying to be like marine drill sergeants and scare people into playing well. I got caught up in that for a while but I concluded it didn't come close to working. It was kind of a mass delusion.

All the coaches thought the players loved them despite how badly they treated them, and all the players were doing were putting up with the coach so they could play football. Instead of loving and revering the coach, they couldn't stand im and were disgusted with him but they wanted to play football. They wanted the fellowship, they wanted the association, they wanted the excitement, and only put up with the bullying because they had to. Most played football in spite of the coach.

By the time I left Cal I had decided that if you taught people to play the game better, that was real coaching -- being a teacher rather than a thug."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A coach who doesn't take plays off

Bobcats GM Rod Higgins on what's most impressive about 68-year-old CHA coach Larry Brown:

"The thing that's jumped out about Larry is his ability to keep his motor at a high level. You hear the old term about players taking plays off. Well, he's a coach that doesn't take plays off. He continuously challenges the players to get better. He's never satisfied."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The most critical decision for me becoming who I am

NPR has a good piece today on Coach K and his upbringing in inner-city Chicago where his "father was an elevator operator and his mother cleaned offices to make sure her sons had everything they needed. "

Coach Krzyzewski called his belated decision to attend the U.S. Military Academy and play for Bobby Knight a "critical" turning point for his life.

At first, Coach K turned down Coach Knight's offer to play at West Point. But his parents felt it was the wrong move and talked about it -- in their native Polish -- for two weeks.

"I'd just hear it and finally I said, 'OK, I'll go.' And we let Coach Knight know, and — I don't know how I got in at that time, but I did," Krzyzewski recalls. "That was the most critical decision for me becoming who I am."

Bob Knight, who would later gain fame at Indiana University, was his coach at Army. It was also Knight who hired Krzyzewski to be his graduate assistant at Indiana. Later on, Knight recommended his former player for a coaching job at West Point, and then at Duke in 1980.

Now in his 30th season at Duke, Coach K's first few seasons were rough as he "taught his team to play man-to-man defense, rather than relying on the zone defense" and recruited "the kind of players he wanted." [In 1982, Duke went 10-17; in '83 the Devils were 11-17.]

"My first year at Duke was the hardest year for any of us," says Jay Bilas, who played for Coach K from 1983-86, "because there was a lot of talk that Coach K was going to get fired."

"I think if Coach K had that start in his career now, he wouldn't have made it," Bilas says. "I think the microwave culture we've got now, where coaches are fired after a couple of years, [in] a few years he wouldn't have survived — and look what everybody would have missed."

A bigger, stronger Stephen Jackson

If Stephen Jackson looks bigger these days it's because he's added "10 pounds of muscle" and now weights 235 (at 6-8).

Jackson, who leads the W's in points, assists and minutes, "says his new-and-improved physique is behind his sustained surge, and he's giving credit to the Warriors' strength and conditioning gurus Mark Grabow and John Murray."

It was Murray who pointed out that Jackson's lack of strength was causing him to get pushed around without getting his share of foul calls, so the nine-year veteran hit the weight room to bulk up. Jackson now lifts for 30 to 40 minutes after every Warriors shootaround to jump start his game-day routine. He's also using meal-replacement shakes to boost nutrition.

The added strength is helping Jackson get "in better spots for shots and rebounds and figuring out how to hold his position down low." It's also helped his stamina.

"This is the most I've lifted and the most I've been in the weight room my whole career, and it's starting to pay off," says Jackson. "I was thinking that I didn't need it, but as I see now, it's the most I've ever weighed in my life and I still have my speed, so it's definitely helped my game a lot."

I would never expect a great coach to try to do something his team doesn't do

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was asked if he was surprised when West Virginia didn't try to press his team the night after the Orange's six OT game against UConn, which SU won (at 1:22 a.m.).

I’m not surprised a team that’s well coached and is a really, really good team that never presses, doesn’t press,” Boeheim said. “That would surprise me if they did. If you’ve seen us play, we’re pretty good against pressure. So that has sometimes given us baskets. Tomorrow night we will be pressed for 40 minutes because that’s what Louisville does. But I would never expect a great coach to try to do something his team doesn’t do.”

Changing coaches as priorities change

Though both are outstanding professional tennis players, Andy Roddick and James Blake (who have 37 titles between them) "have taken a radically different approach when it comes to the voice in their ears."

Over nine years, Roddick's "engaged no less than seven coaches on a part- or full-time basis. Blake, who spent two years at Harvard before jumping to the pros in 1999, has had one."

In fact, the 29-year-old Blake has had the same coach since he was 11 years old.

"I've always said about tennis, it's a very individual sport," 13th-ranked Blake said in a conference call last month. "What works for one will never work for another. For me, I would not be nearly as successful with someone that didn't know me as a person, and know my strengths and weaknesses on the court. I credit him with making me the best player I can possibly be, and absolutely maximizing my potential. We are going to be friends for life, that's not even a question."

According to this article, "Blake is much more the exception than the rule. Most players switch coaches throughout their playing days as priorities change and relationships become stale."

Unlike Blake (at right in photo above), Roddick, 26, "likes to pick the brain of some of game's best minds, and it has often paid quick dividends."

"There's been a couple of times in my career where it's really jump-started my playing just by having a fresh voice," Roddick says. The downside is the getting-to-know-you process, along with periods of transition. "Obviously, continuity is a good thing, and there have certainly been times where I've been without someone or in transition and you're just kind of trying to make due."

Blake contends it's simply a personal preference and that one style doesn't fit all.

"If he had the same coach the whole time he wouldn't be as good as he is," said Blake of Roddick. "If I had changed coaches, the way he has, I wouldn't be as good."

It's exceptional when you find a role player who's just happy to be there

Lots of interesting audio and transcriptions of interviews with athletes and coaches on the Sports Radio Interviews website.

Here's a good one from yesterday with the legendary Dr. J -- Julius Erving -- and his thoughts on how the game has changed since he played in the '70s and '80s:

“I think one of the major differences is every player to a man is regarded as, at least maybe in his own mind, a basketball star. During our era, there was a clear delineation between a guy who was a star, a guy who was a role player, and a guy who was just happy to be there. I don’t think you have too many guys today that are just happy to be there. The economics just set it up that way where there’s a star mentality 1 through 12. It’s exceptional when you find somebody who is humble and happy to be there and capable of deferring to the guys that are the actually stars.”

[Great video of some vintage Dr. J here.]

Learning about attention to detail

SAC coach Kenny Natt, an assistant with Jerry Sloan in Utah and Mike Brown (pictured here) in Cleveland, on what he learned working with Coach Brown.

"His attention to detail. Coach Sloan is not as detailed. He'll scribble something down on a piece of paper, but Mike Brown is very scripted, very attentive to detail at practice, right to the point with everything. Those are the things I learned and carry over from Mike. Most of what we want to do offensively and defensively, being more demanding, comes from Sloan -- and the disciplinary side of things. I think it's a pretty good mix."

When you have a height advantage, "the farther away you get from the basket, the shorter you get"

My sister in Dallas emailed me a note from the Texas State 2A boy's basketball semifinals. (Texas runs from the huge 5A schools to the smaller Class A and 2A schools.)

Ponder High School, one of the 2A semifinalists, is led by 6-foot-5 Scott Gregg (pictured here).

Ponder's opponent, Santa Rosa, doesn't have a single starter over 5-foot-10.

Ponder's coach made it clear before the game that he planned to take advantage of the mismatch in height.

"You're 6-5, so we're going to make you 6-5. We're going to make sure [Gregg and another tall Ponder player] don't get too far from the basket. The farther away you get from the basket, the shorter you get."

Ponder won the game, 77-54, with Gregg leading the way with 26 points.

In winning and losing there are no politics -- only numbers

In the book "The Dandy Dons," which comes out this June, former USF star Bill Russell talks about how his attitude changed after he'd been overlooked for player of the year honors in the California Basketball Association (now the WCC).

"It was then and there that I determined, 'If my team wins a championship every year, there's no quarrel anyone can come up with to deny me that. Winning is the only thing I really cared about because I found that when I left the cocoon of my childhood I came into the world and found the individual awards were mostly political.

But winning and losing, there are no politics, only numbers. It's the most democratic thing in the world. You either win or lose, so I decided early in my career that the only really important thing was to try to win every game. The only thing that really mattered was who won -- and there is nothing subjective about that."

A "non-traditional" coaching candidate who finally got a sniff

A week ago, UT-San Antonio announced they'd found a coach for its fledgling program: 60-year-old Larry Coker, the same Larry Coker who'd guided the Miami Hurricanes to a 2001 National Championship and won 80 percent of his games at U of M over six seasons. He's now the coach at UTSA.

According to Frank Solich, who was fired as head coach at Nebraska in 2003 before being hired at Ohio in 2005, Coach Coker's move to UTSA "reinforces the notion that upper-tier jobs can be hard to come by for veteran coaches who have been fired. Ask Gary Barnett. Or Dennis Franchione. Or Bob Davie. Or Glen Mason. Or R.C. Slocum. Or Jim Donnan. Or Phillip Fulmer. Or Tommy Bowden. You get the idea."

There are plenty of guys out there who haven’t gotten a sniff,” Coach Solich said. “It’s a tough, tough business. For one thing, there’s a little stigma attached to you if you didn’t make it work at a program, or were fired. And the trend has gone toward young guys. You see it in the NFL. You see it in colleges. It just seems that once you’ve been in it for a while, and you’re an established guy, and all of a sudden you get removed from a position, it’s tough on you. I just thought I still had a lot to offer (as a head coach). I felt I was good at being a head coach.”

It also reminds me a little of Radford coach Brad Greenberg (pictured here), who "was a young assistant at American University and Saint Joseph's in the late 1970s and early 1980s but then took a detour to the NBA as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks and as a player personnel executive with the Portland Trail Blazers."

Coach Greenberg also had a "1-year stint as the 76ers' general manager/vice president of basketball operations. In fact, while Greenberg's stay in Philly was brief, he did make the most influential decision in recent Sixers history by choosing Allen Iverson with the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NBA draft. It was a franchise-altering choice, for which Greenberg never gets the full credit he deserves."

After being fired by the Sixers in April 1997, Coach Greenberg waited 10 years to get a college head coaching job. His brother, Seth, hired him at South Florida as the director of basketball ops, then took him along to Virginia Tech in 2003 where he served as associate head coach.

Along the way, "Brad applied for openings but says schools weren't much interested in a first-time head coach in his 50s."

According to Coach Greenberg, when applying for college jobs, "Some athletics directors would look at me and say, 'Wait a minute, this guy was an NBA GM. What does he want coaching my team? He's been dealing with agents and pros and flying on charter planes. Is he really going to be happy in a little, tiny office and getting on a bus?' "

In 2007, Coach Greenberg got the chance he'd been waiting for when he was hired at Radford, a Big South school 2o minutes from Va. Tech that had gone 8-22 the season before.

Radford President Penelope W. Kyle, who hired Greenberg as coach, said "it didn't bother her that he was a nontraditional candidate."

"That's why we hit it off," she says. "I was a nontraditional choice, too." She ran the state lottery in Virginia and, before that, was a business executive and a lawyer. She liked his NBA credentials.

When Coach Greenberg arrived at Radford two seasons ago, his team was described as "a laughingstock." Now the Highlanders are headed to the NCAA tournament.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Avoiding the trap of tailspin

There's an old saying: "Wins come in bunches." Of course, so do losses.

Which is why after his team's 12-game winning streak ended recently with a loss to ATL, Jerry Sloan "worries about what awaits."

So after the game at Atlanta on Wednesday night, Coach Sloan made it clear to his guys that he "wants to avoid the trap of tailspin."

"I just told them, 'Lots of times, you see a team after they've had a streak, they have one the other way,' "

According to Carlos Boozer, a seven-year NBA vet who played on the U.S. Olympic basketball team last summer, the next few games are a test for the Jazz.

"We'll see what kind of character we've got. I think if we're an elite team, we'll bounce right back. We won't just look at this thing and sulk and lose four or five in a row. We've got to bounce back from it."

Managing the home crowds' energy

Insightful comment from Northeastern hockey coach Greg Cronin, whose team is ranked fourth in the nation, behind only Boston, Notre Dame, and Michigan.

With every win, NU's home crowds have grown. According to this article, "the noise is constant."

Coach Cronin (pictured here) claims that while it's true that the Huskies' "arena has been a real special place this season," the best part is how his players can use the fans' enthusiasm to their advantage:

"Our players have the opportunity to manage the energy in the building."

It comes down to how hard you want to work

Great quote from Larry Hughes in the NY Daily News.

Hughes, who exploded for 30 points on 13-20 shooting in a win at Milwaukee on Tuesday, then added 22 in NY's win at DET the next night, said that as the postseason approaches, the key variable is effort:

"At this point it comes down to how hard you want to work," he said. "Everyone has talent. It comes down to how hard you want to work."

Your coaching philosophy: The sum total of all you believe

Jud Heathcote was a head coach for nearly a quarter of a century, including 19 seasons at Michigan State, where he won a national title in 1979 with Magic Johnson running the point.

In his 1995 autobiography, "Jud: A Magical Journey," he talked about the roots of his coaching philosophy:

"A key to success is always being able to adjust. But you have to believe in something when you coach. That's what's called your coaching philosophy -- the sum total of all you believe. Your basic philosophy is usually established at an early age. But it changes as you get more experience and the game changes.

In my playing career, I was a star in high school, a star on the small-college level, but just a role player or a substitute at the major-college level. So I can relate to guys sitting on the bench, always wanting to play. I never had any hard feelings about it. I always thought I was better than the guys playing. But I accepted it. What was important was what the coach thought. That has always been my philosophy. I've always been a good team guy. And I've always felt the team came first."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I was not allowed to quit when things got tough

Saw recently where Dwyane Wade relies on guys like Kobe and LeBron to push him to achieve more. In his words:

"Listen, I won a championship. I’ve been a Finals MVP. I’ve had All-Star games. I’m on every commercial you see. My life is good. But you have to keep going and keep going. You need things to push you, and I found them. There are always guys that are going to push me. LeBron and Kobe are two of the best talents this game has ever seen. If you want your name to be right there with them, you’ve got to continue working hard."

Wade's quote reminded me of a book I read last year. In it, professionals from various fields and walks of life talked about who had pushed them to achieve success.

The great Morgan Freeman (pictured above), one of my favorite actors, said he "was not allowed to quit when things got tough. I was not allowed to give up acting and try something else. I was just not allowed. There was always somebody there who gave me encouragement or help."

Several people credited their mothers or fathers with providing the support and positive reinforcement they needed to press on. According to Pablo Picasso, one of the world's great painters, his mother told him, "If you become a solider, you'll be a general. If you become a monk, you'll end up as Pope." He continued: "Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso."

Early in his cycling career, Lance Armstrong wanted to quit a race, telling his mother that he simply couldn't go any further. His mother replied that she wouldn't allow him to quit, even if he had to walk his bike across the finish line. "So Lance walked to the finish line."

Then there's Derek Hatfield, who was in a Trans-atlantic sailboat race when his mast broke. When he finally made it to land, he called his father to tell him he was quitting. "Bring the trailer, I'm dropping out of the race," recalls Hatfield.

His father was having none of it, saying, "I'm not bringing you the trailer. You get back on the boat and go to the finish line."

Hatfield "finished the race and became one of the few people who have ever sailed around the world alone."

Pick one: Coach, officiate, or play

When he arrived at Arizona State, coach Herb Sendek "made it clear he wouldn't tolerate the persecution complex that long had been a part of the problem, a feeling that poor ASU hoops always was getting jobbed by Pac-10 officials."

He insisted "that his team not argue a single call."

Ask him why and he has a simple answer:

"Because they're not supposed to. I just don't want our guys responding to a referee's call, because the next play is getting ready to start. We ask our guys at the beginning of the year, 'You have a choice. You can pick one. You can either coach, officiate or play. Just pick one, because it's hard as hell to do any one of the three, let alone two of the three."

[Thanks to Phil Beckner at Weber State for passing along!]

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life

Del Jones, a reporter for the USA Today, frequently writes about management issues that are usually insightful and interesting. Like many of his stories, his recent piece titled "How cheating death can change your life" was worth reading.

It describes what people who've survived near-death experiences ("NDEs"), or who are currently battling a life-threatening or terminal disease, learned in the process or how it changed their "long term perspective."

Said one:

"Death is very likely the single-best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true."

Says another: "Near-death experiences give you balance. You become more worldly. Your ideas become bigger."

Many say the experience changed "them in profound ways and give them a heightened sense of purpose." As one put it: "Life becomes shinier. You should plan for the long haul, but there is a big difference in doing that and making perpetual sacrifices."

Apple CEO Steve Jobs (pictured above), who has survived pancreatic cancer, had this to say in a commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005:

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

A basketball player sent on the court with rusty fundamentals is a good bet to fail

Got an early copy of James Johnson's soon-to-be-released book "The Dandy Dons."

It chronicles the University of San Francisco basketball teams from the mid-1950s that were coached by Phil Woolpert and featured Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. USF won the NCAA championship in 1955 and 1956. [Coach Woolpert later coached at my alma mater, USD.]

As a side note, Phil's son, Paul, has had a long and successful career in the CBA and D-League.

Here's a good excerpt from the book:


When practice opened in the fall of '53, Woolpert was ready. So were the players, but they didn't know what the coach had in store for them -- in practice or during games. Woolpert had a plan: First he was going to use defense to break up the opposition's attack before it could get set. On offense he wanted to use a balanced floor, with his players working the ball around the court until they got the right shot.

Woolpert had always been a strong advocate of defense and he saw an opportunity to develop his players into an aggressive defensive squad.

"I can't see just standing around and letting the other fellow shoot. To me, it's common sense to try to stop him from scoring. There is a science and a skill to defense. It's what makes the game interesting, not a race from one end of the court to the other for one more basket."

He was also fond of saying, "We figure to have the ball only about half the time in a game, so in practice, we work on defense half the time."

Woolpert was without a doubt a defensive-minded coach. In Woolpert's system, if you couldn't defend, it was unlikely you would get much playing time. He disdained "jackrabbit basketbal," once remarking about the up-tempo offense becoming popular then: "It just isn't good basketball. I wouldn't know how to go about coaching it. You can't expect to execute scoring playing when you're running up and down the court like madmen."

Practice included what Woolpert called the "hands-up" drill. The players would line up with their feet in position, bend their knees, and put one hand high above their heads and the other one out to the side. Then they moved quickly forward or backward, to the left or to the right, at Woolpert's direction.

It was the same drill that Hall of Fame coach Pete Newell used when he was at USF and in 1959 when his Cal team won the NCAA title. Most players introduced to the hands-up drill lasted about three minutes before they begged for mercy, but eventually they could go twenty minutes nonstop. That kind of stamina paid big dividends during the season.

Woolpert was also a stickler for making his players pick up the fundamentals of the game -- dribbling, passing, footwork, and shooting. "A basketball player sent on the court with rusty fundamentals," he said, "is a good bet to fail in his operations."

In addition to sound fundamentals, a team needed talented players and a simple offense and defense. Woolpert believed that regardless of what offense a team used, "the essentially important need is for simplicity and efficiency of operation. If the players know what they are doing, and why, and are impressed with the importance of each move in an overall pattern, the chances of that pattern creating good shot opportunities are excellent."

Looking for people with convictions who can influence their peers

Came across a great quote from Joe Paterno in the book "The Competitive Edge" by Dr. Jeffrey Brown, a sports psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School.

"We need people who influence their peers and who cannot be detoured from their convictions by peers who do not have the courage to have any convictions."

[Here's a video at Coach Paterno at work that's worth a look.]

Veterans provide knowledge; young players bring the energy

Reds manager Dusty Baker, 59, "has a reputation for preferring veterans at the expense of young players."

"I get tired of defending myself," he says. "It's the biggest crock of (bull) I've ever heard. I never had one (young team) except my last year (2006) in Chicago. In San Francisco, they had a big mortgage on the building. We had to win now."

What's important to Coach Baker is not whether a player is young or a veteran; it's whether the player wants to improve.

"Growth, that's exactly what I want," Baker says. "Baseball intellect, the ability to learn and retain what they learn. Some guys get it right away. Other guys you've got to keep reminding. I want intelligent, energy-type players. Competition from within without envy and jealousy. Veterans give us knowledge, kids give us energy."

When asked if some of the younger Reds players were likely to develop into team leaders, Coach Baker replied: "Leadership is not appointed. It's anointed by your teammates."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The benefits of a point-forward

Having watched Louisville's Terrence Williams on TV, it's obvious he's an excellent athlete who is projected as a small forward in the NBA. He'll likely come off the bench as a limited-minutes player used primarily as a defender -- one who can guard an NBA 3/2 man off the bench.

Williams (pictured here with Coach Pitino) does a good job of rebounding his position and creates extra possessions for his team. Offensively, he's an unselfish player.

Coach Pitino and Louisville work a lot on shooting drills, and since Williams has spent four years with Coach Pitino, I don't see him improving significantly as a shooter. [Had he been coached poorly the last several years, there might be room for improvement, but that's not the case here.] Speaking of coaching, it's interesting how Coach Pitino advised Williams to "imagine that he's always doing commercials on himself in public."

Williams' offensive game is a concern. He's a poor FT shooter, failing to hit more than 62 percent of his free throws in his college career. There aren't many NBA small forwards who are shooting in that range who are in their team's rotations.

On the other hand, he's improved as a 3-point shooter, but has room to improve as a scorer. At this point, he's a player who is likely to be drafted in the 25-35 range.

As this article in SI this week points out, "Williams fills the rarest role in college hoops — that of point forward, which means he orchestrates the offense from the small-forward position, leading his team in assists at 5.1 per game, with a 2.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio."

Louisville coach Rick Pitino knows that the two logical candidates to run the offense, 5'10" senior Andre McGee and 6'1" junior Edgar Sosa, "would rather score than assist, whereas T-Will would rather assist than score," and that Williams's court vision is second to none on Louisville's roster. At his height he can see over perimeter defenders; he can rebound and start fast breaks without the delay of an outlet pass; he can take ball-handling pressure off the guards or simply slide over from the wing and initiate offensive sets.

Williams is driven by what he feels after making a nice pass. Here's how he describes it:

"The feeling I get when I make a pass for an assist is like the one you'd get if you had a baby brother and every time he tried to walk, he fell down, until one time, he finally walked and you were there to see it. That's the kind of happiness I get from seeing other guys score."

Williams learned to appreciate the fine art of passing from watching Lakers great Magic Johnson. "My uncles used to show me old tapes of Magic," Williams says, "and I'd see the passes he'd make and think, 'That looks tight.'"

W's coach Don Nelson, who played Paul Pressey and Marques Johnson point-forwards in the mid-1980s while coaching the Bucks, is quoted in the SI story as saying, "It allow[ed] us to release our guards, who [were] not real quick, earlier, and alleviate[d] some of the pressure on them and [gave] me a chance to play two nonballhandling guards, like Kevin Grevey and Sidney Moncrief, together."

Nellie's requirements for the point-forward position?

He has to be a leader, has to rebound well, has to defend, has to have an assist-to-turnover ratio of at least 2 to 1 and has to be 6'5" or taller.