Competitive Practices

It was kind of cool to turn on the FIBA World Championships and see Tuukka Kotti playing for the Finnish National Team.  Tuukka was a key piece on our 2004 NCAA Tournament team at Providence College that was a #5 seed, the highest seed Providence has ever earned.  Tuukka never got a ton of credit because he played with Ryan Gomes, but he was a great teammate and a very versatile talent who had a lot to do with our success.

Tuukka and Gomes playing together on that team made me start thinking about the teams you put together in practice and how it relates to the intensity and competitiveness.  Gomes was far and away our best player on that team, and he had an ability to score inside and out.  The only player on that team who could really guard him was Tuukka who had size and strength but also the foot quickness to handle Gomes on the perimeter.  The problem was that both he and Gomes were starters, so Coach Welsh liked to play them together.

When we played the 5 starters together, there really wasn’t anyone else who could guard Gomes in practice.  He was such a natural and had so much talent, he could always produce without pushing himself too hard.  We had a young Herbert Hill on that team as well who wasn’t strong enough yet to handle someone like Gomes in the post, and Gomes actually felt a little bad for him.  He was such a nice kid that he didn’t want  to make Herb look bad, so he’d take it easy on him.

The problem was  Gomes was really the player our other guys looked to as a leader and a barometer for how we practiced.  With no one who could really push him on our second team, he would coast a little bit whether he realized it or not.  When Gomes was at his best he could raise the level of everyone else in the gym, but it was hard to keep him at his best when the competition wasn’t there.

That’s the first time I really thought about the teams you put together in practice, and how much  they can effect the level of your practice.  Common practice is to play your starters together in practice so they can get a lot of reps playing with each other, and I had never really thought about it until coaching that team.  The level of our practices was better when Tuukka was guarding Gomes, with the intensity noticeably better.

As a head coach you may have to make a choice between a high level of intensity at practice and your first team getting as much time as possible playing together.  Over time I’ve learned that the intensity level of practice is more important to me as a coach.  But it’s a choice you have to make when you have a feel for the personality of your team.  I’m not sure how important it really is for the first team to get reps together, and I don’t want to sacrifice any intensity in order to get those reps.  If there is a significant difference between your first team and your second team it can be hard to create a competitive practice.

If you’ve got a match-up that makes your best player really work, try making sure that match-up happens as much as possible.  Even if it forces you to mix up your starters, the competition you create in practice will make your team better.

“Abrasive” Women

I found this post really interesting about how women are evaluated in the workplace.  It makes you think about the way we evaluate in the recruiting world.

How much of an evaluation is based on what we expect to see or what we are hoping to see?  Clearly based on this study women are expected to be less aggressive than men, and therefore are given different evaluations.  It makes you think of how we recruit and how we evaluate our own players in practice – are we seeing things clearly or are we seeing something based on what we expect to see?

Jay Bilas

Some thoughts I really liked from Jay Bilas at the University of Florida coaching clinic in 2014 from what he has learned covering practices (Thanks to Buzz Williams for passing them along):

“We want the defense at high-intensity but the offense to slow down – a contradiction.”

“Games are about performance and nothing else.  Too much feedback can distract from performance.”

“I’ve never seen a player talk and not play hard.”

“Immediately confront any challenges to your culture.”

“Ball side defense wins games – help side defense wins championships.”

“You never out-perform your level of belief.”

From West Point: “Loyalty doesn’t always mean yes.”

Wasted Recruiting Trip

My first year at Rhode Island College my assistant Matt O’Brien gave me a list of kids he saw that he wanted me to call on.  The first call I made was a kid from New Jersey, and I spoke to his coach.  He told me the kid just committed to George Washington.  Matt and I laughed about it at the time and I still remember it.  At least I knew we were recruiting good players.  It seems that checking up on that kid was a waste of time, and by itself it was.  We had no business calling on a kid who was an Atlantic 10 recruit at RIC.  But it opened a larger discussion about recruiting efforts in general.

It’s can be frustrating for a coach to go on a recruiting trip and feel like you didn’t get much out of it.  The kid didn’t play very well or you just don’t think he’s good enough, so you wish you had that day back to go see someone else play.  Every coach at every level has felt it.  You are bothered because you spent a full day going to watch this kid and he’s not even close to good enough to play for you.

One of the great takeaways from my time at Rhode Island College is that there are no wasted recruiting trips.  Even the time spent in a gym watching someone who isn’t good enough is still time well spent.  Granted, in a vacuum it may not seem that way, but it’s those trips that allow you to find the guys that maybe others are overlooking.  For every trip where you see someone who isn’t good enough, there is likely a trip where you found someone who surprised you.  The way I look at it, those trips wouldn’t happen if you weren’t willing to take the trips to see the kid who is on the border but might not be good enough.  The total time you spend recruiting allows you to make the comparisons you need to make, it’s still quality time spent evaluating.  It gives you the confidence in the evaluations you have made to feel good about what you are doing.

As a head coach you often rely on your assistants to line up the right players to see, and obviously you want to see guys that are good enough to help you.  But if your assistant are concerned about sending you to see someone who might not be good enough, they might not send you to see that kid who is a steal at your level either.

We’ve all gone on recruiting trips that seem like a waste of time because the kid clearly isn’t good enough.  Set alone, those trips probably don’t produce much.  But the overall time you spend on the road watching kids play impacts all of your evaluations and your confidence in those kids you know are good enough.