Wisdom in the Words of Others

I have an affinity for quotes and this latest group of eight that I’ve come across in my life are no different. A handful of these phrases of wisdom come from a book that I am reading called “The Leadership Playbook” by Jamy Bechler, who is a renowned leadership speaker and former college basketball coach. In addition, a couple of these insights have surfaced from my general interest in philosophy as well as through my new-founded meditative practices.

Maybe one of these eight pieces of wisdom rings true for you. Feel free to write, down below in the comments section, about which one impacts you most and why that’s the case.

As I journey through the profession of basketball coaching, I have to remember that more important than the games is the point of serving of others. In particular, the young people who I hope to impact one day, in the future, as a coach.

–  “You cannot change your destiny overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.” – Jim Rohn 

–  “Patience is not the ability to wait but how you act while you’re waiting.”                           – Joyce Meyer

–  “Leadership is not about positions, titles or flowcharts but about one life influencing another.” – John C. Maxwell

–  Mastery of others is strength. Mastery of self is true power.” – Lao Tzu

–  “A good leader gets people to follow him because they want to, not because he makes them.” – Tony Dungy

–  “Not every player can be a star player, but every player must be a star at their role.”   – Jay Bilas

–  “Everybody can be great because anyone can serve.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

–  “Speak when you’re angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”                         – Groucho Marx

Leadership Via an Untraditional Source

Leadership does not always come from traditional sources. I had the pleasure of observing what true leadership looks like, over these last two years, via someone who has made great impact on my life in how I try to carry myself each and every day.

But before I delve into why this person has made such a strong impact on me, I think it is important for me to offer up a definition or two of what leadership is. What are some common buzz words that are commonly synonymized with leadership: “trust,” “accountable,” “trustworthy,” “enthusiastic,” etc. Therefore, my question to you is, are these words reserved for team-captain on sports teams, or CEO’s and CFO’s of major Fortune 500 companies? No, they are not. Everyone has the ability to display those sort of positive leadership qualities that many of us seek from our leaders.

Sometimes, a person might be engaging with these ideals subconsciously and not even understand the breadth of the influence he or she carries.

This person whom I mentioned at the beginning just graduated from the University of Missouri and was a walk-on basketball player for two seasons. Walk-ons, if you do not know, are student-athletes who pay their own way through school (not on scholarship), but get to be a part of the team. Yet, being a walk-on is the farthest thing from easy. They can be the so-called “punching bags” of the team who have to do all the stuff the other players might not want to. Plus, minutes in games are few and far between for most walk-ons at the high-major level (D-I).

However, even throughout the highs and lows of the season, or whatever the circumstances were at that time, this individual never wavered in his commitment to the team. He brought positive energy to all of our practices and games, and always took the time to check-in with his fellow teammates, coaches and support staffers to see how each person was doing. The little things mattered to him. Furthermore, whenever one of his teammates scored, you could bet that he was the first player off of the bench celebrating in some form or fashion (he had a knack for some hilarious reactions that make me laugh just thinking about it).

As I observed this person over our two years together, I wondered how a walk-on, who had to pay his own way through school, dealt with numerous injuries and got little to no playing-time or recognition could have adopted such a positive leadership style? But, I realized that he was doing so because he recognized his role, value and the influence he could have on the team. His job, for lack of a better term, was to infuse as much as positivity into our group as he could on a daily basis. He understood he might not play much, but still prepared every day like he would play. Even though his label was “walk-on,” that did not matter. He led, by example, because he saw an avenue to help his teammates, coaches and the program grow.

Funny enough, as our roster numbers trickled down toward the end-of-the-year, this player got a chance to play in our NCAA Tournament game vs. Florida State. He scored a tough and-one lay-up. (I would argue he played the best on our team the whole first half). Now this former Mizzou Hoops walk-on is headed off to Dallas in a few short weeks to begin his career working in the NBA and I could not be more proud of him. This person might not understand the impact he has had on me, but he encapsulated a lot about what leadership is and should look like just by how he carried himself day-in and day-out.

I will leave you with a quote from Jamy Bechler’s “The Leadership Playbook” to round this post out:

“Titles may give a person some prestige or artificial power, but true leadership involves the amount of influence that a person has.”

 

Rising Coaches Conference (2018)

I had the pleasure of attending the 2018 Rising Coaches Conference in Indianapolis this past weekend. I had the opportunity to listen to some amazing speakers who have made it in the profession of college basketball coaching. Here’s a list of each speaker’s best words of advice, knowledge and takes on how to rise in the coaching world.

Matt McMahon (Head MBB Coach @ Murray State)

  • Be consistent w/: mindset + effort + actions = the process
  • Be an “Energy Fountain”
  • There’s no certain path to fining a way into the coaching profession — we MUST be SELECTIVE.
    • Prepare Now
    • Learn from Mistakes
    • Be Accountable
    • DO NOT Settle for being a Specialist

Qualities Coach McMahon looks for in hiring people:

  • Hungry, Humble, Smart
  • Does this person fit within the desire culture framework?
  • Can he trust/count on you?

Wisdom:

  • “Everyday is a job interview.”
  • “Take care of your people.”
  • “Elite performance comes via Elite preparation.”

Patrick Blake (Assistant MBB Coach @ Coastal Carolina)

  • Listening is a skill — coaches should be listening to understand.
  • “To be successful: a coach has to learn to coach the unreachable kid(s).
    • Each kid is different in how he/she needs to be coached.
  • DO NOT allow outside perceptions to affect what you stand for.

Wisdom:

  • “Relationships are only a tiebreaker” (a.k.a. work is MOST important).
  • Your program will be good at whatever the coach emphasizes to the staff & players.”
  • When you define the culture from the start, it makes those seemingly HARD decisions actually EASIER to deal with.”
  • “Culture is on a 1-day contract.”

Chris Oliver (Head MBB Coach @ University of Windsor)

  • Feedback = the problem + specific to a player + reasoning and/or WHY
    • Specific-Positive: Good job to whom and why
    • Specific Value-Info: This could be better directed toward whom and why
  • Just because a player makes the right decision on the court that DOES NOT mean the result will always follow suit — But, it is the RIGHT DECISION THAT MATTERS MOST!!
  • Put an emphasis on coaching the best players because it will elevate all other players on the team.

Melanie Balcomb (former Ashland, Xavier & Vanderbilt WBB Coach)

  • NEVER take a job for money.
  • Key points:
    1. Push past your fears.
    2. Plan for failure (what’s next…)
    3. You MUST live out the same demands that you ask of your players
    4. Get out of your comfort zone
    5. Fire fast / Hire slow
  • 45-Second “Elevator Speech”:
    • Who am I?
    • Why do I coach?
    • What are my goals?
    • What are my first objectives when I get the job?
    • What is my WHY?
  • If your core values do not fit with your boss’ culture — IT WILL NOT WORK.”

Michael Fly (Head MBB Coach @ Florida Gulf Coast):

  • Why stay at your current job?
    1. Am I consistent enough with/in my own job?
    2. Am I stable enough in my personal life?
    3. How am I going to sign the next “great recruit” if I keep bouncing around place-to-place?
    4. Am I the best player development, video, assistant on my staff…?

On Job Offers:

  1. Can you win there?
  2. Is your current coach trying to get out, or locked in long-term?
  3. Are you okay with players winning in spite of your presence?
  4. Where would you fall on new staff’s totem pole?
  5. Where do you really want to go?
  6. Is there significant value in that new role?
  • ** If the head coach asks you something have an opinion **
  • “If I’m not 1000% committed to whatever it is I’m saying to my players, then they WILL NOT listen to a word I have to say.” – Coach Fly

Bryan Mullins (Associate Head Coach @ Loyola-Chicago)

  • “Always becoming, Never arriving.”
  • “If you clear a path for the people above you, you will clear a path for yourself.”
  • “Be present where you’re at and good things will fall into place.”
  • “Enthusiasm is common, but Endurance is rare.”
  • “In order to have culture, you have to RECRUIT culture.”

Last Chance U: The Coaching Box

I had not watched Netflix’s “Last Chance U” before just a couple of weeks ago. If it has not been docked into your “My List” section, I would recommend it to those who enjoy sports. But, even more for those who aspire to coach, like myself.

Jason Brown, who grew up in Compton, California and is one of those cannot miss personalities roaming the sidelines, has sparked great conversation about what is right versus wrong when it comes to how a coach coaches.

Brown is commonly heard yelling profanities, going on expletive-laced tirades and having no fear going after his coaching staff either. All of these instances took me aback a bit as I watched the season unfold for historically down-trodden Independence Community College (ICC) as the program tried to make its comeback.

Through all of the craziness I witnessed watching Coach Brown on my TV, one thing I cannot deny is that he absolutely cares for and loves his players so much that he would do whatever it takes to get the job done. Interviewees talked about how he built the team lounge area and a film room all with his bare hands upon getting the job. Furthermore, he signed the shoe company Adidas as a sponsor the team so that his kids could feel like a real-deal football team. Lastly, many mentioned his innate ability to relate to many of the situations that these kids grew up in, at the junior college level, being that he came from little and made himself into a successful contributor in society.

Some might find Brown’s ways maniacal, unprofessional or down-right inappropriate and at times and I would absolutely agree with you. I would not be as abrasive toward my players as he is if I were in his position. Yet, he has an undeniable passion for the game and more importantly for the kids he coaches that I respect a great deal.

Where do you stand on Jason Brown’s coaching style? Does he cross the line too often or brush up against just enough? Let me know in the comments down below.

Film Study: Xavier 1-4 BLOBs (Pt. 2)

Well I’m back again, this time brining you a shorter, but hopefully just as quality part 2 of this breakdown of Xavier’s 1-4 BLOBs from this past season. Here we go!

 

(Video Courtesy: Pick&Pop.net)

“Diagonal Screen-the-Screener (STS)”

If you watched and read about what a “Screen-the-Screener” or STS action looks like in part 1, then it is safe to say you will probably know the sort of description that is coming. Again, Xavier aligns in that 1-4 look. This time the ball is entered by the inbounder to the strong-side corner, who in this case is Bluiett (#5). Once he catches, the player on the strong-side block releases for a catch and reverses the ball to Gates (#22). The player who inbounded the ball, Gooden (#0), then cuts up to where O’Mara (#50) is on the free throw line area and sets a diagonal back-screen for his teammate to cut to the strong-side block (#50 is now going to the strong-side as the ball was reversed from one side to the other). Gates (#22) reverses the ball to the same-side corner and head hunts the defender guarding Gooden (#0). As you can see the defense is confused by this quick back-screen to down-screen or (STS) action and results in a wide open look and made three-pointer.

Guard-on-big screens are always tough to guard and in this case Gooden (#0) sets a great back-screen which causes a mix up between Cincinnati players #11 and #1. The key here is to make contact on all screens and not screen the air. A lack of contact on any sort of a screen is not going to get the job done.

 

(Video Courtesy: Pick&Pop.net)

“Wide Pin”

This play is rather simple in design, but because it promotes a great deal of spacing and operates on a wide open side of the floor it is still very tough to guard.

This time the ball is entered to the man on the strong-side (a.k.a. ball-side) block after he releases for a catch. As soon as this happens, O’Mara (#50) goes to head hunt the man guarding Bluiett (#5) for a wide pin-down screen. The key to this action working is Bluiett’s ability to read and feel where his defender is. In this case, the man who is guarding him tries to go over the screen and meet Bluiett (#5) on the topside. As the Musketeer wing-player sees this, he actually turns the action into a flare/fade, which again results in a wide open three-point basket.

Conversely, if Bluiett’s (#5) man had tried to chase him off the wide pin-down (i.e. staying on his hip), then he most likely would have tight curled the screen and either had a pull-up jumper, a drive to the rim or a drive and kick to one of his other teammates.

 

(Video Courtesy: Pick&Pop.net)

“Wide Pin (Screen & Respond)”

Okay, maybe I lied a bit to you all in my previous post. I did say there were going to be six different actions, but in reality it is just five. Yet, this alteration or spin on wide pin is so lethal that I had to put it in this breakdown.

Literally, the only difference with this action is the ending. Everything starts the same, the ball is entered to Bluiett (#5) on the strong-side block and reversed to the other side of the floor. Now, Macura (#55) is preparing to fly off the wide pin from Bluiett (#5), but instead cuts hard backdoor acting like he’s slipping to the rim for a wide open layup. Again, if Macura (#55) did indeed come open, the Musketeers would throw it to him every time and take the easy lay-in.

Anyhow, as soon as Macura (#55) back-cuts, you can see how Bluiett (#5) responds out to the three-point line and literally could have a picnic if he wanted to before he decides to shoot. Bluiett’s (#5) quick response creates the separation he needs since both defenders crash down toward Macura (#55) to ensure that they do not give up an easy basket at the rim. Yet, this miscommunication costs the opposition giving up an open three-point shot and granting Xavier three-points off of a well executed action.

Wrap-Up:

I hope you have enjoyed this dive into the genius behind the actions that Chris Mack put together during his time at Xavier and surely will continue to do so at Louisville. You can find part 1 in the previous posts section the website. Enjoy!

Film Study: Xavier’s 1-4 BLOBs (Pt. 1)

If you know some of the coaches whom I have deep respect for in the world of college basketball, then you’d know that Chris Mack ranks toward the top of that list. His Xavier offense was always one of the most well-oiled machines, which enabled the Musketeers to have all-time program success during Mack’s tenure.

When it comes to baseline out-of-bounds plays, it is commonplace in college hoops to see actions look super vanilla and frankly boring when it comes to baseline inbound actions. Often times, the goal is to just get the ball in and go from that point. Yet, based on film of Mack’s Xavier teams, his approach his to try and score off of such opportunities.

In part 1, of this film breakdown I will take you through the first three of six sets that I particularly enjoy that Mack ran during his time at Xavier and surely will continue to do so now at Louisville. What is important to note is that each of these sets begins in a 1-4 base look (i.e. this means there are four players in a straight line 10-15 feet apart along the floor in addition to the man passing the ball in play).

Without further a do, let’s get started.

(Video Courtesy: Pick&Pop.net)

“Hook”:

In this first action, you can see how the base set looks for all these actions. Two players are spaced out to the corners, two on the blocks plus the in-bounder with the ball. Kaiser Gates (#22) makes a move out toward the weak-side corner (away from the ball) and acts like he will go off a pin-down from Tyrique Jones (#0). But, this is where the misdirection and brilliance kicks-in. As Gates (#22) crosses over top of J.P. Macura (#55), he changes direction and cuts toward the rim. This allows Macura (#55) to respond off the screen from Jones (#0) and get the space he needs to attack the closeout and finish at the rim.

This set works well because of how sudden Gates’ (#22) cut to the basket is. His ability to sell like he is going to come off the screen from Jones (#0) is what enables Macura (#55) the necessary space to catch, assess and attack his defender off of the sloppy closeout.

The second example of this highlights the initial setup even better and again shows how Gates (#22) does an excellent job of diving to the rim, after running by Trevon Bluiett (#5) to give him the separation from his defender that he needs.

(Video Courtesy: Pick&Pop.net)

“RIP Screen-the-Screener (STS)”:

Action #2 involves two key parts: the RIP screen and the screen-the-screener action that follows it. Again, the setup remains the same in a 1-4 look. Pause and look at how much space there is for each player to operate. From the very beginning, the defenders are forced to take just an extra step or two away that unlocks the freedom of movement Xavier wants. Anyhow, Bluiett (#5) screens in for Jones (#0). This first look on any of these actions where a player is screened in toward the rim is an easy layup. If Jones (#0) is unable to get open, then the the second form of misdirection ensues. As Jones (#0) passes to Bluiett (#5), who sets the initial screen to get his big-man open, Gates (#22) crashes down from the strong-side corner and sets a screen for Bluiett (#5) for an open jump-shot. This is where the terminology “Screen-the-Screener” or “STS” comes from in this play. Just that little separation, from Gates’ (#22) blind-side screen, allows Bluiett (#5) to hit a tough shot fading to the corner.

There are multiple pieces to this action that allows the whole play to work. Without the hard cut on the initial screen by Bluiett (#5), his immediate response off of it and the Gates (#22) screen this play is not as successful as it could be. The little details matter.

(Video Courtesy: Pick&Pop.net)

“Flex Flare”:

This is my favorite action of the three in this compilation. The ball is entered to Bluiett (#5) on the strong-side block, meaning he is on ball-side. Once Bluiett (#5) catches he reverses the ball to the man on the opposite block who has responded out to the free throw line area. Next, the in-bounder proceeds to set a flex screen for the big, now in the weak-side corner (opposite of the ball). Again, this is to look for an easy basket right at the rim if the defense is late on a switch, or has a communication mishap. Once the flex is set and Karem Kanter (#11) posts up on the ball-side block, Paul Scruggs (#1) sets a flare screen for Bluiett (#5), who was on the opposite free throw line area and gets him open for a wide-open three pointer.

“Flare” screens are one of my favorite screen types because there is a suddenness to it that makes it so potent. It is hard enough to guard a flex action and then Mack adds a “Flare” screen on the backside, which completely catches the defender, #2, off guard with no safety valve for him to recover.

Wrap-Up:

These are just half of the actions I will be delving into over the next couple days. Look our for part 2 coming very soon.

 

How Three Days of Basketball Camps Helped Put Life into Greater Perspective

(Photo Credits: @MizzouHoops)

As I watched a bevy of campers dribble their basketballs, score some baskets and show off their big smiles throughout the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center Boys & Girls Club gymnasium in East St. Louis, Illinois, there was sense of joy that filled my spirit.

Over the past week, our head men’s basketball Cuonzo Martin brought us, the whole basketball staff, to various communities in and around Missouri and Illinois to host basketball camps in the specific areas of those states that are often neglected, and are in need of some much-needed and well-deserved attention.

As a group, our Mizzou Hoops staff hosted two camps in St. Louis, Missouri. Two more the following day in East St. Louis, Illinois and a final camp in Kansas City, Missouri. Each of these sessions were held at different Boys and Girls Club locations in those three cities.

Coach Martin, who is our head men’s basketball coach for those who do not know, grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois. Hence, it was evident that when Coach Martin arrived to the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center, he relished the opportunity to give back to all the young kids who are in a similar position to the one he once was growing up. If you do not know the history of East St. Louis, to put it bluntly, it is one of the more impoverished and challenging areas for a child to grow up in all of America. Those who can make a life for themselves coming from that area have achieved more than most any other normal person could overcome in a lifetime.  To me, this is why the time we spent with these kids was so much more about just developing a camper’s between-the-legs crossover, form shooting via a jump-stop, or two-hand rebounds. Rather, these three days hopefully offered each kid a few hours of levity as well as tons of positive energy and life lessons being poured into them, which might resonate with these youngsters down the road as they develop into young men and women.

At the conclusion of each camp Coach Martin parted some words of wisdom upon the kids. The one consistent theme that was present throughout: integrity. Telling the truth, especially at the age many of these young kids are, is not always easy. Coach Martin acknowledge himself that he had struggles with integrity as a kid. I think that is why I appreciate Coach Martin’s words so much since he admits that he is not perfect and has his own struggles with these concepts on a daily basis. But, he always strives to live up to his values the best he can everyday.

As I wrap-up, I’ll be the first to say that growing up in Palo Alto, California, which is a hotbed for technology and the epicenter for Silicon Valley, might very well be the polar opposite experience to that of a kid who grows up in a community like East St. Louis, Illinois. Therefore, this experience was also critical for my personal development. I say that not only as an aspiring basketball coach, but far more as a human being. Coach Martin’s decision to host these camps enabled me to travel to places where I’ve never been before while also getting an opportunity to interact with kids who have far greater challenges to deal than I looking back on my childhood.

My perspective on life, as a whole, has exponentially widened over these last three days. That might be the greatest gift someone, like myself, could have hoped to garner from this entire experience.