Coaches Corner: Q&A with USA Basketball Coach Kevin Sutton

In this week’s edition of Coaches Corner, Championship Productions’ editor Adam Warner sits down with USA Basketball and Montverde Academy head boys’ basketball coach Kevin Sutton. On April 9, the longtime college and high school basketball coach will lead the 2011 USA Basketball Men’s Junior Select Team against the World Select Team at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon.

In this exclusive interview, Sutton talks about his expectations for the ’11 squad, dishes out advice for players and coaches, and even reveals his rise as a prominent basketball coach from his days growing up in the Washington DC area and playing with the likes of Johnny Dawkins and Billy King.

Talk about your background and the transition to becoming a head basketball coach.
“I grew up in the Washington D.C. area of Falls Church, Virginia. I grew up in a basketball family. My uncle taught me the game and I loved it more than any other sport. I played against some outstanding players growing up, including Johnny Dawkins and Billy King. I grew up playing against some great talent and have always had a passion for the game. Including my father, who was my first coach for football, I’ve always been surrounded by coaches and they’ve all had a great impact on my life. They were great teachers and taught me life lessons through the game. After playing for Montrose Christain, I went to James Madison on a basketball scholarship and eventually became a student assistant coach in 1987, and that’s where it all began.”

How did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in basketball?
“Like everyone, you want to play at the highest level and I wanted to play pro. But that wasn’t a reality, so I wanted to stay and be part of the game. I thought that through coaching I could have an impact on players and on the game of basketball. I’ve been a student of the game. When I became a coach, I tried to impact the game as much as I could positively and give kids a chance to become productive students, athletes and citizens.”

How would you define your coaching philosophy and how do you implement the key parts with your teams?
“It stems from five coaches: Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, John Thompson, John Chaney, and Stu Vetter. As for Coach K, it’s about his relationships with his players, to be fair and demanding and yet hold them accountable. As for Thompson, I watched him build that Georgetown program by doing things the right way and standing up for what he believed in. As for Pitino, he’s influenced me through his system and style of shooting. I took into account what I liked and I implemented that into my own style. Meanwhile, Stu Vetter for his defensive ability. They have all had a lasting impact on my life and the philosophy of making my program the best it can be.”

You’ve put dozens of players into college basketball from the high school ranks. What’s been the key to sustaining talent over time, rather than just a year or two at a time?
“It’s all about consistency. In life, you have to be consistent. You must define who you are and what success is to you. I try to offer this advice to as many coaches who are willing to listen. What’s the definition to you? It could be different. To me, it’s about doing the right things over time and impacting lives through basketball. For other coaches, it may be winning titles. Then from there, try to implement your philosophy and the things you are most comfortable with as a person.”

With so many added distractions these days for high school athletes, particularly for ones who are hoping to make the college leap (with media, rankings, etc.), what’s the key to maintaining focus and discipline at a young age?
“Today’s student-athletes have a lot of outside distractions, so what we try to do is create a culture and environment where everything we do is the most important thing. We work hard as a staff at defining the culture and growing the culture. We do a great job of getting to know our players and we do our best to make sure they are comfortable and we eliminate as many distractions we can. Focus is key and we expect it on a daily basis.”

This year you were named head coach for USA Basketball’s 2011 Junior National Select Team. What does the position mean to you?
“It’s an honor. I was the assistant coach the past two summers for the U-16 team that won the gold medal in Argentina, and also for the U-17 team that won the world championships in Germany. It goes back to the byproduct of doing the right things over time. I think my body of work speaks for itself. I am passionate about the game and I think it was important that we kept continuity with the team and the overall initiative. I take a great deal of pride in the position.”

You will lead Team USA at the Nike Hoop Summit April 9 at the Rose Garden in Portland. What are your expectations?
“I have high expectations. I have been in communication with the players all year long and I continue to develop a relationship with our new players. I think the guys are going to come out and work hard in preparation for the event and play to their potential in the game. This event will put an exclamation point on their high school careers. It’s their final game as high school students, so I tell them how it’s a great way to go out and for them to leave it all out at Nike before opening a brand new book at college.”

What’s some of the best advice you can give to a new coach at the youth or high school level?
“Define who you are as a coach. Define what is success and try to use the game of basketball to continue to teach life lessons to impact lives, and go out and develop young men into quality people. I believe that winning is a byproduct of doing the right things over time. Don’t sacrifice the fun just to win games and pad your record.”

What’s some of the best advice you can give to a young player who’s trying to improve his game?
“Develop a positive work ethic, allow yourself to be coached and become students of the game. I believe that basketball IQ is the newest talent. It’s not enough to be physically talented any more. Players must respect and study the game and respect the players before them. This will allow their own game to continue to grow. Make sure that you surround yourself with good people. You will be better served in the long run. Love the game and be passionate about it and don’t forget to give back to the game, too.”

What’s one of your all-time favorite drills?
“My all-time favorite one is the two-ball basketball series of drills. It’s where you use two balls and dribble in place. It’s a good drill that incorporates your ability to dribble and handle the ball with both hands, plus speed dribbling and using proper footwork. It’s practical and really improves a player in a number of areas.”

Do you have any other goals as a basketball coach left to accomplish? What can we expect in the years to come?
“It’s to continue to grow the game and impact it in a positive way and hopefully, leave it better than I found it.”

Kevin Sutton has partnered with Championship Productions to produce a number of basketball videos. Check out Coach Sutton’s entire catalog by clicking here.

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