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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.
It’s a different era for basketball players these days, even at the youth and high school level. With team rankings, influences of the internet and advances of television as just a few examples, there’s so much information coming at young players today that it’s easy for them to be influenced in a negative way.
With that said, coaching the mind is just as important as coaching on the basketball court. Therefore, it’s key for players today to understand what’s coming at them in all directions – and it’s as influential as teaching a kid how to shoot a jumper. Check out these tips from University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari and see how you can make a difference with your own players.
According to Calipari, trust is very important between a coach and an athlete. It’s where you start with a player, and at the college level, it all begins at the recruiting process and the meetings you have with a particular young person. For instance at Kentucky, Calipari never promises minutes in the recruiting process and aims at under-selling and over-delivering. Meanwhile, it’s key to remember that their trust in you is also at stake.
It’s also important to create a family atmosphere on your team where the players know that everyone on the team is there for each other. This builds unity and chemistry over time.
As a coach, you are always trying to earn respect, and you do that by being honest and making commitments you can stand by. If you are worried about affection and saying whatever you have to say to get the players to like you, then you’re not going to be long for this profession.
But by creating respect between you and a player, by doing the things you say you are going to do, by spending that extra time to communicate or figure out who a particular person is, that respect turns into affection over time. As far as trying to hold players accountable, you must be willing to say no as a coach.
The most critical aspect when sitting down with players is to create a dialogue and communicate openly, but it’s especially important that you listen to them. Remember, as a coach, that individual player wants to know first and foremost, “What’s in it for me?”
Meanwhile, don’t forget that a player’s perception is their reality. You must deal with that perception no matter what it is and address it.
This week’s playbook breakdown features three plays stemming from an under-the-basket inbounds situation that requires a quick basket. These plays offer options against a man-to-man defense and a zone defense, and can also net easy layups or high-percentage jumpers.
Vs. Man-to-Man Defense
The Set-Up: This play allows for an effective set-up of a 3-point shot. The 1 player will inbound the ball while 2, 3, 4 and 5 set up in a box formation around the paint. 5 and 3 will set a double screen for 2 in the lane, while 2 sprints around the screens and across the foul line and flares out to the corner for a jumper.
The Finish: 1 pass-fakes to 4, who makes a fake cut to the hoop before sprinting out to the near corner, and 2 sets up the defense by cutting to the ball and then comes off the double screen for the corner jump shot. After 1 pass-fakes to 4, he hits 2 in the corner for the open look.
Vs. Zone Defense
The Set-Up: 1 inbounds the ball while the other players line up across the foul line. 3, 4 and 5 set screens for 2, who steps beyond the three-point arc for the jumper after receiving an over-the-top pass from 1. When the triple screen is made, 2 really must sell the fake in order to create the necessary separation.
The Finish: 1 passes the ball to the spot and 2 fakes cutting to the ball before ducking back out to the top of the key as 3,4 and 5 close the gap with screens. 2 receives the pass from 1 and takes the open jumper from up top.
The Set-Up: 1 has the ball on the baseline while 5 and 2 start out on the opposite low blocks. 4 is at the side of the foul line on the same side as the ball. 3 is at the top of the key. 2 then pops across the lane on a diagonal. 2 and 5 next set staggered screens for 4. 4 then uses both screens and breaks hard to the basket around the backside. After 4’s break, 2 then curls around 5 and looks for the ball while rolling backside to the hoop.
The Finish: 1 passes to either 4 on the initial backside roll or dishes off to 2, who curls around 5 after setting the screen. 4 and 2 are the top options here and 3 is the safety valve up at the top of the key.
The previous drills can be found on Championship Productions’ DVD “Over 70 Baseline and Under the Basket In-Bounds Plays” featuring Michael Podoll of Winning Hoops. Click here to see the entire “Best of the Best” Winning Hoops Set.
This week’s player development feature focuses on a pair of drills designed to help guards improve their ball handling skills. Kevin Sutton, Nike Skill Academy Instructor and Montverde Academy Men’s Basketball Coach, leads viewers through the workout sessions.
These simple and effective drills — which work on improving balance, hand-eye coordination, overall dribbling ability and risk-taking — can be done at any level and only require a basketball and a tennis ball.
The pound dribble is a terrific way to begin ball control workouts. Players start by pounding the basketball hard at shoulder height with their right hand. Players should stay stationary and eyes should be looking straight ahead. After about 15-20 seconds, players can proceed to pound dribble at waist level, then followed by knee and ankle levels. Next, players should switch to their opposite hand and repeat the previous steps.
Keys: Remember to keep your opposite hand protecting the ball at all times. Keep your body low and knees bent with the backside down. Also, shoulders should stay square and your body should have proper posture.
Next, players should begin a high-alternating crossover dribble, going back and forth with the ball using just one hand. Begin with shoulder height dribbles before proceeding to the waist, knees and ankles. To finish, when players get to dribble at ankle length, they should touch the floor with their opposite hand.
Keys: This is an effective drill as the dribblers can move the ball side to side very quickly. And it’s okay if mistakes are made and the ball scoots away. The goal here is for players to take risks, too.
Finally, players should commence a rhythm dribble called “Push-Pull.” This is where the player pushes the ball forward and back on one side while in a stationary position. Their feet should be apart during this drill and always maintain good balance. To finish up, players can use their left hand and switch to a push-pull out in front for both right and left hands.
This drill is great for hand-eye coordination. Players should remember to stay down on the ball (which forces a low center of gravity) and maintain their dribble at all times during the toss.
In the basic dribble toss, players dribble in place with one hand and use their opposite hand to toss and catch the tennis ball. Players should never surrender their dribble. After this, switch to the opposite hand. Remember, it’s okay to dribble through the legs or behind the back if it means maintaining your dribble.
Another variation of the tennis ball toss is the partner toss. Two players dribble about 10-15 feet from each other and then toss their tennis balls to each other while maintaining their dribble. This drill requires constant communication between teammates and improves one’s hand-eye coordination.