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Best of Coaches Corner: Drills of the Year

By adam.warner - Last updated: Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In this week’s edition of Coaches Corner, learn more than a dozen top lacrosse drills submitted by some of the nation’s most renowned NCAA coaches. From the likes of NCAA Champions John Danowski, Bill Tierney and Jim Berkman, the coaches dish out their personal favorites, plus a few player preferences, as well. The drills were compiled from Coaches Corner Q&A’s over the 2010-2011 season. Be sure to read through and see if you can pick up some new drills for your practices this season.

Ohio State Coach Nick Myers:

“It’s hard to pinpoint one, but I like doing some of the simpler drills that break down our overall scheme — like 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 drills that are controlled. By doing these drills, we get to work on dodging, off-ball play, communication, ball movement and even spacing. They allow players to add-lib and be decision-makers on the field, whether it’s dodging, sliding or recovering. Plus, it teaches a lot of the fundamentals and basics that are important to work on frequently.”

Tufts Coach Mike Daly:

My favorite drill is Mechanics Progression, which deals with your elbows, shoulders and hands and really focuses on the fundamentals of the game. If you can’t catch and throw, you can’t do anything in this game. There’s nothing more important than that. It may be mundane to our players, but it’s absolutely the cornerstone of our program.”

Salisbury Coach Jim Berkman:

“It’s not brain surgery here, but we like to put people in tight spaces, especially around the goal. We’ll go 3-on-2, 4-on-3 and 5-on-4 a lot, not necessarily 40-yard sprints, but around the goal and look to move the ball under pressure and make good decisions. It teaches the guys how to protect and stick handle and make quick passes in tight spaces. It’s teaches defenses how to slide and rotate and I think it makes them better overall when it comes to on the field during a game.”

Brown Coach Lars Tiffany:

“My favorite is the General Drill. It’s a 1-on-1 drill and there’s an off-ball defenseman and an off-ball offensive player. Imagine you have a feeder who’s not in the drill standing at the goal line extended to the goalie’s left and about 10 yards wide. He’ll throw a ball to the top center or right to an offensive player standing 14-15 yards from the goal and the defenseman is at the top of the crease. They are both waiting for the pass and when the ball is passed, it’s live. They have to play 1-on-1 now.

The offensive player looks to gets the ball in a wind-up position, catching it in his shooting stance and hopefully only has two steps to a shot. And now it’s decision-making time. Do I have to dodge? Can I just rip it? How should I stand off-ball, move off-ball and make a move? We can do lots of variations of this too, anything to re-create a defense that has sagged in on the backside and the ball is redirected and we are forced to create.”

Click here to check out a full breakdown of the general drill (with video) in a previous edition of Inside the Crease. Also, check out Coach Tiffany’s DVD “Man-Down Defense: A Catalog of Drills.”

Denver Coach Bill Tierney:

Well it goes back to the concept that defense wins titles. My favorite drills are ones that put the offense at an advantage and the defense at a disadvantage. One is a 7-on-6 drill where we insert another player into it after a 6-on-6 situation and we work on slides and rotations. There’s also the 656 drill, where the offense is out-manning the defense 6-on-5 until the defender gets back into play, and this simulates a slide technique.

Then there’s the red-white drill. We go up and down 5 vs. 4 and can add a man and make it 6 vs. 5 drill. It’s great for transition play, ball movement and skill development for offensive players. There’s also survival drills like 2-on-2 perimeter drills where we force the ball inside so that two defenders have to communicate and switch. The bottom line is that we like to run drills that will simulate what we do in the game.”

Duke Coach John Danowski:

“It’s called the Shoot as Hard as You Can Drill. It’s an offensive drill and we use it during pre-game warm-ups and even run it three or four days a week in practice. We get the guys right out in front of the cage and we teach them how to shoot as hard as they can without worrying about where the ball goes. We try to get in a lot of reps, focus on keeping your hands back, your momentum going towards the shot and having the players fall into the crease.”

Former Towson Coach Tony Seaman:

“We really love 4-on-4 drills. It gives us three slides in defensive packages. We can move people around and simulate our offense pretty well with four people and the kids get a feel for where they belong. Plus, we can work on spacing, picking off the ball and defensively who will be the first, second and third slide. We can get so much done and there’s less people to worry about and look at on a daily basis.”

Player Favorites

John Danowski, Duke University:

“It’s called the Scrapping Drill. We run it at the beginning or end of practice with the emphasis on picking up ground balls and keeping focused while under pressure. We’ll get two teams together with a goalie in net and have two players going up against one. The team of two has to figure out how to score. It happens very fast and is over sometimes in three or four seconds. It’s a high-energy and high-tempo drill that gets the guys amped up and often has consequences at the end of practice for the losing team.”

See the Scrapping Drill in John Danowksi’s new DVD, All-Access Duke Lacrosse, Volume II: Individual Skills and Full Field Drills.

Jim Berkman, Salisbury University:

“It’s called Full-Field Scramble. It goes from 4-on-3 to 5-on-4 the other way and then 6-on-4 the other way and then finally 10-on-10. The guys like that one because of the transition components. It’s good for conditioning and then ends up being a full field situation where the kids must make good decisions. They also must learn to fast break, defend in the box, come down and make the appropriate cuts, and then defend 6-on-6 and clear on the other end. It forces guys to make a lot of different decisions and really enhances the lacrosse IQ.”

Stay tuned this season for more Q&A’s featuring some of the game’s top lacrosse coaches. Also, be sure to sign-up for our bi-weekly lacrosse eNewsletter “Inside the Crease.”

Coaches Corner: Q&A with Basketball Development Trainer Mike Procopio

By adam.warner - Last updated: Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In this week’s edition of Coaches Corner, Championship Productions editor Adam Warner sits down with renowned basketball development trainer Mike Procopio. As Director of Basketball Operations for Attack Athletics in Chicago, Procopio leads NBA, Pre-Draft and Grassroots training and has worked one-one-one with headlining players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce. Procopio also talks about how he went from a junior varsity coach in suburban Boston to dishing out tips to some of the world’s top basketball players.

Talk about your background and sports experience while growing up.

“I was born in Boston right across the street from the Garden and moved out to Revere at the age of seven. I played sports as a kid growing up and really fell in love with the game of basketball. I decided when I was finished high school that I wanted to stay in the game. I wanted to coach and soon worked at Revere High School for a few years as an assistant coach.

I eventually hooked up Leo Papile, who headed the Boston Amateur Basketball Club, an AAU team. I worked with him on some good teams sponsored by Nike and worked out a lot of different players, did summer camps and met a lot of influential basketball minds. I was able to pick their brains a bit. I’ve been fortunate.

One thing led to another and the Boston Celtics eventually hired me as a scout. Then about five years ago, I started working with Attack Athletics and I now serve as director of basketball operations.”

You went from JV coach all the way up to NBA scout in impressive fashion. Can you describe that whirlwind ride?

“In the NBA, it’s about keeping your head above water. I kept my head above water by doing things in basketball well. I put in a lot of hard work in the summer trying to do a number of things.

I never had a fascination with coaching in college. It’s so unpredictable with recruiting elements and not knowing when that next paycheck will come around. I wanted to become the best basketball guy that I could, and that meant going to camps, talking with people, and watching as much basketball as possible.

Like the knockaround guy I was, I never really was an opportunist or would shake people down for jobs. It was about being around the game – and I lucked out through Leo and the guys that were comfortable around him.”

Talk about Attack Athletics and its mission, plus your role with the company.

“The mission is to educate and develop all of the players that come through those doors the best we can both on and off the court, things like basketball IQ and working every inch as possible to give them success in college, professional ball, or overseas. We mostly deal with NBA players. They will come to us in the offseason and work with us for 2-3 hours a day and play at our facility. There will be guys with a minimal salary to guys like Kobe Bryant.

My role is to oversee all basketball skill development, scouting, player information and communicating wit players, plus identifying talent, and getting ready for the NBA Draft.”

Attack is now one of the preeminent training centers in the world for basketball players. How did it get that way?

“Our owner Tim Grover worked with Michael Jordan back in the 80s for 18 years. Basically, Michael was the first guy to have a trainer with him and have someone work with him throughout the year to keep him strong. Word of mouth happened from there. Other players asked to train in the same manor in the offseason, and guys like Michael Finley and Juwan Howard starting working out. The number went up to 8 or 10 guys and it worked up that way. We gained a lot of notoriety with those players.”

Describe how you have developed this niche of yours of breaking down game footage and organizing key information to benefit players and make them as efficient as possible.

“I’m always trying to stay one step ahead. Back in 1997, there wasn’t much player development outside of the NBA or college. I decided what I wanted to do after college, but it didn’t include coaching. My goal was to separate myself from other guys getting into the basketball profession. I’d go out and work out players and get as much information as possible. I’m not a big fan of doing the same things as everyone else.

Tim was working for Kobe full-time and using statistical analysis to break down players, defenses, and other research, and came up with a plan for him. That relationship started from there. I will break down anything defensive, like how guys guard, how rotations happen, or trying to read certain situations and finding where teammates will be open. I started watching as much defensive tape as I possibly could. I could then bring that niche to the table with Kobe and others.”

Talk about your role with NBA draft prospects, especially with the 2011 draft looming. What are you working on right now?

“We have about 16 players coming in right now and working out for the draft, guys predicted to go in the Top 5 and other guys likely to land in Europe or the Developmental League. We have a variety of players looking for further education on the court, looking to get stronger in the weight room, and working on things like breaking down tape, pick & rolls, defensive rotations, moving without the ball, how to defend, etc. We try to take guys all the way through the training camp process and make sure they are prepared as much as they possibly can be once the team takes over.”

What are some of the most common pieces of advice you dish out to players? Is there something you constantly preach to athletes?

“It’s to be a student of the game. It can take you further than individual talent can take you. Don’t already go in with a sense of entitlement. Be humble and go to work. Do everything in your power to get on the floor as much as possible.”

What kind of tools do you use when analyzing footage? How do you organize everything and then implement your findings with clients?

“I’ve been a longtime fan of Synergy Sports Technology. We will break down games at the college, pro and international levels and chop up a game and watch possessions, download those and put them in folders. For instance, I have created an entire database for Kobe. I also use a variety of gadgets like the iPad, iPod Touch, laptops, Blackberrys, DROID, and I use them all to implement the video I need. Another tool is FastDraw to diagram plays and drills and be able to upload to a database and see different aspects. It was huge for me last year in getting Kobe prepared for last year’s NBA Finals against the Celtics.

How integral are drills towards what you are teaching on a day-to-day basis?

“All of our drills have a life of their own. We use drills to work on certain situations, like passing out of double teams, making plays for a teammate, being in the post, taking a shot from different spots on the floor. We put players in as many drills as possible featuring different game situations. The most important thing is correcting mistakes and keep things relevant. One of the worst things a coach can do is to work on things that don’t happen in a game.”

Do you have any advice for coaches and athletes out there, whether at the youth or high school level?

“For players, be as studious as possible. Watch the game and watch players that are close to what you are at your position. Find an NBA clone. It may not be a Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose, it may be a Jodie Meeks or Brian Scalabrine. Find a player you play like and be honest with yourself. What gets them into the game? What skills do they have? Develop those skills and keep working on them.

For coaches, don’t be in a rush. Develop value for yourself and spend a lot of time in the game. Be honest with yourself and develop values. Your level might be as a high school basketball coach and that’s okay. Be patient and be that guy that says the least but is the smartest guy in the room.”

Mike Procopio has been a past contributor to Championship Productions. Check out his basketball DVDs by clicking here.

Coaches Corner: Q&A with Vance Downs (2010 USA Today National Coach of the Year)

By adam.warner - Last updated: Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In this week’s edition of Coaches Corner, Championship Productions’ editor Adam Warner sits down with 2010 USA Today National Coach of the Year Vance Downs. Downs, who led his Ames High School (IA) team to back-to-back undefeated seasons in 2009-10 behind standouts Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott, looks back on those whirlwind championship seasons, dishes out advice to rising players, and even talks about a favorite drill among his players over the years.

Can you talk about your background and how you eventually came to be head coach at Ames?

“My history has always been right here in Ames. I began student teaching in the school district and coached the ninth grade basketball team and haven’t left Ames since. I moved up to JV coach and now I’m the head varsity coach.”

The 2010 season is a few months in the rearview mirror now. Talk about your offseason schedule a bit and what’s exactly involved?

“We try to break it down into spring, summer and fall seasons so it’s just not one big offseason. For the spring, we try to follow up with player meetings and then team meetings. The kids are also working out in the weight room three days a week at this time. Most kids are either in AAU basketball programs or playing other spring sports, too. Because of rules, we can’t do a lot, meaning there’s no on-court instruction. We are also dedicating our time for preparing for the summer and working with our youth basketball program.”

Can you provide some insights into your coaching philosophy and how you incorporate the key components with your team?

“We try to keep things as simple as possible. It’s about guarding, rebounding and playing as a team. Those three areas define our program and we place a particular emphasis on those for how we practice, the offseason and how we plan our summer camp.”

Talk about your offensive and defensive philosophies and an overview of the systems used within those. Do you use the same systems each year, or change things up a bit based on personnel and team strengths?

“We try to be as adaptive as we can with the talent we have each season. We always have a different group or shape of athletes from year to year. We really try to adapt to the talent that we have.”

Talk about those individuals who’ve had the biggest influence on you as a head coach and how they’ve had an impact on you.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have a number of great coaches within the district, like Wayne Clinton. He taught me to treat kids with respect and give them the opportunity to be successful. There’s also Bud Legg, who’s now with the IHSAA. He taught me that you have to communicate well with people and be the best communicator you can be. And then there’s George Duvall, who won a number of titles in the 1970s. He really taught me about how you need to have your own system, but must make it adaptive for your personnel.”

Do you have any particular coaching habits or superstitions?

“We have pregame ritual that we’ve been doing forever. It’s a meeting thing where we list the top areas of game management for both offense and defense. We’ll have ten bullet points under each and go over each one in pregame before every single game. As a player, you have those points memorized. The kids can even recite them better then myself now.”

What do you look for in the prototypical Ames basketball player?

“We always look at how skilled they are; how good they handle the ball, pass and shoot. We also look at how basketball smart they are – their basketball IQ. And after that, we look at their overall athleticism.”

Can you identify any particular bad habits in the high school game today that you try to emphasize with your team?

“It changes over time. There was a time period where players didn’t shoot the ball very well, but I think shooting is getting better over the last 15 years. I think one area is the inability to be efficient from the free throw line. Meanwhile, passing has become a lost art. However, I must say that athletes today can do a lot more with the ball as far as ball handling than they could ever before.”

Talk about a favorite drill of yours that you feel is very effective.

“We go through a myriad of passing drills every day. I think passing is becoming a lost art. We work on stationary running positions, footwork as you catch the ball, and hand placement when you catch it. One drill that is unique to us is called Easy Runners. It’s a drill that you can do at your feet or perform on the move, and it’s something we have stuck with over time.”

Is there a favorite drill of your players that you can recall?

“One of the best drills is a defensive drill called 3 and Out. We put four defenders on defense and everyone else at half court. The guys end up playing 4-on-4 until you get three defensive stops in a row. It’s always been somewhat of a player favorite. Other guys want to keep you in the drill so they don’t have to. They have fun with it and it’s great competition.”

What’s some of the best advice you can give to a rising player?

“Be humble. Also, continue to work on your skill development every day. I can’t stress this enough. Today, kids play a lot of basketball games, but it’s hard to make sure you are putting in the necessary skill development time. There wasn’t anyone more dedicated to skill development than Harrison Barnes. He was always up early shooting and doing simple shooting drills. It’s about always being meticulous and improving that. If you want to be really good, you have to work on it every day.”

What’s the best advice you can give for a rising coach?

“Be yourself. It’s not a new concept, but don’t be someone you’re not. Also, write everything down. Take notes. Whether you go through a good or bad experience, write it down. You will find yourself going back and using that bit of knowledge and experience at some point later in your coaching career.”

Talk about those back-to-back championship seasons a little bit and the whirlwind those years must have been — particularly having top players like Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott on the roster.

“It was an exceptional experience for the community, school and kids. We had some talented teams, but the amount of attention and excitement we got on a nightly basis was an experience of a lifetime. And it wasn’t just exciting for our community, but also the state of Iowa. Having a team come through and go for back-to-back state titles and finish No. 3 in the nation was just terrific for the team and for the state. It also builds some awareness that there are some great players here in Iowa. Sometimes the state is overlooked because of its small population, but people miss the fact that there is some great basketball going on here.”

After back-to-back Class 4A undefeated seasons, the squad struggled in 2010-11. Was this one of your toughest years coaching-wise after a number of years achieving great success?

“That’s a great question, but actually it wasn’t. It was a very enjoyable year, believe it or not. We had some seniors that did a great job. We simply weren’t nearly as talented as we had been in the past. It was also a tough duty with lots of teams looking for payback and waiting on us. I can’t tell you how many times we had great practices. It was a great effort but it’s a process and we have to go through it to build for next year and the years to come. It was still enjoyable and will only serve as a positive thing way down the road.”

What’s the outlook for next season?

“We will be very competitive next year and return a talented core of players, with seven coming back who saw significant playing time last season. I think we can sneak up on people and take another step closer towards building a championship contender.”

Vance Downs has teamed up with Championship Productions to produce a number of basketball DVDs. Check out the entire collection by clicking here.

Coaches Corner: Q&A with Salisbury head men’s lacrosse coach Jim Berkman

By adam.warner - Last updated: Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In this week’s edition of Coaches Corner, Championship Productions’ editor Adam Warner sits down with legendary Salisbury head men’s lacrosse coach Jim Berkman. Now in his 23rd season at Salisbury, Berkman – the all-time winningest coach in NCAA men’s history – talks about his tenures as a lacrosse, basketball and soccer coach, details some of his favorite practice drills, and also reveals what keeps him motivated each season after already winning eight national titles.

Many lacrosse fans may not know this, but you also have quite an extensive history playing and coaching other sports – basketball and soccer to be specific.

“I was playing all three sports growing up in high school. It’s who I was. The one regret I had was that I didn’t pursue soccer. I had the skillset, but I just played basketball and lacrosse. When I look back on those days, I think I could have done it at St. Lawrence and I sometimes regret it because I enjoy the sport so much.

As for coaching all three sports, I was in situations when I was a young buck on the block trying to find a job and a new profession and back then you had to do a lot of different things and show other skillsets so that you could make yourself noticeable and the athletic department could thrive. At Potsdam, the basketball coach was also the athletic director and he knew he needed someone good at basketball to help him out, too. That was also a way for me to get my foot in the door.

Then I came to Salisbury, and it was about coaching lacrosse. But two things happened. Six weeks into my first semester, the athletic director came in and said that he needed a huge favor and their search had failed for the women’s basketball coach. He told me that he needed me to take over the program for the first year so they could continue their search. So I did that for one year. And then in the mid-1990s with Title IX, the school needed to start a women’s soccer program and they ask me to start it up before they could secure the money and resources to hire a new coach. I remained as coach for seven years. It was a neat experience to start a program from scratch. We went to the final four in my last game as coach and was able to take the program from nowhere and build it into a contender. That was exciting and I think it’s made me a better coach.”

You’ve won eight national titles as coach and achieved a number of coaching records over the years. What keeps you motivated each season now?

“It’s always a new group. There are always some returning players and some new players and you must mold them into a team and develop the players to get better. It’s always a new challenge. This year, our attack has been a work in progress. I have spent a lot of time working with the attack unit in practice. We’ve had to move around some player positions and we’ve had some injuries to deal with, and we’re trying to mold and teach them the game. I think we’re getting better because of the work. It’s a different make-up each year, and that makes it fun.”

What do you consider your greatest achievement to date as a coach?

“I always remember that first championship. That was the last year that Hobart was in Division III and we beat them 15-9 on the last day before they went Div. I.  Also, I think our 2008 team that won the title was one of our better coaching jobs. We had lost every player on defense from the year before, including two guys that went on to play in the pros. But we came back and went undefeated the next year even with a tremendous turnover at personnel.”

Do you have any particular coaching habits or superstitions?

“I believe in our style and system. As soon as you get off the bus, we’re going to guard you and try to score as many goals as we can. We also have a set core of drills we use. We’ve been doing them for quite a long time now. It comes automatic at practice and we don’t waste time. We get a lot of reps in that way.”

How would you define your coaching philosophy?

“We want kids who want to find out how good they can become. That’s one of the first requirements we have. You must try and make people better and be open. We have been fortunate to get a lot of good players over the years, but they aren’t necessarily the best of the best. They have some dents in the armor and may be why they might not go Division I. Our philosophy is about getting a lot of lacrosse reps, from shooting and passing and wall ball and getting those dents out of the armor. Each year, a few Div. I coaches will say, “How did I miss that guy?” I pride ourselves on motivating them so the can strive to become the best and continue improving.”

What do you think are the key components to building a contending program year after year?

“It’s about knowing the game and knowing how to get the most out of each player. It’s about getting the players excited about the game and having fun so that they want to come back and do more. I believe that repetition is the key to learning. You can’t take the fun out of practice. Create your drills and style of practice and make it your favorite part of the day. When you do that, the players will prove it and will be your best salesmen. You must have good knowledge to set that up and give others confidence around you if they see that you make people better. It’s about believing in what you are instilling and being consistent in the fundamentals.”

Can you take readers behind the scenes a bit and explain what happens during a typical week in season with Salisbury lacrosse?

“If we usually play on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s, throughout the day, a group of guys will come in and lift. We lift throughout the season. Everyone on starting defense and defensive middies were in the weight room yesterday on their off day, three months into the season. They know the importance of strength training in-season.

We practice from the 3:30 to 5:30 slot. As for film study, guys are open to come into the office and watch at any time. Depending on the opponent, we can get film from a coach about a particular player, let’s say a face-off guy from another team. But the film has already been broken down for them, and it’s part of our repertoire. Before games, we’ll have a shorter practice. We have good, hard practices on Monday, with Thursday is more film and scouting reports and not much of a killer practice. Friday is another pre-game practice, and that’s the cycle.”

Talk about one of your favorite drills to run as coach over the years.

“It’s not brain surgery here, but we like to put people in tight spaces, especially around the goal. We’ll go 3-on-2, 4-on-3 and 5-on-4 a lot, not necessarily 40-yard sprints, but around the goal and have to move the ball under pressure and make good decisions. It teaches how to protect and stick handle and make quick passes in tight spaces. It’s teaches defenses to slide and rotate and I think it makes them better overall when it comes to on the field during a game.”

Is there a certain drill that your players get particularly amped up for or really enjoy?

“It’s called Full-Field Scramble. It goes from 4-on-3 to 5-on-4 the other way and then 6-on-4 the other way and then finally 10-on-10. The guys like that one because of the transition components. It’s good for conditioning and then ends up being a full field situation where the kids must make good decisions. They also must learn to fast break and then defend in the box and then come down and make the appropriate cuts and then defend 6-on-6 and clear on the other end. It forces guys to make a lot of different decisions and really enhances the lacrosse IQ.”

For a new coach out there, whether at the youth or high school level, what’s some of the best advice you can give them?

“Get as many reps in practice as possible. It’s practice for the players, not the coach. Some coaches talk too much. Your instruction should be to the point and then get the players back into drills. Make sure each player gets a lot of touches. It’s not brain surgery, but better passes and shooting makes a huge difference.”

Talk about the 2011 season a little bit. What’s different about this team than previous squads?

“Attack-wise, it’s a work in progress. We’ve got new players in new positions and some injuries to deal with. So we are going over the little things people take for granted right now. We posted double digit goals in our last three games, so I think we’re going in the right direction. With a bunch of off days coming up, we must get guys heeled and get in some good fundamentals this week and back to the basics with no scouting reports and just get up and down the field.”

Jim Berkman has teamed up with Championship Productions to produce a number of exclusive lacrosse DVDs. Click here to check out the entire catalog.

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

By adam.warner - Last updated: Wednesday, April 6, 2011

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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