Sean's Scout: Not about X's and O's

Illini Inquirer basketball analyst Sean Harrington suggests Illinois' current issues go far beyond game-planning

Do you think we should have played more zone? Did we have the right group of guys on the floor to defend that possession? If we would have doubled the post would he have scored less points? Should we have called a timeout to stop the run? Do we need to run more on offense or give these guys more set plays? How do we make sure we get a good look every offensive possession?

These are just a few of the questions that coaching staffs will discuss in their office for hours after a ball game. Some of the answers can completely change a season -- but sometimes there is no right answer. Sometimes, the solution has nothing to do with X’s and O’s.  

Right now, Illinois (2-3) is a team that has little confidence on the court. You see it in their body language.

Where is the fire on the court that gets the crowd on their feet by diving on the floor, or taking a charge?  

Who is the one that grabs every player and looks them in the eye and tells his teammates it is going to go our way?

Where is the bench mob that is going to start the enthusiasm that becomes contagious?

The terms "team bonding," "coming together as a team," and "team chemistry" are talked about a lot in sports. There is no column for these traits in the box score. They cannot be measured by any advanced statistic. But they might be the most important part of sports.

If you have team chemistry, you can overcome any obstacle. If you don’t have team chemistry, small issues become big problems that can cause a very long season.

Team chemistry does not result simply from players liking each other. It goes far beyond that.  

Teammates must be able to be uncomfortable around each other, yet still know they have each others' back. A team must be pushed to its limit and then past its limit so it knows it can accomplish things it previously didn't think were possibile.

Right now, this Illini team needs to be put in a situation that helps them feel comfortable and confident around each other.

Coaches many times will bring in guest speakers to create a team bond and put them through exercises. YouTube the name Steve Shenbaum. Steve has been to several college teams including Florida State football and Kentucky basketball. I have sat in some of these guest speaker exercises as a player and a coach and saw results immediately afterwards.

I have mentioned previously that we were 4-5 in the B1G during the 2001-2002 season. After that loss to Michigan State, we had a guest speaker come in. We then won eight straight games to end the regular season with a B1G title. There was no magic pixie dust in that meeting, but it did get us to focus as a group and come together as a team. These exercises create a bond within a team that is more than just the X’s and O’s.  

When I was a player, we went through a two-week preseason program called “Boot Camp," which included two weeks of 5 a.m. workouts followed by afternoon workouts -- and sometimes followed by evening workouts. On the last day, we had to run 30 line drills in 30 minutes. We all thought there was no way we could run that many line drills in 30 minutes. But we ALL did it. Fifteen years later, when a group of us get together we will talk more about Boot Camp then we will about games we played in. It created a bond and a feeling in our group that we could do anything together.  

This Illini team needs to find a way to get some confidence, energy and emotion. Players and coaches mentioned it in the post-game interviews, they are searching for a way to start games better. There are some fundamental issues that need to be corrected, but some of these issues can be overcome by a strong team bond.  

With the team going to Florida for several days to play two games, it might be a great time to bring in a guest speaker or find a place to do a team bonding activity that brings these guys together and gets them believing that they can achieve great things together.

Sean Harrington is the basketball analyst for and also serves as a color analyst for ESPN. He played for four NCAA Tournament teams at Illinois, from 1999-2002. He also served on coaching staffs for Rick Majerus, Bill Self, Rob Judson and Bruce Weber. Follow him on Twitter @smharrington24.

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