Remember, in your third grade class when the teacher talked about the importance of sharing? Well, there might not be a profession in the world as ready, willing, and able to share information as the coaching profession. Your most valuable resources are those around you who face the same daily challenges.
It’s not uncommon to see a coach diagramming a play on the back of a program for another coach at an AAU tournament during recruiting season. Sometimes that coach is even an assistant in the same conference! Hoop secrets are not held close to the vest. Get on a Delta flight across country, sit next to a coach, and land with the understanding of the motion offense thanks to a cocktail napkin. Coaches simply love to talk basketball.
“I think that’s real important. I think with coaches iron sharpens iron,” said KU head coach Bill Self who is now coaching in his 14th season as a Division I head coach. “I think that we need to utilize each other to bounce ideas off of. Whether it be clinics or small gatherings or just somebody outside your inner circle I think it’s always good to do that.”
I used to coach high school and AAU basketball and I remember saying, ‘if I’m not learning something new everyday, I’m doing something wrong.’ I still believe that statement holds true in coaching. When you think you know everything, you’re in big trouble. Coaching with a closed mind can be a very dangerous thing. You have to be willing to adjust and adapt to what you learn everyday. The best coaches in the business are like sponges.
Every coach has a mentor; someone they’ve learned the most from. Whether it’s someone who coached them or someone they coached under, they take certain philosophies and theories with them when you they get to finally coach their own teams. Rarely does any coach take every piece of information they’ve learned and use it exactly. You take bits and pieces of what you’ve learned and couple that with what you believe. For instance, if Tim Jankovich were to become a head coach tomorrow you’d probably see a lot of plays, defenses, etc. that resemble what’s he’s learned under Coach Self. However, you’d also see and hear some different theories. Doesn’t mean either one is right or wrong. That’s one of the best parts about coaching – there’s many different ways to go about accomplishing the same thing.
Coach Self spent some time with Phog.net talking about what he and his coaching staff do to improve as coaches. Remember, coaches are for the most part hoops junkies, which means when they aren’t coaching basketball they’re watching it. Whether it’s the NBA or other college hoops games – coaches are quick to pick up on something they see and like, and Self and his assistants are no different. They soak up everything they see and in this profession stealing is nothing to be ashamed of.
“I also think my guys are very into the NBA game the latest trends and different things from an x and o standpoint. And then what we will try to do is take ideas from other people,” stated Self.
Many of us who are fans of the college game are quick to dismiss the NBA as a quality product, but not coaches. They learn as much from the NBA game as they do anywhere.
“Right now I have different NBA teams – every thing they run and everything they’ve scouted of every other team in the league, what they run on side out of bounds, out of bounds under, how to get into certain situations. We may steal a few of those ideas, there’s no doubt about that,” Self told Phog.net
But Self is quick to explain it’s not just about taking an idea, it’s about adapting what you see to fit your CURRENT personnel. What might’ve been a good play for one of his Illinois teams may not be a good fit for this Kansas team.
“We spend a lot of time editing the USA basketball team and breaking down, is there a way or things we can do that would fit our personnel and maybe do some different things?”
This is really where the creative mind of a coach takes over. Taking what someone else does and putting in a wrinkle that fits your current team. There’s nothing better than getting to watch basketball with a great coach. The amount of information they absorb in such a quick time span and how analytically they think about every play, it’s something every hoop fan should do at least once in their lifetime to truly appreciate the knowledge a great coach has at his fingertips.
“I think part of the challenge is that we get creative ourselves and what do we do that’s creative that might be very subtle, and really hard to guard or how can we improve ourselves and we spend a lot of time talking about that. Not as much as we should because unfortunately we’ve gotta spend a majority of our time on recruiting, academics, media, the day-to-day operations. I think we spend a lot of time on all different elements trying to come up with something a little better than what we do,” Self told Phog.net
Self may not get as many opportunities as he would like to look for new ways to win games, but he keeps an open mind with his assistants.
“If my guys, if they see something they’ll come in and say I saw this last night and we’ll talk about that and we’ll implement that into what we want to do,” stated Self.
KU’s fourth year head coach made an interesting parallel to how football and basketball differ. You can make changes but for the players to understand it, you must keep things simple.
“It’s simple for the guys that have followed the same principles that we want to emphasize, because to me basketball is not football. You can pick a style of play and emphasize certain things within your style and then you run a few things within your style that is good for your team but you don’t have time to come back and talk about it for 15-20 seconds before you go do it, so therefore it has to become second nature.,” Self said referring to the huddle used in football vs. basketball being for the most part, an up-and-down continuous game.
“You can’t say ok, when this happens we always down screen, when this happens we always back screen, when this happens we always fade screen – that’s too much to throw at a guy. So you want to make it work simple where they’re not thinking and then on the flip side it’s subtle and creative enough that it gives other people problems.”
Coaching presents a new challenge everyday and is a unique profession. So remember, you may not see it, but everyday coaches are working to become better teachers and looking for new and innovative ways to win games. The best strategists in the game do this and you can bet behind closed doors the KU staff is always looking to try and improve what they do.