Listen and Learn with Bobbie Kelsey

The Bootleg hitches a ride on the team bus to catch a word with Assistant Coach Bobbie Kelsey about the defense, the value of a good ear, and more.

OK, we were not actually on the team bus, but we were there in spirit and on the phone as the Cardinal headed off to practice on Friday up in Oregon to prepare for their game against the Oregon State Beavers (which the Card did win by a score of 69-54). For the complete story of how Stanford Assistant Coach Bobbie Kelsey returned to the Cardinal as a coach after spending her college career playing for Tara VanDerveer, look RIGHT HERE. We can't beat that, so we asked Kelsey a few questions about this, the second season of her tenure with the Card, and tried to be a good listener (and not just because the players were making quite a racket in the background).

Except for perhaps the Baylor loss that ended with a sixteen-point deficit, the four games that Stanford has lost (Baylor, Duke, Tennessee, and Cal) have all been close, on the road, and against highly ranked foes. Are there any commonalities among these near misses?

All of them are different. In the Duke game, we missed 15 out of 27 free throws so… You'll lose games if you do that. In the Tennessee game, the kids played hard. We didn't execute our last play. It shouldn't have come down to one play. It was a couple of things here and there but they add up. We just didn't play well at those times but we were in those games and it's nice to know we can play with the top teams.

We've been on the other side of that where we've won those games. It helps you either way, you know? You learn how to do the right things when everything is on the line. Unfortunately we lost at Cal as well. I think if we made some lay-ups and played better defense at the end there, not allowed one player to go off, than we probably would have won that game too, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

Last season one of your projects was to work with G Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who said you really helped resurrect her game as she adapted to a new role mid-season. We've heard you are working with other players in a similar way this season as well. What does that entail?

All the kids have different issues about what they should be doing. As coaches it is our job to get them playing together and get them playing within themselves and their skill set. Sometimes their idea of what they can do is totally different than what they can do. You have to help them see that by watching the video, by working on the things that they're not good at. All of our kids have to be able to shoot. I worked a lot with Ros last year on her shooting and when to shoot, not necessarily shooting just because you're open because sometimes the worst shooters are open. They're not leaving somebody like Candice (Wiggins) to knock it down. So if you're open that's not always a good thing! And I don't think they understand that sometimes.

Watching the video really helps. They think you're lying sometimes. They think you're just being the coach and picking at every little thing. I'm like, look at the video. It's not lying. That's what I see. What do you see? And kind of throw the ball back in their court a little bit. It helps them to see it. If a kid is willing to listen and they're coachable they can improve. It's the ones that are hardheaded and stubborn that you can't help because they think they know everything already. So with Ros, she really made a concerted effort to listen and to try to do what we asked her to do. And that's why she improved so much. I give her all the credit.

What have you learned as a coach that you would have really loved to know back when you were a player?

Just kind of what I just said – listen more. We all want to think we're great listeners and we're unselfish but when you're young you think maybe coaches are not letting you play your game. I wish I had listened more. I did it but I wish I had done it more and sooner. I think as you get into your junior and senior years you realize that maybe your way is not as important as the team winning and really doing what you do well, which for me was defense, rebounding, and doing the little things, not necessarily scoring even though I was a scorer in high school. Things change when you go from high school to college. I learned that but I wish I'd learned that sooner, as a freshman or sophomore. But I was injured a lot too.

Do you play basketball anymore at all?

I don't. I don't really play anymore. I'll shoot around but when you get older you get scared of getting hurt. I see some of my coaching buddies come in on crutches when we go off recruiting and I'm like, what happened to you? They were playing pick-up. I'm like see, that's why I don't play. It's the kind of game where you can't just jump out there and start playing. Either you work out a lot or you run a lot and you play pick-up or you shoot around. But to go into the rec and really think you are going to play? I mean you could make a cut and tear something up. I've seen Achilles' tears. I've known older coaches to tear their ACL. I've been through that twice. I have no interest in doing that again. So there's a big reason why I don't really play a lot.

You have said that players nowadays tend to ask more questions than in your time, that they want to know why more.

They do ask a lot more questions. I think kids are raised differently these days. It's not like; "You're a child, go play." A lot of kids I know when they go home are in tune with the adults, talking and adding their two cents sometimes to the conversation, so I think it's just a change in how kids are raised. They are allowed to ask more questions at their homes and so it's not like maybe when you or I were growing up where the children went and played and the adults talked. That's a big reason why kids are more apt to ask questions.

As a coach, do you enjoy it when players want to understand why, or does it makes coaching more difficult?

Sometimes it can be too many questions. If I ask mine and fourteen other people have questions, that's fifteen voices. I think a lot of times if they would pay attention and concentrate more, they would learn from other people's mistakes and they wouldn't have to ask so many questions. I don't know if they understand that you can't coach every pass, every screen. I mean some things are just instinctual.

You need to play a lot, which I don't think kids do enough of as far as pick-up ball, not AAU's but just playing in the off-season, especially at the college level. I know in high school I played a lot, not being coached but just being able to get out there and play with guys. You have to be more instinctual with guys because if you do the same thing they're going to steal the ball. So I think if kids played more pick-up ball some things will be instinctual and they will know by looking at a teammate what she will do. You don't have time to talk about it a lot of times; you have to just do it. I think the better kids can do that but sometimes the more talented ones, they just don't know the game. They have the athletic ability but they don't know the nuances and the things that make great players great. That's the difference.

What do you like most about coaching?

I like the interaction with the kids. It's fun. Right now they are on the back of the bus (going to practice) singing rap and calling up to the coaches to join in. It's just funny because they're so hilarious. They're really good kids. I enjoy helping them improve and really maximize their talents while they're here at Stanford – be the best player they can be with what they have been given. It's rewarding to see them finally get it. For all the times that it's frustrating, when you want to kill them, there are many more times when you want to hug them and say; "I'm proud of you. I appreciate you listening and trying to do what I ask, because look what happens – we go far when you do that." When you get them to buy into that, it's very rewarding.

And then working with Tara (VanDerveer) and Amy (Tucker), people who have been there and won, Tara of course with all her accolades. You can learn so much from them. And Tara listens to us, which some coaches that I've worked for don't. They think their way is the only way and they can't listen. I can't say that about her. She listens. She doesn't always do it but she values other opinions.

Do you have any specific issues or maybe pet peeves that you tend to stress?

Oh yeah, I have a bunch of them. We all are different but it's good too because we all bring something to the table that somebody else didn't think of. Difference is good. I'm more of a defense-minded coach. I always focus on the defense even though I try to watch the offense. You have to have a balance. I tend to harp more about what we're doing on the defensive end. We all harp on something and between the four of us hopefully we can get these kids doing what we need them to do. It's fun.

How would you describe the defense? Are you happy with it? What do you like about it?

Coaches are never happy – you know that! But we're working on it. It's a work in progress. Defense always comes along a little bit slower because obviously kids want to score. Everybody is thinking, "How can I get my shot? " But nobody thinks, "How can I stop this girl?" It's something that you have to emphasize in practice.

I think we do a good job because our kids like it when we have different ways we defend people, like helping on somebody here or leaving this girl. It makes it interesting because they can see if they actually pull it off. And a lot of times we're pretty successful about how we go about guarding people. We don't leave Jayne (Appel) by herself because we don't want to get in foul trouble. If somebody is really hot, Ros will get on them. And we try to get other people to buy into being as good as Ros or Jill (Harmon) or just being a lockdown defender because in the tournament everybody can score. I mean the best teams are at the end, or pretty much the best teams, and a lot of those people can score. So it's going to come down most times to a stop or a rebound. If you get the kids understanding that and do that the whole year than you're not scratching your head why you're off the game if you didn't get a stop. Understand that it comes down to that. Hopefully we're hitting our shots and doing things on the offensive end that we need to do too.

What do you do, what do you tell the players, when you have a game like Cal where one player (Cal G Alexis Gray-Lawson) just goes off, even scoring at times when well defended?

At the beginning we could have done a better job of maybe not letting her get the ball. A player like that, once she hits a couple of shots, the basket looks pretty big. Maybe we could have made some adjustments like we started trapping a little bit, and maybe we should have done it earlier, but that's on us as coaches. We have to put our heads together and figure out ways to help them out there.

Ros I think wasn't happy with her defense because she does a lot better, but for some reason she just couldn't get in position like she normally does. But she looked at the video. And it wasn't just her but she was on [Gray-Lawson] the most and she takes pride in her defense. She wants to stop people and she doesn't want somebody to have a game like that. Alexis just, she hit her shots and she hit some with people pretty much in her face. By that time the basket was so big for her it was hard for anybody to stop her. We had Jill on her, Ros for the most part, Jeanette (Pohlen) for a little bit, Mel (Murphy) for just a little. But we were not proud as a group because we let pretty much one person beat us.

With all the time you spend on basketball, do you have time for hobbies or other interests?

During the season it's hard because we play two games a week and we're pretty much scouting every day or trying to see something that might help a kid, watching video, watching instructional tapes. So during the season my hobby is the basketball coaching. But I do a lot of stuff with my church, like bible study. I go to that every week. And then I have friends outside of basketball that are like family – second-family friends, so I consider them like my second parents. These are people I've known since I was a player here at Stanford. So we'll go out, hang out, maybe go to the movies and things like that – just normal stuff that I have time for. I don't have a lot of time during the season.

In the off-season I'll go travel, like I went to Hawaii last year. One year I did a mission trip to England. I find different things to do. I'll go home and see my family and play with my nephews, mainly family stuff and traveling besides the basketball. I'm enjoying it so it's good.

Is it a coincidence that the Cardinal got to their first Final Four in over a decade right when you showed up?

No, I would like to think so but I don't think so! I think Kate (Paye) and I added something special. Obviously we've been there before with Stanford so not only being alumni but actually having been to the Final Four, won a championship, our credibility in what we say goes maybe a longer way with the kids because they know that we've done it and done it with Tara as our coach. We're pretty intense. We're young. We like to have fun. I hope we can continue to help them to be the best players they can be using our experiences and the things we've learned over the years coaching.

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