The king seemed very comfortable on Garrison Court.
The audience of about 600 high school and college basketball coaches packed Hendrix’s Grove Gymnasium for the king of women’s college basketball coaches, UConn’s Geno Auriemma, who was the featured speaker at the Arkansas High Sch0ol Basketball Coaches Association clinic Tuesday. Auriemma, who has won 11 NCAA titles, has led team to six undefeated seasons and two Olympic gold medals, demonstrated a few drills for more than an hour. Afterwards, he spent another hour meeting coaches and signing autographs.
The coaches treated him like royalty. Afterwards, there was a giant scrum around him with coaches holding cell phones high in the air to get treasured videos.
Before the impromptu meet and greet, Auriemma joked, challenged, encouraged, philosophied, advised and reasoned about things that have made the 63-year-old one of the great coaches in history. He used members of the Central Baptist College men’s basketball team as both demonstrators and straight men. He gently teased them when they messed on on a series of fast-paced drills that left them huffing. We suspect the guidance has more of a sting when he is challenging his players.
For one example, the had a player run from one end of the court to another and back. Upon completion, he told the player he would give him his watch if he could do it again in fewer than 10 seconds. The player fell a few feet short.
“I suspect your time was faster than the first time,” he said. “When something is on the line, it changes things. But now I know what you are capable of doing when you’re at your best. When I see you going at less than that pace, I know you are dogging it.
“After our first day of practice, when we play pickup games, our young players can barely walk because they have never been pushed that hard. I push them and don’t worry about complaining. They are going to complain, anyway, so you might as well do it your way.”
He showed coaches how they can run simple drills, then add elements that encompass conditioning, offense, defense, passing and fundamentals in one intense passing session.
“We work on conditioning, passing, timing, offense and defense all in the same drill. We run sprints for only one reason; I’m mad,” he said.
He pooh-pawed having seven or eight different plays and 10 different defenses. “Only two of them are going to work, anyway,” he said. “When you run plays all the time, you just get good at running plays. If you work at making individuals better, the plays will be better. Some coaches have 75 plays, a dozen defenses and 10 different out of bounds plays. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Plays are not as important as what goes into the teaching of them and the pace that you play.”
He made the CBC players, in groups of three, run a basic weave. Then, all nine players participate in running that weave at full speed nine straight times perfectly, including making the shot. One mess-up, by any player, would put them back at zero.
There is a method to his madness.
“We don’t do something to get it right; you do something instead so it’s impossible to get it wrong,” he said. “It gets in your DNA.”
As he added complexities to simple drills, he used one-liners to give pearls of wisdom.
Here are some of Geno’s pearls:
* “The No. 1 thing I look for in a kid is to be competitive. Not every kids wants to compete. They want to play but don’t want to compete. Just being competitive doesn’t make a player a good basketball player but it’s a good way to start.”
* “You can’t take a selfish kid and train him to be unselfish.”
* “Kids are harder to coach nowadays because of all the stuff and a short attention span. But kids are not different today. The biggest difference is their parents are screwed up. They want to be their friends and not parents. They don’t like their kids’ school, they change schools. If they don’t like their coach, they get the coach fired. It makes it hard to get kids who understand how to be unselfish and understand it’s not about me.”
* “Any kid who takes a bad shot is selfish even if it goes in. You know what the No. 1 favorite shot is? An open 18-footer. You know what is No. 2? A contested 18-footer.”
* “It’s better to get really good at a few things. You can’t get really good at a lot of things.”
* ” A big guy who is a good passer is as valuable as two point guards.”
* “The big thing is to development relationships with your players and do fundamental stuff all the time … We’ve taught the world how to play the game and now they play it better than we do. There are summer teams that play five games in one day. In Europe, they practice five days then play one game. They get into the NBA, they can dribble, pass and shoot fundamentally. It’s all about teaching and not playing all the time.”
* “There are two types of coaches: Coaches who coach great players and ex-coaches.”
* “We coach once-in-a-lifetime players so we get to do things once in a lifetime.”
* “No matter what you run on offense and defense, if you believe in it and can teach it and get your players to believe in it, it will work out.”
* “Your job as coaches is to maximize the team you have this year. Get the most out of them this particular year, then it doesn’t matter about records.”