Tony Staffiere is an original member of the SLAM SQUAD. He has coached men’s basketball at Maine Maritime College and Onondaga Community College and women’s hoops at Regis College, LeMoyne College and Northern Essex Community College. In June of 2007, he was named head men’s basketball coach at (D2) Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY. He has a BA in Journalism from Westfield State College (MA) and he’s also written for Five Star Basketball Publications and Maine RoundBall mag, so he’s not just a coach. Enjoy his diary, which will run in Too Real for the League throughout the season.

Hello again friends, back for my second installment…

This time, I am writing fresh off a sub-par early practice and staring at a 6 a.m. practice in a mere eight hours. Its practices like the one we had today that have me searching for an answer to why our young student-athletes enter the gym lacking the ability to practice. To a coach, the practice floor is much like a laboratory is to a scientist. We are constantly trying different combinations or devising a plan to overcome an opponent’s perceived weaknesses. In my humble opinion, today’s athletes lack the necessary means to practice. In today’s society we look to assess blame rather than search for a solution. I have tremendous respect for high school coaches and the countless hours they put into their jobs each year. With increased pressure to win now, the advent of AAU, and the lack of ample time allowed by state interscholastic athletic associations to be on the floor with their teams, the high school coach has lost the ability to teach the game. Specifically, in the area of fundamental practice habits. I have lost count how many times I have stopped practice to address a fundamental mistake by one of my players.

This takes away from my limited time in the gym to work on game strategy for an upcoming opponent. The college schedule can be overwhelming at times, often playing three games in one week and traveling to game venues three or more hours from our campus. I continue to advise high school coaches all over the country, that if they are going to teach young players just one skill to apply at the next level, it’s the ability to practice. Sorry, Allen Iverson, but the message you sent to young players some five years ago, couldn’t be further from the truth!

Last week, we opened our season with an exhibition against Iona College, a Division I opponent. Although I saw some bright spots from our kids, Coach Willard’s crew was far too strong and athletic for our squad and beat us by 30 points. This brings me to my next quandary of our great game. Why the general fan base in college basketball is surprised when Division I schools lose games to Division II and III teams? Lest we forget, many of the top Division I programs are playing with so many freshmen and sophomores thanks to the ever skyrocketing rookie contracts luring young men out of college and on to the NBA. Many of their opponents have rosters filled with juniors and seniors that have been playing together for several years. Two of the schools that knocked off top Division I teams already this season, were coming off highly successful campaigns a year ago, advancing deep into their own versions of March Madness and returning many of the same players. You should never discount previous success as an equalizer to talent. Those schools are used to winning big games and when motivated to show the rest of the country they can compete with the elite, they have shown they are worthy of the challenge. I have always felt Division II basketball is steadily closing the gap in terms of talent found in Division I. With increased scholarship budgets, slightly more liberal eligibility requirements, and an influx of Division I transfers, Division II schools are putting forth basketball teams complete with talent, athleticism, and skill sets on par with many of the nation’s Division I programs.

This is my favorite time of the calendar year. It’s the time of year to take some time away from our hectic lives and spend it with family and friends. Basketball teams are like a family. To be honest, we probably spend more time together as a team then we do with our own families. I usually spend the week leading up to Thanksgiving teaching our student-athletes how important it is to spend the down time with their families and to reflect upon how fortunate they are to have so many people who care for them each day. One of the activities we do is a thank you letter to a family member. The letter is read to the entire team and eventually read aloud to the family member before a Thanksgiving meal. Each student-athlete is also asked to share with the team their favorite Thanksgiving holiday moment. I happened to be born on Thanksgiving Day, thus it holds a very special meaning to both my family and I. Besides, any holiday centered on eating a large meal is special to me!

I want to thank all of the devoted readers of this section on the SLAM web site. I am so fortunate to be where I am today and I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to read my weekly diary submissions. I wish all of you the very best this Thanksgiving and let’s toast to all our good fortunes and pray for those who are less fortunate.

Yours in Hoops,
Tony Staffiere