A Coaches Diary: #9

Just settling in to watch the nation’s top team, the North Carolina Tar Heels in their conference opener. Believe it or not, when I am not coaching basketball, I am watching it! I may be one of the most rabid college basketball fans in the world. Just ask my mother. When I was a young kid, I used to beg her to stay up late to watch Big Monday on ESPN!
Well, our New Year started off in grand fashion, as we knocked off Adelphi University, one of the top teams in the East Coast Conference. The game, by no means, was a work of art, with both teams grinding out a combined 93 points in 40 minutes. Once again, our kids gutted out a one-point victory by netting four free throws in the final :13 seconds to capture the win and bring us to 3-3 in the conference. My next diary entry may be from the cardiac unit!
Our team is truly starting to embrace our defensive philosophy. Going into the game we planned to change defenses frequently and on occasion within the same possession. We would never have been able to do this without the vigorous conditioning sessions we held in the off-season.

A long time ago, the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden had some advice for young coaches taking over their own programs. He said the physical condition of your players will determine just how much you can do with them. I have held those words as gospel. I firmly believe physical condition can be the deciding factor in at least five games on your schedule. It can be the difference in winning and losing close games. Currently, we dress 10 players, two of which walked on to our program in the fall. Many of our opponents dress 12-15 players regularly. On most nights, we have at least two players who play the entire 40-minute game.

I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is when I watch young players making the transition to college basketball, who are not in shape when they arrive on campus in the fall. If you ask any freshman playing basketball what the toughest adjustment they have to make to the college game it is most always the aspect of physical conditioning.

Just this morning, I watched the nation’s top high school team, St. Anthony’s High School play. Their legendary coach Bob Hurley Sr., owner of more than 20 New Jersey state championships, was interviewed about his program’s recent drought in the state playoffs. He pointed to his team’s lack of physical conditioning as the reason they were unable to win close games the previous season. He credited his team’s dedication to its off-season weight training and fitness program for their undefeated record and top national ranking. It is no coincidence Coach Hurley Sr., will send six players to Division I programs next fall, three of them to the Big East Conference. Don’t forget, you only play with five players on the court at one time! The basketball world could learn a lot from Coach Hurley Sr. and his fantastic group of young men.

If I can impart some wisdom to high school coaches and players who aspire to play at the collegiate level, prepare your players for the physical demands of the college game. Understand, college basketball games are 40 minutes in length, as the high school game is 32 minutes. The college season has at least 27 games on its regular season schedule, while many state high school associations allow for far fewer regular season contests. The college season opens on October 15th, as many state high school associations do not allow their schools to open until the fall sport regular season comes to an end. Simple math tells us that college players are playing eight more minutes a game for more games in a single season. All of this, following a 30-day practice period prior to the first allowable contest in November. The wear and tear on college players is tremendous and can only be overcome by rigorous preparation in the off-season. My players have heard me recite this quote countless times (which, ironically, I got from Coach Hurley, Sr.), “one day winter will ask what you were doing all summer…?”

Until next week! Hopefully, I can write about our first winning streak of the season! Go Mavericks!

Yours in Hoops,
Tony Staffiere