A Coaches Diary: #10 & 11

January 2008
Well, I must say I am battling another sleepless night trying to figure out just what type of team I have here at Mercy. What team will show up at the gym on a given night? One night we knock off one of the top teams in our conference and on nights like this evening we only muster 47 points at home after a week-long lay-off. Yet another chapter in the on-going saga of why our team cannot sustain any kind of consistency…

In speaking with several administrators who attended last week’s national convention in Nashville, Tennessee, they are telling me I am not alone in my ponderous of why today’s student-athletes can be so good one day and look so bad the next. I am left wondering if our student-athletes have any standards at all. Am I growing too old? Why should it be such a challenge to sustain the great performances our kids have turned in on a few occasions this season?

Forgive me if I offend certain readers to this section of SLAM online, but I point to two areas of development for the lack of consistency in today’s student-athletes. The first is the off-season travel teams who frequent the AAU tournament circuit. There are far too many teams out there these days. It seems now every kid who wants to start their own team can just pay the requisite fee and they are handed a uniform and playing time. I can remember when I played (not too long ago) when AAU was reserved for the elite players. I can recall a time when each state in our country used to host just one or two teams to compete at the national level. Now, it seems there are numerous national tournaments for multiple teams in each age bracket. To me, this brings a feeling of entitlement to the kid and parent, in which they have received regular playing time on a team regardless of their abilities and talent level. The second area that concerns me is the lack of team dynamics at the interscholastic level. Far too often the high school coach has to cater to the needs of the local parent group who has put pressure on the administration to ensure every student-athlete has received an equal amount of playing time.

In my opinion, the high school coach has lost their ability to properly discipline their players to become solid contributors at the next levels. Student-athletes have to be receptive to coaching and, it seems in many instances, when the high school coach attempts teach their players the value of hard work and dedication they are met with reasons why this is not beneficial to the fragile psyche of the players. I’ve got news for you. Once a player has reached the collegiate level, they have entered a far more demanding world of instant gratification and good coaches are losing their jobs because they could not muster enough wins to satisfy their administration. Most student-athletes do not understand the value of team dynamics and have become a bit selfish when it comes to making a sacrifice for the good of the whole.
As I climb down from my soapbox, I look forward to our next game this weekend. We are hosting a nationally ranked team who has not suffered a defeat thus far in conference play. Which one of my teams will show up…Jekyll or Hyde?


Well, where do we start in this latest entry? I am happy to write that we snapped a four-game skid yesterday with a win over Queens College. We have arrived at the mid-way point of the conference schedule and begin to play our East Coast Conference opponents for the second time. With some solid play and a little late-season magic, we are on track to qualify for the conference post-season tournament. This has been a long time coming for Mercy College. It has been over a decade since the program qualified for any kind of post-season event.

We just finished our intersession period as the kids head back to class on Monday. The intersession is truly the most important part of any collegiate season. Teams can go either way, from good to great or bad to worse, there is very little middle ground. Coaches and players are not under the NCAA mandated 20-hour rule, which prohibits teams to participate in any organized activities in excess of 20 hours per week. Not to mention, besides our women’s basketball team members, our players were the only students residing on campus for over a month. Needless to say, teams spend a lot of time together. In that time we learn to see each other in the best of times and the worst of times. Our coaching staff worked our players hard during the intersession. We did find that we had some players nursing injuries and fighting mid-season fatigue. In retrospect, our grueling practice sessions probably contributed to some of their fatigue. I learned a valuable lesson during this time—to listen more to the players and closely monitor their fatigue levels. This season we finished 2-4 during the intersession, and looking ahead to next year, I will probably adjust our practice sessions and allow for more individual fundamental work and less of the off-season style conditioning sessions.

Before our team took the court yesterday, I addressed our players in the locker room. I had drawn a bracket containing four teams on the dry-erase board. The bracket consisted of the four teams fighting for the final conference playoff spot. I told the team we had just entered the conference elimination tournament and with each win we would advance past each of the teams and put ourselves in a position to claim a playoff spot. I am a firm believer in high-stakes performance once the college season finds it way to February.

You see, at the lower levels, such as Division II, there are very few at-large NCAA Tournament berths. So, teams must win their conference tournament in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. In the ECC, just eight of the 11 schools make the postseason conference tournament. Therefore, the stakes placed on regular season performance are raised even higher. At the highest levels, schools in the Big East, Atlantic Coast Conference, and the Big-10, merely compete in conference tournaments at the bequest of the administrators to raise money for their respective conferences. The top three or four teams in those conferences have all but assured themselves a spot in the NCAA Tournament by that point. On rare occasions, a Cinderella emerges (ref. 1983 North Carolina State) and wins their conference tournament as a lower seed to advance to March Madness.

This is why, in my humble opinion, we see so much bracket busting or near monumental upsets in the first two rounds of the Division I NCAA Tournament. The lower-seeded teams have been in survival mode since February and had to win their respective conference tournaments just to get an invitation to the dance. To further my point, I look back at some recent tournament games. In 2005, the University of Vermont knocked off Syracuse University in overtime as a #12 seed. The Catamounts had to win two games, took a week off and win a third just to advance to that game. A year later in 2006, the SUNY-Albany Danes nearly knocked off top-ranked University of Connecticut, holding a double-digit lead in the second half before being tripped up. These teams had been playing elimination-type games for nearly a month heading into those first round contests.

Looking ahead our kids seem like they have found some of that lost energy and are in better spirits following our win. We will need everyone giving every ounce of it as we play two more elimination games this week against teams who share the same aspirations of claiming that final playoff spot.

Until next week! I hope your season has been successful so far, and your dreams of playing for a championship become a reality in February!
Yours in Hoops,

Tony Staffiere