In 40 years of coaching freshman, middle and high school basketball, I learned a great deal to help with my teams from my players, assistant coaches and my wife.
I liked to think that I was as coachable as I wanted my players to be.
Many times I asked my players and assistant coaches what they thought about certain things we were doing. I also learned some very important things from my players that really helped us on the court.
I had coaching stints at Fort Fairfield, Orono and Bangor, and when I returned from a 10-year hiatus in 1987-1988 and took the varsity basketball job at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, it was also the first year of the 3-point shot for Maine high school basketball.
I remember working in preseason on a help-and-recover drill when the dribble penetrator would try to penetrate and then pass to the help man’s 3-point shooter for an open shot.
All but one of my players was having a difficult time stopping penetration and then closing out the 3-point shooter. I watched several times as my junior point guard, Artie Matheson, successfully helped and closed out the 3-point shooter.
Finally, I blew my whistle, stopping the drill. I said, “Artie how are you getting there in time to close out the 3-point shooter while your teammates can’t?’
He said, “Coach as soon as I see the dribble penetrator start to lift his non-dribbling hand I leave then so I get an early start to recover to close out the shooter.”
Needless to say this was very successful, so we used it for the next 13 years I coached at Bapst.
Another time, in a game, we were not playing very good man-to-man defense, I was a little upset at halftime. Immediately, Artie spoke up and said, “Coach we should use our hands locked-behind-our-backs drill that we use in practice.”
This drill had the defenders guarding the players without the ball, having to keep their hands locked behind their backs, which forced them to use their feet to play defense. The player guarding the ball positioned his hands correctly left and up on a right-handed shooter and vice versa for a lefty. When a player guarding a player with the ball passed the ball, the defender had to quickly lock his hands behind his back and the defender whose man received the ball had to get the correct hand up.
If a player was caught not doing either, it cost him a lap around the gym.
I said, “if we don’t get better quickly I’ll use Artie’s suggestion, but instead of a lap it will be the bench.”
I didn’t have to use this drill in the game.
In 1968-1969, when I was coaching at Orono, we were the favorites to win the Class B state championship.
We were 5-0 going into Christmas break but we were not as effective as I thought we should be because we had an inexperienced point guard.
Talking about this with my wife during Christmas break she asked me why I hadn’t used 6-foot-7 Peter Gavett as point guard since he had done so on the freshman and junior varsity teams.
I had overlooked that because when Peter was a 6-4 junior he played forward because I had a three-year starter, Sean Casey, returning for his senior year.
After I made the change my wife suggested, we went 17-0 and were not really tested all the way to winning the state title with a 22-0 record.
Over the course of my coaching career, I also asked my assistant, freshman and JV coaches, who were sitting on the bench during games, to let me know if they saw something that I hadn’t — eight eyes are better than two.
I hope that other coaches, new ones and veterans, may follow some of this strategy that worked for me as I discovered that being open to advice and willing to listen to others, leads to more success.