A Phoenix with the Sickness of a Heretic

Phoenix w BasketballScott’s flattering introductory post, Welcome To a New Beginning, made me pause to reflect on how I got my start in coaching. A devastating knee injury put an end to my playing career in high school and, unbeknownst to me at the time, laid the groundwork for the most rewarding and fulfilling career I could ever have hoped for. Like the mythical Phoenix, a bird reborn from its own ashes, I transformed from broken down player to aspiring coach.

It did not happen overnight. I spent my senior year as basically a student-coach, a conduit between my teammates and coaches. I enjoyed it and learned volumes about the different lenses players and coaches see the game through, but I still did not realize what my future held. Like most teenagers, I struggled to accept that everything happens for a reason. When I did come to terms with that idea, I thought it meant I should become a doctor. So I left the suburbs of Chicago for Arizona State University (providing a slightly ironic, albeit different, Phoenix reference) with the intent of studying medicine.

After a year of being a fairly typical college student, a simple event changed the course of my existence indefinitely. A friend of mine asked me if I would be interested in going with him to Hendrix Junior High in Chandler, AZ and coaching an after school basketball team. He didn’t know anything about basketball so he was going to coach the “C” team, and they needed a “B” coach as well. There was pizza money in it, and I missed basketball, so I agreed to do it.

Ten minutes into tryouts I felt like I was floating on air. Emotions and feelings I forgot I had rushed to the surface and I was reborn. In less than two hours, I went from misdirected college kid, to having a clear vision of my future and an insatiable thirst to learn everything I could about the coaching profession. Over the next 24 hours I developed what I have affectionately termed a “sickness” that I could not shake. It had likely been laying dormant in me for awhile, but it was now active and taking over every waking thought.

I will warn all of you at the outset, it may be contagious.

Actually, I hope it is contagious. It is a sickness that I don’t mind sharing, and believe you won’t mind catching. My sickness doesn’t have a name or a known cure, but does provide me with a seemingly endless string of thoughts and ideas (admittedly both good and bad) about the game of basketball and the different ways to teach it and coach it.

If you have ever named a drill after a storm that caused $15,000 worth of damage to your house, you know what I am talking about. If you have ever lost track of time on a treadmill trying to decide if you could beat a superior team by fouling them every possession and trading free throws for field goals, we are going to get along great. If you sleep with a court diagram or dry erase board next to your bed, we are connected.

For the next 14 years of my coaching career at the AAU, HS and College levels, I absorbed and learned everything I could get my hands on. I listened to coaches speak, learned from mentors, and read constantly. I loved learning about different ways of coaching and teaching and I tried (and often failed at) more different ways of doing things than I care to remember. Through all of the trial and error; however, I still had not settled on a single coaching philosophy.

When I got my first head coaching job, I picked the Princeton Offense because I thought it fit our personnel. I had a great resource to learn from and we ran it for two years with varying success. During that time, I heard Rick Torbett speak twice at Final Four Conventions about a new offense he was working on. It intrigued me enough to purchase the Read and React DVD’s and begin studying the offense. It simply made sense.

I attended a few Read and React Clinics and was pretty sure this was for me. We tried putting pieces of it in initially with disastrous results before finally getting wise and going all in with it. I was nervous about running a non-traditional offense and my coaching staff seemed skeptical at first, but something inside me was screaming, “This is it!”

Then I read Flea Training and Heretical Basketball by Scott Ginn, and I knew I was home. I was a basketball heretic and just never realized it! For years I would spark conversations with coaches that I knew would get a rise out of them because the topic was such a break from tradition. My poor assistants have had to endure many conversations in which I killed Sacred Zombie Cows just to get a good debate going.

I am a Phoenix with the Sickness of a Heretic and I am here to help you in any way I can.

My vision for the Tribe is that it becomes a collaborative effort where your ideas and experiences are showcased alongside ours. Not every post will be a work of art on par with the stylings of Scott Ginn. Some posts may just be a thought provoking idea or two. The goal is heavy frequency and a wide assortment of Better Basketball friendly ideas to choose from. We are taking a look at each piece of the website and looking for feedback on how you would like to interact.

What have you liked, disliked, or crave more of?

Leave a comment below or e-mail tribe@betterbasketball.com

7 comments

  1. Interesting story, Rich. BTW, it was an injury that brought me to coaching as well.

    Hopefully in the future you will consider giving us a detailed compare and contrast of the Princeton Offense vs. the RRO.

  2. Profile photo of Coach Czes

    Thanks Tom! I am not sure that compare/contrast piece would be time well spent. Kind of like putting training wheels on a mountain bike :) – but I will give it some thought.

  3. Coach Czes
    A comparison of the princeton vs RRO would be great maybe a DDM vs RRO as Calipari says the DDM is princeton on steroids.

  4. Profile photo of Coach Czes

    ST1, thanks for the feedback! I would not be in favor of spending time writing such a piece (in that manner, at least). In my opinion, there is no comparison between the Read and React and the other 2, as R&R is far more comprehensive and does not have the personnel restrictions the other 2 face. Perhaps down the road, a look at what pieces of those other offenses are present within the Read and React “operating system” would make sense, but in the short term we are going to focus on topics relevant to the season that is about to begin. We are preparing posts on practice planning, staff utilization and development, making cuts, game preparation, zone offense ideas, etc!

  5. I would be interested to see what coaches track in game for this offense. Key diagnostics, as well as, scouting forms that allow you to determine what layers will be most key against an upcoming opponent. Thanks and welcome!

Leave a Reply