Coaching College Basketball: What You Need to Know

Basketball Competition Drills for Coaches

Have you ever wondered what coaching college basketball takes or looks like? With this article, you can get an inside look into college basketball from the insights of a number of different college basketball coaches on a number of different topics. So take advantage of this amazing resource if you have ever wanted to better understand how coaching college basketball works.


Becoming a College Basketball Coach: The Power of One


Becoming a College Basketball Coach: The Power of One

Jermaine Johnson contributed to this portion of the article.


I am currently coaching basketball at the Division I level in college. I started as a high school volunteer assistant coach at Craigmont High School in Memphis, TN, under the late Duane Stokes.

I get many questions from coaches trying to coach at the collegiate level, especially in basketball, so this basketball coaching article is directed towards coaches who may have questions about coaching in college. I believe this information applies to any aspiring basketball coach with dreams of coaching at the Division I level.

Please realize, I am not here to burst anyone’s bubble–only to be upfront with you. People can do anything they put their minds to, but if you are not currently coaching at the college level, the chances of making it are slim, and the chances of making an NBA coaching staff are even slimmer.

Hopefully, my college basketball experience will help you get started on your journey to becoming a college basketball coach.


The Political Road in College Basketball

The competition for jobs at the Division I level in basketball is outrageous. Many coaches are looking to land one of a minimal number of full-time coaching positions, especially positions at the Division I level.

The most common ways of getting your start as a college basketball coach are; building your network at the college level, a stellar resume, or playing experience at a major program. Without taking advantage of one of these three areas, it won’t be easy to land a job at the Division I level.

Typical paths to becoming a full-time college assistant:

  • The Coach’s Son
  • Played college basketball for that current head coach or assistant coach
  • Stay on as a volunteer/GA while finishing your undergrad or graduate degree
  • Continue in this capacity for 2-5 years (working hard – living poor) until a full-time position opens up

Some college basketball coaches will be the beneficiary of the first two steps – or sacrifice and become a Graduate Assistant or Video coordinator, have some success, and then get hired at their alma mater or another school where their previous college experience makes them an attractive hire.

Some very successful high school basketball coaches make the leap to the college level. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. Making the leap from high school to the high-major level is rare, however, and usually, it happens when the high school coach has a pipeline for talented recruits. In some of these instances, you may have to deliver one of those program-changers to land the job.

Getting hired at a college is not all WHO you know, but that is a huge part of it. There are many good basketball coaches out there, but if you are a head coach at a university and know your job is on the line, WHO are you going to hire? Some unknown coach without college basketball coaching experience, or someone you have known from the road recruiting, or from playing or coaching together? You are going to hire someone with college coaching experience!

I had to network and build meaningful relationships. But networking did not get me to this place. A setback got me to this assignment. Networking is busting your assets wherever you currently are and then making the big time where you are.

It’s called self-interviewing. You must brand yourself in every opportunity you have—in your letters, in your resume, in your portfolio, and when you interact with other basketball coaches. There is a way to do it tactfully without coming off as conceited or arrogant. You have to walk with a humble spirit and be genuine.


The Basketball Coaching Journey

I received a call from Cornelius Jackson (Assistant Coach at Cleveland State University) telling me about a Vacant Director of Basketball Operations position at Georgia Southern University. At this time, I was an unemployed former high school basketball coach from Memphis Melrose High School, one of the most tradition-rich high schools in Memphis.

Melrose was located in Orange Mound, one of the most crime-infested areas in America. The basketball program had hit hard times regarding support from the alumni, community, and student body. The lack of support was because of the program’s lack of success in recent years. I was hired on June 2, 2007.

That summer, I inherited a team of 12 basketball players that were participating in a summer league. After watching this team play that night, the school’s athletic director introduced me to the team’s current members. We inherited a team that won a total of 25 games in six years prior to me becoming the head basketball coach.

In my first year, I brought in four freshmen and one sophomore transfer to help me turn this once downtrodden basketball program into a national contender. Chris Jones (Signed at Louisville), Adonis Thomas (Signed at Memphis), Telvin Wilkerson (Signed at Southeast Missouri State), Nino Johnson (Signed at Southeast Missouri State), and Nate Rucker (Signed at Northern Illinois) were brought in to resurrect this program.

In my first year, we started four freshmen and one sophomore and won the District 16 AAA Tournament Title. After my first year, we averaged 23 wins per year for my six years as head coach. To sum our success up in six years, we won six straight district titles in the toughest classification in the state of Tennessee.

We made four trips to the City Championship game, winning once. We won the 2010 TSSAA Class AAA State Title and finished ranked # 9 Nationally by MaxPreps. In 2011, both the Sporting News Magazine and Rivals ranked us as the nation’s preseason #1 team. In six years, we had 34 seniors, and all of whom received college scholarships.

We had unprecedented success at the high school level, and I could not get a basketball coaching position at the college level. We ran a college program from the standpoint of compliance, scouting and game preparation, scheduling, budgeting, public relations and promotions, calendar of events and meetings for the year, summer camps and clinics, basketball preparation, individual workouts, preseason conditioning and training, practice organization, tactical situations, and game-day responsibilities.

We kept a notebook outlining all of these aspects of our basketball program. While serving at Melrose, I was blessed to develop relationships with head coaches from Power 6 conferences and hundreds of assistant coaches at the high and mid-major level. I had connections with top AAU basketball program directors and coaches throughout the country and over fifty junior college and prep school coaches. Yet, I could not break into the college coaching fraternity.

At this point, frustration started to set in because some of my fellow high school basketball coaches were blessed with opportunities. Kevin Keatts – from Hargrave Military to Louisville, Kenny Johnson from Team Takeover to Towson, Rub Fulford from Huntington Prep to Missouri, Alan Huss from LaLumeire to New Mexico, Kevin Sutton from Montverde to George Washington.

All these fantastic, hard-working high school basketball coaches finally broke through with the power of 1. I asked myself,” Which 1 of my relationships that I have built over the years would pay off and grant me that golden opportunity?”


The Blessing Behind the Closed Door

I called my former college basketball coach, Buzz Williams, and spoke with him. Both he and UNC Wilmington Head Coach Kevin Keatts suggested that I take a graduate assistant position at Georgia Southern. Mark Byington, the head coach at Georgia Southern, decided to hire a prominent AAU coach’s son from Georgia as his Director of Basketball Operations, so the only position available was a graduate assistant.

Coach Byington’s decision not to hire me as the Director of Operations was a blessing in disguise. I was allowed to get players better before and after practice. This immediately gave me instant credibility with both the players and the coaching staff as they witnessed my grind.

Coach Byington treated me like a full-time paid assistant coach, so the hands-on experience helped me to my current assignment now. I am so blessed that Mark Byington took a chance on me when he knew nothing about me.


The Power of One

I was in my hotel when I received a call from Jack Murphy, the head basketball coach at Northern Arizona, whom I met while he was an assistant coach at the University of Memphis. He told me that he knew one of the finalists for the UT Martin job. He gave me Heath Schroyer’s name and phone number and told me to call him because he would recommend me for one of his assistant coach spots if he were hired.

The next week I received a call from Dana Ford, one of my good friends who was the associate head coach at Illinois State at the time. Coach Ford informed me that he was a candidate for the head basketball coach at Tennessee State, and he wanted to meet with me at the Final Four in the coming weeks.

At this point, my mind is all over the place. One of my former basketball players Jordan Mincy at Toledo told me to connect the dots if I wanted to get one of these jobs. I told Jordan about UT Martin’s top target, and he immediately informed me that he knew Schroyer’s best friend, who worked for Jordan’s college coach at Ohio, and gave me his information.

I called Anthony Stewart, who blew me off and would not answer my calls. Finally, I sent him a real and relevant eye-opening text message that changed our communication. We talked every day and got to know one another during their CIT run, yet he still made time for me.

I was relentlessly working Coach Stewart and Coach Ford because I was determined to find that Power of One, the one individual that’s going to recommend, believe in you, or that has the power to touch the decision maker’s heart and soul.

Heath Schroyer was named head coach at UT Martin, and his press conference was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon on their campus. I called Coach Stewart and asked him if I should drive nine hours to Coach Schroyer’s press conference and introduce myself. This would show him how bad I wanted to be at UT Martin.

I met with Coach after his press conference and made an immediate impression during our ten-minute meeting. I had a plan and a blueprint to help him succeed at UT Martin and the Ohio Valley Conference. As weeks went by, I was texting with Coach Schroyer daily. He researched me and wanted to meet at the Final Four in Dallas.

I had two interviews set up at the Final Four. One of the coaches had the job, and the other was a finalist. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, and I interviewed with Coach Schroyer and Coach Stewart at the Gaylord Hotel in Grapevine, Texas. After the meeting, Coach Schroyer stated that he would make his decision on Sunday, and I was one of two finalists.

I met with Dana Ford on Sunday at 6 am in the Convention Center lobby on the third floor. He offered me the job on the spot, even though he had not interviewed me yet. He was one of five finalists, but clearly, he was a favorite, so I informed him about my UT Martin interview. He was very receptive and told me if anything happens to call and let him know.

On Sunday morning, I still had no phone call from UT Martin. On Sunday afternoon, I am boarding my plane to Atlanta from Dallas and still have not heard from Coach Schroyer. I got off the plane in Atlanta around 7:00 PM, and I had five voice messages. Within one minute, my phone rang. It was Coach Schroyer who offered me the job to be one of his top assistant coaches at UT Martin.


Blossom Where you are Planted

I have been a key member of the Skyhawks’ success over the last two seasons, as UT Martin’s run includes the program’s first-ever Ohio Valley Conference West division championship (2015-16), the school’s first appearance in the OVC Tournament championship game (2015-16) and four victories in the Postseason Tournament. I have helped oversee 41 wins over the past two seasons, which is tied for the most victories in a two-year span in basketball program history.

Last season, we won at least 20 games for the second straight season and just the third time at the school’s Division-I level. UT Martin also became the first OVC team to notch at least one postseason victory in each of the last two years.

In 2014-15, I was part of the Skyhawks’ remarkable turnaround as UT Martin tallied 21 wins (one shy of the school record) and claimed its first three postseason victories in the school’s Division-I era (since 1992).

I helped the Skyhawks to the Final Four of the 2015 CIT, capping off the nation’s fourth-best improvement from the previous season (13 wins). UT Martin also led the country with 12 road victories.

Last season, Coach Schroyer named me the Defensive Coordinator, and we were Top 3 of the OVC in field goal percentage defense and 3-point field goal percentage defense.

Lastly, but certainly not least… balance your life, and make certain that if the quantity of time is not there with your family, there is quality time. Your reputation grows and follows you as each day passes, so work harder at being a good person and Respect the Process!!



Playing Dominoes in College Basketball


Playing Dominoes in College Basketball

Paul Johnson contributed to this portion of the article.


March Madness is now officially upon us! For any athlete, coach, or round ball junky that can’t get enough hoops, this is the greatest month for basketball! Many believe that the NCAA Tournament is the best sporting event in the world. With the television coverage and the amount of money spent on these events, including the money bet on games, it is hard to argue otherwise.

This time of the year, we fall in love with the underdog, and we hate to see Goliath win another game. It is a time for perseverance, camaraderie, and overcoming adversity to “survive and advance” to play another game. There are great triumphs and devastating heartbreaks, and a crowning moment that ends with one champion.

As the dust settles for each team knocked out of their hopes for a conference or national title, there are many casualties, casualties of the coach and his staff who have been guiding their respective basketball teams. Over the next few weeks, many basketball coaches will get their pink slips, and every media outlet will be reporting on the new hot job that is now open. This is referred to as the “domino effect.” Once the first job opens, the dominoes begin to fall. If a coach can match his “number of dots” to the athletic director, a booster with influence, president, or chancellor, the coaching carousel will turn.

For many basketball coaches, either Head Coach or assistant, this is a time of the year that they pack up their office and go home to start a new job. Looking for another job. Many times, coaches who get fired are very good at coaching basketball, but because there are so many variables involved in how a coach attempts to build his program, oftentimes, they never get to truly show what they are capable of.

A coach may be hampered with budget issues, APR scores, lack of Administrative support, or missing on a recruit or two. Be that as it may, when athletic directors decide to “go in a different direction” or “look for new leadership,” that coach must begin his new job of looking for a job.

The college basketball coaching industry is a tight-knit fraternity of brothers that have their own coaching trees. There is no particular rhyme or reason for how coaches move up the coaching ladder. Some advance because of where they played or how far their playing careers have taken them. Others move up by rolling up their sleeve, work their butts off, and don’t take NO for an answer.

Because there are such few jobs available, it is “who you know” that will get you the job, and it is “what you know” that will help you keep the job. Once a coach begins looking for a new job, it becomes a job in itself. This can be a long and lonely road while spending hours upon hours revising resumes, getting references, writing letters, and making phone calls trying to connect the dots.

Many athletic directors across the country have resorted to hiring job search firms to assist them in vetting candidates, narrowing down the candidates, or even picking the one coach they believe can move a basketball program forward. Because most job search firms have not been directly associated with the coaches, a lot of the hires made have not been successful.

With the job search firm’s assistance, the process of applying for college basketball coaching jobs has changed. More and more coaches are looking for representation to assist them in moving up the coaching ladder. Sometimes getting to know who is leading the job search firm is more important than knowing who the athletic director or president. The coach who can connect the dots both with athletic directors and job search firm, the better chance a coach will land a job quickly.

Often, people look at the salaries that college basketball coaches make and think that they are well overpaid. Although some coaches do get paid well, most college coaches are underpaid for the number of hours and travel they put in. Those same people who complain about the salaries are never heard from when a coach is forced into looking for a new job. For coaches looking to move up the ranks, they should know that job insecurity is part of the game, no matter how good or bad the coach appears.




Budget Management and Success in College Basketball


Budget Management and Success in College Basketball

Josh Schertz contributed to this portion of the article.


A hot topic for many organizations today is the ability to maximize resources. This has become even more of an issue over the last few years, as cutbacks due to economic difficulties have become more and more prevalent. For basketball programs at the small college level, the ability to maximize your resources and be efficient with your time can be the difference between success and failure.

I have a unique perspective as it relates to the allocation of resources, as I have spent most of my 16-year basketball coaching career at the Division II level, with a five-year stint as the associate head coach at High Point University, as well as one year as an assistant at Florida Atlantic University mixed in.

Having such varied experiences has certainly altered my paradigm on what is important and, more importantly, what isn’t as important to running a successful small college basketball program.

There are a myriad of differences that exist between high-end Division I basketball programs versus low major Division I basketball programs in terms of resources. These resources, or lack thereof, are magnified at the small college level, from fewer scholarships to recruit with to fewer staff, to budgetary limitations, to limited facility access, etc.

We are confronted daily with challenges that most basketball coaches at higher levels do not have to deal with. The one thing that does not change regardless of the level you coach at is the areas you need to excel in building a successful basketball program.



Recruiting and Basketball Player Development

In my opinion, the two most important things as it relates to success at the collegiate level are recruiting and player development. Fewer basketball scholarships means a smaller margin for error, so limit risks in recruiting. Do not sign someone, and try to change who they are. Sign them because of who they are. Recruit guys who will work and are coachable.

If you are a small college basketball coach, you likely aren’t coaching lottery picks, and the differential in talent between most teams is not as wide as the gap that exists at the Division I level. That means that there are a lot of close games where intangibles are the difference between winning and losing.

Good basketball teams all have the same trademarks: they are committed, play great team defense, and are unselfish offensively. It takes high character guys to do those things, so never sacrifice character for talent when assembling a team.

Recruiting players who like to work and are coachable is also the key to player development, as, without those two traits, the player will never become what he is capable of regardless of how good the teaching is. That being said, make basketball player development a hallmark of your program.

Unlike at higher levels, there is no director of player development, so you must work to become a better teacher and improve each off-season. From basketball coaching clinics to DVDs to basketball websites like this one to picking other coaches’ brains for ideas, be on a constant quest to improve your knowledge and ability to teach the game.



Maximizing Resources

Since you may have only one assistant basketball coach and no strength coach, study weight training and, in particular basketball-specific weight training. If you are stretched too thin to have a coach in the weight room with your team, you need to have the expertise to plan a workout and let your player captains lead the rest of the team through it.

With limited help, recruit volunteer assistants, student assistants, managers, and even scout team walk-ons. Anybody and everybody who can pass, keep the clock, and help with the basketball program’s administration are invaluable. With a short staff, utilize just two baskets for all of your in-practice breakdown work. Be efficient in terms of practice relative to how you do drill work and even how you scrimmage. For example, when we intersquad scrimmage, I coach both teams, my assistants officiate, and we rotate scout team guys who keep clock and film.



Team Academics

Without an athletic academic advisor, constant communication with your players’ professors is paramount to academic success. Send the players out with detailed bi-weekly progress reports that must be turned in mid-week. Be proactive instead of reactive with academic discipline, and understand it is impossible to have a healthy or respected basketball program without academic integrity.

Without significant academic support, it is imperative that you take the initiative and bi-weekly progress reports are a good place to start. Utilize any tutoring services available and conduct a staff-run study hall multiple times a week. For staff freshness, rotate who runs the staff led study hall.



Fundraising for Your Program

Budget limitations make fundraising a vital part of the small college experience. I hear of basketball coaches that raise significant amounts of money and use the funds to take a great trip or buy a piece of equipment. While that is a nice short-term benefit, I believe it is more important to use that money towards sustainable things and bring your program long-term benefits.

For example, here at LMU, we have raised $80,000 over our program’s last few years. We put $50,000 towards a locker room renovation, $20,000 towards a film room (university chipped in another $15,000), and we invested the other $10,000 towards upgrading the coaching offices.

All are things that help improve both the current player’s and basketball coaching staff’s quality of life while positively impacting our ability to attract high-level people and players into our basketball program.



Budget Management and Success in College Basketball Conclusion

At the end of the day, any organization’s most valuable resource is people. It is about the people around you and how they come together, and how you have each other’s back. You learn that one person does not really get anything done.

In any business, the people around you have to be good and work together in any endeavor. That is where the real joy is–when you share success with people you enjoy being around.



Making the Jump from Graduate Assistant to Staff in College Basketball


Making the Jump from Graduate Assistant to Staff in College Basketball

Jaycob Ammerman contributed to this portion of the article.


As I am writing this basketball coaching article, I cannot help but take the time to appreciate how everything has played out for me. Everyone has a coaching journey and different backgrounds. My story and journey are probably different than yours. My coaching career started as a part-time D2 assistant basketball coach at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida.

After one year, my aspirations of moving up to D1 started to weigh on me. Through connections, I worked University of Central Florida’s basketball camp and was asked to be a graduate assistant. Through 2 years of endless nights and blood, sweat, and tears, I accomplished one of my goals.

I was hired by a D1 college basketball coaching staff. I believe the recipe for me getting a job was created by several key ingredients. In this article, I will talk about those ingredients and how I made the jump from being a graduate assistant to joining Coach Johnny Dawkins’ coaching staff at the University of Central Florida.


The Ingredients

Again, everyone’s journey is different, with different paths winding through different sets of circumstances. A graduate assistant position is a 24/7 grind on you physically and financially. The recipe for turning your GA spot into a staff spot is filled with many different elements.

Here are some key ingredients that I did to stand out during my time as a graduate assistant on my path of making the jump from GA to a staff member and that I believe can help anyone else achieve their goals of making the jump, too:


Separate Yourself

If you believe deep down that you deserve a job after being a GA or a manager, then why? What makes you different from the other 10,000-plus other seemingly qualified people applying. Why do you best fit that spot? What are you doing that nobody else is, and this is what it comes down to – what separates you?

Don’t be afraid to be an outcast. In my last year as a graduate assistant, I felt I was constantly doing something that caused me to miss out on a lot of lunches and social time with the other graduate assistants and managers. But, it was my way to separate myself. Sometimes you have to be the outcast.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t friends with them or that I didn’t talk to them. It just means when we were in the office, I was in a mode to get stuff done, make stuff happen, and to try to make the coaches’ lives as easy as possible.

That was my goal, and that should be among your primary goals, along with being a good role model for the players and helping with their development in any ways possible to make them both better basketball players and better people.

I was always trying to find something to do that would take something off one of the coaches’ plates. Once you start doing that and making their lives easier, they will start incorporating you in more things and ultimately begin to depend on you for more things. That is where trust is built. That is when relationships are formed.


Be an Everyday Guy

Being an everyday guy is hard. Life happens, and it causes our emotions and personality to change daily. But, I’ve learned that coaches have to bring it every day because if they don’t, then players pick up on that. There has to be a consistent behavior.

As a graduate assistant or manager, the consistent behavior you should always have revolves around enthusiasm and positivity. Be enthusiastic, say good morning – say, “how are you doing this morning, coach?” – good practice, coach – really liked this basketball drill, coach – this could be all summed up by being POSITIVE.

The coaches don’t need your critiques or why this and that aren’t going right. They don’t need someone who provides negative feedback about a drill or a basketball play that didn’t work in a game. They need someone who will always have their backs.

Someone to tell them, “I really like that SOB play, coach.” In most situations or at least the situation I was in, every coach knew more about the game than me. Being an everyday guy for one week doesn’t change anything. Doing it all season does.


Build Trust

I have learned that there are few things bigger than TRUST in this business. If the coaches can trust you, then you can work for them, and they can work with you. Trust is something hard to gain, but once you have it, there is no substitute for it – it is truly special.

In my first year as a graduate assistant, I barely had a relationship with any of the coaches, and I knew it; it was easy to see. The relationships weren’t built until I started being an everyday guy. The relationships weren’t formed overnight either. It took me getting to the office first and being the last one to leave for the coaches to start taking notice. It takes time.

Once that relationship is formed, you can feel that the coaches believe in you. And let me tell you what, there is nothing like having someone believe in you. There is so much truth in what I am about to say —- People work harder for people they genuinely care about. It’s a fact.

I remember in between my first and second year of being a graduate assistant, one of our assistant coaches called me in his office and handed me a Michael Jordan backpack and said, “Hey, I think you should have this.” For him, it was just a simple gift. For me, it was something that made me want to work really hard for him.

He believed in me and cared about me; it made my work ethic change drastically. You may not have someone you feel believes in you where you’re at, but try to develop belief by establishing trust.

Be an everyday guy and never give a reason for a coach to question your work ethic. Be dependable and do whatever is needed, no matter the task. Sometimes trust is made at the smallest of tasks. Don’t get offended when a coach says, “Hey, can you run to Starbucks and get me a coffee.”

These little tasks are things that help build trust. No task is too small. Look at that situation as another way to get into a coach’s office to start a conversation.


Add Value

What did you do today to make the team better? Did you add any value today? Or, did you just come to work and hang out? I learned from a good friend of mine that “there is always something to do in the office.” That is 100 percent true. Always try to find a project. And once that project is over, find another project.

The coaches will take notice. Just trust the process. There is nothing like having an assistant coach say to you, “I know who to come to to get stuff done around here.” Sayings like that mean the world to you and reflect off your hard work.

Adding value every day is something that is a constant grind. But, nothing is sweeter than hearing a coach give you compliments like that. There’s not a better question as a GA/Manager than, “Hey coach, is there anything I can take off your plate today?” You should ask this question to at least one of your coaches every day.


First One In – Last One Out

In my first year as a graduate assistant, Buzz Williams had a Q&A on Twitter, and I asked him this question:Making The Jump from GA to Staff.docx Google Docs

His response says it all. If you’re there more and engaged, you are more involved, and you learn more. It’s simple. By the way, If you have time, read Buzz Williams’s story on how he got into coaching. His journey is incredible and motivating.

There are so many perks from being the first one in and last to leave. Being the first one in for a GA gives you a head start to add value. You can accomplish more. The old saying of the early bird gets the worm is so true.

Being the last to leave is huge for relationships. One of the assistant coaches on staff and I got very close because he would allow me to come to his office when everybody left and sit and talk with him and help him do scouting reports. You never know what opportunities will arise when you’re always around.



I am not talking about communicating with who is on staff. I am talking about handwritten notes, text messages, and calls to other basketball coaches in the business. Be genuine, though, have an actual purpose of getting to know people.

LETTERS: I would write anywhere from 25-50 handwritten notes a week. It would always be about them and never about me.

“Hey coach, I hope summer workouts have gotten off to a great start for you guys. Can’t wait to watch your team compete this year” …. Etc.

It was always about them and never about me — unless they asked.

TEXTING: Go through your contacts and write down every coach and the university where they coach. Then bring up the ESPN app. Go through and mark down all those schools with alerts. I would text a coach as soon as I would get a notification. “Hey coach, congrats on the win. That’s a big-time for you guys”.

CALLING: I would very rarely call head coaches. But, support staff, assistant coaches, and other graduate assistants, I would try to call every chance that I could. I hate when people say, “It’s a who you know business.” Guess what? You may know someone, but they may know some other guy 10x more.

From what I have learned, a “hope all is well” call won’t help you get to know someone. A 2x a week phone conversation, though, will help you develop that relationship. Even if they don’t answer, leave a voicemail.


One of our coaches taught me that the best way to have a conversation as a graduate assistant or manager is to go through a conversation without talking about yourself. It sounds simple, but it is actually pretty difficult.

Try to find out the most information on the person as you can. Be in tune with the conversation. People tend to make up their minds about someone after the first time they talk to someone. It is hard not to like someone interested in you and your career.

Develop relationships!


Know Your Role

There is nothing more of a pet peeve of mine than people who don’t know their role. I understood mine. My opinion didn’t matter. I understood that. Listen to learn, instead of listening to respond. No matter how good your opinion is, it doesn’t beat a great question.

I hear coaches say it all the time, “There is nothing like great questions.” No matter how you feel about your role, there is always a bigger purpose at the end of the day. Don’t let your opinion taint your reputation. Be humble and be a good person.

As I said, there is always a bigger purpose. Hold your opinion; everyone has one.


Never Miss A Basketball Opportunity

I learned this at a Coaching U Live Clinic when I was a D2 assistant coach. Coach Brendan Suhr said in the clinic, “No matter what excuse you have, never miss out on a basketball opportunity.” As a graduate assistant or manager, there will be plenty of basketball minds that come around the office.

Take time to get to know them. Ask to show them around the campus. Do whatever it takes to stand out. Also, take time to go to basketball coaching clinics. It is not only a great environment to learn, but an even better place to create relationships. You never know in this business who will be the one to help land you that job.



Making the Jump from Graduate Assistant to Staff in College Basketball Conclusion

These things are very vague, but they helped me land my job right after my GA career. Being a GA/manager is special, and don’t take it for granted. Two years go by so fast; you do not want to look back and question if you gave it your all.

Separate yourself from the pack. Be an everyday guy. Be the first one in the office and the last to leave. Communicate with other coaches. Develop trust and relationships and add value. If you do all these things to the best of your ability, you will have the possibility of making the jump to a staff position.



Transitioning Into a New College Basketball Program


Transitioning Into a New College Basketball Program

Doug Esleeck contributed to this portion of the article.


April 2017, I was a part of the basketball staff that took over at UNCW. The next few months happened in the blink of an eye, and we made a million decisions that would set the course for our basketball program in year 1 and beyond. There was a lot that was learned by me personally and the staff as a whole during this transition time. Here are some of the questions that I believe every coaching staff that takes over a new basketball program should ask themselves.  

This basketball coaching article will directly address Division I coaching transitions, but some parts apply to any level of coaching.

(For clarity, the pronoun “you” designates the Head Coach. If you’re an assistant basketball coach, you need to ask your Head Coach these questions and then execute his vision.)



Questions to Ask Yourself


Time of Hiring


When do you get the job?  

Is it early April, and you have the Spring still ahead of you to recruit, or is it late July and Fall Classes are getting ready to start in 2 weeks?  

The timing of your hire will determine your priorities and what you can accomplish to a certain extent. April hires have a full recruiting cycle to make good decisions on roster additions. July/August hires may be stuck with the roster they inherited. The same is true of your staff positions. July hires may not be able to get exactly the basketball staff they hoped to have beside them.



The Vision for the Basketball Program


What is your vision for the basketball program?

Are you trying to win as many basketball games as possible this year, and you’re willing to make decisions with a short-term payoff and long-term risk, or do you want to build a basketball program that’s a consistent long-term winner, and you will sacrifice short-term W’s for long-term sustainability?  

This is a HUGE deal. If you want to flip the roster and win as many basketball games as possible, you need to take risks with the players you sign. You need to schedule wins in year 1 and 2 aggressively. Every decision would be different if you wanted to build a basketball program built from the ground up for the long-term. For example, you need to hire basketball coaches who can develop the young guys you sign. You need to be careful signing kids with risky academics. You need to schedule in a way that builds excitement in your fan base while still protecting your basketball team from getting beat up in the non-conference slate.



Professional Basketball Goals


What do you want to accomplish professionally?  

Do you want to climb the professional ladder and get the next job, or do you want to earn a lifetime contract at your current job?  

This fits into the previous question. You must be sure that your professional basketball goals align with your program goals. If you want to build a long-term basketball program and settle in at your current job, but you sign high-risk players and burn bridges by clearing out the current roster, you’re going to end up in a bad situation. The reverse is also true. If you are building for the long term, maybe you sign four guys and redshirt all of them. You would never try that if you’re concerned about winning right away. You have to be honest with yourself and your staff about what you want to accomplish.



First Month Concerns


What’s the most important thing for you to spend your time on the first month on the job?

Do you need to sign ten guys, so you need to recruit all day, every day?

Do you need to raise $100k every year for your basketball program to function, so you need to spend time with the boosters?

Do you need to see the families of your current basketball players because you have a loaded roster?

Is there a ton of media exposure, so you need to be available to media?  

You have to find out as much about the job as you possibly can before your first day. You need to hit the ground running hard at the things that will impact winning and your contract. Every basketball coaching job is different, and outside factors like the previous staff’s success/failure, the timing of your hire, or the roster make up can drastically change what’s really important for your success at this particular job at this particular time.



Returning Basketball Players


What players are returning, and how valuable are they?  

You have to get to know your team as quickly as possible. Dive into film, statistics, individual meetings, meals together, skill work, weight room sessions… anything that can help you get an accurate read for what you’ve got and what you need.





How many scholarships do you have available?  

How many visits do you have left?

What is your recruiting budget, and how much is left?  

How can you add talent to what you already have?  

Resources are a huge part of this equation: scholarship dollars and budget dollars.



APR Status


What is the APR situation?

Can you make sweeping changes, or will flipping the roster hurt your basketball program?

How will the administration react to swift changes?

Try to find this out in the interview process, so you have a plan already formed when you take the job. If there are constraints on adjusting your roster, you need to know that on the front end.



Understand Player Relationships


What are the relationships like within your basketball program?

Which players are friends?

Which players don’t like each other?

As you consider personnel changes, what impact does cutting one player have on the rest of your roster… Who would be happy or sad that a kid is gone?  

This can be hard to figure out, but before you cut a kid, you better know if he’s best friends with your two best returning players. You may get rid of the weakest link, but an unintended consequence could be your best two players decide to transfer too.



Building Trust With Your Players


How can you build trust with the returning players?

How can you show them you’re invested in the program and each of them?  

Kids need to know you’re investing in their program and their games. Skill development and film study are a great way to build bonds and trust with players who don’t know you. Renovating a locker room, getting a new housing situation set up off-campus, or signing a new gear deal all communicate to your players that this coaching change can benefit them.



Basketball Scheduling Philosophy


What is your scheduling philosophy?

Are you trying to maximize wins or improve the appeal of your home schedule to sell season tickets?

Do you need to consider RPI and the quadrants for an at-large bid or seeding purposes?

Do you want to take your kids on a good trip each year with an MTE/foreign tour/pair of games somewhere in the country?  

You should already have a scheduling philosophy based on the level of job you’re taking and what you want to accomplish. If you’re fighting for an at-large bid, then you need to know what you’re looking for in nonconference opponents. If all that matters is the conference tournament, then that’s a different scheduling consideration. The specific job you have will determine the details, but you should have a formula ready to go.



Next Years Basketball Schedule


What does your game schedule look like for next season?

What contracts have been signed?

What are the buy-outs?

If you have an unfavorable basketball schedule, what changes can you make?

Will your administration let you buy your way out of contracts that put you in a position to fail?

Can you push some games to year 2?

Can you buy winnable basketball games at home, D1 or Non-D1?

Can you find a home and home series that gives you a chance to win both games in year 1 and 2?  

These questions will be specific to the schedule that the previous staff built and your basketball program’s resources. You need to try and figure this out quickly and be aggressive about backing out of games that aren’t advantageous for your program. Don’t be afraid to make another program/school upset. Your responsibility is to your basketball program and your institution. Be aggressive while you are in the honeymoon phase and rework the schedule to your advantage if you can.



Administrative Help


Who can you hire with the timing and money available?

How quickly can you get someone on campus to help you with the administrative tasks that pile up?  

If you have an operations guy, video, or even a GA in mind, get them on campus as quickly as possible to give you another set of hands in the office. It’s amazing how many things are coming at you that first summer. The quicker you have someone who can help you with the paperwork, details, etc., the quicker you can focus on the big decisions that have a long-term impact on your program.



Finding the Right Basketball Coaches to Hire


Do you love recruiting but not skill development?

Do you love offense but hate coaching defense?

Do you love spending time with your basketball players but hate fundraising?   

When considering who to hire, attack your weaknesses with each new person you bring into the program. Your basketball coaching staff will help you become a more well-rounded head coach and allow you to supplement different areas of your coaching.



Transitioning Into a New College Basketball Program Conclusion

If you aren’t sure about a particular decision, then wait and gather more information. It can be tempting to make quick, sweeping decisions so that you can move onto the next thing. But, if you’re making decisions with bad or incomplete information, your chances of making the right decision are considerably diminished.

At the end of the day, you need basketball players who are good enough to win at your level; you need opponents that you can realistically beat, and you need resources to sign the players and travel to the games. Your professional goals should determine the decisions you make within those three categories to align your basketball program with your vision for where you want the program to be next year and five years from now.


Building for Success in College Basketball


Building for Success in College Basketball

Brian Gerrity contributed to this portion of the article.


Over the course of the past four years, Mercer Athletics has seen tremendous growth in fundraising, launched a football program that competes at the FCS level, moved from the Atlantic Sun Conference to the Southern Conference, and won 12 conference championships.

The men’s basketball program has won the CIT Tournament (2012), advanced to the second round of the NIT (2013), and upset Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament (2014). The roster of coaches at Mercer has been fantastic both on and off the court/field during this span, and five key focus areas have been instrumental in the success and growth of the athletic department.


Support Other Programs

Mercer’s basketball, football, and baseball programs do an excellent job supporting the other teams on campus. The football staff schedules recruiting weekends to coincide with basketball games, the baseball program conducts their ring ceremonies at football games which double with an alumni tailgates, and Mercer’s basketball coach, Bob Hoffman, has joined the student section at football games and regularly attends men’s and women’s soccer matches.

The overlapping of programs provides a variety of benefits. First, the loud and intense crowds at basketball and football games do wonders for recruiting. Football recruits in the stands for a capacity basketball crowd against a SoCon opponent understand the culture of Mercer supporters. Baseball’s success in winning championships is exposed to over 10,000 people when their ceremony is scheduled during a football weekend.

The basketball team “earns” their loyal student section by joining them during football. Each example of overlapping helps to create a culture of support across teams and programs.


Community Engagement

In many departments across the country, community service is mandatory. At Mercer, goals for community service by our athletes do exist. Community engagement, however, goes beyond traditional photo-op community service.

The men’s basketball program regularly enjoys capacity crowds at Mercer. This was not the case six years ago. Almost as important as the success on the court has been Coach Hoffman’s ability to truly win over the Middle Georgia community.

Early on during his tenure at Mercer, Coach Hoffman would literally go door to door, business to business, speak at Rotary Clubs, Exchange Clubs, Elks Clubs, Civic Clubs, and urge people to attend a game. This face to face “recruiting” of the community worked.

When the team started winning, the impressions Coach Hoffman made on individuals and businesses alike turned into ticket sales, donors, sponsors, and fans.


Share Your Program

Practices are intense. Locker rooms are sacred. Road Trips are focused. Team meals are for bonding. Each of those statements holds true, but to be a successful mid-major program, others need to be let in the circle of the program.

The biggest asset mid-major programs hold in comparison with Power 5 programs is access. Donors and fans have the ability to interact and develop relationships with athletes. At Mercer, men’s basketball practice is open. Members of the booster group for the program are treated to lunch and are given time to mingle with players.

Boosters have gone on the road with the team. Alums have both given and listened to pre-game speeches. Locker room tours happen weekly. Our men’s basketball and football teams wait after games on the court and on the field to interact with family and fans.

While each of those examples sounds like small items, cumulatively, they make fans, alums, and donors feel like they are a part of the team. Small investments in access lead to a family atmosphere in the stands.


Build Trust Across Job Functions

Athletic departments are diverse, and job functions are wide-ranging. From marketing to compliance, to development and athletic training, each staff member is hired for a very specific and specialized job function.

Coaches are hired to recruit and mold student-athletes into leaders and successful team members. The coaching staff is also responsible for play calling, strategy, and substitution patterns as well. Development officers should not question a coach about a player being subbed out in a critical situation. Compliance staffers should not question a coach about a second-half time-out. Coaches are tactical game experts.

Conversely, coaches should understand that there are reasons behind decisions by administrators. There is a reason why a specific donor should not be asked for a gift but should be given a tour by the head coach. There is a reason why the marketing staff is focused on ticket sales for a specific game over another.

Mutual respect by coaches and administrators is paramount to success. A coach should not have to field questions from an entire department about why a player bunted in a specific situation, just like a trainer should not be questioned about why a player suffering from concussion symptoms has to sit out.

Trust is built over time, but coaches and administrators alike should have confidence in each other to complete their specialized job functions.


Know Your Level

Mercer employs coaches with backgrounds ranging from NAIA to the SEC and every level in-between. Successful coaches understand their current level. In some cases, the limitations of it and in other cases, the heightened resources.

For example, at many Power 5 institutions, charter flights for basketball recruiting and away game travel are standard. At Mercer, they are not. For some Division 1 golf programs, a custom Sprinter van is not in the budget. At Mercer, it is an investment we have made.

Knowing what to ask for and what is realistic is the key to building the infrastructure around a program. In many cases, enhancement projects are donor-driven, such as locker room upgrades or arena improvements.

In other cases, creativity is part of the enhancement puzzle. Using guarantee money to fund a small project or negotiating trade with a restaurant for meals on the road are examples of creative funding. Incremental improvements over multiple years add up quickly.



Building for Success in College Basketball Conclusion

There are a lot of things that go into cultivating success within an athletic department. It will take some trial and error to figure out the best path for your program, but these are some of the tried and true areas that have helped Mercer Athletic build for success.



Transferring Confidence in Basketball


Transferring Confidence in Basketball

Tim Kaine contributed to this portion of the article.


It seems that every year that the transfer list for Division 1 basketball schools grows exponentially. There are many reasons for players leaving. Whether they want more playing time, influenced by coaching changes, or many other reasons, they pack up their lockers for a fresh start at a new school.

Some basketball players transfer because they lose their confidence in their abilities and do not have the self-confidence to play at their current school. Obviously, they can be good players, or the coaching staff would not have recruited and signed them. Our job as basketball coaches is to help build their confidence through physical development, build mental toughness, and achieve top athletic performance.

Many basketball coaches in America are now coaching at least one transfer on their team. While at Florida Atlantic University, we have signed a transfer almost every year. I have coached many transfers, and a few have had confidence issues. They were very talented players, but they no longer believed in themselves. The first thing we did was let them know that we believed in their abilities.

We also told them that we would hold them to high expectations, and we expect them to exceed those expectations. After explaining what is expected of them, we outline a personal basketball skill development plan for the year. We develop a plan to help them improve every day of the year they have to sit-out but do not use the term “sitting out” because this conveys that the player won’t be working.

Instead, we tell them it is a year for “development” both mentally and physically. The year of development will be the hardest year of their lives, both physically and mentally.


Basketball Player Physical Development

With each transfer, we sit down with our coaching staff, including our strength and conditioning coach. We watch film from their previous school and, if possible, film from their HS or Prep school. We do it to develop a plan for the player and how he will fit into our team and style of play. First, our strength coach sits down and develops an individual plan for the player.

This is done in the summer after the strength coach has worked out the student-athlete for a few weeks. That way, he can determine what weaknesses and strengths the athlete needs to work on in the weight room. Carson Randall, our strength coach, works with the player throughout the entire year and assigns extra time for the player to be in the weight room.

This is imperative for our athletes when we are on the road for games that we keep high expectations even if they aren’t on the road with us. The strength coach has workouts in the weight room and also on the court. The members of our program that are also huge for transfers and current players is our managers. Our managers do a great job of getting our guys in the gym when traveling to help our players work out.

Now that we can work out players in the summer, we will do the same for skill development. For example, we had a young man who struggled to hold onto passes in the post. We knew this when he arrived on campus. So we developed a basketball training program that was designed to help the player with his hands.

We spent every day after practice and before home games working on his hands. We do a lot of tennis ball drills and racquetball drills. One of the tougher basketball drills that we do with our players is “Wall Ball.” This drill has the player facing a wall in our gym about 5-6 feet from the wall.

The coach is behind the player with tennis balls/racquetballs and throws them at the wall. The player is sliding from side to side while the coach is throwing the balls. The player isn’t sure where the ball is going or when it’s thrown until it hits the wall.

At first, the player will struggle, but they start to catch the balls sooner than later. By the end of this player’s career, he was catching tough passes. On his senior night, he actually caught a bad pass and dunked on a 6’11 kid. Had you seen him when he arrived on campus, you would have never thought he would catch the pass, much less dunk the ball.



The Mental Side for Basketball Players

This past basketball season we had a young man who transferred from a bigger school, and he had lost his confidence. He went to a great program that style-wise just didn’t fit his game. He is one of the most talented basketball post players our staff has ever coached, but when he arrived on campus, he didn’t believe in himself.

The first couple of weeks were a struggle because of his lack of self-confidence. He struggled to finish around the basket and was worried about taking any type of shot. He would always hang his head when he would miss a shot. Also, if anyone tried to talk to him, he became very defensive towards his teammates. Most of his mistakes had nothing to do with his physical ability; it had to do with his mental approach.

After a few weeks, the player and the staff sat down to discuss his mental approach. Although he did not want to meet with a sports psychologist when we brought it up, he reluctantly went and met with Dr. Smith regularly. Not only has the player improved greatly on the court, but it also has helped with his GPA. Many athletes and coaches do not like to think that they need help with the mental side of the game/job, but it is another tool we can use to get the most out of our players.

Most players can have consistent athletic confidence with discipline and practice, even during those inevitable plateaus or slumps. His improvement on the court has been possible because he bought in both with the physical and mental side of becoming a better player during his year of “development.”

It will be a process with all of our basketball players and helping them develop both mentally and physically. But we believe our players, including transfers, have and will greatly improve with our staff working together and communicating with our players daily.





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