I have no idea "what" but I can tell you "why"
Why get involved with college pathways for the guys I coach?
I feel something big has emerged in the past 18 months for basketball and I may be playing a key role in that something. What that something is I am not sure yet, but it is rapidly evolving. Whilst I cannot answer the “what it is” question I can answer the “why am I doing it?”
To answer the why I will share some of the past.
Vision: As a team we will leave a legacy that will be remembered, revered and aspired-to at the Sturt Sabres for future generations. Together we will provide an environment for each other that helps develop a platform for our success as a team, and as individuals, beyond this year, into the future; on and off the floor.
It started to become a reality with the phenomenal players and coaches in the team above. The "why" we are doing this is largely about them. All 13 of them (10 players, 2 Assistants and our team manager). Our team vision was to leave a legacy for ourselves but also others that come through and I guess this may be it. I always say if you create a vision you must pursue it. How can we leave a legacy, what does this mean? At Sturt there has been so much success in U18s before us. How can we expect to leave a legacy in such a success saturated environment?
In my roles at a couple of clubs I have long floated the idea of establishing a college pathways program. It has been at the back of my mind for some time now to help offer the athletes I work with a pathway to college basketball. Why demand so much from them and invest so much into them just to see them to not have REAL opportunities to achieve their dreams? Whilst I never got to play college hoops, was never a thought process, the opportunities to go over really started emerging when I was a junior player. With such a strong love for the game, if I was growing up now I am sure I would have gone across to play – what an experience it would have been. I suspect many going over, over the years, were oblivious to the options and the levels and many kids were only playing Div 2 ball in the states and often this was through coaches or players that played out there. Playing DIv 1 ball in the past was just a pipe dream for all but the absolute elite.
At my last club, there were some great people involved, very good operators in this area. There were also people that took on advising kids on colleges and Australian pathways, but I suspect despite they did not really fully grasp what they were doing either, nor how to go about it. I really feel like that there were kids I invested a stack of time into, set goals with, and developed, that were later let down with poor choices, from a basketball perspective, through possibly poor advice. I didn’t want to let this happen again at the time.
New Opportunities & Challenges.....
Fast forward a few years, now to my new club, Sturt Sabres, and some opportunities have formed because:
I am coaching talent that great colleges in the US are very, very interested to recruit
There has never been this level of interest as there is now in Aussie talent by US Colleges
Technology means we can easily disseminate footage, communicate and build working relationships with US Colleges than ever before.
Businesses like AUSA hoops are forming with a commercial interest to grow pathways for athletes. These guys do great work to promote our game and athletes, filling a void in the sport in Australia.
All this is like a perfect storm.
I really didn’t plan to build networks over in the US quite like this, nor become a point of contact for schools, or elite kids in South Australia.
I was lucky enough to coach 10 great kids in my first 2 years at Sturt, with phenomenal attitudes, the kinds of people I will remain in contact with forever, in some cases strong friendships have formed with both them and their families. These friendships will outgrow my work with them as their coach. The guys in this team, including the coaches, I would do anything for they needed, that would help them as people or basketballers, that was the nature of our team.
A few of them suffered some setbacks with National, State and NITP programs and were questioning their commitment to basketball, given they were super talented athletes they could have gone and played footy at high levels, or just kept playing but giving up on their dreams, no longer putting the work in. I didn’t feel the game, nor they, should be penalised for selection errors of others so we began looking at goals and how those goals would become reality. We had to find an alternate pathway to motivate these talented kids outside of what could be offered locally.
Around that time a coaching mate, Tony Casella, had stumbled on a software application called Field Level. This application let us rapidly disseminate athlete’s profiles to US College coaches in a way that I found very exciting. We posted 4-5 guy’s profiles on there and began to get quite an amazing result. One of the coaches was visiting Australia and wanted to come to Adelaide to see one of the top kids and also any other talented kids we had. With the Coaching Director at Sturt, Paul Mesecke, we decided to really work hard for the coach and organise a really good visit. Paul was phenomenal in this process working hard to bring lots of things to fruition. In just about every club environment this would not have worked. People tend not to return calls, emails and getting things done takes forever. With Paul that was not the case and we needed to get things done quickly for the visit. The visit went great. My rewards? Some very happy, motivated athletes and also the chance to have dinner with Brett Maher, Joey Wright, Neil Gliddon, the D1 College coach, Paul Mesecke, Paul Rigoni and Tony Casella. For a basketball nut like me if I wanted to have dinner with some local hoops people who better to do it with. I formed a strong bond with the coach over that period and caught up with him in Melbourne a few days later.
We had a couple of other visits throughout the year and in my era I can only recall knowing about 1 or 2 coaches visiting over 5-10 year periods, well we had 3 last year. Each visitor I have formed a great working relationship with and we keep in touch often.
They appreciate the information I send them and communication we have. As I tell them as a basketball nut and big college hoops fan; how else would I get to build relationships with them if we were not exchanging this kind of information.
Anyways back to the process. Whilst all this communication was going on with Fieldlevel, one of the kids in the team had the chance to go to China this was happening with a Nike/NBA sponsored tour. Problem is it clashed with our Melbourne Classics. It did not seem right that this kid who had come to us from a Div 5 team team at another club and had improved within our program would not be involved with the team that had helped him get better for such a self-fulfilling purpose. It was great for him but did not help his team mates. After much discussion this lad decided to commit to his team and forgo the opportunity of this free trip. I promised his family he would not regret the commitment and I would personally make sure that he personally benefited more from committing to us than going on the trip.
I then proceeded to locate the address of 2,000 college coaches by physically visiting every site and copying out their email addresses. We then proceeded to email out the details of our guys to all of the coaches in the database and the result was pretty astounding at the time. Many of them correspond with me regularly now and the guys were getting lots of D1 and some D2 interest.
I feel the interest really inspired these guys to work harder and get better as individuals. In turn this strengthened our team significantly. They could see a pathway to achieve their dreams and they worked harder to get better. I feel that our working relationships were strengthened because they could see I cared about them beyond just that year and because of this, as their coach, I was able to get even more out of them than before.
I wanted to just document this story to highlight these facts:
The networks with college coaches was not a deliberate plan, it emerged out of necessity and mutual commitments made to my players.
The work and support from Paul Mesecke in this process was immense.
The kids in this team developed substantially in the 12 months to 2 years I had them and I feel that is in large part because they worked EXTREMELY hard on their games. I feel they saw a pathway to their dream and worked hard to get on there. They could see they had someone in their corner willing to put in the work for them too.
Because these kids have done so well I now have some powerful networks, tools, knowledge and processes that I can reuse over the coming years
Ultimately the team of guys above were extremely close with each other. They had had great success over the years but the improvement they all made in that 12 months was quite astounding. The bonds they formed with each other was more than they ever had before. All this started for them, it is their legacy. If you take a range of measures these guys may be one of the best junior teams to ever play basketball in South Australia. I believe that with a 50-3 win/loss record for the year dominating so many games and tournaments, the success these guys will have in the future, it is one of the best teams to have played at this level in South Australia. Arguable, some of my past team mates will argue with me on it , but that is my opinion.
Some of the guys in this team will not play college hoops, that will be their choice. They are still a part of this. They all worked hard that year(s) to make each other better people and players, likewise the guys that came in and out of this team through the process. The ones that don't go to the US are successful in their own areas. We have AFL prospects, high academics and even a potential "super model". However, for this team collectively "this", whatever it is, will always be that team's legacy, they will have achieved the vision to "leave a legacy for themselves and others".
I am not sure what “this” will become now. The team's legacy is there just with the guys going on to bigger things, their bonds with each other and what they are doing. I want to leave more. I know the "why" I am working hard at building these networks and that is enough to keep working hard for the time being.