I’ve always said I learn the most about my team when I talk to my players. Watching film, talking to my staff, going over analytics – they all help. But nothing gives me a better feel for my team than hearing what my players have to say.
In the fall, when coaches aren’t allowed in the gym as much, I love having conversations with my players. Over the years, I’ve learned that what my players have told me about their teammates is generally the most accurate evaluator of talent.
When I think back to coaching at RIC, so many key guys on our championship teams came to me on the recommendation of my players. When I first got to RIC, there was a kid named Cameron Stewart who had played intramurals the year before, who my players told me we had to take a serious look at. They had refereed his intramural games and asked him to come out for the team.
Darius Debnam was a kid who we didn’t recruit to RIC, and when we saw him play we told him not to come if he wanted to play basketball, because we didn’t think he’d make the team. He came anyway, so we said we might as well give him a shot. After two days of playing with our guys, my point guard told me “he is our best post player.” Darius was a captain and a starter on back-to-back Sweet 16 teams.
Ethan Gaye was a walk-on from Providence who started for us and played in 3 NCAA Tournaments in his 3 years. I can still remember the players coming into my office in the fall after pick-up and telling me we had to have room for Ethan on the team. They loved playing with him. He wasn’t really on my radar until I listened to my players.
My point is that in the fall, when the players are together by themselves a lot, they have a better feel than anyone. It’s not that they can evaluate the talent in pick-up games and tell you who should start or who the leading scorer is going to be. But as far as who they can count on, who’s a great teammate and who can help, they usually have a pretty good feel. Rarely are your players going to go to bat for someone who can’t help you.
Whatever level you are at, the fall is a time when you have limited access to your team. It’s a great time to listen to your players. Ask them what they see, get a feel from them about who looks good, who fits in and who can help the team. Those conversations will make you a better coach.