Things I wanted the players I coached to know:
It will not go the way you think it’s going to go. Rick Pitino writes that on the white board at his first team meeting every year. We started to do it at Maine as well. Prepare yourself mentally for adversity and the ups and downs you will surely face. I know what you are thinking – but look up how many guys were Rookie of the Year, 3x All-League players, Player of the Year as a senior and scored 2,000 points. Not many.
It’s no longer about what is best for you. It’s about what is best for the team. If you were the best player on your team in high school, those two things were probably one and the same. But now your coach has 14 of those dudes. Adjust your mentality accordingly.
Every coach bases their decisions on what gives them the best chance to win. In every sport, at just about every level. He wants to win. He’s not making any decisions that go against winning. So why do you think he isn’t playing you? Or he’s asking you to play that position? He might not always be right, but he’s trying to win. So produce where he asks you to produce, rather than question why he’s asking.
Be reliable. Some guys are only capable of getting 5 points and 3 rebounds. But if that’s what you are capable of, make sure you are ready to do it every single day. Reliability is a great asset. Every coach loves a player he knows he can cont on.
Whatever you are good at, do that a lot. This is an old Pete Carrill favorite. Figure out what you are good at and keep doing it. If you want to expand your 3-point range, get on the gun at night and work on it. But don’t do it during live play in practice. Work on your game on your own. In practice, help the team win.
It’s not good enough to just do what you were told. You have to do it better than the other players fighting for your minutes. It’s not reasonable to think you should play just because you do what you are supposed to. Everyone else is doing the same thing. You have to do it better than your teammates to earn big minutes.
Be loud and positive. Coaches love having those guys in practice every day. And they find a way to try and play them. They really do. It proves that you are invested and selfless.
Talk to your parents. Make sure they know the truth about what is going on – good or bad – and tell them you can handle it. Keep them from calling the head coach or the coaching staff. You are old enough to take care of it yourself. Less good things are going to happen for your parents call the coach. Trust me.
And tell your AAU coach you are fine. Any questions or issues you have for the coaching staff, take them up yourself. Leave them tickets for the games, thank them for coming, tell them you are going to keep working your ass off, and send them home. If they have issues with the coaching staff, so do you.
Invest in your teammates. Every coach loves a great teammate. Root for the guy who plays your position to do well, because it will help the team. Take an interest in a couple of guys who are struggling. Ask questions of the veteran guys that can help you get better. Full investment in your teammates shows everyone you aren’t just thinking about yourself.
Embrace the weight room. Don’t just get through it. You need to get bigger, faster and stronger. It will help you get on the floor. But it will also show everyone around you that you are fully committed. Plus you’ll look good at the beach next summer.
Get in the gym. There isn’t a day that goes by when a college staff doesn’t discuss – maybe just quickly and casually – who was in the gym getting better on their own. It happens every day. Coaches love that. Be one of those guys.
Get yourself in GREAT physical condition. Can you run a 6:00 mile? Can you run 20 suicides in 20 minutes? Can you finish 11 lengths of the floor in 1:00 after a hard practice? A suicide in 30 seconds? Your ability to play harder for longer periods of time in practice will separate you. If you are going to give in when you get tired, you’d better be extremely talented if you want to play.
Get up early. The sooner you embrace getting up early, the better off you will be. Your day is going to fill up very quickly. Get something important done before you go to class. You’ll find yourself a step ahead.
Get to sleep. If you are going to get up early… let’s just say it’s not that important to watch the Welcome Back, Kotter re-runs at 12:30 AM every night on the Canadian channel (note to self). Get to bed before your roommates. Don’t hang out on the couch just because they are up.
Don’t eat after 9 PM. Once you start that habit, you’ll be amazed at how hard it is to stop it. And how much it affects your energy the next day. Get used to NOT ordering food late and you’ll eventually lose the urge. And you’ll be glad you did.
Connect. Take your head phones out. Put your phone in your pocket when you walk around campus. Have conversations with your teammates. Ask your professors questions. Do you know where your assistant coaches grew up and went to school? You’ll get a lot better by having real connections with other people, especially people who are different than you. It will give you the necessary perspective to handle success and failure.
Stay present. Things are going to get tough. Stay locked in on what you need to do today to get better. Once you start to think about other things – like maybe you should be somewhere else – it’s hard to get the right commitment level back. Don’t think about what your high school teammate told you his practices are like, or why he’s starting and you aren’t. Stay invested in what you have to do today. That’s how you get better.