Which team would you rather coach?

One team is really talented, probably the most talented team in the league. They are deep, with good players at every position. But they aren’t very tough mentally. They don’t have the right approach, don’t necessarily bring it every day, and they aren’t very mature. They have enough talent to beat every team on their schedule, but they lose some games they should never lose because of their approach.

The other team isn’t as talented, but has a much better approach. They are tough as nails, they bring it every day and they are mentally connected. They play hard all of the time. They just aren’t that skilled. They struggle to shoot and have a hard time scoring enough points to win. But they guard every night, and their approach to practice is great.

Which team would you rather coach? Or maybe a better question is which team would you rather play against?

My last team at RIC, in 2013-14, was very talented, probably the most talented team in the league. We were better than every team in the league on paper. But we were immature. The mentality of that team drove me crazy. We had good players, and really good kids. It wasn’t like we had any problems or bad chemistry. We just relied too much on our talent. We knew we were better than the teams we were playing, and we didn’t really work that hard. We didn’t practice well. We were inconsistent. We definitely lost some games we never should have lost.

The year before, my second to last year at RIC (2012-13), we were the opposite. We had a veteran team that no question had a lot of talent, but we didn’t have the skill or playmakers we were used to at RIC. We were tough as nails, though, mentally and physically. We brought it every day and our practices were wars. We made each other better. We had 11 or 12 kids every night we could count on. You might beat us, but you were going to have to kill us.

Which team would you rather coach? The extremely talented team that isn’t that tough, that doesn’t bring it every day? Or the extremely tough team that doesn’t have as much talent, but gets after it every single day?

I guess the question really comes down to which team you think you can have a bigger impact on. My guess is most coaches would take the talent. We all feel like if you give us enough talent, we’ll find a way to make it work. Talent is the stuff you can’t teach. Give us the long, athletic players who can run the floor and play above the rim, and we can teach them how to play. We’ll show them the right habits and get them to bring it every day. This team has a high ceiling, and we have confidence in our ability to coach them to it.

The tough, mature that team that isn’t as skilled or talented is probably harder to win big with. We love the fact that they bring it every day, but there is only so far we can take them. It’s hard to throw your team’s maturity out there on the floor and win on the road. You need players. You need playmakers. Somebody who can create baskets when you need them. We look at that team that is all toughness and heart and love coaching them, but they have a lower ceiling.

I’m not sure we look at these types of teams – or these types of players – the right way. I’ve been there and coached both of these teams. I know what it feels like. It’s really annoying to coach the talented team that doesn’t get it, but it’s easy to feel like you are going to get them there. There is a comfort level knowing you are good. Coaching the tough team that isn’t as skilled is more rewarding every day, but you always feel like you aren’t going to be good enough. There’s only so much you can do.

We always want to coach as much talent as we can. We’ll take the high level athlete who doesn’t necessarily know how to play, because we think we can coach him. But the kid who’s tough as nails but not as skilled, we always tend to question if he’s good enough at first glance. Toughness is hard to teach, and hard to beat. But for some reason we don’t always appreciate it.

My last team at RIC – 2013-14 – the one that was talented but not very tough, frustrated me all year. But we turned it on late in the year and won the Little East Tournament, making it back to the NCAA Tournament for the 8th straight year. We lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and finished 23-7.

My 2012-13 team – the one that was more tough than talented – went 26-4 and won the Little East Regular Season and Tournament Championships. We won our first game in the NCAA Tournament before getting upset in the second round.

Both teams ended up in essentially the same place. But I’m pretty sure the 2012-13 team would have beaten the 2013-14 team 8 out of 10 times. I know which team I’d rather coach in that game.

I know how important talent is, and you have to have it to win. Talent makes you comfortable. Winning games with grit and toughness isn’t comfortable, because it’s hard to game plan for your checking line. It isn’t that comfortable going into a game trying to out tough people. You’d rather have playmakers. But that tough team that brings it every day is usually going to figure it out. Find a way to appreciate the toughness and make sure they know how valuable it is. Toughness will translate to long-term success if you cultivate it.

I know which team I’d rather coach. And I know which team I’d rather play against.

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