Alex Cruz was a 6-3 wing forward who played for me at Rhode Island College. He was one of those guys who didn’t really have a natural position. He wasn’t a great shooter or a gifted ball-handler. He wasn’t a post player and didn’t have great size or strength. He didn’t really have any plus skills. He had a great feel for the game, great instincts and really knew how to play. He was a definitive “good things happen when he’s in the game” player. We were just better when he was on the floor.

It wasn’t that he was just a glue guy who did the little things. He produced. He scored, he rebounded and he made plays for others. When you looked at the box score after the game he’d have 5 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 14 minutes. You just didn’t quite know how he did it. He was also a terrific defender who could guard just about every position. He was a talented basketball player.

The problem with Alex Cruz – well, it was actually a problem with me more than with Alex Cruz – was that he was hard to define. He was a guy who got and created scrum buckets. He’d find his way into an offensive rebound and a put back. He’d get a deflection defensively that would lead to an easy basket. He’d get into the teeth of the defense and find an open teammate for a 3. We used to joke that he’d go out on the floor and start “bumping into stuff” and good things would happen. We considered him a part of our checking line.

I had to learn how to coach players like Alex Cruz. Because he was hard to define, I wasn’t really sure how to use him. It wasn’t just that he didn’t have a natural position. He didn’t have a natural position or a specific skill or type of game. He just played. And he produced. But it was hard to insert him into your game plan and say “here’s how we are going to use him to beat Keene State.” He wasn’t a guy you ran plays for. He wasn’t a guy you stuck in the corner to space out your offense and drill an open 3. I learned, after time, that he was a guy you could just stick in the middle of your zone offense and use him as a creator when he had some space. But that took a while. As good as he was, it was hard to see how he was specifically going to help us win a game going into it.

Most players are easy to define, and that makes it easier for us as coaches. They can really shoot it, or they are a point guard, or a post player. They are quick, great ball-handlers, or big bangers. We know what to expect and how to deploy them. But this also makes it easy for us to put them in a box. We have a definition for who they are and what they do, and when we need that we go to them. We as coaches can limit our ability to get the most out of our players by defining them to specifically.

We also have to learn how to coach the scrum bucket guys. They guys who don’t have that defined skill that is above average in any one area, and don’t blow you away in an individual workout. They are guys that you can’t really call plays for or put in a specific spot to get you a bucket. But they are going to produce and help your team win. And when you look at the box score at the end of the game, you’ll see what you want to see. You just might not be able to explain how it all got there.