Book It: USA Basketball's Eric Flannery Has The Write Stuff
It’s been quite a year for Eric Flannery. As an assistant coach for the 2014 USA Basketball Men’s U17 National Team, he won a gold medal at the FIBA U17 World Championship in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in August. A few months before that, in his role as head coach at St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio, he won a state championship.
Great achievements, to be sure, though neither had been missing from Flannery’s bucket list. He won gold previously with the 2013 USA U16 National Team and he got his first state championship in 1998, his second season at the helm of St. Edward, his alma mater.
Still, Flannery is checking something new off his bucket list: author. “Worthy of the Jersey,” co-written by Flannery and veteran sports writer Norm Weber, goes on sale Nov. 5 (available for presale here). The book chronicles St. Edward’s 2014 championship season in particular and Flannery’s basketball journey in general.
“We tried to take the season we had last year, winning the state title, incorporating a little of my career, how I got into coaching as well as some of my coaching philosophies, and put it into a book,” said Flannery. “I’m just excited I was able to do it. Whether it sells or not, I’m just very proud of the fact that we took the time and put it all together.”
“Worthy of the Jersey” isn’t just the title of the book – it was St. Edward’s theme during its championship season. “It’s a slogan I came up with,” said Flannery. “Just about how important it is to put on your school’s jersey and what it represents and what it means.”
USA Basketball players have often talked about the importance of the jersey – having “USA” on their chests and playing for their country. That pride and team mentality is critical at any level, Flannery said.
“It’s not necessarily a right but a privilege to put on a jersey and play the sport of basketball just because you have the talent or the ability to do it,” he said.
“When you put on that jersey, what does it mean to you personally? More importantly, it’s a team game – trying to buy into that philosophy with your team and your players that it’s not about you as an individual. It’s about the jersey that you’re wearing and the team that you’re playing for. That encompasses everything that we as coaches preach. You have to buy into that if you want to be successful.”
Alas, not every player on every team is going to buy into that philosophy. How coaches deal with the players who don’t is perhaps their biggest challenge. Flannery’s approach to this is based on advice he received from legendary high school basketball coach Morgan Wootten, whom he faced in a national tournament early in his career.
“He just walked up to me and said, ‘You know, if you don’t like coaching a player, if he’s not buying into your philosophy and what you’re doing, then don’t coach him,’” Flannery recalled. “What he meant by that was sit him on the bench, send him home, do whatever it takes to make him buy into you and your team and what you want to accomplish as a coach.”
While Flannery has always had talented players – three of whom have made it to the NBA – he still finds the need to use this “tough love” approach almost every year.
“I don’t think a single season has gone by where I didn’t have to bench somebody at some point,” he said, “simply to send a message that you’re not thinking about us, you’re just thinking about yourself. Whether it’s a benching for a couple of minutes in a game or simply just to make a point to the rest of the team about doing what’s right and what we’re all here to do. I probably do that every year.”
Flannery’s goal in these situations is not to embarrass the player, so he is careful not to make a scene. If he has to bench a kid, he’ll quietly pull him into his office after a game or a practice and discuss it. “Usually that works out way better because the kid that understands why he got benched and wasn’t playing, they understand and they buy in. If it continues to happen, that player is not going to be part of your team.”
Flannery noted there were no such issues with the USA U17 team he was a part of in Dubai.
“We had great, great kids,” he said. “Their talent was exceptional but more importantly they were high quality, high character young men. The experience itself was amazing just from that standpoint. Being around great coaches and great people and great kids made the experience, win or lose, a great experience. And then winning the gold medal and the way they played and bought into the philosophy that Coach (Don) Showalter continued to pound into their heads. It really was another great learning experience for me.”
In addition to coaching the USA Junior National Team the last two years and coaching the USA 3x3 men’s team that played in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, Flannery was a member of the USA Basketball Developmental National Team Committee from 2001-12. Given that background, Flannery has a good idea of what it takes to succeed at an elite level.
“Obviously talent trumps just about everything, because that’s what people are looking for,” said Flannery. “But what separates USA Basketball is the high character type of people. Whether you’re talking about the committee, the coaches, the people involved with USA Basketball, they’re looking for those types of players – people that will represent their program to the best. Not just talent, but being a good kid, a good person. How they communicate with other people. Little things like that are very important and I think that kind of separates the USA program with many others that are out there.”
Have a question for Coach Flannery? Go to Facebook or Twitter now to submit your questions and Coach Flannery will answer them in a feature that will run on USAB.com Friday. Be sure to use hashtag #AskCoachEric.