For Dori Oldaker, Coaching Basketball Is In Her Blood
Western Pennsylvania is generally considered football country, but don’t tell that to Dori Oldaker. Entering her 12th season as the girls basketball head coach at Mt. Lebanon High School in Pittsburgh, Oldaker has always been all about hoops.
“It’s what we did,” said Oldaker, a veteran USA Basketball coach who most recently led the U.S. Youth Olympic Women’s Basketball Team to a gold medal in the 3x3 competition at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. As a basketball player at Blackhawk High School, she earned Beaver County Co-Athlete of the Year as a senior in 1986.
“I grew up at a school where Sean Miller, the head coach at Arizona, was a year younger than me. His brother, Archie Miller, is the coach at Dayton. I grew up learning a lot about basketball from their father, John Miller, who was the coach at Blackhawk. Blackhawk was a big basketball school.”
Oldaker got her coaching start at Blackhawk before moving to Mt. Lebanon, where she has won four Pennsylvania Class 4A state titles. This year, however, she is bracing for what she thinks might be her most challenging season yet. Her 2014-15 squad, which tipped off the season last Friday, is young and inexperienced.
From a coaching standpoint, Oldaker thinks that will bring out her best. Along with her experience at Mt. Lebanon, she can also call upon her USA Basketball background. In addition to her involvement at the Youth Olympic Games, Oldaker has served as a court coach three times – for the 2014 USA Basketball Women’s U17 World Championship Team Trials, the 2012 USA Women’s U17 and U18 National Team Trials and the 2011 USA Women’s U16 National Team Trials.
“It’s been amazing,” Oldaker said of her time with USA Basketball. “I just cherish when I get the opportunity to go out and work with some of the best athletes in the world and, obviously, anything USA Basketball does is first class. So it’s quite an opportunity for me.”
While her role as court coach is to mentor the athletes, Oldaker pointed out that she has been able to learn and improve her coaching through her exposure to other USA Basketball coaches.
“I try to learn as much as I can from the other coaches and I bring that back to Mt. Lebanon and try to instill the drills and instill the mentality here at Mt. Lebanon,” she said.
Oldaker said she “stole” a drill from University of Louisville women’s head coach Jeff Walz, who was an assistant coach with the 2014 USA Women’s National Team.
“I got a drill from him that I love using in my practices,” she said. “I used it when I took the 3x3 team to China -- we used that drill in our practices as well. That’s one that comes to mind but there are so many drills that I’ve learned, techniques I’ve learned from all the coaches there.”
As far as a coaching philosophy, there’s one thing Oldaker looks for.
“Loyalty is very, very important to me,” she said, “whether it’s my staff or my players. Working together as a team and being loyal and being truthful to each other. They have to take the criticism along with the praise.”
Oldaker reminds her players that she doesn’t believe in individual stats, only team stats. If a player isn’t buying into that team concept, she’ll talk to them privately.
“They have to understand, and they’ll figure it out pretty quick when they’re not getting the playing time because they’re sitting out. I’ll be very honest with them and up front – it’s more about us than it is about them. We try to teach them to fully embrace the team aspect. Normally if they don’t believe in that, they’re not around very long.”
Per the rules of 3x3 basketball, Oldaker was not allowed to coach the U.S. Youth Olympic Women’s Basketball Team from the sidelines during its games in China – rather, she just led the team in practices and preparation. Still, Oldaker enjoyed the experience and was excited to see all the 3x3 teams practice and play.
While 3x3 tournaments are gaining in popularity both in the United States and around the world, Oldaker also sees the value of 3x3 in helping to coach her high school team.
“I’ve brought it back to my program and we started working a lot of 3x3 games during our open practices,” she said. “It really helps the girls to read and react, and respond to what type of defense is playing, whether to go over screen or under screen. So I really used what I learned about 3x3 and brought it back to my own program.”
Oldaker thinks coaching has always been in her blood. In addition to her high school team and her role with USA Basketball, she’s also involved in youth clinics, working with kids from third grade on up to ninth grade. And she recognizes that different levels must be taught differently.
“There’s no doubt you have to wear different hats for the high school kids as opposed to teaching and coaching the younger ones at camps, really making it fun and lively,” she said. “Not that our practices aren’t fun and lively at the high school level.
“But I’m sure my players wouldn’t say they’re a whole lot of fun.”