Olive: Hold Kids Accountable, But Make Sure They Know You Care
Having played for and coached under legendary college basketball coach Rollie Massimino, Torrey Pines (Calif.) High School coach John Olive had the opportunity to learn from the best. But it wasn’t anything specific that Massimino imparted.
“I don’t even think it was advice, it was just watching how he operated,” said Olive, who has been involved with USA Basketball since 2007. A four-year starter at Villanova University under Massimino (1973-74 through 1976-77), Olive played a year-and-a-half with the NBA’s San Diego Clippers before injuries cut his playing career short. Olive went with the Clippers when they moved to Los Angeles and he worked in their college scouting department. All the while, he was always in contact with Massimino, whom Olive considered “a second father to me.”
After Villanova won the NCAA national championship in 1985, one of the team’s assistants left for a head coaching job elsewhere. Massimino asked Olive if he wanted the job.
“And I jumped at it,” said Olive. “I wanted to learn how to coach and thought there would be no better person than someone of his caliber to learn how to coach the game of basketball.”
Olive had already learned plenty from Massimino when he played for him. He learned more – mostly about life in general – speaking to him once or twice a month after he graduated. When he joined Massimino’s staff, he got an even better picture of what it takes to be a coach.
“I would say that organization is probably the most important thing I learned from Rollie,” Olive said. “Organization on the court -- clarity of what we’re trying to get accomplished so the players understand exactly why they’re doing it, when they’re doing it. Communication with the players, so that there’s clarity in our offensive and defensive movements, and complete understanding of the big picture of why we’re doing something.”
After five seasons with Villanova, Olive became the head coach at Loyola Marymount University in California, where he was for five seasons before taking over at Torrey Pines in 1997. In addition to running a strong program at Torrey Pines, Olive was head coach for the 2009 USA Men’s Junior National Select Team at the Nike Hoop Summit. Currently, he serves as a member of the USA Basketball Men’s Developmental Committee.
“I’ve really enjoyed being a committee member because it allows me to get on the floor for coaching and teaching each time that we bring the 16 or 17-year-old kids together,” said Olive. “It also helps me interact with them, talk to them about what they need to work on, things they’re doing well, and finally to help select our national teams for 16 and 17-and-under teams.”
As much as Olive gets to teach kids through USA Basketball, he sees it as an opportunity to learn and improve as a coach. The key there has been the interaction with other outstanding coaches in the program.
“The communication I have with them, seeing how they do things, hearing how they do things, just talking basketball at a very high level, is always stimulating.”
As a USA Basketball committee member, what does Olive want to see from players who are competing for a roster spot? Great footwork? Smooth shot? Ball handling?
“I think the number one thing that all of us look for is the type of basketball player that’s going to represent USA Basketball properly,” said Olive. “Both on and off the court. High character kids that are going to be disciplined, that are able to understand and execute gameplans, who compete at a high level, who are highly motivated and driven.”
Of course, many of the players who reach the USA Basketball level have already achieved a good deal of success and likely already possess those qualities. For coaches at any level, is discipline something that can be coached?
“Absolutely,” said Olive. “Hold everyone accountable. [USA Basketball Junior National Team head coach] Don Showalter and all of us do that every second of every practice. The kids that are there are required to execute the drills that we’re doing properly. And if they’re not executing a drill properly, they are instructed on how to do it properly. Whether it be sprinting the floor, boxing out, acknowledging a good pass from a teammates, each player is held accountable. There are many, many things we hold the players accountable for. These kids are already pretty disciplined to be where they are. It just helps them understand discipline to a higher level.”
The way to hold players accountable is to discipline them, said Olive. The trick is knowing how to reach them. For some, that might be a demotion or benching. For others, it might be giving them a physical obstacle to overcome, like running or taking extra shots. Sometimes, it’s just a private conversation.
“Each kid is different, and again that’s part of coaching,” he said. “Having the experience or expertise to read each kid and make those decisions on how to best impart your knowledge to them so they get it.”
While holding kids accountable and demanding discipline are critical, the most important part of coaching to Olive is something else he came to understand from Massimino.
“At all times, these kids have to know that you love them. That you are there for them, and everything you’re doing is in their best interest. And that love has to be felt by those kids, so that they’re willing to run through the proverbial wall for you.”