USA Basketball Chicago Coach Academy Offers an Education for Coaches at All Levels
When Chris Collins talks basketball, the audience tends to pay attention. Especially if that audience is a room full of basketball coaches.
Collins, now the men’s basketball coach at Northwestern University, was one of the featured guest speakers at the USA Basketball Chicago Coach Academy, which attracted coaches from all levels for seminars, discussion and basketball drill instruction at historic Lane Tech High School on Chicago’s North Side on May 19-20.
“The goal is to establish a community of coaches that have a desire to do things the right way,” said Jay Demings, youth division director for USA Basketball. “And by that we mean, in a credible, meaningful, authentic way, where coaches can network with our speakers and also learn from each other while they’re here.”
More than a dozen featured speakers took part in the USA Basketball Coach Academy, a group representing the high school, collegiate and international levels. Five are current Division I men’s or women’s head coaches, including Collins.
A standout college player at Duke University, Collins returned to his alma mater as an assistant for 13 seasons under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. In 2013, he took over a Northwestern program not noted for basketball success and in 2016-17, his fourth season, led the Wildcats to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.
Collins, the son of four-time NBA All-Star and longtime coach in the league Doug Collins, became involved with USA Basketball while coaching at Duke under Krzyzewski, also the longtime head coach of the USA Men's National Team.
“You always can learn about the game,” Collins said. “You can always learn more about coaching, more about leadership. I had my time as a player, and now I feel as a coach, my main passion is to pass the things along that I’ve learned.”
Collins had the undivided attention of the Sunday morning audience seated in the gymnasium bleachers, especially when he talked of his first practice as a young assistant with the USA National Team and being in charge — at least theoretically — of a group that included Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be taught and mentored by a lot of great basketball minds, great leaders, great coaches,” said Collins, who worked with the national team from 2006 to 2012. “So, when I come to these things, it’s my opportunity to give back. You see a lot of young coaches out there, middle school coaches, high school coaches … even if it’s one, maybe two things, that a coach gets out of it where they can apply it to their own teams, it’s a positive.”
St. Louis University women’s coach Lisa Stone, who began her collegiate head coaching career at the Division III level, before moving on to Drake University, the University of Wisconsin and then Saint Louis University in 2012, views the clinics as an opportunity to serve as an ambassador for the sport, especially for women coaches.
“You want to grow the game, but to grow the game, you’ve got to grow the coaches,” said Stone, shortly before putting a group of high school-age players through demonstration drills. “And to me, you hire the best coach, whether it’s male or female. I feel my job as a female certainly is to continue to try and raise the number of women that are coaching. USA Basketball is a great vehicle for it.”
Lauren Wolfinger, a former women’s assistant coach at Gordon College, a Division III school in Massachusetts, traveled from Colorado to attend the event.
Wolfinger, who played four years at University of Colorado Colorado Springs, said one of her most important takeaways was, “Just affirmation that the game itself has really never changed.”
“But, because it’s growing, the more voices that can be about reinforcing the simplicity of the game and that there are so many different ways it can be taught and coached, and to have so many different types of coaches come to USA Basketball proves that,” said Wolfinger, who has a USA Basketball gold coach license and is looking to further her coaching career.
Despite a lifelong involvement with basketball, Bruce Blair, the girls’ basketball coach at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Illinois, has attended several USA Basketball clinics to help him see the game from a different viewpoint.
Blair, now 67, played high school basketball at North Shore Country Day, freshman and then intramural ball in college, and eventually wound up as a broadcaster for Northwestern men’s basketball games, which he did for 18 years.
“I’m not a teacher, I’ve not been a career coach, I was in business,” said Blair, who has been the coach at North Shore Country Day for three years after three years as a volunteer assistant. “When I got into this, I thought, ‘I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.’”
Despite his basketball background, Blair said he had never viewed the game from a coaching perspective, which is different from a broadcast booth.
“I assume I’m starting from square one because everybody knows more than I do, which is probably still largely true,” he said. “So, that’s why I want to go to these clinics. I’m just afraid that there’s something I don’t know and that it’s going to cost our kids a game or cost them being better.”
USA Basketball has several more coach academies across the country scheduled for 2018.
“I like the way that the USA Basketball clinics respect the grassroots elementary levels as well as the more highly developed levels,” Blair said. “I think even people at a higher level need to make sure they have the fundamentals covered.”