Coaches Corner: Bruce Weber
Bruce Weber, head men's basketball coach at Kansas State University, led the 2019 USA Basketball Men's U19 World Cup Team to a 7-0 record and the gold medal at the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece. Following that performance, Weber was named a co-recipient of the 2019 USA Basketball National Coach of the Year award. He also served as a 2009-12 USA Basketball Men's Junior National Team committee member and court coach.
As one of the winningest active Division I coaches with more than 450 career wins and 13 NCAA Tournament appearances to his credit, Weber has guided the Wildcats to 20-win seasons five times, including consecutive 25-win campaigns for the first time in school history in 2017-18 and 2018-19. He led K-State to a pair of Big 12 regular season titles during his tenure, including the school's first conference championship in 36 seasons in his debut season in 2012-13.
USA Basketball spoke to Weber to gain some insight and perspective on coaching.
During this time, what type of coaching duties are you doing daily?
I think the biggest thing is communication, and I think that the key with any type of coaching is staying in touch with our players, our staff and even in some way stay in touch with our boosters and our alumni. Everyone wants hope, everyone wants a purpose, and I think you're more than just a coach at this level. You are a teacher, a leader, you're an ambassador for your university, and that is what we try to do. I am a little older, and I keep challenging our young assistants to think out of the box and to think about different ways to communicate with their players and different ways to engage them and to do basketball activities. I think it is kind of funny to me, because these guys were like, 'Well what do we do,' and you do what I did when I was a kid. I went to my driveway and played, and I went into my basement and did ball-handling drills. We took a piece of chalk and drew a box and did our footwork. We got a jump rope and jumped rope. One of our little mottos, I always try to give them little thoughts of the week, and one of them is, 'Do more with less.' If you don't have your gym, don't have your workout guy, you don't have your weight room, you don't have your gadgets to help you, so you are going to have to do more with less. We have also challenged our players to come closer together, even though we are far apart and separated. Those are all of the things we have kind of talked about and emphasized.
We can do suggested workouts. Our weight coach has done an unbelievable job. His wife is a nurse practitioner and he has two little kids, and in between he would film videos of workouts that he would send to the players. I think they are very energized and some of them got some national publicity, because the players shared them. So, we have done suggested workouts. We've gone back and challenged our young guys with ball handling drills and challenges. We try to use modern technology to get the YouTube videos, the clinics and whatever we could to give the players a chance to see some things and get them thinking. I've talked to and challenged the players to use their imagination. Everything is given to them now, they don't have to think about things, because they have their workout guy, and now you have to have a little imagination. We have done Zoom team meetings where we talk. I think one of the best things to happen was "The Last Dance." Every week it gave us something to talk about with the players, and I think it was an eye opener to them to see Michael Jordan's leadership, his drive, his competitive spirit. Now, we have started to have a variety of speakers talk to the guys and share their message of mental preparation. Doc Rivers has a quote that I've used a lot this spring, 'Winning to wait.' Everyone has to wait, but what are you doing? Are you mentally preparing? Are you physically preparing? Are you improving, or are you stagnant?
What made you pursue a career in coaching?
I think it is an interesting story, and I thought a lot about it because my dad came over on a boat from Austria when he was a young child. When he got to the United States my grandparents didn't understand our education system. He never got the education he wanted. He was a pretty tough dad, and in these days, people would be offended, but he was a good dad and he cared. He helped us all, but he was tough. He wanted us all to get college educations, and with everything that we are going through now as a country, not just the COVID, but now the racial injustice and the lack of equality in all of this, to me education is so important. That is what my parents made sure of, and my dad told all five kids to be teachers and coaches, and we all were. My brother is in the Wisconsin High School Hall of Fame, one is in the Illinois High School Hall of Fame, my sisters have taught and coached, and my dad was pretty inspiring with that. Just to see what type on impact coaching has on young men and how much of a difference they could make, that kind of really drove me to push it. I thought I would be a high school coach in elementary education. I taught fifth grade my first year, but when I went to clinics and had some exposure, I realized I wanted to be a college coach. I am very fortunate and blessed to hopefully have an impact on young men and helping them grow as more than just basketball players.
What is the most important characteristic you work to develop in your athletes?
Self-discipline I think is so important in anything you do. I think that the best players, whether you're Michael Jordan or LeBron James, guys that I have been able to coach, Olympians, NBA players, all-stars, they have that trait of being very self-disciplined, hard-working. Obviously, you have to have God-given ability to have a chance to play in the NBA or play in the Olympics, or with USA Basketball in a World Cup, but if you have that mental discipline to sustain that and get the most out of your ability, whether that's in school, education, basketball or in life. It's a hard thing, especially in these times when we are all tested on our mental toughness and self-discipline over these last months, there's no doubt about it.
What is a characteristic or trait that you want others to associate with your team?
One of our things (at K-State) is a culture of effort. Can we have self-discipline, that work ethic and toughness where we still can compete and get to the Elite Eight or win a Big 12 championship and get our guys to the NBA. We have been able to do it, and I think it is all through that effort, mindset and our toughness.
You have to get your best player to buy in and be the hardest worker, be the leader. And when that happens, it is easier for the coach. You can't just tell a young man their role, you have to help them accept it and take pride in their role. If you win, you’re going to get the accolades. Winning gets the exposure, gets the opportunity, and then you have to make the most of it.