Coaches Corner: Othella Harrington
Othella Harrington was an assistant coach for the February 2020, November 2020 and February 2021 USA Basketball Men’s AmeriCup Qualifying teams, which went 6-0 in their games and qualified the USA men for the FIBA AmeriCup 2022.
He also served as a team scout for Jeff Van Gundy and the USA World Cup Qualifying teams during their November/December 2018 and February 2019 competition windows. He helped the USA compile a 3-1 record during the two stints, as well as earn a qualifying berth into the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Harrington was part of the men's basketball staff at his alma mater, Georgetown University, serving four seasons (2011-15) as the Hoyas’ director of basketball operations.
Harrington was a four-year starter at Georgetown from 1992-96 and ranks as Georgetown’s all-time leader in offensive rebounds (393), fifth in all-time scoring with 1,839 points, fifth in career blocked shots with 201 rejections and fourth on the rebound leader list with 983 boards.
The power forward was a member of three USA Basketball teams, winning gold at the 1995 World University Games and 1993 FIBA U21 World Championship, while claiming a silver medal at the 1993 FIBA Americas U20 Championship.
Selected 30th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets, Harrington played 12 seasons in the NBA with the Rockets, Vancouver Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Bobcats. He played in 709 regular season games and compiled 5,212 points (7.4 ppg.) and 3,130 rebounds (4.4 rpg.).
USA Basketball spoke with Harrington to get his insight and perspective on coaching.
How did you try to address the challenge of helping to build a team in just a week or two?
Well, first of all, Sean Ford (USA Basketball Men’s National Team director) and his staff do a good job of kind of steering us, in terms of the player pool, and who's out there and who’s available and having somewhat of an understanding of who the players are from the get-go. The coaches watch film and try to get to know the guys on tape. But once we get the team together, as an as an assistant coach, being an echo voice for the head coach, whether it was Jeff (Van Gundy), coach (Mike) Fratello or coach (Joe) Prunty. Getting a clear vision of how we wanted to play as a team. How the players wanted to play as a team. And, how we wanted to play as a USA Basketball team in order to go out and accomplish our goals and win games and, ultimately, help further the players’ careers.
When you were a player, what did you think made a great coach?
A lot of things. Coaching being detail oriented, being able to relate to players, all the players on the roster, being able to make adjustments during the game. A coach who was egoless, meaning taking the input of the players. He would come to them and what they think about how we should defend this play, or what they see out on the court. But also, egoless coach is approachable. You can talk to him, and he's not going to jump down your throat and say it's my way or the highway. Just really focused on winning games, maximizing the talent that surrounds him, putting guys in spots to be successful. A coach who is authentic and not putting up an image of who they think they should be. A coach who's honest with the players and can relate.
Now that you are a coach, how has your perspective on a great coach changed?
It really hasn't. It really kind of enforced it. I feel like I'm a little biased here, but I felt like I played for one of the greatest coaches in basketball in college in John Thompson. All those things that I mentioned, he embodied. He always used to say that you're a teacher when you are a coach. He would always say to us as players, and when I was assigned under him at Georgetown, he’d say, ‘Hey, it is a people-person job.’ And two, ‘You’re a teacher first.’ I think that's probably the most important thing that I try to remember, and I try to work on every day. Being a teacher, and not only about basketball, but about life in general.
What characteristic do you feel is most important for a player to cultivate to be successful?
The really good ones that come in, number one, they're always in tip-top shape. Number two, they always have a routine that they go through themselves, outside of what the coaches will have for a team – in terms of shooting, in terms of preparing their bodies for practice. The detail, and the care and the way they approach the game, it’s a little bit different than some of the other guys who maybe are not as diligent. Those things tend to carry over, and you can see it in the games and how the games play out when we play. You tend to see it in the careers that have had or want to have.