College Basketball…
I was talking with a young man about what makes a great college basketball player and a championship college basketball team. His answers referred to talent and athletic ability. And while talent and athletic ability are part of it, I believe there are more important aspects involved in researching a team or player. Grasping basketball fundamentals and a person’s ability to learn I think are more important factors than talent in evaluating a prospect.
Never mind what I think. What do coaches look for? Is the ability to vertically jump 35 inches less important than people think? Here’s what they had to say.
Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in an interview with Time magazine that he evaluates talent, character and academic potential equally. In addition, Krzyzewski, who was won three national titles with the Blue Devils, said he asks for teacher evaluations and pays close attention to how potential players interact with authority.
Former Indiana University coach Bob Knight said on his television show that he looks for kids who understand how the game is played.
“The kid that really understands the game, has a feel for the game – he sees where the guy’s open, he sees all the little things that happen in the course of the ball game, is always going to be the guy that gets the most done in a game – I think that’s the most important consideration for us,” said Knight, who has won 780 games.
Out of all coach Knight’s players, only Isiah Thomas has ever played in the National Basketball Association’s All-Star Game.
The Chapel Hill News reported North Carolina legend Dean Smith, speaking at conference about sportsmanship and ethics, said he was only interested in players who wanted to get their degrees.
“I told recruits that if you’re not interested in getting a degree don’t come here,” he said. “I would assume that one of their goals is to graduate from the university.”
Former player and current Milwaukee Bucks’ coach George Karl told Sports Illustrated that Smith believed respect was also important.
“I remember him (Smith) telling me once that he recruits the parents harder than the kids,” Karl said. “He said parents help me sell the kid. And if the kids don’t respect their parents, they sure won’t respect me.”
And while other coaches might think differently, it seems that these coaches, who have more than 2,000 combined wins and eight national championships, were looking at a lot more than jumping ability.
Building a champion…
Many people disagree with me, but I still say talent and athletic ability have never been enough to consistently win championships. Having two or three first round NBA draft picks on your team guarantees nothing.
Here are some examples:
North Carolina Tar Heels’ Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse played on teams ranked as high as number one in the country by the Associated Press. All ended their college careers with losses.
University of Nevada Las Vegas players Larry Johnson, Stacy Augmon and Greg Anthony ran through the 1991 regular season undefeated, but lost to Duke in the Final Four.
Recently, Knight’s unranked Texas Tech team, picked by many to finish 10th or 11th in the Big 12 Conference because the experts said they had no talent, debuted at No. 20 in the Associated Press men’s basketball poll.
Besides some talent, what is the formula for winning a championship?
Former and current coaches and players of NCAA champions provided their thoughts about leadership and teamwork.
Krzyzewski said in an interview with CBS after his latest championship that leadership is the key.
“A lot of it has to do with what older guys teach younger guys, not just what a coach teaches,” he said. “A lot of times players teach each other more than a coach can.”
Former Duke senior Shane Battier told SportsServer he agreed with his coach’s assessment.
Battier said, “Every chance we get, we try to bring it together so we can communicate and stay on the same page – whether it’s offense, defense or whether we’re in a special situation. It takes pressure of coach, and it allows us to be leaders on the court, and as a result, we become a tighter-knit program.”
While Battier helped deliver Coach K his third national championship, another group of seniors named Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and A.J. Granger gave Michigan State coach Tom Izzo his first championship in 2000.
“Anybody who has seniors know how special they are,” Izzo told CBS afterwards.
Finally, lets not forget that three seniors helped UCLA win the 1995 NCAA championship.
But don’t forget about another key ingredient… the mind.
Speaking at a charity event in Indiana last year, Knight said basketball is four parts mental and one part physical.
“The first ingredient to winning is eliminating the reasons to lose,” he said. “The will to prepare is more important than the will to win.”
Knight went on to say that while simplicity and execution are important, learning the fundamentals and playing “smart” are most important.
“Basketball is a game of mistakes, and victory basically favors the team making the fewest mistakes,” he said.
Clearly the mistake here is the belief that talent and athletic ability are more important than the ability to think and make the right decisions. Just like in the game of life.

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