Road Trip to Virginia.
In October of 2014, I took a three-day vacation and drove four hours down to Virginia. I went to observe college hoops practices, sit in film sessions, watch scrimmages, and meet several coaches. I had the opportunity to meet Tony Bennett from Virginia, Will Wade from VCU, and Josh Merkel from Randolph-Macon.
To me, this mini basketball vacation was like going to the beach or even the Ritz Carlton. I gained new insight on how to guard a flare screen from Tony Bennett and his staff. I witnessed the VCU coaching staff pop balloons during every live turnover during practice and track it on a white board. Finally, I learned more from Josh Merkle and his staff how to close out on 3-point shooters properly during defensive drills in their practices. (Side note, Virginia and Randolph Macon were both ranked #1 in scoring defense this past 2019-2020 season.)
In addition to observing practices, I watched how these coaches conducted meetings, prepared for practices, communicated with staff, and led their teams. I remember driving home pretty pumped, and excited to share some of the ideas with our coaching staff at Archbishop Wood, and maybe implement some of the cultural philosophies in my professional career. Additionally, I began talking with Dan Leibovitz, who at the time was the Associate Commissioner for Men’s basketball at the American Athletic Conference, and now currently the Associate Commissioner for Basketball in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). I was introduced to him from a mutual friend, and he took the time out of his busy day to give me suggestions, tips, and advice on the life of a basketball coach.
During that phone call, I remember telling him what a good experience it was for me to visit those teams down in Virginia, and how nice the coaches treated me. There was a pause on the other end of the line. He then asked me, “Why did you go to Virginia?” I didn’t understand the question, so I repeated myself about my experience and desire to learn and get better. He said, “You didn’t have to drive four hours for that. The City 6 is in your backyard, and they are some of the best coaches in the country. You could have just walked into their practices.”
Exploring My Own Backyard.
Life Lesson Learned! I grew up loving the City 6. I even coached in West Philadelphia for 2 years. But I drove all the way to Virginia? What was I thinking?!
A short drive or train ride, and I was quickly watching basketball practices at St Joe’s or Temple. They were open to the public for the most part. I stood inside Hutchinson gym to watch Penn practice. I viewed Villanova practice from the top of the Davis center on several occasions. During the summer months, I would watch the open runs at LaSalle. Basketball in Philly was surrounding me, and I felt fortunate.
I learned a lot about the game of basketball from Fran Dunphy, Phil Martelli, Bruiser Flint, Jay Wright, Steve Donahue, John Giannini, and many of their assistants from observing their practices. But it wasn’t the technique or strategy of the game that stuck with me. The lasting impression for me was how these coaches treated others, interacted with school administration, and how they carried themselves in front of their teams. None of them were ever too big or too busy to say hello or strike up a short conversation. They made me feel welcome.
Character and Humility.
I met Fran Dunphy formally in November of 2014 while at one of his practices. Then I saw him again in March of 2015, I walked by him at the CACC Final 4 at Philly U. I said, “Hi Coach.” He said, “Hello Pat, good to see you.” I could not believe he remembered my name! I only really met him one time before. That made such an impression on me and really showed his true character.
The first time I met Steve Donahue, we sat in his office over looking the practice court. He had all the names of the recruits he was interested in on the whiteboard. I knew a lot of them. He was asking me what I thought about players like Devon Goodman and Ryan Betley. A few minutes later he was telling me about one of his first jobs, which at M.A.B paints, and how that shaped his work ethic.
Coach Donahue gave me his time and shared his experience. And whether or not he valued my opinion, he was nice enough to ask. I specifically remember a passing drill his team ran later that day during their practice. However, it was the conversation and humility he showcased during my first encounter with him that stuck with me.
The Impact of Great Coaches.
I have plenty of great stories about every City 6 head coach or assistant that I met or observed over the years. Whether it was the compassion Coach Martelli showed toward his players, Bruiser’s unbelievable energy the ENTIRE practice, Dr. Giannini’s firm handshakes (nearly broke my hand), or the way Coach Wright would teach and explain the “why” behind a simple jump-stop were all extremely valuable to me.
Unlike the drive out to Virginia where I was only thinking about basketball, meeting the coaches in the City 6 had me thinking about who I want to be as a leader and a person. These coaches were and still are the best coaches in the country. And we are lucky to have many them right here in our backyard, still today.
Share your Story.
Have you met a great coach that has made a lasting impression on you? Please contact me to share your story or leave a comment below.