• Ian Stacker

Intangibles - The key to great character

I’ve had the pleasure of attending the NBA pre-draft camp three times.

The first was in Chicago in 1999, this was after my first year as Head Coach with the Townsville Crocodiles and I was amazed by the size and athleticism on display at the camp. Until you get up close to an NBA calibre player it’s hard to appreciate the athletic qualities needed to be even considered to be a player at that level.

The next draft I attended was in 2006 when I went with Brad Newley. I had just finished my time with the Crocs and Brad’s family asked me to go with Brad who had entered the draft a year earlier than necessary. This gave him a chance to test the waters, get to know the system and the expectations and he could ultimately withdraw before the draft and re-enter again the following year.

In 2006 the draft camp was held at the Disney Resort in Orlando so its wasn’t too bad a time either.

A feature of the draft camp was a booklet produced by the NBA on the history of the draft and I always found it intriguing how many times the NBA got it wrong when making their picks. Given the amount of money invested in these players, often they got it wrong when making their selections – don’t forget Michael Jordan was taken third in the 1984 draft.

I thought Brad did well in the camp and the small group session we attend with about eight clubs following the draft, but the advice from his agent was that he wasn’t going to be taken in the first round so he withdrew.

Andrew Bargnani from Italy was taken number one in the 2006 draft by the Toronto Raptors.

In 2007 I was asked to go again with Brad and, after thinking about it for about a second, I agreed to go with him. Once again it was held at Disneyland.

All the talk at the camp was about who would go number one. I must admit I was totally out of the loop with who were candidate’s, I don’t follow college hoops as closely as some. Talk centred around a seven-foot giant named Greg Oden and a tall skinny kid out of Texas named Kevin Durant. Neither of them participated in the camp but both did individual workout displays for the scouts and I was lucky enough to catch some of Durant’s. I had never seen him to this point but I must admit he looked pretty good (smiley face). I saw Oden walking around the Hotel and he also looked like he could play. Anyway, the Portland Trailblazers decided Oden had more upside than the skinny kid from Texas so they took him with their number one pick, poor old Durant went number 2 to the Seattle Sonics who later relocated to become the Oklahoma Thunder. Newls ended up being drafted number 54 by the Houston Rockets – he’s still waiting for the call up. Incidentally Durant is still doing okay in the NBA and Oden now plays in China!!

So how is it that the NBA get it wrong so often? I would also argue the AFL also have similar issues when trying to identify that number one prospect.

The intangibles would be my answer. The things you can’t see or measure about a person or even about a franchise or a business. What are the characteristics about individuals that gives them longevity and success compared to some who LOOK to have more potential but fail to deliver on their promise?

Character is the answer. Character is described as “complex of mental and ethical traits“, that those traits, or qualities, are “distinctive to an individual” and that they are “built into an individual’s life.”

All those super athletes who attend those NBA camps can be easily ranked according to height, weight, strength, shooting percentage, speed, vertical jump and so on but what you can’t see is what’s inside what makes them tick. Those things often don’t come out until individuals are in adverse situations or are tired, home sick, love sick, injured, having a bad day, being pampered, being loved or being hated, anything could expose the quality of someone’s character and the guys who stick and have longevity and ongoing success are the ones who come through when the s##t is hitting the fan.

I shared a link recently on Facebook featuring the University of Louisville’s Head Women’s Coach Jeff Waltz lamenting his players character and what modern society has produced for him to work with (you can see his full press conference here )

Character is certainly something that can be taught and coached but accountability has been harder for the new generation of coaches and parents to enforce compared to the generation I grew up in. Accountability was delivered with the strap at school and a piece of fencing timber at home. If you did the wrong thing you paid for it dearly and you certainly had second thoughts about doing it a second time. Since society started to frown on tough love and started rewarding participation over achievement things have gone a little astray…….a bit like this article at the moment.

Character can be in individuals and organisations. While on the NBA trips with Brad we always had some workout sessions with teams who wanted to have a closer look at him. I was surprised with how little they actually got to know the player. I thought there would be some sort of psych test or something, maybe they did that by talking to others, but surely when you have the players in the building it would be a great chance to try to get to see what made them tick. The most some teams did was sit and have a chat with him, maybe there was something special in their questions or something but I have to admit I came away far from impressed with the effort they made to find out more about the players. Even the basketball workouts weren’t that tough, he was rarely pushed to the point of exhaustion, where some of his character may be exposed, but no, nothing.

Speaking of character I did get to see some people and franchises who have had long term success and others who have never found it. When we visited Miami Heat I was excited about maybe bumping into Shaquille O’Neal in the club rooms but something better happened. While Brad was being worked out I just grabbed a seat as much out of the way as I could get. Early in the workout who should walk in but Pat Riley, who was the Head Coach and GM of the Heat. I should point out that it was unusual for the Head Coaches to attend these workouts. Usually the scouts and assistants would run through this process.

Riley stood and watched the workout for a while and then spotted me sitting on the baseline watching. He made a point of walking over, introducing himself (duh) and having a good old chat for a while. Most of the guys when you attend these sessions wouldn’t give me the time of day (not that I was expecting it) but one of the most successful and respected coaches in the NBA just did what someone with impeccable character would do. He welcomed me into his place. Lenny Wilkens was the same when we visited the Philadelphia 76ers.

I should also say the assistant coach who was working Brad out in Miami did by far the best workout of any of the teams we visited. He pushed him hard and ran drills that were designed to not only test his skills but also how he handled adversity. The workout coach was Erik Spoelstra, now Head Coach of the Heat.

Another team we visited was the Sacramento Kings. We waited at the airport for about an hour to be picked up, the dude who picked us up hardly said a word to us, they put us in a crappy Hotel and the coach who handled the workout wore jeans!! No one from that organisation said boo to either of us.

When we visited the Utah Jazz, we got off the plane and there was a guy in a suit ready and waiting for us. He gave us a full itinerary for our stay and was waiting for us in the foyer the next morning when we went to the workout. Utah Head Coach Jerry Sloan attended the workout, the franchise was very hospitable and Karl Malone, recently retired at that time, wandered over to say g ’day and welcome us to Salt Lake City, this was an organisation of great character.

So, what about the character of players and individuals? In no particular order these are some of the qualities or intangibles that have been evident in players I have coached over the years and some of the qualities I try to embed in the young players I currently coach at Templestowe College;

· Be competitive – try to win! Life is not about participation, basketball is not just about participation. Sure, it’s good to be in the game but it’s much better to win! Winning isn’t everything but trying to win is. Learning how to lose is also part of the process. FUN is what you have after you’ve competed, the elements of the contest that make it tough and competitive should be the fun part not just running up and down with no care about your own performance or the result.

· Be honest – the truth is sometimes hard to say and sometimes hard to take but people who dance around it will let you down when you need them the most.

· Be accountable – If you screw up, then you should expect there will be consequences – not the strap or piece of 4x2 anymore – but being too delicate about someone’s feelings will not produce reliable people. Players who are always late for meetings, practise or the team bus are going to let you down when it matters most, hold them accountable from a young age and develop that as part of how they run their life.

· Work hard – Players or staff who don’t give it their best effort, every moment, again, let you down when you need them the most. Players who are always looking for a reason why they CAN’T practise but rarely miss games are going to drag down the standards you are trying to set. Lazy players rarely come through in tough times, your hardest worker, your fittest player will usually be the one who does the best when excellence is needed.

· Treat everyone with respect – whether it’s the guy who cleans the toilets, works the carpark or even the Aussie sitting on the baseline visiting your NBA team, be respectful to people. Show some common courtesy, what goes around comes around.

· Deal with adversity – I’ve written recently about the boot camps we held in Townsville with Ritchie Gibson. Just watch the news each night and it’s not that hard to see that we really don’t have to deal with much adversity here in the lucky country, have a look at Syria. Some of our youth think adversity is when the laces on their Nikes snap! Some of our players/people need a very large can of harden the f##K up – as a parent said to my wife Kate at the primary school she teaches at.

So, there’s some thoughts on some of the intangibles that effect whether an NBA team has made the right pick or whether your under 14 basketball team is going to not only have a good season but also produce some quality people who don’t become the topic of a disappointed coaches post-game press conference.

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