I ran my usual shooting and game play camps over the Easter school holidays and in discussions with players and parents I was disappointed with how often players had been told they didn’t make teams or squads because they were too short!
Coaches this is about the poorest reason you can give a player for not making a team. Maybe they weren’t good enough, didn’t grasp the concepts of play being promoted well enough, don’t fit enough, even not strong enough. But to tell a player they were not tall enough suggests to me that perhaps the coach isn’t good enough to understand what attributes are necessary to play basketball well.
I’m sure I’ve written previously about some of the flaws in our talent ID processes and in the mid 90’s Basketball Australia was certainly going through a phase of trying to convert anyone with any size and agility into point guards or multi-dimensional perimeter players. The misconception being that world basketball now was producing these “multi skilled” players who could play all positions and the future of smaller players in the game was limited.
This saw a period, which still seems to be happening in some quarters, where anyone with any size was given advantages in selection for development opportunities over smaller players. The smaller players often displayed far superior skills and love of the game but the philosophy being promoted was that we could somehow develop all those qualities in tall players and of course basketball is a game for tall people!
I was the Basketball Victoria High Performance Head Coach during this time (called the State Director of Coaching is those days) and the Intensive Training Centre Program was in its infancy. There was certainly a directive from BA’s technical leader to invest in taller players rather than shorter players.
We were also told to develop the Motion Offense philosophies being taught by the US college coaches. Most coaches in Victoria were either trying to embrace this style of play or sticking with the old Shuffle Offense. Meanwhile the rest of the world were well down the track of Split, Kick & Extra Pass concepts only recently embraced by BA leaders and most NBA teams.
When I was selecting my team for the 1997 World Championships for Young Men I certainly almost fell victim to this flawed approach. The most agonising selection issue was over whether to take an additional smaller guard or go with another mid-sized perimeter player. I was of the belief we needed a taller point guard and I felt we could develop Frank Drmic into this role. I had seen Frank throughout his junior career with the Dandenong Rangers and I certainly believed he could be developed into a point guard, especially as he was about to join our team at the Melbourne Magic.
Anyway, my gut instinct was to go with two smaller guards as Plan B. As things turned out it was those two smaller guards, Brendan Mann and Brad McKinnon, who helped us turn the tide and end up with the World Championship Gold Medal.
In my second last season with the Townsville Crocodiles I recruited a player named Rob Brown as one of my American import players. He was meant to be a 6’8” power forward. When I picked him up at the airport I was almost looking eye to eye with him - he was lucky to be 6’2”. My initial thought was this guy is too small to play as a power forward in the NBL. Rob’s first move in a competitive NBL game was to receive the ball in the low post, make a quick spin move and dunk the ball over everyone in the area! We went on to make the NBL semi-finals with a group I thought had little chance of making it that far.
Rob Brown was a great guy, he always trained hard, he was a fantastic team mate and was very coachable. So, what did I do at the end of the season? I cut him! Why? I thought he was too small. How did we go the next season? We missed the play offs and at the end of the year my contract was not renewed.
It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
Even recently Mike McHugh warned the powers that be at BV about their potential decision to pass on Monique Conti in their ITC selections a couple of years ago. Conti is a pint-sized point guard and some of the less experienced selectors considered her too small to be successful at the highest level of basketball. Well fortunately she was selected for the program which followed by selection for the National Under 17 team who went on to win the World Championship with Conti being selected to the World All Star 5 at the event - and she nearly didn’t make the Victorian ITC program!!
I think had Conti been 6’2” her selection would have been a fait accompli. However, it was her skill, desire and love of the game that were the factors that needed to be considered the most, not her height.
I’ve written before about numerous tall players in juniors given more opportunities than shorter players because the game comes easier to you as a tall young player, when you can stand under the ring and come up with rebounds and points. However, as everyone grows, the pace of the game picks up, skill levels pick up then it is more your work ethic, fitness and love of practise that is going to determine how far you go in the game rather than your height. Shorter players tend to drop out of basketball due to frustration with being overlooked for teams, taller players drop out when it starts to become too hard for them, not all in both cases but enough for coaches to think more carefully about their decisions.
I think there is good argument to invest more in the smaller players, after all Steph Curry is among the smallest players in the NBA. The leading scorer in the NBL last season was Jerome Randle, 175cm from the Adelaide 36ers. Bryce Cotton, 185cm from Perth was the most telling factor in their Championship this year and Leilani Mitchell, 165cm, was certainly significant with the Sydney Flames taking out the WNBL Championship. Patty Mills and Matt Dellavedova have also done okay as relatively small players on the world stage.
So perhaps we need to invest more in the smaller players? Whatever the thought process on that I am certain of one thing; Coaches, never tell players they are too small or not tall enough to make a team. If they aren’t good enough, tell them that, if they need to get fitter tell them that. Always give them something viable they can work on other than something they have no control over.