This past Tuesday and Wednesday I attended a basketball coaching
clinic event co-hosted by a couple of basketball dinosaurs, Kevin Eastman and Brendan Suhr. The description is meant as a comment. They have coached for a combined 80 or so years on the high school, college and professional levels. While that stat is what impresses the heck out of me (I did it for 35 years and when I look back on it, I have no idea how I managed to do it), what blows others away is that, between them, they have three NBA championship rings (Kevin as an assistant with the 2007-08 Celtics, Brendan in the same role with the Bad Boy Pistons of 1988-89 & 1989-90). They call it Coaching U and have been staging such events for six years. Suffice to say they understand what it takes to put on a first class show.
Somehow these guys manage to get not only the quality speakers other promoters only wish for, they get them in bunches. The cast for Tue-Wed was, in addition to the co-hosts, George Raveling (who invited me to be his guest), Shaka Smart, Lawrence Frank, Billy Donovan and Gregg Marshall. (The speakers for the July 15-16 session are just as formidable). Stop and think: Hall of Fame, Final Fours, NCAA National Champions, NBA Champions were all represented on this program and while all were sensational, this blog will discuss one coach in particular.
During the early to mid-1980s I worked at the University of Tennessee for a coach named Don DeVoe. For that particular era, Don was always mentioned as a guy who, if he was given a group of players he’d never seen before, and seven other coaches were given other groups of equal talent, and a tournament was held, Don’s guys would have as good or better a chance of winning a tournament. In today’s game, one such coach is Florida’s Billy Donovan.
This past Wednesday, Billy took five players from Indiana Wesleyan, the 2014 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Champions and, in 20 minutes taught them the Gators’ pick and roll offense. His comments were for the coaches in attendance but were directed to the players in such a manner that, incredible as it sounds, the five guys ran through the offense flawlessly. Every option, every set, every time. Some of the other speakers also worked with the players and did marvelous jobs, but none as seamlessly as Billy D.
As we watched, I made mention of this phenomena to George, who currently serves as the Director of International Basketball for Nike, and he just shook his head. “Jack, I saw him do the same thing at the U19 championships in Prague,” Rav said. “He hadn’t seen the team until they practiced (for two weeks) and won the tournament even though all the other teams were their country’s national team, composed of the best players in that age group. He’s amazing.”
Many people, including this writer, discuss how coaching salaries have reached unfathomable heights. Billy Donovan is making over $22 million for six years but, as incredible as it may seem, watching him work with those young college kids and see them respond to him so quickly and so impeccably, was infinitely more startling to me than his salary numbers.
To many, money is the ultimate reward. Make no mistake about it, I’m sure Billy (and his family) are thrilled he brings home a paycheck with all those zeroes but the fact that he is enjoying his work has to be fulfilling to him. Paraphrasing Bob Dylan:
“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”