The Covenant of the Clipboard
Taking home net scraps in April is sweet, but these five super assistants know it's what happens the rest of the year that makes a college basketball team.
THE FIRE STARTER: CAMERON DOLLAR, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
Cameron Dollar is Washington's one-man interrogation squad. For seven years as a Huskies assistant, He's used his homegrown good cop/bad cop act on players to get the answer to this question: how much do you want it?
Rousing sermons run in Cameron Dollar's family. Dad Donald was an Atlanta-area high school coach for 35 years, brother Chad is an assistant on Arkansas State's bench, and first cousin Creflo leads a multimillion-dollar evangelical ministry. Armed with his innate gift of goad, Dollar has emerged as the best of the college hardwood's hype men.
"He's a great motivator," says Washington alum and current Blazers star Brandon Roy. "He makes you believe you can achieve everything you really never believed you could do."
The path to Dollar's power of persuasion is a pretty straight line. "Watching my dad was a class in motivation," he says. "I'd see him inspire with a yell, a hug, a kiss, a look—whatever a player needed." Dollar also realized that the players thought his dad was a hard-ass, and that stuck too. "I enjoy the respect more than the like," he says. So these days, the 33-year-old assistant, who won a title as UCLA's point guard in 1995, is adept at stark switches that take him from players' coach to taskmaster in a blink. One minute he's playing PS2 with his guys, the next he's hounding them from the sideline. Dollar sends encouraging postgame texts, but he also has been known to rant, as he did after a February loss to his alma mater. The topic: what it takes to be a champion.
He never loses the players' ears because he always gives a light at the end of the tunnel:
"I don't ride them in March. On our hardest days, they always go, 'Ooh, I can't wait for March.' " He's the first to say it's all about balance, his and theirs. It wears out everyone if he's on them all the time. In the end, how do you measure his success? Dollar has thought about that too.
"It's hard to say if it works numbers-wise," he says. "But impact can't be measured in numbers."
THE GIANT TAMER: BERNIE FINE, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY
When Jim Boeheim took over at Syracuse, in 1976, he brought a friend along for the ride. Thirty-three years later, Bernie Fine is still schooling Orange bigs and turning them into NBA-caliber players; 12 have been first-rounders. A peek at Fine's unorthodox, but effective, methods.
FOOTBALL PRACTICE PADS
Pads and contact drills are good ways to toughen up soft big men. Fine was especially hard on Rony Seikaly, who starred for the team that went to the NCAA Finals in 1987 before he joined the Miami Heat: "I smacked the crap out of him." Fine later apologized for being so rough, but he didn't have to. "Rony thanked me. Knocking him around prepared him for the physical NBA."
Quality time in the studio is a remedy for sick footwork. When 1980s All-America Danny Schayes struggled with post-position balance early on, he soon found himself practicing kick ball changes and hip walks. "He played 18 years in the NBA, so it must have been some help," says Fine.
Fine started to use these green-thumb tools as a high school coach and brought them out again after seeing Syracuse's bigs snatch too many caroms with one hand, providing easy pickin's for the D. "These guys have huge hands; they can grab a basketball like you and I grab a baseball," Fine says. "Wearing the gloves forces them to grab the ball with both hands."
Fine likes to line up guys near the rim, then have them do drop steps and dunks. It's an easy enough drill complicated by the fact that it's performed with 16-pound balls. "First time the players try, they can't even reach the basket," he says. Over time, though, legs get stronger. "Etan Thomas [now a Wizard] wasn't the player he is today. But he put in the work, and now he's in the league."
THE SHOT DOCTOR: ANDY ENFIELD, FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY
Andy Enfield arrived at Florida State before the 2006-07 season, just as Auburn transfer Toney Douglas was becoming eligible. Under Enfield's tutelage, the guard sharpened his technique, and his accuracy made a year-over-year leap from 42.4% to 47.5%. This season, Douglas was First-Team All-ACC. Enfield knows his stuff. Learn from the master.
"Only fingertips and base—not the palm—touch the ball, and the index and middle fingers should be directly in its center. Where they point determines the ball's spin."
"This hand positions the ball. Uche Echefu used to push it with his off-hand; that's bad. Jack McClinton on Miami? His is perfectly straight at release; that's good."
"Spot up, arm in an L, elbow over foot. At release, ball, hand and shoulder will align with the rim. And keep the follow-through true. Deividas Dulkys has nice form now, but his follow-through once went left. We got him to lose any sideways rotation."
"Wayne Ellington at North Carolina shoots off a screen well because he uses his core to balance his body. As he jumps up and forward he has a way of controlling his body's movement, so the shot's trajectory isn't affected."
"The stance should be staggered, like the way a boxer sets his feet, tilted slightly to the side, shoulder-width apart. This creates balance. Then be sure the hips and knees are aligned with the feet."
THE PICKUP ARTIST: VINCE TAYLOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
Cast a wide net, make the biggest splash. That's the lesson Vince Taylor learned trawling the prep waters for Louisville for seven years. After spending a couple of seasons in the NBA, Taylor is back in the college game at Minnesota, where he quickly reeled in a top-10 haul of Gophers for 2009. Let him tell you how he gets 'em biting.
KNOW WHAT YOU NEED
"Coach [Denny] Crum wanted guys who could get to the rim and were athletic enough to switch and guard 1 through 5. Coach [Rick] Pitino needed end-to-end defenders who could also hit the three. Here, Coach [Tubby] Smith needs rebounders and guys who can slow down the game. I don't worry about names; I worry about fit."
"At Louisville, there was pressure to get in-state kids. But it matters a lot more that you're able to win with whatever kids you have. When we went to the 2005 Final Four, Ellis Myles was the heart of the team. He was from Compton. If you don't have the right players to help you win, no one will care how many Mr. Basketballs you signed from your home state."
"How do you get a California guy to come to Kentucky? Tell him Rick Pitino wants him. Players know the successful coaches. Crum, Pitino, Smith—those names get your foot in a lot of doors."
…NO, NO, A BIGGER NAME
"Having taken the Timberwolves job was a great move for me. Now I have those contacts. Coach Smith's name turns on the light, but saying you worked with Kevin Garnett makes guys' eyes open wide."
FAVOR THE FOCUSED
"If a kid doesn't have specific goals for himself, I know he won't be successful with us. When Louisville recruited Reece Gaines, who was from Wisconsin, he wasn't the most highly ranked. But he was a big, tough guard, and he wanted to work. He was a four-year guy for us and ended up being the 15th pick in the draft."
THE FINE-TUNER: JEFF BATTLE, WAKE FOREST
In eight years at Wake Forest and seven more before that at Xavier, Jeff Battle has earned cred for the way he cultivates raw athletes. Battle is a talent identifier, a man who can find and unleash hidden strengths in underrecruited kids while maximizing the abilities of blue chips. Here are four guys who have benefited the most from his particular skill set and what he did to get them where they are today.
Josh Howard (Dallas Mavericks, 2007 NBA All-Star)
"We pushed Josh to dedicate himself. I told him, 'You want to be a pro? Be a 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. guy, not a 3-to-6er.' We worked him hard. At first he felt it was punishment, but over time he saw results. And after I told him a jumper would make him unguardable, he would come to me after practice—already wringing in sweat—and say, 'Let's shoot some more threes.' "
James Posey (New Orleans Hornets; NBA champion, 2006 and '08)
"People always ask me if I'm surprised that James is a three-point shooter in the NBA. Well, we actually worked with him on that a lot at Xavier. Even though he played inside for us, he always had the shot. For some reason, though, he was just reluctant. We practically had to beg him to take it, but he finally did. I don't see him hesitating anymore."
Jeff Teague (Wake Forest sophomore, 2009 All-ACC Second Team)
"With 10 seconds on the clock, Jeff will make a play. But he's still a work in progress. He's got long arms and solid lateral movement, so he should be a great defensive player. But when Jeff doesn't have the ball, he isn't always focused. My job is to get him tuned in on D. With him, it's going to be mental, making him want to be the best defender in the ACC."
Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets, 2006 NBA Rookie of the Year, 2008 and '09 All-Star)
"His skill level was high, but we kept pushing him, getting him to be more aggressive. The biggest thing for him at the college level was his midrange game. In high school he got to the rim a lot, but I kept telling him that, in the ACC, players step in and take charges. Those midrange shots are what made him one of the best."
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