11 Coaches took part in this year’s coaches study tour which involved unrestricted access to some of the most successful basketball programs across the United States. The touring party left Australia on the 8th of October and returned some 20 days later at the end of October.
The first stop was Dallas, with the first day involving a tour of Southern Methodist University (SMU) where we meet Alicia Froling from Townsville who is in her senior year at the university. The group attended the women’s training session and had a chance to debrief with head coach Travis Mays for an hour after the session. We also sat through the SMU men’s practice under the tutelage of Tim Jankovich. The group got to see first-hand the aspects of Tim’s position less style of play.
That night the group was fortunate enough to attend American Airlines Centre to see a preseason game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Orlando Magic. The event included a VIP tunnel experience where the tour group got to high-five the team as it entered the court, this included renowned 20-year veteran of the NBA Dirk Nowitzki.
The next day was an early start with an early-morning VIP tour of the Dallas Cowboys stadium. It is indeed an amazing indoor stadium and home to the Dallas Cowboys. It also hosted the 2014 NCAA basketball final four tournament. The group got to practice their NFL skills on the hallow turf of the Dallas Stadium albeit they were not quite up to NFL standards!
The tour then moved on to Waco where we caught up with Kristy Wallace, a Brisbane girl who is with the Baylor women’s program. Kristy gave us a great insight into her journey with the Baylor Bears and the rigors of daily practice within the basketball program. The group then observed the men’s team under their head coach Scott Drew which was very enlightening considering the level of athleticism within his group.
The next day we headed to Austin where we spent an hour so with the Texas Women’s Coaching Staff discussing aspects the style of play across different conferences within the United States. We also had an in-depth discussion around recruiting of Australian players and the process that was involved and how to best maximise the opportunities that exist for our Queensland Athletes.
That night we flew out to New York City for a five day visit to the Big Apple.
First up in New York City was a visit to Columbia University. Columbia is one of the most highly regarded academic schools in the United States. The group observed the coaching staff working with the women’s program. While in New York, we attended another preseason NBA game between the New York Knicks and the Washington Wizards. Unfortunately, the stars of both teams, John Wall for the Wizards and Kristaps Porzingis for New York rested that night so we didn’t get to see the full potential of teams. The game was played at the historic Madison Square Garden which was indeed hallowed ground for the game of basketball. To be privy to see a game within that venue was indeed a thrill for the entire group.
The next day the group then attended a VIP, behind the scenes, tour of Madison Square Garden. This was indeed a walk back in history seeing all the memorabilia surrounding the venue, with the number of basketball games and concerts that have been conducted at that venue over the years. One highlight was to be shown the VIP suites and the media galleries, which are located on suspension bridges over the court at the very top of the venue. During the visit to New York, we had arranged a Visit to Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Seaton Hall was the home of legendary Australian basketballer Andrew Gaze. Andrew took them to the 1989 final four. There were a number of artefacts on display showing Andrew’s status within the University.
Head Coach Brozzella of the women’s program then invited us to lunch and the chat prior to his training session. After viewing the practice session Coach Brozzella then invited the group to discuss what they observed and any ideas and we had about his team or his practice sessions. This gave the group an incredible insight and privilege to talk to a Division I coach one-on-one and provide their input into his program we’re very thankful to coach Brozzella for his time and engagement with us.
The next few days gave the group a break, and allowed a couple of days sightseeing around New York visiting places like Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, the World Trade Centre Memorial and Central Park. One group even attended a show on Broadway.
The group then travelled by train to Philadelphia where we caught up with the Philadelphia 76ers at their new multimillion dollar training venue. The highlight was seeing Ben Simons at his peak fitness in full training mode. On top of that, the group caught up with Head Coach, Brett Brown after training. We certainly thank Brett for taking the time to talk to the group. Another highlight was the display of the original 76ers floorboards from the original game where Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game. Further, the display of the retired jerseys of Dr Julius Erving and Wilt Chamberlain two legends of our sport.
Also in Philadelphia, we caught up with St Joseph’s College men’s and women’s programs and La Salle College men’s program. Both these programs are Division 1 contenders and have at various times, pushed into the NCAA tournaments. We also visited a high school which gave us a good insight to the level of training and commitment of their athletes as compare to the athletes we coach in Australia.
Following Philadelphia, we jumped in the cars and headed to Washington DC where we tried to meet Donald Trump outside the gates of White House. Unfortunately, Mr Trump was not available on the day, so we spent time outside the gates with security guards taking photos. We also visited the Lincoln memorial which is in truly is inspiring piece of American history.
The tour then continued onto Virginia and Charlottesville where the University of Virginia is located. The group then divided as both the men’s and women’s programs were training at the same time. One highlight was watching Tony Bennett, the Head Coach of the men’s program applying his principles of the pack defence. Tony’s father, Dick Bennett is regarded as the father of that style of defence, which is what we use throughout Australia. One highlight was seeing Dick Bennett actually getting involved in the training. This was indeed a privilege for Queensland coaches who’ve adopted the pack defence to see the Master and son at work.
We then travelled to Virginia Tech and were stunned by the level of facilities. Whilst we did not get to see any sessions, we were fortunate enough to spend a number of hours with the coaching staff and discuss their principles and style of play.
An eventful overnight journey to Durham in North Carolina meant the next day we had the privilege of visiting Jimmy Valvano’s NC State Wolfpack program. The group observed both men’s and women’s training sessions during the day and spent a fair bit time discussing ideas within the NC State coaches. To see the memorials to Jimmy Valvano was indeed a high point for the basketball coaches from Australia. The next day we attended Duke University, where, by chance Duke were playing Pitt in College Football.
The highlight of the trip was walking into Cameron Indoor Stadium knowing the history on this majestic venue and the number of great moments in basketball that have been played out within its walls. Whilst the group did not get to spend any time with Coach K and the men’s program, we did spend a number of hours in Cameron indoor with the women’s program and their coaches. Another highlight of the Duke visit was tour of the Hall of Fame which included four national championships trophies and a number of retired jerseys of past greats in college and NBA basketball. There were accolades of Coach K with the USA team and his 1000 wins in College basketball.
The next day we made a visit to North Carolina University the past home of Michael Jordan. We attended the Museum which included a number of artefacts of North Carolina in and in particular Michael Jordan’s time at the University. By chance we met up with the men’s team as they departed the venue after training into their cars. If size is any indicator then North Carolina will be a force in the NCAA Tournament this year.
Next stop on the tour was to the home of Steph Curry and Derek Rucker at Davidson University. An interesting fact is Derek Rucker has his jersey retired and hanging in the rafters whilst Steph Curry does not have a jersey hanging at the University. The reason for this is that Steph hasn’t graduated, and the university have a rule that you cannot retire a jersey until that person graduates. From what we understand, Steph is currently attempting to finalise his graduation commitments with the university. The other interesting fact is that Derek Rucker finished at Davidson as the 3rd (now 4th) all-time leading scorer and all-time assists (now 5th) and steals leader (currently 1st).
Our final stop was to Los Angles on the West Coast. Whilst there, we visited UCLA – the home of the Briuns and the place where John Wooden, legendary basketball coach, spent his years accumulating 11 NCAA Championships, the highest of any school in the US. The visit of the facilities was outstanding and a privilege, in particular visiting the UCLA Museum which included the 11 championship trophies and a full reconstruction of John Wooden’s office during his time at the University. The group then enjoyed a day and a half off in Los Angeles which was abuzz as the first game of the Baseball World Series between LA Dodgers and the Houston Astros was taking place across town.
Overall the tour was a huge success and all would agree that it’s a tour that no coach should miss if they’re serious about progressing along their coaching pathway.