Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Win now or develop for later?

I included an article from Clay Kallam a few blogs back that expressed his opinion of a lack of personal development of a couple elite players. Kallum went on to suggest that Pat Summitt and Carl Buggs failed to develop Shyra Ely and Jasmine Dixon. I then went on to ask should development or winning be the goal in big time basketball?

First let us clarify big time basketball. Shara Ely's college coach, Pat Summitt is as big as it gets. No coach in female basketball has won more NCAA championships than Summitt(8), and only the Wizard of Westwood has won more titles than her, period. Jasmine Dixon's high school coach, Carl Buggs has owned California for the last decade. Since 2003, Buggs has lead his team to the state championship every year! I repeat, for last seven years, Buggs has lead his team to 4 state titles and 3 runner-up trophies(1 title while coaching at Lynwood). His Jack Rabbits have finished nationally ranked for the last 5 years and finished as high as #2 in 2006-2007( Jasmine Dixon years). In their respective arenas, both coaches are at the top.

This success speaks volumes of their abilities but what does it say about development? Can a lack of development in their players be blamed on them? Yes! No! And probably not!

Yes Argument:

When speaking of the importance of supporting environments for the development of elite kids, Geoff Colvin writes:

Employers, like parents and coaches, have to keep pushing them to develop, and the lesson for employers(coaches) is that the process requires sacrifices on their part as well-in the form of SUBOPTIMAL PERFORMANCE.... or periods of LITTLE or NO PRODUCTIVITY from an employee (player) while he or she is learning a new skills. But the lesson is that these sacrifices pay off."

In other words, Coach Buggs should have continued to put Dixon in positions that expanded her game. This would have ensured that she was more equipped to have success at the higher level of big time college basketball. Dixon transferred from Rutgers and landed at UCLA. The question is did her underdeveloped game contribute to her dissatisfaction at Rutgers? Probably so.

I watched a young Jasmine Dixon DOMINATE California youth basketball since her 8th grade year. She was 5'11 and built like a woman in the 8th grade. She bullied in the paint like it was her domain. She was fast enough to guard smaller players and quick enough to sprint past other post players on the way to her scores. Her dominance continued throughout her high school career as she became a McDonald's All-American. However, the highly touted Dixon began to slip in national rankings as the high school years went by. Bigger players like Nneka Ogumike and April Sykes began to get more attention. More skilled players like Elena DelleDonne and Tiffany Hayes come to the forefront. While Dixon still finished high school very acclaimed, some saw the clouds in the horizon. Dixon was a 6'0 (5'11ish) post player with an inconsistent jump shot and little ball handling skills. Her incredible strength and athletic ability still made her a force to be reckoned with but what was to happen when she faced girls with just as much strength and athletic ability? The results were predictable. Footage from her freshman year at Poly compared to her senior year footage would reveal very little progress in term of skill set development.

Carl Buggs should have not allowed Dixon to lean on her overwhelming strength as a high school player. He should have demanded that Dixon play on the perimeter to further develop her guard skills. The Dixon years at Poly featured guards April Crook-Williams(ranked #20 in 2011), April Cook(Washington St.), Keli Thomspson (UNLV),Ashley Wilson(Colorado) and Brittney Wilson(Colorado). With no less than five D1 guards to play against everyday at practice, Buggs had more than ample opportunity to let Dixon improve her guard skills against these high level guards. Dixon should have been matched up against these guards daily with the goal of improving her handle. Dixon senior year also feature elite post players, Monique Oliver(Rutgers) and freshman Thadessia Southall(USC committ). These two young but effective post players should have allowed Buggs to get Dixon out of the post and on to the perimeter.

NO Argument:

How can you argue with success? Buggs job is to win high school basketball games and very few coaches in the country has done more winning than him over the past decade. You can not blame the lack of PERSONAL development on a coach who's roster includes no less than five D1 players every year. Southern California sends on an average 50-60 players D1 every year. Buggs is responsible for at least 10% of those kids. This highly competitive environment lends little time for individual agendas. Coaching eight D1 kids on one team is challenging. The individual needs of one player can not supersede the mission of the team.

Moving Dixon to the perimeter in games does not allow the younger D1 bound guards to see valuable minutes of floor time. These young guards have put hundreds of thousand of shots and dribbles into becoming elite guards and Dixon did not. Is it not unfair to displace them for the sake of developing Dixon? Should not the best guards play, despite class, status and rank? Dixon was not among the most effective guards on the team, not to mention the state. How could Poly face a Brea team, led by McDonald All-American Jeanette Polhen or a very good Marlborough team, led by McDonald All-American Nikki Speed, with Dixon at the guard and expect to win? Going back to the Colvin quote, "Suboptimal performance and little or no productivity" from Dixon equates to Poly not competing for the state championship. The standard of a successful coach has always been measured in championships. The Wizard of Westwood and his Pyramid of Success was not so profound when he was losing at UCLA. Eleven championships later and his wisdom still sells books today by the bundle.

No, Buggs job was to win and he did just that!

So which is the more compelling argument? Yes, Jasmine Dixon was underdeveloped by a narrow minded coach? Or no, her very successful high school coach afforded her the opportunity to win multiple state championships in a very successful program?

Both statements are probably a little true. So who is the blame? Probably both, Dixon and Coach Buggs probably could have done more to develop her. Who gained more from the relationship? The gains were mutual. Dixon finished her storied high school career among the most winning players at an elite level in history and Buggs has the hardware to prove it. Dixon played with and against some of the best players in the country (rare in a high school program) and had major universities vying for her services. Buggs has had elite players like Monique Oliver move from different states to play in his program that was spearheaded by a nationally known Dixon.

Elite basketball can be a difficult place to develop players. Playing an elite schedule does not allow for a great margin of error. Errors are instrumental in allowing players to grow. A guard can never be a great passer unless she has thrown enough passes to know what not to do. A great shooter is a primarily a failure. Shooting 49% from the perimeter is cause to celebrate. Developing shooters in an environment where every possession counts is near impossible. Carl Buggs or Pat Summitt hands are somewhat tied in terms of developing in their respective environments. This makes the need for a good off-season program and choice of a club team even that more important. Shara Ely and Jasmine Dixon should have improved over the summers of their careers. They should have been with coaches, trainers, clubs and environments where their weaknesses were strengthened. Shyra Ely was developed enough to leave Tennessee as an All-American and professional pick. Tennessee went to three final fours doing her playing days. It is hard to argue with success. But, would have a more developed Ely been more equipped to lead the Vols to a title? The argument continues....