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Saturday, August 4, 2018

GARY BLAIR'S 6TH ANNUAL TEXAS A&M COACHING ACADEMY

We wanted to take this opportunity to invite you to Gary Blair's 6th Annual Texas A&M Coaching Academy will be held at Texas A&M on October 13-14 and will include the following:

     4 Complete Clinic Sessions featuring the entire Aggie Basketball staff and team.
     ◄Two sessions with Hall of Famer Gary Blair
     Guest speakers Brendan Suhr and Jim Boone
     Breakfast and Lunch (Dinner will be on your own)
     Jump Drive that will include:
             •Segments from the Academy
             •Aggie Defensive Drill Notebook
             •Aggie Offensive Playbook
             •Clinic Notes & Book Notes
             •And much more!

Each year we work hard to bring in the best of the best as guest speakers and this year is no different.  In Brendan Suhr and Jim Boone, we have not only brought in a wealth of knowledge but some of the most experiences clinicians in the nation.

BRENDAN SUHR
Bendan Suhr’s career includes NBA stops with the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic. Working with Chuck Daly, Suhr helped the Pistons to two World Championships. Surh was also the chief scout for the “Dream Team” in 1992 in Barcelona.  College stints have included Fairfield, UCF and LSU.  He is also the founder of Coaching U, one of the most dynamic clinics in the nation.

JIM BOONE
One of the most sought out clinicians in the nation, Jim Boone has had a remarkable career which includes over 500 career wins which ranks 12th among active Division II Coaches and is in the top 50 all-time among Division II Coaches.  He has also captured 7 Conference Championships, 4 Tournament Titles while making 11 Post-season appearances which includes two Final Fours.

The cost for the Gary Blair Academy is only $50!

In weeks to come we will also release a list of hotels offering special rates for those attending.

We are attaching a flier with detailed information and a form should you want to pay by check.  For those coaches wanting to pay by credit card, simply click on this link: 







Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A HEARTFELT THANKS FOR THOSE THAT USE THEIR PLATFORM TO MAKE POSITIVE CHANGES


In the past few years there has been a backlash against athletes for sharing their beliefs -- as if because they are athletes in the spotlight, they don't have the right to have an opinion or a thought.  Sometimes because they are multimillionaires there are those that believe their thoughts shouldn't be valued as much as those who aren't.

We now live in a society where we can't disagree without being disagreeable.  If someone has a different opinion they must be wrong and we get hateful and hurtful in explaining why they are wrong.

Recently, Fox's Laura Ingraham made the following statement after she disagreed with Lebron Jame's opinion on President Trump:

"It's always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball. Keep the political comments to yourselves. ... Shut up and dribble."

I bring this particular instance up because yesterday Lebron opened I Promise School, a public school with the goal of assisting at-risk students in the 3rd and 4th grade in the Akron area.  It was done in conjunction with Akron University.  It was built in large part with over 40 million dollars from Lebron’s foundation. 

School highlights include:

Free tuition
Free uniforms
Free transportation within 2 miles
Free breakfast, lunch and snacks
Guaranteed college tuition for every student
Food pantry for families
GED and job placement services for parents
Free bicycle and helmet.

Ingraham's comments reminded me of a story I once heard about legendary Boston Celtic center Bill Russell.  Russell was somewhere with teammate John Havlicek when a woman stopped, surveyed Russell's height and said "Are you a basketball player?"

Russell replied, "No."

After the woman left, Havlicek asked Russell why he chose to mislead the woman.  Russell replied:

"I didn't mislead her.  She asked me if I was a basketball player.  I am a man that happens to play basketball.  It's what I do -- it's not who I am."

We see these athletes, or actors and actresses, and musicians and we overlook that they are people.  People that have had experiences and often give back in important ways.  Can we disagree with their opinions?  Absolutely.  But they have the right, the freedom, to have and share as much as anyone.

As someone that has been blessed to have coached some athletes that have been able to make a living doing what they love.  I know they have shown through their heart -- through their work, their love and their pocketbook how to give back and make an impact.  Athletes I've coached like Seimone Augustus, Kelsey Bone, Sylvia Fowles, Shaquille O'Neal, and Temeka Johnson have done amazing work through their own foundations and volunteer work.

While certainly there have been an occasional athlete who has fell short in their foundation goals, the large majority of them have done amazing things for their communities and causes close to their hearts. Far more than we can count.

Lebron, thanks for not shutting up and dribbling!


Monday, July 16, 2018

MIKE HEIDEMAN PACK LINE NOTES


We were certainly sad to hear of the passing late last month of Coach Mike Heideman.  He was an outstanding teacher of both motion and defense — including the Pack Line.  He was a part of Dick Bennett’s staff at Wisconsin Green Bay and later was head coach there as well. 

Heideman told Bennett, 'I would like to help you build a very solid Division I program,'" Bennett recalled earlier this year. "Over the next number of years, that happened. I received most of the credit. But the real truth is, the guy who did not get near enough credit was Mike Heideman.”

Coach Heideman was an excellent clinician and we have some great notes from hearing him twice. Today we’ll share a few clinic notes from Coach Heideman:

It is a mark of the best coaches to adjust or even change when circumstances dictate. Of the change from pressure defense to gaps, Coach Heideman said, “Survivial forces us into the Pack Line Defense.” 

1. Build from the basket out.  As Bennett would often say, “How you defend the low post dictates how you defend everything else.

2. Heideman referred to the arced area as “a house...and we don’t want to let anyone in our house.”  In fact, they had no problem with passes around the arc unless they were of the penetrating nature.

3. Ball Defense started with the defender’s heels on the arc.

4. They gapped on non-ball defenders by placing them inside the arc.  Bennett would be known for placing another arc 3 feet inside the 3-point arc as a place where non-ball defenders would be located when their assignments were on the perimeter.

A key teaching point on ball defense that we incorporate is when the ball handler has the ball above the waist we “Jump Up” putting extreme pressure on possible passes or shots.  When the ball drops below the waist, we “Jump Back” to defend possible dribble penetration.

Heideman taught all non-ball defenders to be in a slightly open stance towards the ball.  Our terminology is “show your hip to the ball.”  And he wanted them “up the line” but “off the line” in the gap.  It should be noted that they did deny passes inside the arc but even then it was only an arm in the passing lane — their terminology was “scratch the passing lane.”

Helpside principles remain very similar to their pressure days:
     --Ball above the free throw line = one foot in paint
     --Ball below the free throw line = both feet in paint

Post defense was a complete dead front.

On screens away from the ball, it was important to Heideman to defend them all the same.  He wanted simplicity and consistency.

“Take the shortest route” was terminology used wanting them to slide through on the ballside.  If it’s a curl cut, the screen defender is responsible for extending and bumping.



Wednesday, July 4, 2018

KEVIN EASTMAN ON THE IMPORTANCE OF UNREQUIRED WORK


My first opportunity to meet Kevin Eastman was during my tenure at the University of Central Florida which was hosting Coaching U Live. Kevin is one of those people that genuinely cares about coaches and helping them grow.  Just a few conversations in our offices and I was blown away with the level of his knowledge and his ability to communicate it in such a way that instantly made me better.

Since then I make sure I'm attending Coaching U Live or subscribing to their streaming video of each session.  Great speakers are lined up each year but none that I look forward to hearing more than Kevin.

A few years ago we brought Kevin in to speak to our team.  The messages he delivered that day was intentional and specific to our team and impacted our success that year.  I would highly recommend any program, of any sport, to bring Kevin in to speak -- it will instantly elevate your program!

Kevin is working on a book now, "Why The Best Are The Best," and we are honored that he is sharing a small excerpt on our blog today.  By the way, this was one of the great stories that Kevin shared with our team:

Doc usually liked to take Kevin (Garnett) out of a drill after five or six repetitions because he wanted to save Kevin’s legs for games. Kevin had logged a lot of miles and wear and tear during his career, and he always practiced at game speed every minute we had him on the floor. 

After five possessions Doc told one of our rookies, Leon Powe, to replace Kevin to give him a break. Kevin was not going to have any of that. As Leon said, “Kev, I got you,” Kevin said he wasn’t stopping, only in far-more colorful “KG” language. Leon turned to Doc and Doc told him again, “Take him out.” Leon received another emphatic “NO” from Kevin. Finally, Doc had to nearly walk Kevin off the floor so we could get Leon in.

Once convinced to leave the drill, Kevin moved to the adjacent court, and as the eight players in the drill were talking and sliding and yelling out the defensive terminology each situation called for, we all heard another voice. The voice came from the other court, where Kevin was the only player. No other players, no ball, not a single other coach or person—just Kevin. There he was, sliding and talking and pretending to go through every action he would have had he still been in the actual drill. When the teams involved in the drill switched from defense to offense, so did Kevin. He yelled out all the offensive terms we employ: use me – use me; flash – flash – flash; rip – rip – rip. 


What we learned that day watching and listening to Kevin was the true definition of unrequired work! Kevin knows that repetitions are what makes him one of the best at what he does. And like all successful people, he understands that his repetitions are what created his reputation. Or as I like to say “your reps create your rep!” Kevin’s way of saying something similar was: “If you want to kick me out of a drill, you have to kick me out of the gym.”

That day Kevin gave an incredible success lesson to all of us that it’s the unrequired work that will separate the great players and the great teams from all the rest. He didn’t have to do that work. It wasn’t work required of him. But he is Kevin Garnett because he does the unrequired work.

These sorts of lessons and more will be explored at Kevin's second annual "Elite Training Camp". ELITE TRAINING CAMP is a two-day intense learning environment for any coach who wants to learn more about the Xs and Os of the most recent trends in basketball and how to prepare for the next step in their coaching career. It provides an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences with other coaches in an intimate setting. Coach Eastman has developed the content and will share what he has learned in his 35+ years in coaching. ESPN basketball analyst JAY BILAS will join Kevin as the guest speaker. The event will be held at The Levin Center at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina August 10th and 11th. More info about ETC can be found HERE


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

JAYSON TATUM: "READY TO LEARN EVERY DAY"


We came across a good read on Boston.com by Nicole Yang speaking to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski about his thoughts on Jayson Tatum's rookie year with the Celtics.  You can read the entire article here but below are some thoughts from Coach K that stuck with me.

I thought it was fascinating that Coach K considered wanting "to get better" as a strength.  He didn't dismiss his talent but made sure to point out that Tatum wants to improve each time he steps on the court -- and that was certainly the case this season.
“I think the main strength he has — besides the talent — is that he always wants to get better,” Krzyzewski said. “He’ll come ready to learn every day, and he’s not afraid of making mistakes in the learning process.”
As for areas of improvement, Coach K mentioned talking.  We are always imploring our players and teams to talk more so it's nice to see one of the game's best coaches recognize its importance.
“I always like to see him talk more,” Krzyzewski said. “When you’re talking, that means you’re more consumed with the game you’re playing. You own it more.”
Another critical form of learning is listening and seeing -- which Coach K says is also a strength of Tatum's.
He cautions, however, there’s no need to overdo it. In moments when Tatum might seem quiet or reserved, Krzyzewski said it’s because he’s listening and observing.
“That’s why he’s such a good learner,” he said. “He’s not talking all the time because he’s listening and seeing and then doing. He’s really ahead of his years.”


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

DEL HARRIS ON SWITCHING


One of my go-to reads in the off-season is "Winning Defense" by Del Harris.  It's a great read with detailed concepts from an outstanding defensive coach and should be a part of every basketball coaches' library.  Here are some of his thoughts on switching:

Four Basic Guidelines For Switching:

1. Switch with teammates of equal or near-equal size on screens and crosses.

2. Switch to keep big players inside and small players outside on screens. Do this on changes and crosses away from the ball when possible, and on matching up in transition defense, as well as in recovering on rotations. Any communication that can allow a switch to accommodate the big in-little out concept is usually worthwhile.

3. Switch within fifteen feet of the goal.

4. Use the “emergency switch rule.” That is, switch whenever a situation arises in which a switch will challenge an open shot, regardless of the mismatch as X2 does for X5 in D-60.

Communication. Even though we have rules for switching and a game plan to dictate in which particular situations we’ll switch against a given team, no switches are considered automatic. Players must physically come together when possible and call out verbal signals such as “switch”, let me through”, “stay”, “get through”, “I’ve got high”, “you take low”, etc. In addition to the verbals, it’s necessary to use the hands to point and pull or push each other through switches and stays when necessary.

Switch and deny should be considered as one big word- “switchandeny”- because both actions go together when done properly. That is, when there is a switch, something must be denied to each offensive player involved in the switching. If neither one has the ball, the defenders switch aggressively to stay in a position to deny each one the next pass. If one of the players has the ball, the defense works to deny the pass to the one who does not have the ball and to deny an easy shot or route to the basket to the one who has it. This helps prevent the laziness in defense that can occur when a lot of switching is used. Accepting this point can help players better understand that switching is not an easy way out of performing hardnosed aggressive defense.

Areas where most of the switching will be done. The backcourt is an ideal location for switches and pre-switches. (The latter is a switch done ahead of time by two players inverting their assignments because they know there is a high likelihood they will be switching anyway. This way they do not have to try to get back to their own men in the frontcourt.) There is plenty of time to get rid of mismatches that occur 80 feet from the basket and a lot of time can be wasted by the offense in the backcourt as the offense struggles to bring the ball up against a good, aggressive switching defense.


Monday, June 11, 2018

THE WORK ETHIC AND HUMILITY OF KLAY THOMPSON


An outstanding article on Klay Thompson written by  Ramona Shelburne for ESPN gives great insight into his work ethic and humility that has made him such an important part of the Golden State championship run.  You can read the entire article here but below are some of my take aways including his drive to constantly get in the gym and improve his shot:
Day after day, sometimes deep into the night, Gardner would hone Thompson's shooting form into the fundamentally perfect quick release you see today. There was a drill in which Gardner would drop a hula hoop over Thompson's head at a 45-degree angle as he shot so he would stay straight up and down. Another drill in which Thompson would shoot with a hat on to keep his head steady and trust where the ball was, without looking at it. And, of course, the drill in which Gardner would hold a towel and rubber bands below Thompson's arms, to keep his top half high without bringing the ball down -- ever.
"I had Klay from such a young age, it really helped," Gardner says. "And he still comes by to work. He'll just show up out of the blue at my house, like, 'I wanted to get some shots up.'"
Warriors assistant coach Chris DeMarco has worked with Thompson personally since his rookie season. By now, DeMarco is used to the texts asking him to come back to the facility at night so Thompson can get up extra shots.
"More than anything, he just loves the game. He loves playing basketball, and he loves shooting," DeMarco says. "He's like a kid in the backyard, just playing for hours."
There's a simplicity of focus in all the characterizations of Thompson that's hard to reconcile with the flaky, laid-back guy who keeps losing his driver's license.
How can a person be so laser-focused on one thing and so unfocused on everything else?
Simple. Basketball matters deeply to him. The other stuff doesn't.
"I usually wake up, go to the facility, get breakfast, get my shots up. About 100," Thompson says casually. "I'll get stretched, ice tub, maybe get Subway. Play with [my dog] Rocco in the backyard. Take a nap. Go to the arena. Have fun. Hopefully we win. It's that simple. I do that 100 times a year."
Coach Steve Kerr speaks to his coachability:
 "I wish I was Klay Thompson," Kerr says. "I envy him. He doesn't really care what anybody thinks. But the way it manifests itself is so natural and normal. He just loves to play, he loves his days off, he loves getting outside, loves the beach.

"He's not low-maintenance. He's no-maintenance."
On his ego:
"If he had a huge ego, this doesn't work," Warriors forward Draymond Green says flatly. "It just doesn't."
Those who know Thompson best say there is an ego in there. It just manifests itself differently than almost any other All-Star. He's ultracompetitive, yes, but without the chip on his shoulder.
"I have never heard Klay say, 'This is B.S. ... This guy is shooting too much, that guy won't pass, or I'm not getting enough looks,'" his agent, Greg Lawrence, says. 
On the importance of being on a successful team as opposed to individual honors:
"I used to actually get upset. Man, I should get more love," Thompson says. "Then I was just like ... none of that stuff really matters. As long as you go out there and ... you've got the best job in the world. You don't need to get gratification from the internet, or social media.
"Because you'll never find it, first of all. And you'll always find a lot of bad stuff. To me, as long as you play hard and have your dream job, shoot, I'll take that. That's all that matters to me."
"Everyone's like, 'Don't you want your own team? Don't you want to go be a star?'" Thompson says. "Man, winning trumps all. This is the only franchise I've ever known. It's not only about the individual accolades. Nowadays, because there's so much star power in the NBA, the team aspect kind of gets lost. But I'd rather be on a team that can make an imprint on history. We've already made an imprint, but it can be even greater. That's what drives me." 



Thursday, June 7, 2018

WHAT ARE YOUR SUMMER PICK UP GUIDELINES AND GOALS?


I'm a big believer that what a player and/or team does when the coaching staff is NOT around goes a long way into the success level of said player and/or team.  Discipline is about what you do when no one is around to watch.  Obviously, there is no bigger range that the summer months when on the collegiate level, we have no access to our players in regard to what they are doing on the court.

Keys to a good summer should include:

1. Commitment: The staff can make the gym available but it is up to the player and the team to make use of it.  During our Final Four run at LSU, the players would drive us crazy to open the gym for them.  Seimone Augustus would play 2 hours of pick up with the Lady Tigers and then drive across town and play pick up with a boys high school team.  Several of our players would head to the rec center to play with men after pick up.

2. Concentration: It is not enough just to walk in a gym and play.  The great players/teams go into each opportunity knowing there are specific things that they need to work on and they must have a high level of focus during pick to improve upon those areas.  Habits can be developed and improved upon in the summer --good ones and the bad ones -- based on the commitment and concentration of the player(s).

3. Effort: The average player goes through the motions in pick up and in their summer workouts.  They will give a little effort at times but nothing consistent.  And that is largely why they are "average" players.

While we can't be there with them, there are ways for us to enhance the off-season process for the players.  The first thing is to meet with the players individually and the team as a whole and talk to them specifically about the areas that need to be worked upon in the off-season. 

My suggestions would be to give each player something they do well and encourage them to continue to improve in that area.  John Maxwell talks often about how the great ones know what their strengths are and work hard so that it remains a strength.

Obviously you should also give them a couple of weaknesses to improve upon.  With some players, you might be able to list 7 or 8 things -- don't.  Less is more.  Pinpoint a couple and challenge them to come back in the fall better in those areas.

Be specific in how they need to go about improvement.  It is not enough to tell a player to work on her dribbling with her weak hand in the off-season.  Give her some specific drills that she needs to do during the summer and how often you think she needs to do them to gain improvement.  We had one player at LSU that was a very good player but had a poor left-hand.  We gave her a list of drills to work on her game.  But we also told her she was not allowed to use her right hand in pick up -- and we told her team this as well.  We wanted everything she did (other than shoot) to be off of her left hand.  Don't expect to tell a player to work on something and not tell her how. 

Finally, you should be specific in what you expect to see in them when workouts in the fall start. Paint a picture of what you want to see and share that vision with them.  Part of this process should be follow up. 

"How's the work on your left hand coming?"

"Are seeing and feeling any improvement?"


The other thing we did at LSU and now at Texas A&M was to create guidelines for playing pick up.  These not only applied in the summer but anytime during the fall and spring when we were out of season and playing pick up.  Obviously they need to specific to your philosophy and how you play the game.  These were typed on a sheet and placed in their notebooks and we went over them with the team in detail early in the fall and right before summer.

 Here is what our guidelines at Texas A&M are for pick up games

1. ALWAYS PLAY MAN TO MAN DEFENSE
Good pressure on the basketball (even if you get beat on the drive)
Get a hand up on every shot
Make contact, blockout, and finish the possession
Get in the passing lanes
No switching

2. RUN OUR OFFENSIVE SETS
Spacing: High and Wide
Minimize your dribble usage
Take good shots
Set good screens to get your teammates open
No ball screens
No plays or entries
(This is also a great opportunity for your veteran players to teach your new players a few of your offensive sets)

3. START WITH HALF COURT GAMES
Even if you have enough for 5/5, start with a couple of half court games
Will help us to develop our man defense and offense principles

4. UTILIZE CONVERSION
After half court games, finish up with full court games

5. GET BACK ON DEFENSE
Even 4/4 games can be played full court

6. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY
3/3, 2/2, 1/1
Play, play, play

7. BE A GOOD TEAMMATE
Encourage teammates
Upperclassmen teach our freshman how we play
Help freshman to understand offensive/defensive principles

8. PLAY HARD
Is there any other way?!

A few weeks ago I attended a Coaching Roundtable in Arlington, Texas with some very bright coaches from the collegiate and professional ranks.  One of the topics that was brought up was maximizing summer pick up.  Here are some of the things I took way from that discussion.

1. LET PLAYERS PICK THE TEAMS
Gives them a chance to know where they stand with their teammates.  Makes captains give thought as to who they think can help them win.

2. PLAY SHORT GAMES
Play to 7 or 8 points.  This creates a greater sense of urgency and can cultivate more intensity.

3. VALIDATE THE WIN WITH A FREE THROW
After a team gets to the point total needed to win, a player (selected by the losing team) must hit a free throw for the victory to be complete.  Otherwise another game is started at 0-0.

THERE WILL COME A TIME

WHEN WINTER WILL ASK,
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE THIS SUMMER?”


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

THE WARRIORS CULTURE AND HOW ITS DRIVEN BY STEPH CURRY


As a young assistant on the men's staff at LSU, I journeyed to Nashville in the fall of 1994 for my first Coach Don Meyer Free Clinic.  It was amazing!  So many things Coach Meyer shared with us that weekend resonated with me including this concept:

"If your best player is also your hardest worker,
 you have a chance to a good team."

I can think back to every team I've been involved with and the ones where our best players were the most committed, we had outstanding success.  On those teams where our best players gave less than their best, our team fell short of achieving the level of potential possible.

Look at some of the best NBA teams and equate work ethic with their best player.  Boston Celtics and Larry Bird.  Los Angeles Lakers with Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant.  Miami/Cleveland and LeBron James.

And the Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry.

Practice ended hours ago at the Warriors' Oakland facility, and Klay Thompson is heading toward the door, the last Warrior to leave. It's May 11, a few days before the Warriors open their much-anticipated conference finals series against the Rockets, but Thompson pauses before exiting. He looks across the empty court, at a far basket -- the one Curry shoots on every day. "He works as if he's still a rookie, [as if] he's still trying to make his way in this league," Thompson says of his Splash Brother, a teammate for seven seasons. "We all see that, and it makes us go to our hoops and put [in] work. No one wants to be off the floor before him, because this man is the one."
Indeed, before practices, Curry and Fraser choose from a menu of more than two dozen items, depending on which aspects of Curry's game need sharpening. Maybe shooting off-the-dribble jumpers or shooting after high-ball screens or ballhandling drills. Repetitions vary, but Curry always ends his sweat-soaked workout with 100 3-point attempts, often making in the mid- to high-80s -- and frequently into the 90s. After all his makes, Curry will sit beneath the basket, his back against the stanchion, his chest heaving up and down, a bottle of water between his legs. By this point in the day, he's often one of the few Warriors on the court, if not the last. It has been this way for years.

Coach Steve Kerr and Curry’s teammates also talk about the “energy” he brings to the team and how it is contagious.
Ask Curry's teammates to describe his impact, and more than pace or space, they'll cite an on-court energy when he's among them -- one that spreads throughout the crowd. "There's a different feel in the arena," Kerr says. "Similar to Michael [Jordan], there is just this awe factor from opposing crowds, and every crowd is sprinkled with Steph jerseys no matter where we are, and there's a palpable excitement when he gets going. In Oracle, it's the tidal wave. And on the road it's like, 'Oh, my god, I can't believe what I'm watching.'"

Another word that teammates and coaches use to describe Curry is humility.
"There's a humility about [Curry] that you can't really be taught at this point," Thompson says. "And he's just easy to joke with. He'll joke with our video interns, he'll joke with our owners, he'll joke with our equipment guys. When you see your best player being loose and disciplined -- like, it's a fine line, but when you can walk both lines, it just makes for such a nice work atmosphere."


Assistant coach Ron Adams, who just turned 70, is the Warriors' sage, imparting wisdom from nearly three decades in the NBA. "I think every day he realizes how lucky he is," Adams says. "He also realizes the joy that he can bring to people's lives -- not only his teammates, but I just think in general.
"He pulls that off better than any pro athlete I think I've been around."




Friday, June 1, 2018

WENDI JONES: HONORING A LIFE WELL LIVED


It was a difficult drive on Wednesday to the northern part of Texas to celebrate the life of Wendi Jones who passed away after a second battle with breast cancer.  As I pulled into Keller United Methodist Church I for some reason parked towards the back and entered on the side.  Walking through the door I found myself on the church basketball court. 

How ironic! It was basketball that first introduced me to Wendi. 

I was a member of Dale Brown’s staff at LSU while Wendi played for the Lady Tigers.  There was a such a great respect for both programs and we supported each other in every way imaginable.  The women would practice from 12:30 until 3:00 PM while we would take the floor at immediately after.  I loved watching Coach Sue Gunter teach and would often head over to the gym well before our practice time to watch the Lady Tigers.  Their teams in that era were excellent.  Three things I remembered about Wendi was that she had an element of toughness, she played extremely hard, and she was a wonderful teammate — always with a great attitude.  These intangibles would served her well through life.

Later when Coach Brown retired, I had the opportunity to join Coach Gunter’s staff and one of my responsibilities was alumni relations.  My conversations with Wendi turned to alumni weekend visits and updates on her life and family.

The next link to my relationship with Wendi came about through breast cancer.  My wife Sherie, was diagnosed in 2007.  We made a decision to be public in our fight and see if we could raise awareness and money.  I think it was because we went public that Wendi’s husband Trent felt comfortable reaching out to me when she was first diagnosed.

Over the course of the next few years there would be various conversations, text messages and communication through Facebook.  I never ended one without thinking what an amazing attitude Wendi possessed.  I rallied our Lady Tiger family around her reaching out to our professional players as well.  Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Temeka Johnson and others reached out to her and sent her things like their pink WNBA game shoes, head bands and more.

The last time I physically saw Wendi was at an LSU basketball game two years ago — alumni weekend.  I was by then on the staff at Texas A&M but couldn’t wait to see her and for the first time meet her son Ryan.  On that day, I wore a special pink Breast Cancer Awareness tie in her honor while she and Ryan were decked out on purple and gold.  It was a great day.

I was out of town a few weeks ago when Trent let me know that Wendi’s time was near and that she was at peace with everything.  I couldn’t help think how fortunate she had been to have Trent along for this journey.  Unless you have held down the responsibility of caregiver, it’s hard to understand the energy, effort and toll it takes.  Trent was amazing and I have so much respect for him.

It was a beautiful service with teammates Barbara Henderson and Shelly Raines there.  Barbara spoke and told some stories about Wendi that brought out her caring nature and her sense of humor as well.

As I looked around the church, it was at near capacity — a testament within itself.  As Coach Don Meyer would say, “You can tell more about someone at the funeral than you can their wedding.”  Among those in attendance were many junior high and high school students — too many to count.  Wendi was a teacher — it would be shared by her friend Lisa Bradley that was named Teacher-of-the-Year three times though it was already obvious how well she did her job by those students in the pews.

I thought of the quote by Henry Brooks Adam, "A teacher effects eternity, and you can never tell where the influence stops."  Looking at all these young faces I knew that the lessons they learned in Wendi's classrooms were important but the example she lead will be with them forever.

Wendi had also coached and Lisa gave great insight as to why she was a great teacher by saying “Wendi enjoyed practices far more than games.”

The family asked that in lieu of flowers that we “donate to a Breast Cancer charity of your choice.”  Today I will make one to the Kay Yow Fund in Wendi’s name.

I would ask that all of us that knew Wendi do one other thing.  I firmly believe that the best way to honor someone you’ve lost is by the life you live.  Wendi has given us all a great blueprint in her servant leadership example.

Thank you Wendi.  You will be missed but certainly not forgotten.  For as Barbara Henderson reminded us, Sue Gunter taught us the on the court or off the court is it always US.