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The Old, the New, and the Final Four

by Multiple on 05/29/15

by John Kottori

This weekend brings about many things for AAU Basketball in Massachusetts.  The Final Four will take place alongside the 17u/11th Grade State Tournament.  The Final Four is rather new to the State Tournament in comparision to it's total history.  It is has become such a great basketball event for those who aspire, those who put in the hard work, played as a team, and survived tough competition.

For me, it's allows me to measure the "what I did right" and "what I need to do better" for the advancement of this game. This year has had many things which remind me of the past, make me look at the future, and enjoy the Final Four.

The Old

I often hear from coaches, parents, and referees "this game isn't played like it use to be" or "players don't pass the ball like they use to." Every basketball junkie loves the movie "Hoosiers."  Coaches have it in their heads "how many times are we going to pass the ball before we shoot?"  We love that movie because it's what every coach wishes he/she could be- stand by your principles and just coach the game.  As a graduate of Springfield College, I understand this games beginning. As a student there, I was often in awe of the fact of being on the campus where it all started.  Naismith followed principles instilled in him by parents and a world which demanded respect for the correct way to do things.  Many of us in coaching had likeminded role models who were able to teach the game instead of trying to teach the ego.  As a student of the game, I have listened to the great people in basketball. My mentor, Don Cushing is a basketball legend in Central Massachusetts.  Not many have the court at the High School they coached at named after them- he does.  As he would tell you, his proudest part of that gym is the banner which list how many MIAA Sportsmanship Awards his teams earned.  Joe Day who is a legend in Boston made the game simple for me- "everything in basketball is about two things- footwork and spacing." The good coaches of today still have the "old" mentality of respecting the game, teaching the athlete, and sticking to his/her principles. 

The New

Yeah, I'm a new era coach with old principles.  At 45, I was able to see the conversion of "just run because you did something wrong" to "if we run it's because you need it athletically." This is why it is so important for the NEW basketball minds to understand things from the old will make you a better teacher, better coach, and hopefully, a better person.  

Today's game is so much different than say, 25 years ago. In 2015, we are in awe about MVP's, Letter of Intents, scoring averages, being highlighted in some recruiting report, or just being held up like and idol on twitter. Basketball has changed with the times.  Maybe it's a good thing.  I often feel conflicted because, I liked watching JoJo White and Tiny Archibald play unselfishly.  I also can't lie by telling I would say no to the next LeBron or Kobe who wished to play on my team.  I talked with some younger coaches during the State Tournament which prompted me to tweet about them specifically.  These are NEW era coaches who seem to have things in perspective. Principles before wins.  I hope as the New game progresses, these COACHES will stick around and continue their path. The greater hope is more join in their mindset of teaching the player not the ego. 

The Final Four

So, what does the old and the new have to do with the Final Four? A comment made on March 1, 2000 by Rick Pitino applies (even though he probably didn't intend it to). It was the "walking through the door" speech which, for me, actually spoke to the change in basketball more than the change of the Celtics. In it he said in part,  "Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they're going to be gray and old. What we are is young, exciting, hard-working, and we're going to improve. People don't realize that, and as soon as they realize those three guys are not coming through that door, the better this town will be for all of us because there are young guys in that (locker) room playing their (bleep) off... The only thing we can do is work hard." If you take those words and apply them to the way basketball has progressed, you might say "the Bird, McHale, and Parrish type of player aren't going to grace the floor again." We see more "trash talk" nowadays, we see more one-on-one take it by yourself play, and we see the I'm better than this team.  Did Bird, McHale, and Parrish believe they were better than the Lakers? Or Sixers?  Yes, but they always had in their minds they needed to prepare harder than their counterparts to win Championships. 

This weekend we will witness the teams who have earned their spot in the Final Four. You don't get to this point of the AAU season without working and preparing. Even though the game has changed (to the chagrin of some Johnny Most fans), they still know this is still the best game.  So coaches and players, the faster "you realize" that all you need to do is teach/play, stay within your principles and work your (bleep) off, the quicker success will come to you.  There are no new fancy ways to teach this game.  The old teachings will always lead to new success in the Final Four.     

Building, Accepting, Embracing and Thriving in a role that emphasizes WE over ME

by Multiple on 05/26/15

by Rick Gorman


It is my strong belief that you must identify roles. I don't think it actually takes too long so don't drag it out. You know your personnel after coaching them for a period of time. Don't complicate it! You are driving the bus so don't act like the GPS is on the fritz. You know what you want to accomplish on the offensive and defensive end. You are proven coaches, don't be afraid to be clear, honest and committed to putting people in the roles even if that means the player, their parents and their handlers don't like it. Be communicative to the player on what you want and need especially if the role is drastically different than what you first thought it would be or what it was before. I love coaches at all levels that can find ways to include players and build roles but most of all I love the ones that can get those players to take ownership and buy into those roles. For the sake of the game, for the sake of basketball development, for the sake of shaping young men for the game of life don't be afraid to define clear roles. In the end your team will play better and you will love the WE over ME culture you have developed.


Coaches please keep the following in mind in identify roles or seats on the bus


  •          Embrace a player who will change his whole game for the sake of the teams' mission. Tell these guys you appreciate them and love them because I promise you, you will miss them dearly when they leave your program. They will be the players you use as examples the rest of your coaching career.


  •           Keep in mind guys that embrace certain roles don't always get the worthy praise from media types who only look at how many points one scores; so make sure those guys get the plugs sometimes even more than the headliners.


  •          Communicate your needs clearly to your players because remember in the end they are still just kids.


  •          The player earns a right to get on the bus, you may have to decide what seat they need to sit in


  •          Don't be afraid to remind your players who do embrace their role, then try to do too much that they need to do what they do best. Always want players to improve their game but in the end they need them to do their job


  •          Coaches that have young players that feel the pressure that they need to be playing NOW must talk to guys about buying in and earning minutes and roles. You must give them the opportunity to grow within your program


  •          Be honest if you have no real plans for the player communicate this to the player instead of misleading him. Kids want honesty and they want the truth, parents not so much!


  •          Be clear on your teams' mission, embrace to them that guys have to be over themselves and they need to buy into what the teams' goals are. If they can't, they can't be here


  •          Use examples of guys playing at the highest level because they bought into a role. Who would not love to have a rebounder like TRISTAN THOMPSON on their team. Who wouldn't love having an energy guy like PADDY MILLS or MATT DELLAVEDOVA on his team or a guy that moves without the ball like JJ REDDICK. Help them buy into a role


  •          Enjoy your role player in the PRESENT. Respect and enjoy them because in the craziness of a season time flies and that for me is why saying goodbye to guys that have embraced a role is so hard. It's not the superstar who are more about themselves that I still think about; it's the players that without question changed who they were and wanted to be to follow the team and your goal for a successful run


  •           Proven statistic!, the players that we are talking about are the ones that you wouldn't mind your daughter dating and they tend to be your wives favorite players


  •          Lastly coaching at any level is at times a thankless job, remember why you decided to coach and tune out the noise. Have confidence in your plan and have confidence in delivering the plan



Yours in Hoop


Building, Accepting, Embracing and Thriving in a role that emphasizes WE over ME

by Multiple on 05/20/15

by Rick Gorman



We now live in a day and age of basketball where the requirement from players and parents is instant gratification. The unrealistic self-evaluations along with the people in the players' ears has created a culture where everyone wants to be the guy. These players believe that they have earned the right to do what they think they should be able to do on the court because their parent/handler has told them they are too good. Getting players to buy into a specific role even after the coach has carved out role for them is frustrating to watch. Too many players believe that scoring the ball is the only thing that gets recognized by THE REAL people that matter, and this leads to some so called prospects being totally exposed. You want to get on the floor and contribute find a role and embrace it. This past weekend I saw a team with good high school players beat a team comprised of good high school players trying to do too much and two scholarship level players who thought their mere presence would push the team to victory. The team that beat them (handily by the way) with no scholarship level players, embraced roles, shared the ball, spaced the floor, defended like crazy and of course made shots. The losing team blamed each other, the reffing along with a myriad of excuses that was both comical and sad to watch. They played me over we but the biggest concern I have is the unwillingness that they and similar players have in refusing to man up and look in the mirror and do some realistic self evaluation. The following are some thoughts for players to help find a way to get on the floor and stay on the floor

Players Keep in Mind the Following:

  •          Trust your coaches evaluation of where you fit; not the opinions of handlers, parents and please never listen to the guy eating at your lunch table
  •          Best way to get minutes is to do the things others refuse to do: Be a grinder, defend better than anyone, be a tenacious rebounder, be able to run an offense and be the smartest guy on the floor, get on the floor for loose balls
  •          Understand how special it is to be part of something and have a role. TRUST ME as years go by being part of something WILL BE more special  than you regurgitating your stats on a bar stool at the local pub
  •          Some Statistics are overrated, don't worry about statistics. Make an impact on the game. I never trust stats, I look at the impact a player has on the game that will never end up on the stat page. I value hockey assists more than assists, I value who can hit foul shots at the end of the game, I value rebound stats and assist to turnover ratio and I get excited to see someone take a charge more than a  failed dunk attempt
  •          Embrace WE over ME every day of the week. Find a way to help your team win
  •          Know WHO YOU ARE and DO YOUR JOB! It doesn't mean you don't work on trying to improve every facet of your game but DO WHAT YOU DO BEST and when you get better you will do more
  •          Communicate with your coach that you want a role. Listen to what he has to say.
  •          Look at your team and find out what is missing that you could embrace
  •          Rome was not built in a day. The really good players will play right away, the others will or should fight and scratch to find a way on to the floor
  •          Be a supportive teammate and a joy to coach and have around the team
  •          Repeat after me! Your coaches don't have it out for you! Coaches' job is to win and shape fine young men. Help the coach by being whatever he needs you to be
  •          Watch the San Antonio Spurs more than the New York Knicks. Model your game after the unselfishness of Tim Duncan instead of Carmello Anthony. Do the math 5 rings to 0 rings
  •          Be mentally strong or find another interest
  •          Trust the right people then trust the process - This is not rocket science. Like finding a good mechanic when you find the right person you will see immediate progress. Last thing you need in your life is another used car salesman
  •          Stay Hungry and Stay Humble
  •          Don't make excuses, FIND A WAY!








by Multiple on 05/07/15

by Rick Gorman

Twenty years ago when a player was being recruited to play college basketball there was a close relationship with the players high school program and the college coaching staff recruiting them. Flash forward 20 years and now the public high school coach has minimal contact while the grassroot program tends to work much closer with the college staff (Many Prep school coaches are still very active in the recruitment process and probably always will be). The main reason for this change is the growth of grassroot programs in the off season and the opportunities for the college programs to see them.

I think that if we say we really want what is best for the student athlete then all those working with the player must work together. From my long standing vantage point it appears that clubs and high school programs choose not to work with each other for a variety reasons and as a grassroots program director I feel strongly that we should be taking the lead on changing this.

Some of the reasons for not working together are: 1. both sides wait for the other to make the first move, feeling that they don't want to step on each other toes or that their opinion is not wanted non-interest in working with another party because my season is from November to March and my season is March to October 3. Territorial in that this is our season and that is their season 4. Lack of trust from both parties when it comes to developing the player and 5. Plain insecurity on one or both parties.

So why do I think both groups to should work together? 1. Players in most cases enjoy, respect and love both their high school coach and their grass roots coach and at times feel they are caught in the middle of two separate worlds. Players shouldn't stress about this but many do. 2. If both groups communicated on areas of improvement for an individual player then both could work on those areas in the school season and the off season 3. The high school coach may be forced to use a player a certain way during the winter and the off season coach might have the luxury to use the player in a variety of ways in the off-season, in the end both experiences will make the player even better for how both choose to use them when they are coaching. 4. Communication is important between the two coaches in terms of being realistic on how good the player is and how good the player can be. 5. College Recruitment is where both coaches can work together with the colleges because in a lot of ways they may know the player in very different ways 6. It improves the perception of grass root programs who are offering a great service in the off season 7. Lastly it's pretty special when the grass root program, the high school program, the players' family and the player get to enjoy the fruits of everyone's hard work.

In my program we have a very clear program set with high school coaches. We invite their feedback, we communicate how the season is going and we talk constantly how we can work together for the benefit of the player. Our players love when we watch and support them in the winter and they love when their high school coaches come and watch them in the off season. I had the great pleasure of coaching Georges Niang from 4th grade to 10th grade. As Georges finished 8th grade I had the pleasure of working with Marcus O'Neil at Tilton School where Georges would be first noticed on the national scene. I wasn't threatened by Marcus and Marcus wasn't threatened by me. When it came time for Georges to reclassify at Tilton, it was also time for Georges to play for Leo Papile and The BABC. BABC afforded Georges more opportunities than the Storm could and everyone was on board with it. The Storm, Tilton School and the BABC were all active in Georges recruitment and nobody tried to upstage the other. In the end when we all watch Georges on national television all of us;  Methuen Youth Basketball, New England Storm, Tilton School and The BABC all share in knowing we all had a small piece on where he is today. So to me this is not rocket science, If you want to say you are really about the player then work together because in the end it is really about the player not us


Yours in Hoop

An AAU STATE of mind.

by Multiple on 04/30/15

By John Kottori


The Mass AAU State Tournaments are less than 24 hours away from tipping off and I still get that excited feeling of chasing that goal my team prepared to capture.  For someone, who decided to take a sabbatical from coaching for the first five years of my daughter's life, I still am a coach. Even though I am currently not on the sidelines barking out "GO", "DO THE FOOTWORK",  "SPACING" (and so much more), I get that feeling here we go.

The Mass AAU State Tournament is a big thing to me.  It is where I became a better AAU coach and a better High School coach.  It is where I learned how to teach my players the value of "perfect practice."  It is where I fostered so many good relationships with coaches who were on the sidelines for the right reason, the players they were teaching.  It is where my teams would chase those TEAM goals of qualifying for the AAU Nationals and hopefully snag a State Championship.  Success can come in different forms and by no means do I, solely, attribute wins and losses to that word.   Did you leave everything on the floor or at home?  Did you play within yourself or for yourself?  Did I coach for a greater purpose or just for the moment?  For me, it's all about the experiences and lessons the AAU, especially the State Tournament and National Championship, has allowed me and EVERY player I coached to gain from in this thing we call life. 


One of the things, I always come back to when speaking of the AAU State Championships is my first Final Four game in the 17u Division against BABC in 2000. I know what you're thinking.  No surprise someone has a story about BABC in a Final Four State Tournament.  As they strive for their 100th title over the next couple of weeks that number means more than a century mark it's only fitting they are within this entry. 


Before I reflect on that specific story, I want to tell you about a game which took place a couple of years earlier.  The AAU was still new to me back in 1998.  I had a team comprised of players from 3 high schools and we were doing our circuit laid out by my club director.  We headed down to Griswold Ct to play in a tournament run by Charlie Wilcox of the Ct. Force.  We were doing well, 2-0 going into Sunday. It didn't matter to me who we had scheduled as an opponent, in my youthful inexperience, we were really good.  When I was told BABC, I didn't think too much of it. I didn't think of calling my club director to find out the 411 on the BABC. This was my youthful ego getting the better of me.

As soon as we walked into this Hoosier-like gym, we saw the BABC.  I mean THE BABC.  Every one of them was warming up above the rim.  Knocking down warm-up shots 5 in a row, 6 in a row from well beyond and arc. The size of this team, which I didn't care to at least place a call about, was enormous. They were as lengthy as they were vertical.  But I was a coach.  I was a 2-0 coach.  My team was 2-0 team.  Size means nothing. David verses Goliath.  The ego of mine was so immature but, my competiveness reflected in my players as they had no fear. 


As quick as the game started, I realized my ego needs to grow up.  I could have two reactions to the dunks, fast break points, blocked shots, and every other highly skilled basketball move that had us down by twenty before, what it seem to be, one of the refs made it to the other side of the floor.  Would my reaction be hot headed, ticked off this team was playing us, or maybe even the "let's just get out of here."  My competiveness took over.  I coached the sweat out of me. I instructed every moment of the game. I kept things in perspective.  I hadn't looked at the scoreboard since it was 34-5.  But neither did my players.  So, when the final buzzer went off and I finally saw the 126-48 whacking, I said to myself- lesson learned. 


Now here comes my real lesson on that day.  Going through the handshaking line, I finally get to the coach.  Leo Papile grabs my hand and says these exact words, "hey, you guys did pretty good."  Immediately, I thought what an "A**." Respectfully, I didn't say a word (good thing my ego grew up) but the next words out of his mouth helped me have longevity in coaching basketball.  Leo say, "we're really good and we've been averaging 150 points a game and we didn't stop playing in this one."  THANKS and thank you.  The little left of my ego was thinking, "THANKS for not stopping to play as you demolished us."  My maturing nature said, "He didn't have to try to put it in perspective for me nor try to have me see a positive to bring back to my players, so thank you." From that game on, I knew of the BABC and Leo.

Fast forward to the 2000 season.  We were AAU good.  Most of my players went on to play college ball including a Division II scholarship (Bryant) player.  This season we could make a serious run for the 17u AAU State Title and no matter who stepped on the floor (even BABC), I thought we could compete against.  We made our way through pool play with ease and made it to the Final Four. 

Back in those days, there were no online schedules or emails or team websites. The Final Four (didn't have it on a separate weekend) was set with BABC verses CMAC Hawks and Mass Hysteria verses YABC.  Only three teams would get a trip to the Nationals (there was no DII or DII).  By the way, Mass Hysteria had won 5 consecutive AAU State titles (12u-16u) and they were the first group to refer themselves as "The Family." Anyways, I digress too much sometimes.

We step on the floor at Northeastern against the Jermaine Watson era BABC team with full confidence we could play with and beat them.  I wasn't stupid either.  We'd have to play nearly perfect basketball to get it done but we could.  Throughout the contest the BABC kept an 8-12 point lead.  As the second half was getting into crunch time, I knew we had to make some sort of run. We tried, but Leo was thinking the same.  In what seemed like an instant an 8 point lead became 20. 

My ego said, "Did ya miss me?"  Luckily, my maturity said to my ego, "Get back in the crib." I called a timeout, instructed, made adjustments, and every other thing a mature coach would do. It didn't matter if it was BABC or the Celtics.  We bounced back.  We cut that 20 point lead to 4 and Leo had to call a timeout.  Now, all of us in AAU know if you get Leo to call a timeout, your team is playing well.  Like any great coach, Leo rectified his situation and we couldn't sustain.  We lost by eight and I had to regroup for the bronze game in an hour against YABC.

The YABC game was a classic game of styles.  We had methodical way of playing and YABC was an intense group with no giving up.  Billy Washington was a great coach that day- and any other day as well.  Back and forth the game went.  Both teams were making shots and very little mistakes. Both teams made adjustments and the benches contributed in timely fashion. 

Late in the game, YABC was making a run at our slim lead.  They were gaining momentum and it seemed like I would have to wait year for my first National Bid.  Suddenly, I hear this baby crying in my head.  That ego sometimes didn't listen.  I thought of one thing and then another and then questioning my ability to be a coach at this level.  Then the mature coach finally rid me of the ego. The mature coach said to the ego, "This isn't about you. It's about these players who deserve a National Bid. Now coach them the way you know."

We won the game and a National Bid to Orlando.  From that point on my ego never dared to come back in my head on the sidelines and more importantly in life. 

So, as you all chase that State Title and National Bid (whether it be your first or #100), remember to keep that ego in the crib and coach for the players you have.  No matter what the outcome brings, if you keep things in perspective so will your players and they will get the experience they deserve.       



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May 8-10

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17u/11th Grade AAU Mass State Championships (live feeds and live in-game stats)

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