Coach Marisa Moseley spoke to me about post play and recruiting. I also asked Coach Moseley about how UConn treated its best player, first off the bench, and walk-ons differently. Her answers in short terms is that they treated them all the same. Their best players got leeway in terms of shot selection, but aside from that there is no difference.
The Best Players
Head Coach Geno Auriemma got on their best players at UConn. If any player was doing something fundamentally wrong, the coaches would make it known. In fact, every freshmen that came through the program learned basic fundamentals. If UConn believes all players are set with their fundamentals, what does that say about the rest of us coaches?
In addition to getting on these players, Coach Moseley told me the UConn was conscious of a player’s psyche. If Coach Auriemma was tough on a player it was generally bad practice for an assistant coach to pile on. As Coach Moseley put it, “they need some positive love.”
Coaching the Reserves
UConn sold the reserves and the sixth man role on the basis that they needed a spark. Once the subs come in for both teams, the energy and momentum needed to be sustained. Coach Moseley suggested that players place too much emphasis on the “starter” title anyway. It is more critical to be part of the last five than the first five in her mind. There is huge value in being a part of the second group. Ultimately if players want to become a part of that first group at some point, it is best for team culture to do the best in their role. From my perspective I could not agree more. And as coaches it has worked in similar ways. Erik Spoelstra, Brad Stevens, and Kevin Eastman have all thrived in doing the best in various roles before climbing up the ladder.
Coaching the Walk-Ons
For teams that are not college teams, you might call them the “twelfth player.” Most people might say that these players do not feel entitled. That might be true, but these players still want to play. In their case, honesty is critical. Coach Auriemma showed film at practice and referenced the mistakes that were made to justify his decisions.
They may not see the court, but these players are still important. The culture at UConn allowed these players to feel like they belonged. They lived together and hung out together.
The other day a tweet was posted about the original U.S. Dream Team. The players on that team immediately were ready to accept their role – even if it was unfamiliar. Similarly, Coach Moseley recounted a story of the Women’s Olympic Team that she served as an assistant in 2012. When Coach Auriemma asked for the first five to step out, five players stepped out. He did not tell Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker, etc. to step out. The players just knew. In general players are going to know their roles. You might have some that are naïve and some that are hesitant, but players generally know the pecking order.