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VOL. 129 | NO. 61 | Friday, March 28, 2014
Don Wade

Don Wade

Visiting Teams Show Blueprint for Tigers

By Don Wade

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Now that we’ve all had a few days to digest the premature end to the Tigers’ season, let’s see what we can learn that might help going forward.

Two days after Memphis again lost in the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, coach Josh Pastner struck a different tone when answering questions from the media.

He volunteered that there are many areas in which the team needed to get better and confessed to badly miscalculating how good the guards would shoot from 3-point range, and essentially said whatever the problem is, “It’s on me.”

But the five words I found most encouraging over his 30-minute session were these: “I believe in continuing education.”

Pastner said that every off-season he has visited with other coaches. This off-season, he said there are specific things he wants to explore and specific minds he hopes to mine. Often we’ve heard Pastner say he is a better coach now than in his first year. True.

Also, he hopes to be much better in his 10th year than he was in his fifth. Fans, however, would prefer this progress come in his sixth year.

So, with that in mind and seeing as Memphis couldn’t go to the Sweet 16, I took advantage of the Sweet 16 coming to Memphis in the form of the South Regional at FedExForum.

I spent Wednesday, March 26, the day before No. 11 seed Dayton played No. 10 seed Stanford and No. 4 seed UCLA played No. 1 seed Florida, on a fact-finding mission to, well, jump-start the continuing education process. Here are five takeaways:

Memphis isn’t the only small-city pressurized fish bowl. “It’s a little bit of a double-edged sword,” said Dayton coach Archie Miller, whose team regularly packs out its home arena. “Because if you’re doing well, they make you feel like you’re doing better than you really are. You may show up and eight cakes and 19 boxes of cookies are going to be in your office.”

And if not doing so well, the coach is advised to employ a taster. That’s a joke, by the way.

“It’s a smaller environment, maybe a little smaller bowl to look into,” Miller added, “but you are the show.”

Every young coach must plow his own proving ground. “When you’re a young coach, you’re always in a position where you’re trying to prove yourself,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan, owner of two national championships and who reached his first Sweet 16 in his fifth year as a head coach, his third at Florida. “I don’t think it’s any different for anybody in any job.”

Defense is like a marriage; it requires dual commitment in terms of schemes/principles and effort: “It has to do with our will,” said Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin, “but it also has to do with the principles and sticking to those principles and all five guys doing their job. Because if one guy doesn’t, the whole defensive possession breaks down.”

Teams that advance in the tournament, improve over time. UCLA coach Steve Alford won a national title as a player at Indiana under Bob Knight: “Coach Knight’s approach was always get better … so you’re one team in November, another team in December. That’s what I appreciate about this team. We’re a much better team here in March than what we were in November and December and that’s a great credit to the players.”

Coaches have to know when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em. Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins on what he’s learned: “I was coming in with some preconceived notions of we’re going to pick up full court, we’re going to pressure everyone … we’re going to play a certain system offensively.

“I found that not to be the right system for this group,” Dawkins said. “So I had to readjust as a coach and I had to grow. My growth was being able to listen and look at new things and say, `OK, how do you devise a system that’s going to maximize who these guys are? And we started making those adjustments.”

Which might be why Dawkins’ team, as a 10 seed, was in Memphis for the Sweet 16.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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