PABLO – Some big names in basketball – and one in writing – are headed to the Flathead Indian Reservation in May with a message: Positive coaching philosophies and practices work.
Tara VanDerveer should know. The longtime Stanford women’s basketball coach has taken 26 consecutive teams to the NCAA Tournament, nine of them to the Final Four, and won two national championships.
VanDerveer and Stanford men’s coach Johnny Dawkins, the former Duke star and NBA player, headline The Hoop, a basketball clinic for coaches and 100 lucky youngsters scheduled for Salish Kootenai College in May.
The coaching clinic is meant for coaches at every level, be it college, high school, or the moms, dads and volunteers who coach youth teams.
Also instructing will be VanDerveer’s sister Heidi, the head women’s coach at UC San Diego, former Colorado head coach Ceal Barry, Stanford associate head women’s coach Amy Tucker, Broward (Florida) College coach MJ Baker, and Baker’s husband Ganon, a Nike skill development trainer and workout director who has tutored the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Adding a bit of a twist to The Hoop will be the presence of a former baseball pitcher whose Major League career lasted all of two innings. Larry Colton, who made his debut – and final appearance – for the Philadelphia Phillies on May 6, 1968, is also on the clinic’s faculty, and for good reason.
Colton, whose baseball career was cut dramatically short by a shoulder separation that day, has since written five books, two of them about basketball. The first, “Idol Time,” was about the Portland Trailblazers’ 1977 NBA championship and is out of print.
The second was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. “Counting Coup” followed the trials and tribulations of a “talented, moody, charismatic” young basketball player on the Crow Indian Reservation named Sharon LaForge.
How did such an interesting collection of people from Florida to California come to be putting on a basketball coaching clinic on a Montana reservation?
The story begins in Dillon and has been three years in the making, according to Juan Perez, who wears several hats at the host institution, Salish Kootenai College, including that of women’s basketball coach.
Perez says the University of Montana Western was honoring one of its alums, former SKC President Joe McDonald, and Perez attended the event. There he met Vikki Howard, coordinator of UM Western’s Special Education Program.
“Vikki and I were visiting, and she mentioned she was friends with Tara VanDerveer and might be able to get her to come up for a clinic sometime,” Perez says.
The SKC coach wasn’t about to let the offer expire.
Howard and VanDerveer actually go back 37 years. Howard played on VanDerveer’s very first team, at the University of Idaho, in 1977-78, and later served as VanDerveer’s director of basketball operations at Stanford.
“We did a couple of similar things when I was at Stanford,” Howard says. “We had an opportunity to set up a clinic on the Navajo Reservation, and one year I told her she was going to Africa for one. As far as I know, she only does these when I make her do it.”
But VanDerveer has been heavily involved in planning the Pablo clinic. She recruited Dawkins, her counterpart in the Stanford men’s program and the Naismith College Player of the Year for Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke in 1986, and the rest of the coaches to join her in Pablo.
And, Howard says, VanDerveer made the call to focus the clinic on coaches.
“Kids’ clinics are fun, but there’s no lasting impact,” Howard says. “Tara wanted to do it for as many people as she could, and we decided to touch the people who touch children’s lives. It’s about coaching to build self-advocacy, as opposed to the old model of screaming and yelling at them. Sometimes kids need that kind of coach in their lives.”
There will, Howard promises, be plenty of X’s and O’s “for people who are rabid about X’s and O’s.”
And kids won’t be left out. A limited number – the first 50 girls currently in grades 5-8, and 50 boys currently in grades 4-6, to register online – will take part in a free five-hour youth clinic, with lunch provided, on Saturday, May 16. VanDerveer and Dawkins will talk to both groups.
Perez, who is organizing the clinic with Howard's help, has spoken to VanDerveer on the phone about her goals for the three days. Last month he met with VanDerveer in Pullman, Washington, when Stanford was there to play Washington State University.
“We talked about a player camp” early on, Perez says, “but Tara felt we could affect more youth through coaches. If you coach 10 or 12 players a year for 20 or 30 years, you affect a lot of kids. The whole premise behind the clinic is positive coaching.”
Also involved will be the Positive Coaching Alliance, a national nonprofit organization backed by dozens of famous names such as former Bulls and Lakers coach Phil Jackson and NFL MVP Steve Young, that believes sports can build character and teach valuable lessons to young people – but only if they stay involved in sports.
More than 70 percent of children who start in youth sports quit participating by age 13, in part, the alliance says, because they don’t have a positive experience.
In the middle of three days of clinic workshops on subjects such as post and guard fundamentals, practice drills, full-court press defenses and developing a transition offense, the PCA will offer a two-hour workshop on positive coaching.