The Suzy Merchant Test

MSU Women's Basketball Coach - Suzy Merchant

I am stealing the following story from a blog post written by Scott Westerman, Michigan State University’s Associate  Vice president for Alumni Relations and Executive Director of the MSU Alumni Association.  Click here to read the original article.

Every high school and youth athlete should read, understand and live the concepts described below.  It is amazing how simple (and telling) these characteristics are but how hard it is for some players to grasp their importance.

The Suzy Merchant Test

The three characteristics Suzy looks for in a basketball recruit are these:

Work Ethic
Passion
Character

The NCAA only allows coaches to have a brief glimpse into the faces of the kids they hope to attract to an athletic program. Suzy would tell you that you can dig into the statistics all day long, but it’s really all about the person behind the numbers. And since her time watching a potential recruit is very limited, she’s developed a test that quickly gives her a handle on all three of these key dimensions.

What does the kid do during the warm ups? – How you practice says a lot about how you’ll play.

How do you behave when you’re sitting on the bench? –  You may be a star in high school, but it’s likely you’ll ride the pine during your early years in the big time. Are you attentive and engaged? Does your energy when you’re not a in the spotlight inspire others who are?

Do you cheer for your teammates? – Unfortunately, more and more of our elite athletes focus beyond the lessons that can be learned in college and have an eye on the pros from the moment they sign a letter of intent. It sometimes becomes a “me” thing. If you want to make the cut on Suzy’s team, it had better be all about “us”.

How do you behave when the game is a blow out? – If you’re way ahead, are you still giving it the best you’ve got? And if you’re way behind, are you still playing to win, even when winning seems impossible?

Do you look your coach in the eye? – Paying attention to someone who is there to help you is key, even when you’re hurting or angry. Eye to eye is also the ultimate lie detector.

What happens after the game when you come out of the locker room? – Suzy recounted her final visit to watch a highly touted recruit play a big game. The Coach travels incognito to these things. The kid’s don’t know she’s there. She watches for all of the traits listed above and computes the score. But the ultimate question is where your true priorities lie. On this particular evening, the recruit’s team pulled off a come from behind win. The fans were ecstatic and so were her parents, who were in attendance. Suzy quietly followed them down to the locker room area. When the young superstar came out, her father was beaming with pride, “You were terrific! We are so proud of you,” he said.

“Give me the car keys. I want to go over to Amanda’s,” was her response.

Fail.

Whatever your aspirations, you will eventually be faced with the Suzy Merchant Test.

  • How well have you prepared?
  • Do you use your time on the bench as the learning experience it is supposed to be?
  • How do you interact with those around you, especially your so-called subordinates?
  • Are you magnanimous in victory and humble in defeat? Do you stay focused when you’re out in front? Do you learn from your mistakes?
  • Do you pay attention to feedback?
  • Are you honest and ethical?
  • And where are your priorities? What are the most important things in your life?

Whatever your game, there will come a time when you’re no longer the star. How you have treated everyone you meet along the way will determine whether you continue to prosper or crash and burn. Because, in the end, the game we’re all playing is the game of life. How you perform the smallest tasks says a lot about how well you’ll do when it’s your turn to lead the field.

Suzy Merchant’s team won the Big Ten Championship outright in 2011. She was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. Ask anyone on the team about this achievement and they will say, we did it together. This last point is really what it’s all about.

 

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Talent isn’t the Only Valued Trait

A coach who I respect very much recently stated that attitude, body language, intensity and toughness are four traits just as important as talent. I believe this to be true, especially in youth and high school sport. I would love to get your insight, opinion and experience in this area — please leave a comment or respond to my (or anyone’s) comment!

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Start Spreadin’ the News!!

Coach Finamore & EL Senior Tyler Tucker

If you didn’t get a chance to catch the East Lansing Varsity Boys basketball team this past season — be sure to mark your calendars now for the 2011 season.  The EL Boy’s program is back in large part to the fact that the players bought into new head coach Steve Finamore’s philosophy.  I had the opportunity recently to ask Coach Finamore a few questions about his first year . . . enjoy!

Q:  Describe what it was like coming in to the East Lansing basketball scene.  How were you received overall?  By administration etc…?  By players?

A:  It was a great opportunity to be hired as boys varsity basketball coach at East Lansing. I have lived here for the past 14 years and I always knew about the passion and interest the community has for basketball.  The Trojans family has reached out and have told me how happy they are to have me as coach. The administration has been great; I see them often around town and they always have a positive comment regarding our team. As for the players and their reaction to me, it’s been wonderful. At the start they were a bit curious just like everyone else, but after spending so much time with them, they have learned I am here for them.

Q:  What strategies did you employ to gain the buy in of players into your philosophy?

A:   Trust and confidence were two avenues I explored. I encouraged them to be themselves and play with confidence. No one was going to be screamed at for taking a shot or turning the ball over. Our four-man workouts in pre-season was a great way to get to know the players and it was a chance for them to see what I was all about. My coaching staff has also been an influential part of the process too. We conducted upbeat practices, worked on fundamentals and at times played a sport other than basketball at practice (i.e., Football, Whiffle Ball and Tug of  War).

Q:  What challenges did you face initially and how did you overcome them?

A:   One challenge was turning the perception around.  There was much talk of how the parents were too involved. Now what that means, I have no idea. The parents have been fantastic; I did not have one problem with any parent the entire season. Most of the time you hear gossip from afar but I do not judge people on their experience with others. I ask myself daily, how would I want to be treated? The challenge of implementing a new offense was a piece of cake. We taught what we wanted and the players bought in.

Q:  Describe your defensive philosophy?

A:  On defense we like to pressure the ball, trap when possible and always help a teammate. We play a lot of man-to-man but also switch to zone. We like the 1-3-1 and 1-2-2 matchup zone. At times we will full court press by applying man-to-man pressure and we will also play a 1-2-2 zone. Playing defense is all about desire. You don’t have to be a talented player to be effective on the defensive end of the floor. It takes heart, a willingness to go the extra mile and the courage to be able to get past being scored on, you will not stop your offensive player every time. We want to teach things like closing out, helping and having active hands. Our slogan is, ‘Never Relax’.

Q:  Describe your offensive philosophy?

A:   On offense we like to run and shoot 3’s. I want our players to be on the attack every time they catch the ball. That can be 50 feet from the basket or you can be in the paint. Always think offense. We want to play uptempo as often as possible. Late in the game we have to know the time and score; we need to be smart with the ball, especially late in the game. Shot selection is major; we need to know what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot. Sharing the ball is very important. We harp on hitting the open man.

Q:  What’s the most important thing a youth player should take away from a basketball or sport experience?

A:   It’s hard to name one but team work, by far. It’s all about getting along with others and helping the player next to you. You need to be willing to share the ball. A youth player should also learn the basic rules of the game.  Learn how to dribble and always listen to their coach. There will be a time when you are not the best player on the team or even good enough to be a starter. Your only concern should be to work harder, improve and hope you get an opportunity for more playing time. Players are not entitled to playing time. Don’t complain or whine, just work harder.

Q: What things will YOU be doing in the off season to prepare for next year?

A:  We will play at two team camps (Michigan State and Central Michigan U). We will also play in a summer league in Lansing.  Four-man workouts, strength and conditioning and of course every player’s favorite form of training; running. We will work hard on our stamina and speed.

Q:  What things will you have your PLAYERS doing in the off season to prepare for next year?

A:   The most important aspect of the off-season is improving both on and off the court.  Getting the players to be active is on our agenda. We always stress, “do something every day to get better”. That can be running on the track at school, lifting weights, shooting, working on your dribbling or even sitting down watching a game. Many of our players play AAU basketball in the Spring and Summer so that always helps.  You can learn so much from observing other players. A golden nugget that many people fail to realize is players are made in the off-season.

I feel East Lansing is a great place to coach basketball. The kids are wonderful and they want to compete. The East Lansing Basketball Club is a great organization that is so helpful in getting the young players in the community ready for basketball. The fans have been wonderful too. We had some very good crowds at home games. I can be in Meijer, Starbucks or the mall and there will always be someone who congratulates me on our season. I want to keep improving as a program daily and some day would love to win a State championship at the Breslin Center.

Coach Finamore is starting his second season as boys head varsity basketball coach at East Lansing High School. He has been coaching since the age of 16.  His coaching experience extends from middle school, high school, college and AAU.   He received his start in Brooklyn, New York at Bishop Ford High School where he was the boys head freshman coach and made stops in Jersey City, New Jersey as an assistant coach at Saint Peter’s College.   He was a student-assistant coach at Michigan State University in 1999 and 2000 and helped MSU win a National Championship in 2000.   He spent one season as boys head varsity coach at Portland High School in 2004 and from 2007 to 2010 he was the men’s head basketball coach at Jackson Community College in Jackson, Michigan.

This past season at EL he finished (17-4, 10-2 in league) for co-champions of the CAAC Blue.  He was named Class A Coach of the Year by both the Lansing State Journal and Bank Hoops High School basketball website. The A.P. voted him special mention in Class A.

The Trojans have truly made a brand new start of it with a little bit’ of Brooklyn baby!!

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14-laws of Summer Basketball

Check out the following post from East Lansing Boys Basketball Coach, Steve Finamore: 14-laws of Summer Basketball

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Meet Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis – You Will be Glad You Did!

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is Gatorade’s State and National Girls Basketball Player of the year.  She is also the Naismith National High School Girls Basketball Player of the Year and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Player of the Year for 2011.  These honors top a long list of basketball achievements throughout her high school career.

She plays at 5-foot-11 and is the senior guard for the Mater Dei Monarchs.  Kaleena has helped lead the Monarchs to back-to-back State and National Championships in 2010 and 2011.  She will leave the Monarchs this spring and will play basketball on scholarship this fall at the University of Connecticut.  Click here to learn more about her high school career.

Young players are always asking, wondering and speculating what it takes to make the high school varsity squad and beyond.  Enter Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.  She started playing basketball in 3rd grade.  She was nine when she learned that she didn’t make the cut for a recreation league all-star basketball team.  She cried.  Enter her step-father, Khairi Ali.  He asked her one question.

“Do you want to kick butt?” Ali asked.

“Yes,” she responded.  “I want to kick butt.”

“Then follow me,” Ali said.

Her step-father was no basketball expert but he knew enough to know that she could improve.  The next day they began a six-month trial program.  Kaleena would follow the work out plan designed by her step-father, at the end of the six-month period she could choose to renew.  Obviously she did.  Ali specifically designed the program to include early morning workouts to test Kaleena’s commitment.  He pulled her out of most of the local basketball circuit as to keep her out of the limelight (she was receiving college offers in 7th grade) and she played outside of Orange County, nationally in fact.

Kaleena is more then just a great basketball player.  She is the commissioner of her school’s student-government body, and has maintained a 3.41 GPA in the classroom.  She has volunteered as an Orange County Head Start mentor and has donated her time to the Down Syndrome Association of Orange County, the Blind Children’s Learning Center and the Urban Compass Christmas Outreach initiative. She has also coached youth through the Upward Christian Basketball Program, PAL basketball tournaments and Mater Dei High School youth summer camps.

One might think that with Kaleena accomplishing all this that she may be a bit stuck on herself.  However, she is her most critical evaluator.

“I know I can do better” she said. “I just want to be the best player I can be. I’m not the fastest player around. I’m not the tallest or the quickest. I can’t jump the highest. But I have things I know I do well, and I’m not close to being at my peak.”

Perhaps the most telling element of her success is what her teammates say about her.  I also happen to think this is the reason she is one of the number one players in the country.

When her teammates were interviewed almost everyone of them said.  “She is unselfish, she makes everyone on the team better.”

I look forward to any comments you may have regarding this story or any other.

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Improving Your Brain Game!

Youth basketball season is in full swing.  I am currently coaching 6th grade girls and we spend a lot of time talking about mental focus.  If you have been talking about this same issue with your youth player — check out this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0CbGFdH1Vs&feature=player_profilepage from my friend and colleague Dr. Dan Gould from Michigan State University.  If you haven’t  discovered the Institute for the Study of Youth Sport at Michigan State University it is an incredible resource http://www.educ.msu.edu/ysi/

Please leave a comment and share your insight and questions regarding the mental side of youth sport!

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Exciting Basketball in East Lansing!

If you haven’t been following the boys and girls East Lansing Basketball teams this season — you need to start.  Our Lady Trojans return as defending Class A State Champions and I see no let off in intensity.  They beat Jackson last night by 50 points utilizing the same “no-mercy” defense as last year.  Check out some of the posts this summer featuring Coach Rob Smith.

The boy’s don’t disappoint either.  Under the direction of new head coach Steve Finamore — it is clear the young men have bought into his system.  They start the season 3-0 overall and 2-0 in conference play.  They play a very up tempo game and attack on defense — very exciting to watch.

I hope you will come out and watch the men and lady Trojans this season.  There are some great opportunities over the holiday.  Check out the schedule at highschoolsports.net

Stay tuned for more exciting Coach’s interviews and advice as well as ideas and drills on how to help your youth player continue to get better.

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Prepare Like a Champion

Coach Rob Smith

Welcome to the fourth in a series of installments from Coach Rob Smith, East Lansing Girls Varsity Basketball Coach.  Coach Smith began his coaching career in his home town of Montague and has held basketball and softball coaching positions at Lowell, Elkton-Pigeon-Bayport, Grand Rapids Northview and Bath.

He and his teams have earned seven straight CAAC-Blue Conference Titles with four consecutive district and regional titles.  The East Lansing Varsity girls were State basketball finalists in 2008 and earned the State Class A Varsity Girls Basketball Championship in 2010!

Coach Smith is an eight time recipient of the Lansing State Journal Class A Coach of the Year and 2008 Michigan Coach of the Year!!

This installment features Coach Smith addressing the question of what a youth player should do to prepare for practices and competitive play.

At East Lansing our philosophy centers around five core covenants.

#1:  It is all about having fun.  After all . . . basketball is a game – so make sure you are having fun.

#2:  Work extremely hard.  Imagine your opponent in their gym.  Imagine how hard they are working. 

#3:  Work together as a team.  Put individual interests aside.

#4:  Commit to the process of building the team; based on what the team decides   not you.

#5:  Success:  mentally prepare yourself to be successful.  Visualize the team being successful.  Each player should write down a strategy for how they will mentally prepare for a game.  The player then reviews this strategy before, during and after a game.  All players should prepare, execute and reflect — this process will make you a better player.

Coaches can help players practice this mental preparedness and mindset by placing players in pressure situations during practice.  How do you react?  Were you prepared?  Did you execute?  Reflect on how you could have done better.  If you don’t review your performance how will you ever know what to work on to improve?

All this pressure may cause players anxiety.  Beat the anxiety by practicing deep breathing skills.  For example, EL players will take three deep breathes with a slow release on each one prior to shooting a free throw.

I hope you found this installment from Coach Smith helpful.  Please stay tuned as the next installment from Coach Smith will address what coaches can do to improve the relationship between coaching staff and parents.  Do not forget to leave any comments or suggestions!!

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How Champions Play Defense

Coach Rob Smith

Welcome to the third in a series of installments from Coach Rob Smith, East Lansing Girls Varsity Basketball Coach.  Coach Smith began his coaching career in his home town of Montague and has held basketball and softball coaching positions at Lowell, Elkton-Pigeon-Bayport, Grand Rapids Northview and Bath.

He and his teams have earned seven straight CAAC-Blue Conference Titles with four consecutive district and regional titles.  The East Lansing Varsity girls were State basketball finalists in 2008 and earned the State Class A Varsity Girls Basketball Championship in 2010!

Coach Smith is an eight time recipient of the Lansing State Journal Class A Coach of the Year and 2008 Michigan Coach of the Year!!

This installment features Coach Smith addressing the question of what a youth player should do to improve their defensive skills.

It is really important that players train in and out of the season so they can carry their basketball weight.  Players should eat healthy; get enough sleep and live a healthy life style.  Training like a champion requires that all areas of health are taken into consideration.

Every player should own and use a jump rope!!  Players should work on speed jumping with both feet as well as individual feet.  Footwork is so important to becoming a better defensive player.  Players can also do a “Dot Drill” (http://www.5min.com/Video/Dot-Drills-6184837 ) to help increase their foot speed and agility.

When it comes to defense — a player’s mindset is so important.  A player needs to understand and internalize what their role is on defense.  They should be thinking about what they have to do to guard the other team’s best player.  They need to know the tendencies of the person(s) they are going to guard.  A player on defense should play as hard as they can on defense for the duration of the game. 

It is also important for players to quickly learn from their mistakes and make adjustments in how they are playing defense.  They should ask themselves, “How did the other player beat me and how do I adjust so it doesn’t happen again.”

I hope you found this installment from Coach Smith helpful.  Please stay tuned as the next installment from Coach Smith will address the five core covenants of how to play like a champion.  Do not forget to leave any comments or suggestions!!

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How Champions Play Offense

Coach Rob Smith

Welcome to the second in a series of installments from Coach Rob Smith, East Lansing Girls Varsity Basketball Coach.  Coach Smith began his coaching career in his home town of Montague and has held basketball and softball coaching positions at Lowell, Elkton-Pigeon-Bayport, Grand Rapids Northview and Bath.

He and his teams have earned seven straight CAAC-Blue Conference Titles with four consecutive district and regional titles.  The East Lansing Varsity girls were State basketball finalists in 2008 and earned the State Class A Varsity Girls Basketball Championship in 2010!

Coach Smith is an eight time recipient of the Lansing State Journal Class A Coach of the Year and 2008 Michigan Coach of the Year!!

This installment features Coach Smith addressing the question of what a youth player should do to improve their offensive skills.

One of the most important things is to practice your offensive moves at game speed.  So many players miss layups because they don’t practice them at game speed.  In addition to practicing at game speed be sure to add someone contesting your shots.  Every time a player practices they should begin with form shooting keeping things close to the basket in the beginning.  Shooting around is fun, but do it at game speed – it makes you better.

It is also important for a player to develop an intermediate jump shot.  Players need to be able to pull up on the fast break and make a 10-foot jumper with good form.  Players should keep their shot line, elevate off the ground and release the ball at the top of their jump shot.

Something that will make every player better is their ability to “see-the-floor”.  See things before they develop.  Players must see their target while dribbling – they have to keep their head up.  Work on pressured dribbling – get used to having someone play defense on you while you are dribbling and looking up the court.  A simple drill is called Player-in-the Middle.  Start with three players and have one player in the middle trying to steal passes and pressure the player with the ball while the other two pass the ball back and forth.  This drill will help players practice no look passes and help them develop the ability to get passes around defenders.  Players should also work on post entry passes – passing the ball into the post with a fake down and pass up pass; wrap-around pass; or my favorite – a zip pass – fake down and “ZIP” it past the defenders ear!!

I hope you found this installment from Coach Smith helpful.  Please stay tuned as the next installment from Coach Smith will address how players can improve their defensive skills.  Do not forget to leave any comments or suggestions!!

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