Rules to Coaching a 3-OT Thriller
On Nov. 13, a mass email from longtime Moravian College men’s basketball coach Jim Walker hit my inbox with the words “Guest Coach” in the subject line. Before I even opened the message, I was ready to sign up. Hand me a whistle, a clipboard and a cushioned seat with proper back support and let’s hit the court.
But two months later, I was teetering on the edge of regret. My heart, and emotions, could barely take any more. Fifty-five minutes of basketball action, spread over nearly two-and-a-half hours, had me flabbergasted.
As anyone in the stands of Johnston Hall that afternoon can likely agree, the men’s basketball team’s three-overtime thriller against Goucher College Jan. 11 was electrifying – and exhausting and excruciating. Just the second three-overtime game in the program’s history, it had everything: suspense, blooded noses, heartache, clutch three-pointers, non-clutch free throws, etc. The only thing missing was a victory, as the Greyhounds fell 91-90.
In a past life, I was a newspaper reporter, and I have written my fair share of game articles about losses. Guess what, nobody enjoys reading them. It dredges up the disappointing memories. But here I am anyway, to share my take on Tommy Kopetskie’s first game coaching – yes, I just went third person.
Here it goes. This is my advice to a future guest coach who partakes in a 140-minute marathon game, including details of how to survive a post-loss locker room speech. No one will mistake my words having the profoundness of, say, UCLA’s famed basketball coach John Wooden, but it helped me endure an afternoon on the bench. It could do the same for you.
First rule of guest coaching, understand your place in the pecking order. A few minutes before tip-off, I asked assistant coach Pete Hamilton a very pointed question: “What have other guest coaches done wrong?” I wasn’t concerned so much about being helpful, I just really didn’t want to embarrass myself. (My parents, always supportive, were in the stands, so I wanted to play the role of coach as well as possible. The good news is, after watching me “play” high school athletics, ma and pa were already accustomed to watching me sit on a bench.)
Hamilton’s advice was spot on. He instructed me politely, saying, “Don’t tell us who to play, and don’t get a technical foul.” Done and done. I can blend into the background with the best of them – see me at any school dance ever.
Rule No. 2 is make sure to get a good seat. The fifth seat from the scorer’s table was my chair. It was my safe zone, and after every timeout I made a beeline to it like the team would get assessed a foul if I wasn’t the first person sitting down. Assistant coach Jeremy Walker explained that guest coaches rarely sit near the real assistants, preferring the end of the bench, but he said that I was more than welcome sit by the action. I sat close, and I’m glad I did. It provided a great vantage point.
Sitting shoulder to shoulder with Hamilton and fellow coach B.J. Dugan, I came to realize there is so much more to a game than what I see. After any one possession, they could tell you how each player reacted. I saw nothing but blurriness. The game truly moved slower for them.
That is to say I’m not too old to learn a new lesson, which leads me to Rule No. 3. Once a game reaches overtime, always towel down your seat following a timeout. Suffice it to say, sweat happens.
ABOVE: Assistant coach B.J. Dugan bumps fists with members of the team minutes before the Greyhounds tipped off against Goucher College.
ABOVE: Dennis Robison, an assistant coach for the men's basketball team, runs through a few last-minute points in the team's locker room.
As it became clear late in the second half that Moravian would either enjoy an encouraging victory, or a gut-punching defeat, I started to panic about delivering my post-game remarks. Hamilton gave me fair warning that I would be asked to say something, and as we walked to the locker room after the loss, I got nervous. Standing before the defeated Greyhounds, each coach went through their talking points: defense, free-throw shooting, etc. Just then, it appeared I was forgotten and the team would be dismissed without having to listen to me blabber about “fighting the good fight.” Alas, Coach Jim Walker saw me and asked me to step forward. I can’t remember what I said, something about the game just being a chapter, not the full story. It was something writer-centric.
Maybe my words had a point, I don’t really recall, but I’m glad I got to experience that afternoon with the team. Guest coaching was lot like my own playing days: gone by too fast, with fleeting moments of unbridled joy.
I will remember that Gatorade bottles don’t fill themselves, so be prepared to help out.
I will remember Kenny Gula knocking down his first shot, and feeling immense pride. I, of course, “helped” Kenny during a shooting drill the day before. By “helped,” I mean I passed him the ball and got out of his way without injuring him.
And I will remember watching my three-year-old son, moments after Izel Dickerson nailed an overtime three-pointer, clap his hands excitedly – eager to join those cheering around him, yet with no understanding of why they were celebrating.
He’ll learn. Win or lose, we cheer for the Greyhounds.
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