Coaches often coach the way they played

April 1, 2018 GMT

Ever wonder why collegiate head basketball coaches coach the way they coach?

It’s an interesting premise to dissect, considering the Final Four just ended Saturday night. And also since the NCAA Tournament national championship game is on Monday night.

So, what was the impetus for Villanova’s Jay Wright, Michigan’s John Beilein, Kansas’ Bill Self and Loyola-Chicago’s Porter Moser to coach the way they coach?

My theory is, coaches coach the way they played.

Marshall’s Danny D’Antoni and West Virginia University’s Bob Huggins are prime examples.

D’Antoni coaches a spread-thefloor style, featuring lots of 3-point shots, lots of points and lots of possessions. Aside from the 3-pointer, which wasn’t a rule during his playing days, D’Antoni played that same style at Mullens High School and at Marshall.


“The system really started way back in the 1950s and 1960s in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky,” said D’Antoni. “It’s kind of where all the high school coaches taught. They said they started the fast break and the zone defense (in West Virginia).

“So, it kind of started there and, then, Mike’s team and my team — my brother Mike D’Antoni — we both played that style. We didn’t have centers that posted and we were an outside-in team. If you look at our stats, we don’t post up. But if you watch at the end of the game and look at points in the paint, we will be right there. We just go a different way. We’re off the dribble.”

Now, it’s called analytics. But, in reality, the style isn’t new wave.

“That style started a long time ago,” said D’Antoni. “I played that way in high school. Mike played that way in Europe. Then, we got together in the NBA and he had a lot of knowledge. I got a lot of knowledge — you would almost have to be brain-dead not to learn from (Phoenix Suns point guard) Steve Nash and all the players I was fortunate enough to be around.”

Meanwhile, Huggins, who is about six years younger than the 70-yearold D’Antoni, also had the advantage of growing up in a basketball household. His father, Charlie, was a renowned high school basketball coach.

Huggins was raised on tough, physical, hard-nosed, old-school basketball.

“I’ve been doing this 40 years,” said Huggins. “My dad was a coach. I can’t ever remember not being in the gym. I remember being in a gym when my dad was playing at Alderson-Broaddus College, so I’ve been in the gym a long time.

“You can make numbers, I think, sometimes say whatever you need them to say. I’m more in line with we’re going to drill what we do. We’re going to try to continue to do it over and over and over again, until it becomes a habit.


“I’m sure there is a place for analytics. I don’t know what it is. It’s a game of neuromuscular integration. That’s what it is. Muscle memory — doing the same thing over and over and over again, until it becomes ingrained in your neuromuscular system. So, to me, it’s repetition. Now, maybe analytics can tell you what kind of repetition to do. I don’t know.”

D’Antoni was a clever, fearless point guard. Huggins was a hardnosed, physical guard who never backed down defensively.

Now they have become very successful college coaches because they are coaching like they played. To thine own coaching self be true.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.