When I was talking to Lance Stemler last week about his experience joining IU as a Junior College transfer in the 2006-2007 season, I asked him what it was like coming in at the same time as a new coach (He Who Must Not Be Named). First, you should go listen to the whole interview. You can get it here. But in part, what he said was that when there’s a new coach, it’s like everyone on the team is new. There’s no one who knows the drills or the routines or expectations that can teach them to the younger guys.
Tied up in that is that the longer a player has played for one coach, the more deeply ingrained that coach’s methods, expectations, and blind spots are in that player. And the more deeply ingrained those things are in a player, the harder it is to switch to the methods, expectations of the new coach.
After watching four games with this squad, two exhibition and two real, I wonder if that isn’t what we’re seeing with some of our more veteran players.
There’s a lack of certainty and comfort on the court, a sense that guys are concentrating so hard on doing things the new way that they go beyond playing cautious to playing slow and timid. They don’t trust themselves not to mess up, so they mess up.
Player after player is short-arming free throws, a sign of tension. Passes are incredibly deliberate, if not wholly accurate, a possible sign of overthinking it. There are spacing issues. It’s not unreasonable to think that they just haven’t fully grokked where they are supposed to be, what they are supposed to be doing, where the other guys are supposed to be, and who to look for when.
Now, before you start thinking that what they need to do is loosen up and just play, like Stephen Bardo suggested during the Howard game, stop. You don’t want that.
Looser, in this context, means reverting to what is comfortable. The tension comes from trying to do something that their bodies are not accustomed to. Loose, very likely means more turnovers. At least right now. As new habits replace old ones, a useful looseness can emerge.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
And the older, more veteran players, seem to be the least sure, namely Rob Johnson. Which makes sense. He had the largest role in the Crean system, for the longest time. He has the most to unlearn. He’s been doing the Mambo for three years. Now he has to learn to do the Paso Doble (I watched Dancing with the Stars once).
Whereas the freshmen and the the guys who played sparingly for Crean, are the blankest slates. It’s conceivable they could find themselves more comfortable, more quickly than the upperclassmen.
That doesn’t mean that Johnson won’t make the transition eventually and become a leader on this team. But don’t be surprised if this becomes DeVontae Green’s team first, with a healthy dose of Justin Smith and Al Durham.
They all have a lot to learn, and you’re going to hear people talk a lot about buy in, which may just be another way to say, forgetting the old ways and doing it the new way.
Learn to Dance
This, of course, is all conjecture. But based on what I’ve seen, this feels right to me. I’d wager that many of the fundamental problems we see on the court, like missed free throws, wide open three-pointers for our opponents, and too many offensive rebounds are more the symptom to the larger problem of guys just not knowing what to do or how to do it yet than they are the actual disease.
It may take the entire, strangely scheduled non-conference season for enough of them to internalize Archie’s system and expectations perform as desired naturally and comfortably.
It’s one thing to know the steps, it’s quite another to be able to dance without counting out loud with each step you take.