- Former Cal (NCAA DI, PAC-10) played with the likes of Kevin Johnson, Byron Scott (Arizona State) Shawn Elliot, Steve Kerr (University of Arizona); according to Richard, it was a different era back then, the mid '80s
- Former Taiwan National Basketball Team
Q: Why did you start coaching and how was it?
Richard's son, Riley, was a junior in the TAS varsity, and what made this year special was that this year, according to Richard, the TAS had a legitimate opportunity to do well, if not win the tournament and there were many reasons for it. For one, the team which is the strongest team for the past 20 years that they beat, the Singaporean American School (SAS), a team made up predominantly of expats, majority being from the US, who is comparable to a US high school Basketball team (for those who aren't so familiar, that means they are of a pretty high level), a lot of their seniors have graduated last season and they had a brand new coach so they weren't as strong as previous years. Secondly, although TAS were smaller relatively in size, they have been together for a long time and plus this year the tournament venue was in Taipei (so, home court, home country). And to prepare, Richard and the coach of TAS sat down and started crafting a Game Plan as they know to win the tournament, it won't happen overnight, it had to be a one-year prior process. So, what they did was, they took the varsity to southern California last summer for a 10-day training camp just like a real training camp, the boys stayed at hotels, they got picked up, practiced in the morning, had rest at noon, practiced and scrimmaged in the afternoon - this being the beginning of it. And then before the season, every Sunday, they'd open up the gym and get the boys in there and to start to work on some drills - and all this being a new routine, more structured compared to previous years. Not only that, the varsity have always participated in summer leagues such as the Glory Days Basketball league, a Men's Basketball league in Taipei that attracts players from ex-pros, college players to amateur players of all ages. Their emphasis was to get as much playing time, as much game experience as possible, and to play against the best players they could possibly find here on the island.
Going into the tournament, the TAS lost the first 2 games of a round robin, and the boys thought this was the beginning of the end. Then the wheels turned and they won the 3rd game and ended up winning 5 games consecutively after loosing the first 2, so all in all, 5-2 for the tournament. They made it into the Final Four, and then the Finals, and won by 1 point in front of a packed home crowd (see video at the bottom of the post for the game recap, made by Qiu Xue球學).
Q: What was your goal? (Any special lessons you wanted to teach the kids?)
"It was kind of the Cinderella story that came to fruition through hard work," said Richard, "the title is Making a Winning Team, but for this experience, it was more than that. It was more of the process of making a winning team, because it really was the process." And one of Richard's goals, "The majority of these kids won't even play college ball, and that's ok, because the majority of high school athletes don't move on to the next level for many different reasons. So that's the norm. The thing is, through sports and athletics, these kids realize some of these life skills, life's lessons about planning, what it takes to win, because the process they're going through/went through is the same process they'll go through when they're applying for college, when they're going on for a job, when they get the job and they're getting ready to make a presentation for the pitch for a deal, it's the same thing. Sports is very interesting, you work all your life. Say you're an Olympic athlete, and you've worked 4 or 5 years for that 45 seconds, isn't that the same as preparing a presentation for a job? Let's say you're trying to bid for the Olympics, you're the bidding committee and you're preparing 5 years for that 1-hour presentation, it's the same in athletics. The sooner these kids understand that, the sooner they're going to be ready for "the real world". So that was one of the things I wanted to teach these kids." And Richard thinks it really resonated with them, "Because at the end, there were a couple of themes we had, one of the themes was No Regrets. There were 5 graduating seniors, and I said, now is the time, because if you don't give your all, and you end up loosing by whatever, and then right after the game, or weeks after even years after, you're going to say, I regret it because I should have given more or I didn't give enough or whatever. So that was one of the themes, No Regrets. Do it now. Now is the time, don't wait for next year, because for many of you, there's no next year." (This theme was set early in the season) And the second theme, which was set after the season, right before the tournament started. Richard wanted to share a story with the boys, the story that he heard from the QB of last year's Super Bowl Champion, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson, for the Dreamers that aren't familiar, is not a typical NFL quarterback, at only 5-11 (180cm) of height (compared to Peyton Manning, 6-5, 196cm and Tom Brady, 6-4, 193cm). So, just a regular size guy. In high school, his dad came up to him and said to him (the exact words), "Why not you?" "Why not you be the best that you could be?" "Why not you be the quarterback? Even given your size" "Why not you be a good quarterback and why not you be an All-Star quarterback?" And that really resonated in Russell Wilson's mind and he said, "Wow, my dad said, why not you, he said, why not me. Yeah, you're right. WHY NOT ME?" So, Richard took this story to the kids and said, "Now, listen, why not you guys? Have you asked yourselves that - why not me? Because when you're on the court, there's only two teams out there, and somebody's got to win. Why not you?" Richard continue to say that maybe the kids (referring to the TAS varsity kids) might have grown accustomed to being on the other side, that it's ok to loose for them, it's ok to be not them, it's ok for the other team to be the winners, it's ok for him to get the job. Richard tells them that not only is it not ok but why shouldn't it be them (to be on the winning end). He says to the kids it's not a bad thing to win. There's nothing bad about winning if they do it fair and square and they do it with purpose and they have self-accomplishment. "Why not you?" Richard kept on saying to the kids and he tells them to ask themselves, "Why not us?" "Why shouldn't WE be the winners?" "Why should it always be us ALMOST winners?" Almost-this, almost-that. "You can't be satisfied with almost." He adds. Richard thinks that was key (if you see the video posted below, shared by Qiu Xue, you will see at the end of the video, "Why not us?" The above were really strong themes. Richard hopes that because the kids went through it, that they came out on the successful end of it, they tasted success through hard work and through all the things mentioned above, hopefully this will take them, be with them for their lifetime, so whenever they hit adversity, whatever they hit, they can go back to their days as the 2014/15 Taipei American School varsity Basketball team, because there were no way people would have thought they could have beat Singapore American School, because they (SAS) won it in the last 15 out of 16 years and for them (TAS) to have been able to achieve that really gave them the self-confidence, really taught them that yeah, through hard work that it really came to fruition especially for them (the varsity kids). Richard felt really relieved that it all came together, through parent participation, through the coaching staff, through the kids' hard work. And in a nutshell, for the parents, especially for Richard, who's been very actively involved, it was extremely gratifying. And the above concludes Richard's journey with the TAS varsity Basketball team.
Q: What were the (ups and) downs of your coaching?
Some downs included experiencing some losses early in the season, and in particular experiencing some boys making mental mistakes. "We speak of accountability," Richard stated, "and not only are you accountable for your own performance, you're also accountable because it's a team sport. You can't make mental mistakes, because you're accountable for yourself, but you're also accountable to the team." Richard tells the boys that the Coach can yell at the players all he wants, but sometimes it's more effective if the team captain steps up and says, "Hey, listen, you better get your mind into the game because you're hurting the whole team." When the boys hear that from a fellow player or a peer, that sometimes resonate deeper than a coach because (Richard believes) a coach is suppose to yell at a player, that's what he does, that's his job, but when the team says something like "Hey, you better work hard and practice, because you're not giving your all, we can see it." Richard believes those were some of the downs they experienced, but he also firmly believes that that's part of the process. "You got to hit those downs, hit those experiences to be able to come up." They had many guys making turnovers and thought they weren't big deals, and they were trying to teach those kids that every possession matters, every possession is important. "You have to treat every possession like it's the last." When you can put that altogether, you're guaranteed to have less turnovers. That's number one. Number two (on the technical side), Richard goes on to say, is that many kids these days don't understand the importance of free throw shooting, so when a kid walks into the gym, he gets the ball, throw some threes, goes to do some Eurosteps, some around the backs, all the fancy stuff, but not many practice their free throws. Richard goes on to challenge the kids why they don't practice the free throws, and he explains to them that free throw is a point and when they make both, that's equal to a basket and that it might be easier to make those 2 free throws than to have someone in their face and pull up for a jump shot. Simply looking at the percentage, if they make 50% (Richard states should be about 70-80% FT%) of their free throws, that's more than they'll ever achieve in their field goal percentage (guys who are shooting 40% from the field is considered to be pretty good already and that's when someone is guarding you). The kids realized that and started practicing their FTs. (Richard mentions further that during the last game, his son, Riley was 7/8 from the FT line, and from the team perspective, they were about 75-80% from the FT line) Richard tells the kids that the little stuff is what dictates who wins and who looses, guys who reduce their T/Os , guys who make their FTs, and guys who can get rebounds. This is all the stuff that's not sexy, doesn't make Sports Illustrated, doesn't make ESPN, but this is all the stuff that takes to win. Nobody ever won a game with a dunk, yes, you can win games with three, but Richard will take making free throws, reducing turnovers, and getting defensive rebounds anytime, because, he believes, that's what win championships. "You can win a game with a dunk, you can win a game with a three, but you aren't going to win a championship unless you do those 3 things and you know those 3 things really well" he says. Again, it came full circle. The kids did all those things well, they controlled the rebounds (see the video posted below), made FTs, and most importantly, they had very little turnovers.
Q: What lessons do you think this win or rather, this process of winning taught the TAS players, the bigger TAS community, spectators, opponents etc.?
NOTE: You're in luck, Dreamers, after speaking to Jack himself, he has graciously accepted my invitation to do a Google Hangout with all of you who are interested in hearing his side of the perspective about what he learnt from this bigger-than-basketball lesson :) More info coming up on www.facebook.com/A.Basketball.Dream.
Richard goes on to say that TAS has always been the benchmark for other international schools in their conference, because they're so strong academically, all the other schools benchmark TAS because they (TAS) are the standards relative to academic programs, but because they're so strong in academics, they have compromised their athletics (quite typical in the Chinese culture, being just school, school, school and no sports) so to be able to be successful in sports AND in academics is something that is just unbelievable. "So there is a balance of life," Richard states, "you can do both well." Richard believes that one perpetuates the other, when you do well in the classrooms, you can do well in sports; and when you do well in sports, you can do well in the classroom. "It's not a zero sum game." he continues, "It's not that I win, then you have to loose. You can do both well. And if you look at the mentality of sports in the US, it's exactly that. People want to have Team Captain on their resumes, they want to have 'I was a winner in sports' because winning in sports equates to winning in business." There's all the clichés. "When you hear about in business, the last mile, no pain no gain, there's a lot of parallels and I'm hoping that people here in Taiwan realize that, 'cause it's all about competition. No matter how you want to sugarcoat it. There's only so much money in the world and resources who can compete to get it. In education, it's competitive. There's something called curve. So how do you say that I don't want you to compete in sports, but yet you're competing in the game of life?" Richard believes that for kids to understand that (the aforementioned) at an early age is not necessarily a bad thing. "Winning cures all," Richard admits on the pragmatic side, that when you win, when you make money, everybody is happy; and when the opposite happens, people aren't happy.
This win hopefully taught the kids who weren't as committed before that "Wow, going through the process and being an active participant through the process reaps huge rewards", and again, Richard states that committing to sports, in his opinion, does not hinder your academic performance, it's his own experience that it actually helps, "Because when you have such a tight schedule, you are so much more focused and live so much more prioritized." says Richard, "When you have a lot of time on your hands, procrastination kicks in. But when you have every minute counts and every second counts, you got to go nonstop, and that's when people do better, and that's the real world." Richard tells his staff that he is not their boss, their boss is actually the clock, because their life is based on the clock. Everything is about the clock. That's the reality. So how do you set yourself so that you make it, becomes the question, through these time constraints. Richard hopes these kids learnt these lessons through this process. (He believes that the sooner they realize that, the sooner they can embrace it and handle it, the better off they will be, that the transition would be much smoother that way.)
Q: What do you think you personally got out of coaching these kids / this team?
Richard says by his voice, it's probably easy to tell his satisfaction as a bystander and a surrogate coach and more importantly as a parent, and a former hoopster, to see all that come to fruition, and to witness it from a third-person perspective. He thought that was important, as he has done it through first-person perspective, as a player. But for him, to do that now, to be able to take a step back and looking at it from a ten thousand foot perspective, it's no. 1, more gratifying, no. 2, it's more difficult, to try to inspire from a third-person perspective because you don't have direct influence, you have indirect influence. "As a player, you may feel that you have a more direct influence. But as a parent, as a spectator, your hands are tied, all you can do is scream and wish and hope and that's much tougher," Richard says with a laugh. And now, Richard appreciate what his parents went through when he was playing because it's a different ball game, "It's tough, it's tougher, and there's a lot more stress because you're much more constrained, you're much more helpless to help your child, help your team." That's what he has learnt from this process. Overall, it was a great experience, Richard concluded. ("That one-point between winning and loosing can mean the world and it all ties back to the themes 'why not me' and 'no regrets'" he goes on to express. "It's life. The winners win, and winning is such a different animal than loosing. That's the reality. The kids will go through loosing, you can't win all the time, but how do you rebound from a loss, and how do you come back and get it back harder the next time, that's the key," Richard states. "They will loose, we can't win all the time, but it's how you come back that's the important thing and that goes back to the thing about the process, you got to loose to be a winner. You can't win all the time. You got to experience what loosing is all about. And at the same time, you can't get used to loosing either.")
Q: Any last words for the Dreamers on A Basketball Dream?
"There are many lessons to be learnt from athletics. It's such a great platform for kids, young adults to learn life's lessons in ways that they can really understand it, through athletics. They will be in many team situations, in terms of being in charge of a project in a team, if one guy or one girl doesn't pull his or her weight, that's going to bring the whole team down. Issues about communication, issues about teamwork, leadership, all the clichés, all translate in sports as well as in life, especially if you're doing with your family and everything else, it's all the same."
I personally wanted to say Thank You to Richard for his help and support since the Dream started, it's his example - his learning of the process of success on the courts, that I wanted to share with you, Dreamers. He is the living proof that if you work hard and learn the lessons on the court well, you can ultimately use all these learnings and achieve your success in life (off the courts). This is one of the many thank yous from A Basketball Girl With A Basketball Dream to Richard. Thank You, Richard!
And now, the recap of the Taipei American School's PROCESS of Winning. Feel free to comment below on your thoughts of this "Making A Winning Team"