Travis Ford and the complexities of coaching.

Coaching is more art than science. Some would argue it’s ALL art. Some would say it is the world of the mad scientist.

Whatever it is for Travis Ford, I wish he would figure it out, because many of us on the outside feel like we have a pretty good idea.

For me, it seems pretty obvious that Ford is a pretty good evaluator of talent, except for some strange reason with point guards. We will see if Marcus Smart changes that idea.

He seems to have embraced the “Mike Gundy” approach to talent evaluation…value character more than ability. While ejecting some dissatisfied players, nobody mouthed off about the program, and the ones that stayed have played hard and towed the company line.

But, in my amateur opinion, when it comes to putting players on the floor and drawing up x’s and o’s, he ain’t so hot.

Basketball is, in my opinion, the greatest example of the mesh between individual and team sports. Just enough players that they have to work like a group, but just few enough that a great individual can take over the action. Players know AND value their individual roles and how those roles benefit the team as a whole.

And the goal is for the TEAM to win games.

When I was coaching, I didn’t care one bit about egos. Don’t get me wrong, I cared about how the players felt, but if you were going to get your feelings hurt because you weren’t happy with your playing time or opportunities to score, I had one answer…work harder and prove you are worthy of the opportunity. I wanted athletes that valued ANYTHING they could do to help the team, regardless of how it appeared on a stat sheet. Show me the willingness to do whatever was necessary for the team to be successful and other opportunities would arise.

My main job as a coach was to figure out what combination of players provided the right mix to create a “flow.” Movement away from the ball…communication and help…a group of players that, when on the floor together, were connected to each other.

And at least one person in that group had to be a leader, and that person was preferably the point guard.

Coach Ford had three, none of which seemed to fully satisfy him, resulting in a rotating door of point guards. This equals bad unless all the PG’s have the same style of play. Dowell, Gulley, Guerrero….uhhhhhh, no. Add to that a freshman everybody raved about, but who Ford could not figure out how to incorporate his talent into the “flow,” and schizophrenic would be the kind description of the OSU offensive identity.

How you set your rotation depends on the identity of the team…

Defections and injuries paired the rotation down to the point that Ford had no choice but to continuously play a certain group of players, and PRESTO….we have an identity, we start to see a flow.

And we start to see some wins. One against a top 5 team.

The Cowboys start protecting GIA.

Actually ended the conference road losing streak.

Now we start to see what we should see from a VERY young group of players…inconsistency. Bad halves followed by spectacular halves. The ability, for periods of time, to go toe to toe with the toughest opponent.

And a leader emerged, and predictably, he was a senior.

And that is why he often ran the point, despite the fact that he was NOT the best option at that position. And also the reason why he set the record for minutes played.

Then, suddenly, disaster struck. The star freshman (Nash) fractures a bone in his non-shooting hand.

OMG, THE SEASON IS SUNK!

Really? The team was struggling to reach a .500 record. Post season play? (channeling Jim Mora)

Then a funny thing happened on the way to a shrinking rotation…

Three bench players, knowing significant minutes would be required, stepped into the identity of the team and embraced their roles.

Result? First blowout win over anyone with a Div I basketball program since….

I like Travis Ford. Seems like a genuine guy who loves basketball and his players. The players seem to like him, and want to play hard for him.

He seems to know talent, and has succeeded in bringing some of that talent to Stillwater.

But it seems to me that he is demonstrating that he doesn’t know how to put that talent on the floor.

Unless Coach Ford is planning on bringing North Carolina, Duke or Kansas caliber talent at every position to GIA, then he better figure out how to mold the pieces he has into a “flow” on the court.

If he doesn’t, then it will be up to Marcus Smart, Phil Forte, and the returning players…and there is a reason they are called players…and there is a reason we have coaches…

Good coaches get players to overachieve…players tend to underachieve in a vacuum of leadership.

Let’s hope next season brings the first.

GO POKES!!!

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