I would like to throw a question at you. Which place would you rather travel to, Honolulu, Hawaii or Missoula, Montana? I know! Me too. I would rather travel to Montana also. Yeah, right! This was our second road trip of the early season and was just a couple of days after returning from Hawaii. We departed two days prior to game day and it was Thanksgiving. We had an unusual day getting ready to hit the road. Due to a long day ahead of us trying to get to Missoula, we had to practice in the T-Dome at 7:00am. We then had to jump on the SB Airbus and cruise to LA. From there we jump on the first leg of our flight to Seattle for a smooth 2.5 hours. As we got ready to depart for Missoula we were walking to the small plane and I noticed Jacoby Atako stopped ahead of me. He says "Coach, we're not about to get on a prop plane are we"? My reply was, "Why"? Well it was pretty obvious that he was nervous. We boarded the plane, and it so happens that Jacoby was seated next to Coach Williams and me, so we decided to mess with him a little. Me being a nervous flyer, I was masking my anxiety through joking with him. Well, I can say that the flight was pretty smooth.
Since none of us could be with our families, we wanted to make sure that the guys had the opportunity to get a good Thanksgiving meal. Coach Campbell arranged for us to eat at one of the local restaurants. Prior to eating, we decided that each of us would take a moment to say a few things that we were thankful for in our lives. Each player and staff member talked about the importance of their family back at home and the impact that they have in their lives. In addition to family being the common factor in each of our lives, we all spoke on the fact that we truly enjoy having each other apart of our lives as well.
I honestly believe that each player genuinely gets along and cares about each member of the team. Usually, you will get teams that tend to gravitate to a certain group. This year, we have a group of guys that will not have a problem eating, rooming and spending time with any of his teammates, and that is something to be proud of as a coach.
We allowed the guys to stay in bed longer than usual. After the sleep in, we headed out to get a bite to eat for breakfast. We also had a 2-hour period where the guys spent some time studying. Later we shuffled to the gym for practice. We got through a pretty good workout. Some of our players had never played in a place where the elevation causes you to breath harder. As they got up and down the court a few times, they learned to fight through it. Practice went well. We then wanted to find something to do to get the guys out of the hotel. So, we decide to journey over to the local shopping mall for about 1 1/2 hours. It is well known that the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year and it sure was the case in Missoula. Our guys got quite a few looks and stares as they strolled through the mall because you don't normally see that many big guys roaming around the mall together.
Later we have a team dinner and we call it a night. Several of the players get together to play a little Play station or Game cube or whatever video games it is college student's play. The other guys decide to catch a movie that was playing in the hotel.
Game day. Usually, during tournaments there is always some sort of banquet. Well, there was a breakfast in the hotel in which Montana's Coach Pat Kennedy spoke to the teams about his experience as the head coach at Florida State and DePaul Universities. The main point of his talk was to encourage the student-athletes to enjoy there time in college. He also told a story about one of his former players at FSU by the name of Sam Cassell, who has gone on to become a part of a couple NBA World Championship teams. Sam told him how little people cared about you as a person when you get to the professional level. After breakfast, our staff continued to sit around and visit with Coach Kennedy and listen to several of his coaching stories working with the late Jim Valvano. Those East Coast guys can hold a one sided conversation.
Two of the assistants for St. Mary's were personal friends of mine. One of them was an assistant with me for the two years that I was at the University of San Diego and the other was a player during that time. Going through the early part of the game, we were very stagnant. We did not shoot the ball very well. We settled down late in the second half but could not fully control their runs at us. Losing a game causes so many different emotions. After a game like that, you generally replay the game over and over in your head. You try to figure out what the players could have done better, which players competed and which did not. You also think back on what you as a staff could have done to change the outcome of the game. That's where the stress of coaching comes from.
Again, we have a normal team breakfast in the same room where we had the tournament breakfast. A typical breakfast is set up buffet style so the players can have as much food as they need. We then go to the arena for a walk through. Which is where we prepare our guys with the game plan. The tough thing about playing in tournaments, especially against teams that you don't know much about, is the fact that you only have one day to prepare. In a typical game you have anywhere from two to four days to prepare for a team. Coach Amaral and Coach Stock do the advance scouting of teams that we are going to play. When they do a breakdown, they split the videos in two basic segments, offense and defense. They then write up a scouting report that we go over to discuss different philosophies on attacking a team. During a tournament it is tougher because you don't know which team you will be playing the second night. That is not an excuse for us playing poorly the second night, because each team has the same amount of time.
Our staff has become creatures of habit, which has turned into controlling superstitions. When we lose a game, we tend to change something that we did the time before. We all know that it will not affect the outcome of the game. Well, this day we decided to eat pre-game meal at a different place than we did the day before. The first day we had a great meal but we felt that it may have been too much and weighed heavy in the guys' stomachs. The next day we made semi-last minute changes. Usually, Coach Campbell makes the calls to arrange all meals, but the changes had to be made during practice so our Manager, Scott Nelson arranged the meal. A typical pre-game meal is an 8 ounce grilled breast of chicken served with the player's choice of pasta or baked potato, side salad, bread and something to drink.
Well, the game again did not go as expected. I think that the players were still licking their wounds from the night before. There were a few bright spots in the game that we as a staff feel that we can build upon. The one that stood out the most to me was the fact that Jacoby was very aggressive at both ends of the floor for pretty much the entire game. It has not been Jacoby's personality to take over a game. He carried our team to keep us in that game and knows that for us to become a great team when Branduinn and Nick are back, we need him to continue to dominate guys from the point guard position.
I have written before about my fascination with fishing. I consider myself a 'fisher' as opposed to a fisherman. Fishermen know what type of baits, lures, jigs and reels to use. I just try to use what I see the other people using at the time. Coach Amaral, being the 'Geographic Coach', has spent some time in several States and likes to learn his way around. Well, Coach "A" has spent some time in Montana so after pre-game meal, he and I took a short drive to an area where, at a good time of the year, numerous people are out fishing. Well, we were not fortunate to see anyone out there. However, through his knowledge of Missoula, he told me that the movie "A River Runs Through It" was filmed there. The hotel that we stayed at was located right adjacent to that River.
With not having a typical Gaucho showing in those games, we were eager to get out of town. We had a very early wake up call to get on the road to head back to Santa Barbara. We had two very good flights. Some of our guys had a tough time trying to get to sleep. By the time some of them did, they blinked twice and had to wake up. I am not a cold weather place type of person. I was pleasantly surprised at the size of town that Missoula was and some of the surroundings. However, I can honestly say that the next time that I visit Missoula, Montana will be when our team competes on the hardwood again or when I retire and take up fly fishing and spend some time where the river runs through it.
Assistant Basketball Coach