Cal and Stumpy and the Threshold of Individuality

  • Self says he likes to sign and coach characters. And judging by his players the last ten years, we can take him at his word.

    But when Self gets his characters to AFH, Self appears to engage in a process of polishing the rough edges of his characters and expecting them to come off on and off the court in a rather business, un-flamboyant way. Once they are on the bench, there is quite a bit of camaraderie and players being their idiosyncratic selves. Thus the threshold of tolerance of individuality at KU seems to start on the bench. To and from the bench, and out on the floor, everyone is supposed to act similarly in demeanor. They are all expected to be similarly businesslike, and they are all expected to celebrate accomplishments similarly.

    Watching Kentucky and Arizona reveals a slightly, but still significantly different threshold.

    Cal and Stumpy do not, so far as I can recall, lay claim to preferring to recruit characters, but what I noticed studying both coaches and their teams up close once each this season is that their players are allowed to come on and off the floor pretty much however they please. Some are grinning happy go lucky at the crowds, others are shuffling, others are business like, others seem half a sleep, others seem to be humming tunes, others are in deep concentration, etc. There is great variety in the demeanors of the players walking on and off the court.

    At first the players seemed too casual and flippant, but once I noticed that they were not all that way; that each one seemed to simply be being himself in the transition zones of coming on and off the court, I thought it suggested some method to the madness. And it seemed that both coaches, especially Stumpy, sharply limited any interaction with the players, especially coming off the floor. Each player, almost without acception, of prior quality of performance, was given a handshake or a nod, seemingly as thanks for the players best efforts at giving the team a contribution, whether it was good or bad.

    In short, both coaches, but I would say Stumpy much more than Cal, kept the exit zone much less charged and much more positive than Self, or even Cal. But as I said, Cal seems to tolerate the restoration of individuality even if he injects more negative feedback about performance than Stumpy.

    And it shows in the body languages of the players leaving the floor. They are very relaxed and not dreading their confrontation with a judgmental coach. In turn, I suspect they are better able to receive constructive instruction on the sideline once it comes, for they are farther along in the process of decompressing and NOT dealing with the sting of insult on the way off the floor. Whether or not the players performed well, Stumpy, and to lesser extent Cal, seem be able to start from the place that each player at least gave it his best, whether he sucked or not, and that what comes next is constructive instruction, rather than criticism, aimed at helping the player do even better next time. Given both coaches have committed heavily to OAD/TADs that are younger, and so logically more vulnerable to upbraiding, than third and fourth year players, I wonder if there isn’t something to learn about here.

    The idiosyncratic, but accepting positive vibe on the UA team is palpable in both the entry zone and the exit zones.

    On the floor, the UA players perform with pretty much the same business like demeanor as opposing teams. Since I am only talking about a sample of two games, I cannot be absolutely sure what I am saying is the same all season, but I believe Stumpy is onto something here, if what I observed is at all indicative of the long season.

    It makes some sense to me. At work, one likes to work hard for a boss that extends one the respect of assuming one is trying one’s best, regardless of how things go. One is happy to learn new things, even to try harder, if one does not start from the corrosive assumption that one is some how suspect,or a slacker. Assuming one’s employees are suspect, or slackers, means one has turned the managerial relationship into an adversarial one, rather than a collegial one, from the get-go. The only benefit of imposing an adversarial relationship on an underling is that it can keep one from being surprised by a knife in the back by a disloyal snake. But a good manager/coach/teacher ought not work with such persons any longer than necessary anyway. So: most, and whenever possible, all ordinate subordinate relationships ought to be founded on an assumption that the subordinate is doing the best they can, even when they are sucking, especially when they are sucking, so that the obstructions to learning how to get better are held to an absolute minimum. This does not preclude “toughness” and “demanding” attitude, but it does require it to be expressed within a social contract of assuming good persons are trying.

    Self has had a genius for articulating getting better as a heuristic for coaching and playing. And several players have attested that part of his skill is that however stinging his criticism can be at the end of the day you feel you are part of his family.

    But even Self has admitted that the players have struggled with just how much criticism and how sharp tongued he can be, especially in practices.

    Perhaps Self could still be Self, maybe even be more Self, if he were to create some space in the entry and exit zone for the players to transition to and from the floor more as individuals? It can be embarrassing to watch at times, if UK and UA were reliable indicators, because few 18 year olds are very polished persons.

    Regardless, where this apparent technique of Stumpy’s may come in is in making getting better more operational by creating a transition zone in entry and exit onto the floor spanning the very intense subordination of self to team ON THE FLOOR to the individual space off the floor where players must necessarily be instructed as individuals.

    What Stumpy’s approach seems to convey is: I am grateful for your efforts at subordinating and contributing to our team, however good, or bad they were. As you come off the floor, I want you to become your individual self again, so we can set about coaching you individually how to better contribute to the team next time, since we can always find some way or other to get a little bit better.

    I am not suggesting that Self should stop being his tough demanding self with players on the game floor, or on the practice floor, or even on the bench, AFTER the player comes off the floor. But I am starting to entertain the idea that treating the exit and entry zones of the game, and perhaps those same zones in practice, too, since one plays as one practices, as zones to be intentionally managed to encourage players to consciously revert to being their independent, unique selves, so that they are actually MORE receptive to the constructive instruction of coaching once on the bench.

    I have been a strong critic of Stumpy’s Xs and Os, and strategy, and tactics, and of some of his heavy handed resorts to muscle ball, and of his apparent Nike-advantaged recruiting, BUT I think he may be onto something in the entry and exit tolerance of individuality and the apparent coach-player contract that good, or bad, I believe you gave us your best shot, reception from the bench during the walk off the floor.

  • @jaybate-1.0

    I noticed in the MSU game, Self quickly pulled Brannen after he tossed up a 3-brick on a 2-second possession. It showed Brannen walking by Self on the bench. I (and even the cameraman) expected Brannen to catch an earful from Self. Self actually gave Brannen a butt tap as he walked by. I was shocked! Choked on my jello!

  • @jaybate-1.0 I have decided I’m going to upvote every post you make where you refer to “Stumpy”. Love it…lol.

  • @drgnslayr

    Great recall. I really think there is something to this creating a more positive exit environment for players so they can be more receptive at the instruction to follow.

    Self is a quick study, when it is not in his blind spot. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he is already working on it.

    Go Bill Go!

  • @jaybate-1.0 Very enjoyable read – you are clearly the master of the subjective and exploring a topic with precision. This is an excellent dissection of their respective approaches.

    @drgnslayr - I recall the precise sequence you refer to. I think Greene had made that bone-headed turnover rotating the ball back out top, too.

    By the lack of the quick hook and the lack of the in your face barking, are we seeing a kinder, gentler Bill Self?

    I’ve seen him get on guys in the huddle. Mostly Ellis, by the way.

  • @HighEliteMajor

    Thank you, sir.

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