Q&A with Steve Finamore
First and foremost, tell us about yourself and your coaching/basketball background
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Started to get involved in the game of basketball at the age of five. Our neighborhood was racially mixed and we played basketball in Holy Name schoolyard all day, every day. I looked up to the older players in our neighborhood and living in New York, I became a huge Knicks fan. I started coaching basketball at the age 16. I have coached at the AAU, High School, Pro-Am, and College level. My high school playing career consists of 7 games (I wasn't interested in the commitment and discipline) I have participated in summer leagues all over New York City and have now since trained many players at all levels and most importantly have studied the game of basketball from all angles. I love the history of the game; I feel it should be learned by all. I'm an advocate of basketball development and I'm always preaching to play the right way. Playing hard, sharing the ball, defending and working on your game are most important to me as a coach.
Why do you think Kids in America are lacking in their fundamentals? Are our youth basketball coaches doing enough and properly teaching?
I think the lack of fundamentals is not as bad as people make it out to be. Sure there are players who lack them, but the players who possess outstanding fundamentals should get more publicity/credit. Ever since we lost the Gold Medal a couple of years ago in the Olympics, pundits had a field day. Players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade are fundamentally sound but their athleticism seems to trump their skill level. Fans would rather see them soar above the rim and dunk but the average fan fails to realize how fundamentally sound these guys really are and how much time they put in to improve. The media has gone in the direction of the individual (i.e., ESPN's Top Ten Plays of the Day usually consists of 90% dunks) so kids see that and want to emulate it. As for coaches at the lower levels teaching fundamentals, yes they are. What many people fail to realize is that it all starts at home-do the parents emphasize playing the right way or do they want Junior to score 30 points per game and get their name in the local paper? Bob Hurley, boys head basketball coach at Saint Anthony's High School in Jersey City, New Jersey has been teaching the game to his players for over 30 years. His teams have won 23 State titles. If more people realized you don't have to be the high scorer on your high school teams, the game will improve. Deron Williams (Jazz) and Shannon Brown (Lakers) were not the best players on their high school teams. Basically what it boils down to is the attitude of the individual player; are they willing to accept their role to help the team win or do they want to go out and score a lot of points?
What would you like to see done to improve the quality of coaching our youth receive?
I would like to see the lower levels eliminate competitive games. To me, there's no reason for 10 year old kids to be traveling to AAU tournaments across the country. At the younger ages fundamentals should be taught. Passing, catching the ball, shooting and guarding your man should be taught. Competitive games should start around 8th or even 9th grade. Teach the fundamentals and then move on to playing games. With coaching at the younger levels, you get guys who do it as volunteers. Some may be fathers of the players who are pressed into service and who don't have as much experience teaching kids how to play. And that's not taking anything away from them. But I'd like to see more college and NBA coaches conduct free coaching clinics for these types of inexperienced coaches. Thank heavens for websites that help on all of this.
Working with youth, what skills would you encourage developing first? Shouldn't they be taught how to properly play the game first and foremost?
Yes, exactly! Playing the right way should be the number one concern. I think it was the late great Pete Newell that once said, " the game is over-coached and under taught". Speaking of Coach Newell, his favorite topic in basketball, footwork should be taught. Kids need to learn how to execute a jump-stop. Using a jab step. Catching the ball and facing up on your defender and of course moving your feet correctly on defense. Players also need to learn how to go off the correct foot when shooting a lay-up. It amazes me how many high school basketball players have a difficult time jumping off the correct foot. Dribbling the basketball is another important skill I feel should be taught and worked on. Every single practice a team goes through should consist of dribbling drills. Workouts should always begin with dribbling drills. And of course shooting should be taught and worked on. Simple functions as catching the ball and knowing how to line your elbow up and your guide hand, amongst a few other things should be emphasized.
What part of the game do you feel most players neglect or don't properly put in the time to develop?
Shooting. No doubt about it! Players don't shoot the ball enough. Larry Bird used to practice with his high school team for two hours after school. On his way home he would stop at a playground and shoot the ball for two hours. I also feel kids should play one-on-one more. We used to play one-on-one full court and I know a lot of other guys in their 30's, 40's and even 50's used to spend all afternoon playing nothing but one-on-one.
Which coaches/staff in the NBA do you feel do the best job of implementing their system as well as improving their players?
Well there are some very good coaches in the NBA. I feel they are underrated. When I think of guys who do a great job I have to start with Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan. Longevity is important in any profession and Sloan has been with the Jazz longer than any other coach in the NBA. The Jazz play the right way. Greg Popovich of the Spurs and his staff do a great job. You can't look past Phil Jackson and the Triangle offense. And I really like what George Karl and his staff does in Denver. Karl's assistant coach Tim Grgerich is known throughout the league as one of the best at Skill Development.
Who are some of the most fundamentally sound players in the NBA? Best Footwork? Best form on a jumpshot?
There are a lot of players with picture-perfect shooting forms. When I think of correct form I think of Ray Allen. He gets excellent lift on his shot, he always seems to be on balance and his hands are always ready for the ball. There are also good outside shooters who have forms that make a lot of coach's cringe. Reggie Miller and Peja Stojakovic are great shooters with two different styles. When it comes to shooting, my philosophy is confidence, getting a high arc, balance and putting the time in to improve. In terms of footwork, I really love Kobe Bryant's footwork. On the catch he always squares up, gets in an attack position and performs a text-book jab step to get his defender off balance. I also love Tim Duncan's footwork in the post. Kevin Garnett is another post player with tremendous footwork. Duncan and Garnett catch the ball and face up on their defender better than anyone. Excelling at proper footwork takes a lot of work.
Would you rather have a team that is a high scoring offense or a stingy defense? Also, can you envision a high scoring up-tempo team which also plays great Defense?
I would rather have a high scoring offense (so do fans and players want to play that way) but you need defense if you want to win a championship. So it's a happy medium. If you play up-tempo, you have to have a lock-down mentality on defense. I think the Denver Nuggets are combining the two; offense and defense the best. The Cavaliers also do well at both ends. It's all about what your coach emphasizes and how much the players are willing to buy in. In the past the Phoenix Suns liked to play fast ball by rushing the ball up the floor and shooting as quickly as possible. Many basketball people felt they should've played better defense. But it's tough to excel at both; but it can be done.
What is the greatest challenge as a coach? The most rewarding aspect?
Most challenging is to get players to play hard, defend and share the ball. Let's face it, most players want to score, there aren't many players like Bruce Bowen of the San Antonio Spurs. Not worrying who gets the credit is something I am always preaching on a daily basis. Kids today are told they need to score. But if they buy into what their coach is trying to stress, everyone wins. Getting players to work on their skill development is difficult too. It takes a special player to go to the gym or an outdoor court and put in the time to develop. Getting up hundreds of shots per week is a goal all players should aspire to reach. The most rewarding aspect is working with a player who wants to commit himself to improvement and seeing that player perform at a high level. Also, seeing a team share the ball on the court by hitting the open man is also quite rewarding to a coach. Back in 1993 during Game 6 of the NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns, Bulls guard John Paxson hit a game winning three-point shot with 3 seconds remaining to give the Bulls a 99-98 victory. What many fail to realize is that all 5 Bulls on the court touched the ball during that possession.
Describe how difficult it is to manage a team with 12 unique individuals, temperaments, personalities, backgrounds, and bring them together as a team to accomplish a shared goal.
It is very difficult and it's something people outside of your circle have no clue on. Everyone thinks you roll out the balls and just blow the whistle. Too bad it doesn't work that way. Depending on what level you coach, you are probably approaching each day a bit different. Players have different agendas. You will have jealousies, bitterness and resentment. We have a tough job as coaches to right the ship. But like I stated earlier; it starts at a young age-what are they preaching at home? Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets was brought up the right way; hence his attitude towards the game.
As a coach, who do you feel is the better player, Kobe or LeBron?
Tough question. I think both players bring a ton to the table. Choosing who is better right now is difficult. They possess different traits. They would both be difficult to prepare for; James can play 4 positions, Kobe 3. I will be honest and say they are both impossible to stop one on one. You need help on the defensive end against them. Someone else is going to have to beat us. Taking the ball out of their hands is easy to say but they move so well without it. But if I was picking who was better and you were giving me $1,000 for an answer, I would say Kobe Bryant is the better player now. But I have a funny feeling if we are discussing the same topic in a couple of years, my answer may change. I love both players and would love to train them both.
Who are some of the coaches who you feel have contributed something new, innovative and different to the game of basketball?
Even though it's not new, I love the Triangle offense. I wish more teams would run it like Phil Jackson and his Los Angeles Lakers. At the collegiate level I believe Tom Izzo has put a premium on playing tough and rebounding the ball. The dribble drive motion offense has been around for many years but now it seems like more teams are driving the ball and kicking out to open shooters. Ball screens at the top of the perimeter have been used for many years but that's another concept that has taken on a new meaning. The bottom line, you can sit in a gym all day and try to conjure up some sort of new offense but the fact will always remain you have to put the ball in the basket.
Your thoughts on Coach Don Nelson?
I have been a big Don Nelson fan ever since he was a player with the Boston Celtics. I used to love the battles his team had with my beloved Knicks. Nelson, Dave Cowens and Paul Silas had legendary battles with the Knicks outstanding frontcourt. I believe Nelson was one of the last remaining guys in the NBA to shoot his free-throws one-handed. As a coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, I thought he did a very good job. He had guys like Sidney Moncreif and Marcus Johnson playing the right way. It was also the time of the invention of the "point-forward" position where he had Paul Pressey bring the ball up the floor and get the Bucks into their offense. It's too bad they had to face the Celtics and Sixers of the 80's. And of course who could forget his first time with the Warriors when he implemented "RUN TMC" with Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond. We always said their slogan was "Run, Gun and Have Fun." I like the freedom and confidence Nelson gives his players. I love his passion. He has always been one of my favorite coaches in the league.
About Steve Finamore
Steve Finamore has been the Men’s Head Basketball coach at Jackson Community College in Jackson, Michigan for the past three seasons. Before coming to Jackson Finamore spent one season as an assistant coach at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, New Jersey. Finamore began his coaching career at Bishop Ford High School in Brooklyn, New York before moving on to become a Graduate assistant coach at Michigan State University with the men’s basketball team from 1999-2000. He has worked as a counselor at numerous basketball camps around the country and has trained many players in the off-season. “Player Development is a passion of mine. When it comes to training players, I give everything I have.” said Finamore. He is currently working on a basketball book titled, ‘Play the Right Way’: 50 Traits for all Successful Players.
Steve resides in East Lansing, Michigan with his wife Mary and 10 year-old daughter Taylor.
Blogs: Play the Right Way http://playerdevelopment.wordpress.com/
Coach’s Blog http://hoopscoach.wordpress.com/