USA Basketball and 3-Time State Champion Coach Sam Brand

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In this week's podcast, @CoachSamBrand (who just won his third straight Maryland state championship) talks us through his path in coaching, how he zeroes in on player development and the drills he puts his team through to keep raising trophies.

Tristan: All right. We have the pleasure of speaking with Baltimore Polytechnic Institute Head Men's Basketball Coach, Sam Brand on here today. Recent winner of a 3A State Championship down there in Maryland. That's a three peat, I believe. Isn't that right, Coach?

Sam Brand: That is correct.

Tristan: Coach, this is a pleasure. I really appreciate having you on today. We are just going to talk about some of some of your methods when it comes to game planning, practicing, getting these kids ready for their drills, coming up with new drills for these kids, and where you come from and really help out our athletes as they try to develop their own game plan. Let's just start out. We know you had played actually at Baltimore Polytechnic for your high school days. Went on to play at Morgan State University where I read that you actually currently hold or did hold the three point record. Isn't that right?

Coach Sam Brand celebrates his first state championship with a Baltimore Polytechnic Institute player.  Photo Credit: City Paper, Reginald Thomas II

Coach Sam Brand celebrates his first state championship with a Baltimore Polytechnic Institute player.

Photo Credit: City Paper, Reginald Thomas II

Sam Brand: I had all three point records when I finished playing, but a guy came along ... I actually coached there for four years right after I finished. A guy, Reggie Holmes who has every scoring record, three point included, afterwards. But I was fortunate enough to be a part of his process as he broke all my records, but when I finished I did have all three point records.

Tristan: You helped him achieve what he was able to achieve, I'm sure.

Sam Brand: I appreciate Reggie for that.  He tells a story that way, so that way I don't have to.

Tristan: There it is. I think that was probably you dipping your toe into coaching there, and then you really took it head on once you went over to BPI. Tell us what that was like coming out of college. You just finished up the four years there. Started as a graduate assistant at Morgan State and went back to BPI. Now, they had a program going before, but you really resurrected that program, didn't you?

Sam Brand: Yeah. It was an amazing experience getting to play Division 1 basketball, and then getting to coach as well. I got a chance to go to the NCAA tournament at my school, which was awesome experience. But the opportunity presented itself four years in to go back to my alma mater and Baltimore Polytech where really, I learned a lot about the establishment of a program. We had some success when I was at Morgan as a player, but nothing like the success we had when I got to be able to coach there. I learned a lot of what it entailed to create a program and establish culture and established winning ways, and I really was interested in doing that on my own. And I earned a Master's in Mathematics Education while I was coaching at Morgan. And right at the time we have made our second straight NCAA tournament, we were doing great. I also was approached by the assistant principal at my old high school and just basically asking that academically they were in turmoil. The program had never even been to a city championship in over 100 years, and I'd just been a part of resurrecting Morgan and I just finished my Master's degree in Mathematics Education at the time. It worked out where I was ready to take on the challenge of taking on my high school program. And it was funny. A lot of people at that time warned me about taking a step back as if coaching in high school was not as prestigious as being in college. But that opportunity to have something that was my own, to do it with some friends, and then it was really intriguing to me that it had never been done. The school had so much history behind it, but none behind a boy's basketball program. That was the initial thought, is to create something from what I've learned in my Morgan experience.

Tristan: Sure. You did start that program there. Now, tell us. Was there any impediments? Anything that really stood in the way of getting off the ground there? And what were they? And how did you address them?

Sam Brand: Absolutely. I think that any place where you're going to go, it has history and that history is not a winning one. There's going to be a reason why. The same way if there is a winning tradition, there'll be a reason why as well, and certain things that were done to get it to that point. And I think when you're starting any program, you look at the exact ... What the hurdles may be and what the strengths may be, and often they're actually the same thing. At Poly, it's a public school in Baltimore City where obviously we have a lot of great basketball here, but it's also a magnet school academically. It's not easy to get into. I think in the history of the school, I think that one of the challenges was that there was either basketball guys in there who were really trying to make their way with the basketball program and didn't quite understand what needed to be done academically with the rigors of being a part of such a tough academic school, or you had some good teachers who tried to coach a basketball team there where they maybe didn't ... Weren't able to keep up with the competitiveness of Baltimore City athletics and our league, but they were great academic people. What I tried to be was that balance, and it first started with proving myself. I mean, I'd just come from coaching in college and playing in college and there weren't that many division one players that came out of Poly before. I had some credibility coaching in the basketball world, but absolutely first and foremost what I had to do is establish a culture of academic support and excellence among the guys to know that winning would be great ... And I'm a very competitive guy. I wanted to win bad, but I wouldn't even be able to have a leg to stand on with my principal or with the community or with the parents if I wasn't qualifying guys and making sure our guys were academically supported so they were fortunate enough to get good enough where they were being recruited at the college level, that all their academics were taken care of and they were academically ready.

I'm definitely not the kind of guy that says, "I like flex offense. All my teams are going to run it. Doesn't matter who I have. Doesn't matter what players I have. They're going to adjust to me." I'm always looking to adjust to meet the needs of my team.

Tristan: Nice. Those are all really great points and really good background on how you can build a program like that. You were also involved with USA Basketball, I heard. U16, U17, that kind of stuff. How did you get involved there?

Sam Brand: The relationship that I have with ... The director of the junior national team right now is named Samson, and he actually started out as a film guy at Morgan when I was there as an assistant. And we started at camp together, and really, from that experience what I tell people is because ... The reality is that it's a very elite and prestigious group of coaches to be a part of, and a part of me is like, I know that there was a lot of people ... You won one state championship, why are you there? At this point, I think they ... With three in a row, I think they've got a reason to have me out there. But at first it was like, why are you there? And the truth and what I tell people is that from the beginning when I got into this, I was relationship driven and I've always just had the mentality. I don't care if you're the head coach or you're a grad assistant or you're a manager. Whoever it is, I'm going to treat everybody with respect, really pay attention to my relationships and develop them with purpose. And Samson was one of those guys. And I think that what he remembered is that when I was an assistant coach and he was a manager, that I showed him the same respect and I showed everyone else and we developed a relationship the same way I develop my relationships across the board with people within the program. And it turned into him giving me an opportunity and me taking advantage of it down the line. But really, what it was is just I think a lot of the people that you come in contact with in this business, and really just in general, that sports and basketball have been my thing. People that manage and take care of their relationships are successful. And I'm a part of USA Basketball because I feel like I have integrity in the way that I manage and take care of our relationships.

Tristan: That's great and really good story. Let's pivot into talking a little bit about skills development with ... Craig and I, we work on the Hustle app, and a lot of what we do is related to getting players the best drills out there for the right situations and developing players. Let's talk about the start of a season. Are there any specific drills or exercises you prefer to get your team ready to play? Especially as the season's kicking off?

Sam Brand: A couple things. In terms of my favorite drills and then what to do for each season, I really feel like ... And I think in the development world, being in the Baltimore area, there's a lot of options to go for training and for development and for coaching. And you have to constantly ... I think one of the advantages that I'm appreciative of was really seeing a bunch of guys that put a lot of time and energy into it and how they do it, and picking and choosing what I take from it. One thing that I think is really important when it comes to development, especially as you approach a season, is to really have some good knowledge of self as to where your game is. There are certain guys that are going to need to create space with their offensive game through setbacks, let's say. There are certain guys that adding that movement or that move into their game is something that really fits their game. And there are certain guys that no matter how long they played the game, they really will never need to take an off the dribble step back, or if they do, it's going to be a very advanced part of the game. I say that to say, I think that what we look to do is really throughout the spring and summer to really work ... We tell our guys, "Look, go develop everything. Whatever skill you want to work on, really open it up. Play a lot, work on your skill, and really grow your game and don't have any limit to doing that and have fun with it." And then when it comes down to the time when we're approaching the season, in the preseason, we want our drills to be more centered on two things. One, what is your skill set? If you're a guy that only needs two feet to get your shot off and if you get your feet set with a little bit of space, you're a very dangerous weapon, then I think that you need to focus in on the things that ... Drills to do with footwork that create that last couple of feet of space, and then playing off of that space. Whether it be inside pivot, catching shoots, and now I'm attacking. I close out on the different ways that guys can close out on me because I know they got to run at me because I'm the shooter. Now you can work your drills and the skills that you're developing based on what you've gotten good at and what shots you're going to get in the game. And I think that taking it to another level is that when you're focused on your game and then beyond that where you're going to get shots in your coaches or your teams offense or system, based on what you're best at. And then, you get really more specific as you go, and then you play the season, you're committed to the team, you go back in the off season, and you're working on your overall game. And then I think each year you come back and focus in on what it is you bring to the table, and focus the drills around that.

Do we change our outlook with the loss? I feel like you don't want your players to be too reactionary on losing the basketball games, so you can't be too much that way as a coach.

Tristan: Got it. You talked a lot about customizing specific drills based on individual players' needs. How do you balance between team drills and individual player drills, especially with a limited amount of time that you can be with them practicing?

Sam Brand: I think balance is a great word. Like I was saying, we try to focus on different things different parts of the year so that balance is going to be geared toward that. There's no point where we want guys not continuing to grow individually, but when it's January and you're in conference play and you're heading towards your state playoff push, we look around and we're like, "Look, this is who we are right now with this team. Let's really focus in on the things that we know strategy-wise are working for us, and let's be the best at those things and focus in on ourselves." And then, the balance goes more towards, "Look, what are we looking to add to your game in April? What can we say that ... Last year, you shot 14% from the three. But I think that with a really strong summer and getting, let's say, 20,000 reps of these shots ... We feel like next year you can move that up to a place where you're taking that shot and making it consistently. Here's what we want to do." And then you plan the drills around that. I think the balance depends on the time of year and what exactly the focus is developmental-wise during that time.

Tristan: Got it. Great. That's great answers there. A tough question, and I know this doesn't happen very often, but what about after a loss? How do you adjust your strategy there?

Sam Brand: I'll tell you what, as a coach, you'd like to not have to learn from losses.

Tristan: Yeah, true.

Let's play the best teams we can possibly play. Let's take some losses if we have to, and let's learn from them. Let's make sure that we're losing to teams that are putting a lot of work and time into preparing to beat us so that when we do, we're losing to formidable opponents and we can really learn some important lessons from it.

Sam Brand: But really it presents ... I can say that one of our philosophies is ... I really could have in the past three years during these state championship runs ... All three of our regional championships were on the road. I say that to say that we were never a top seat going into our state playoffs, and it's because we purposefully make our schedule harder than any other public school in the state. And that might affect us seating wise, but the reason why we do that is because our first state championship, we played Simeon from Chicago earlier in that season. And we played it really tough at home in Baltimore. Simeon is a well-known program, and for good reason. We're in a dog fight with them. At the end of the game, we cut it to one with a three with like seven seconds left, and the ball goes through the net with about seven seconds left. It takes them two or three seconds to get the ball and take it out of bounds, and then you just stand there with it because we have no timeouts left, and they know there's nothing I can do to stop the clock. It was a tough way to lose. Everybody got hype, but their team knew. Look, this game's over. The ball went through the net. I got enough time to take it out and just hold it. We don't have to play anymore. Later, we were in the state championship game. Our guy's at the free throw line. We're up by four and he looks over and he says, "Coach, I'm missing this. Don't touch the ball. The game's over." And it was really funny because the exact situation that happened to us in the loss verse Simeon, we were on the other side of that in our state championship game and everyone knew that the game was over, and it was just easier not to foul a three point shooter in that situation. And that's just a microcosm of what we've had. Our experience has been, let's play the best teams we can possibly play. Let's take some losses if we have to, and let's learn from them. Let's make sure that we're losing to teams that are putting a lot of work and time into preparing to beat us so that when we do, we're losing to formidable opponents and we can really learn some important lessons from it. But in terms of, do we change our strategy? Do we change our outlook with the loss? I feel like you don't want your players to be too reactionary on losing the basketball games, so you can't be too much that way as a coach. While at the same time, as we were talking about balance earlier, you have to be open to, you know what? Maybe my team isn't a team. Maybe this team won't do a little bit better with the zone. Let me try the zone pressure versus demand pressure up there. You need to be humble enough to be open to new ideas, but then also be confident enough in your preparation and all the time that you put in the off season, that you're not just going to scrap everything because it didn't work for you.

Tristan: Sure. Yeah. You definitely want to keep that strategy going forward. Whatever you establish there at the beginning of the season is what ... Obviously, after winning three straight state championships, I think you're doing something right over there.

Sam Brand: Well, I tell you though, in each ... In the first and third year, so two years ago and then this year, we had ... I would say our best defense in the state playoffs was in ... I wouldn't have said that was our best defense in December. We allowed things to happen throughout the year. You want to stay open and grow. You don't want to be the exact same team in February that you were in November. For sure you want to grow and you want to allow that to happen. But I think that's part of it, is you have ... You don't want to ... I'm definitely not the kind of guy that says, "I like flex offense. All my teams are going to run it. Doesn't matter who I have. Doesn't matter what players I have. They're going to adjust to me." I'm always looking to adjust to meet the needs of my team.

Tristan: Okay, yeah. Tell us about that process a little bit. I know it's a broad question, but is there something you can zero in on about implementing that growth and the strategy behind it? And then also, just having to meld all these different types of skillsets to what that strategy is and achieving that growth.

Sam Brand: Yeah. With the young generation of athletes, it's very important for them all to have investment in what the team's goals and what the plans for the team are, and what I try to do in that process ... To get specific, I'll refer you to our first state playoff runs. We had a guy who ... In our first state championship run, we had a senior who's at Temple now as a sophomore, Devandre Perry. And then, we had a junior who's at Long Beach State right now. And they were our two highest profile guys, but we had a guy who was so tenacious on the ball and it was to the point where he's actually ... He's playing division two basketball now in West Virginia at Alderson Broaddus, and he was just the best on ball defender I'd ever coached. And I was like, the things that he's doing to the opposing team's pass guard, I wanted to accentuate it more in our defense. What we did was we started running a running jump in the back court with ... We were basically find out who they had that run the ball up the court, who were their primary ball handler, identify that either within scout or within the first minute or two of the game. And we would put him on their primary ball handler, and he could turn anyone in the back court. He could make anyone have a little bit of trouble bringing it up, so we would send a guy on the weak side. We would make the team play fast. We had a bunch of athletic guys behind him, so it was a way to really start off pressure defense to take the ball out of their primary ball handler's hands, put them in a tough situation, make someone else be a playmaker. And it was the defense that we rode throughout the state playoffs and it was really geared towards the fact that we have an elite guy knowing that. We have an elite level shot blocker on your team, which we had a few years back. We changed our philosophy as to where we didn't really care too much about getting beat off the dribble, as long as we were able to apply crazy amounts of pressure and we were ... We were denying one pass away and putting crazy amounts of pressure on the ball because we know we had a guy sitting at the rim who just made it so hard for people to finish at the rim. We adjusted and said, "You know what?" And he wasn't our best player, so I think that was a cool part about it. This year, we ran a morphing zone defense from a three-two to a two-three, and we put our athletic five who could guard multiple positions at the top of the three-two. And then he would drop back into a two-three based on certain reads with the way that they were running their zone offense. All three of those cases, we had guys that necessarily weren't our best player, but they had an elite defensive skill and we changed our entire defensive philosophy to fit that skill and empower somebody on the team that wasn't necessarily a star. And I think it paid big dividends in terms of ownership of the guys, and then it was an example of what you're asking about. Making an adjustment to your style of play based on who you have.

Tristan: Okay. And that's what it's all about. Based on who you have and what their skill set is. Let's say, and you're pretty well seasoned to this now. You're getting towards the end of the season. You're making that post-season push, or you're already in it. You might be dealing with some injuries or fatigue. What's the strategy in addressing that, especially with young players? And is there any drills you like or any training exercises that you like to counteract those effects?

Coach Sam angrily jumps after a questionable call during a game against Chicago's Simeon Academy.  Photo Credit: City Paper, Reginald Thomas II

Coach Sam angrily jumps after a questionable call during a game against Chicago's Simeon Academy.

Photo Credit: City Paper, Reginald Thomas II

Sam Brand: Well, I tell you what. When it comes to injury and fatigue late in the season, what you did in the off season is going to be huge. The time that you put in ... We're a public school in Baltimore, but we are fortunate enough to have a really great relationship with a guy named [Yves] Joseph who's a doctor up the street. He runs a pivot physical therapy location not too far from our school. We do yoga year round. We do strength and conditioning year round. We make sure our guys are doing stuff, taking care of your body. It's something that I came up ... I was high school ... I graduated high school in 1999. Taking care of your body, I think we all knew it was important, but we sprained our ankle, we tied our shoe tighter and we kept going. I didn't think about what my pregame meal was in high school. I didn't think about what diet that I would need to maintain the lifestyle that I had. Whereas now, the more that you pay attention to everything about your body year round, the better you're able to handle the rigors of a season. And then, with young guys now, I mean, you go right into AAU basketball afterwards. There really is not much of a of a downtime, so I say that to say that one, the three-hour practice year round is not ... Coaches have learned to be a lot more efficient. They've learned that it's not the best thing for guys' bodies to maximize their athleticism. Being more efficient is really important for a coach and keeping things fresh. We do a lot more game situation and skill work late in the year, but we're really working on getting better at certain situations in the game and and having guys get used to playing up three, down three late in the season. We go hard for not as long a period of time. In terms of my adjustment is to shorten the time and try to pick up the intensity a little bit. But with the guys and with your program, it's really about, what do you do year round for injury prevention and for maintenance of health? What we eat is really important to us and what we do with our bodies. It's just a message that, like you said, I mean, one player goes down and your whole season changes. When you got all your guys ... We've been very fortunate in this area, and it hasn't been because of luck.

Tristan: That's great. Coach, you walked us through the season end to end and the off season. A lot of really great information. But let's talk a little bit about getting that edge through technology. What role does technology play in your coaching now? And then, looking forward, what role do you see it playing in the future?

Sam Brand: Well, so I'm an educator first by profession. I'm a math teacher. And the way that people learn was ... When I was a grad assistant in college, I remember one of my teachers saying that she wanted us ... One of my professors was saying that she wanted us to understand how people teach and how people learn math, and those weren't two separate ideas to me until I met her and understood what she was saying. And so, the way that people learn now is through technology, and if you want to teach them new things, you better incorporate it. The answer to your question ... Right now, we have Krossover as our film editing software. We communicate through group chat and a team app. I would like to use it more in terms of repetition and holding each other accountable with X amount of reps. We have our guys make their own highlight videos. I've got fast draw where I'll send a play to a guy and tell him, "This is something" ... To the guys and tell them, "This is something we're going to put in for sideline out of bounds situation in the next couple of games." But to answer to the question, I try to incorporate technology as much as possible because I know that my players get excited about new technology and it is just the way that they learn. If I want our guys to learn something new, I try to figure out a way to incorporate technology in teaching it to them, because I know that's how they want to learn.

Craig: Nice. Good stuff. Before we wrap up, something that we do with a lot of our guests, we ask them a few rapid fire questions. Let's go right to that rapid fire round. Tristan, you got it for the first question.

Tristan: All right. Let's get into it. All right, let's start off easy. Favorite sports movie, Sam? Excuse me. Favorite sports movie, Coach?

Sam Brand: He Got Game.

Craig: Nice. All right. Who is the coach across any sport that you admire the most?

Sam Brand: Doc Rivers.

Tristan: Nice. Are there any YouTube channels or any technology outlets you'd like to check out for coaching tips?

Sam Brand: I go to actual coaches for my coaching tips to be honest. I'll tell you what, there's a couple of people I follow on Twitter that have ... Brian Williams is a guy I can think about that just has some great sets and just some great quick stuff on coaching. There's some great followers on Twitter that I have are my best resource for that.

Craig: Good one. This one's my favorite question. What's your favorite basketball shoe of all time?

Sam Brand: I would say Charles Barkley 90 ... I want to say 98. Charles Barkley 98's. They had a tiger print almost on the side.

Tristan: When he was with the Suns?

Sam Brand: He was with the Suns. That's was an elite era for me, basketball-wise. I loved that team. I love Charles Barkley and those were ... They had some Airmax in purple and orange. I love those shoes.

Craig: Coach, thank you for joining us and lending us so much of your time tonight. Really appreciate it and definitely think our young athletes are going to benefit from all that information you were able to bestow upon us there. Any final thoughts? Any organizations? Any type of charities you'd like to give a plug to? Any social media? Anything like that?

Sam Brand: You know what? I'm @CoachSamBrand on all my social media outlets. I try to do as much in the community as I can, so if you follow me up, you'll follow something. I got 50,000 on me, though. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you sharing this. It's the next level of what I want to do.

Craig: I can see that now. You're definitely an educator first and foremost, and that definitely range through here via our podcast. Appreciate it again here, Sam. Coach, excuse me. I really got to work on that.

Sam Brand: All good.

Craig: Really appreciate your time again here, Coach, and good luck next season.

Sam Brand: All right, guys. Take it easy.

Tristan: All right. Thanks.