What It's Like to Coach Team USA featuring Don Showalter
Tristan: All right. Welcome in everyone. We have with us on the line coach Don Showalter. He is the USA Basketball Youth Division Director of Coach Development. This man is experienced to say the least. He coached in high school for 42 years before moving on to this position with USA Basketball. Coach, how are we doing tonight?
Don: Really good. Appreciate being on your podcast and I think it'll be interesting to your listeners.
Tristan: I think so too. Yeah. You know, certainly somebody of your pedigree, you can speak volumes to some of our young athletes here. I know that they definitely are on the right path to get to where you are coaching today, and we definitely want to lead them on the right on that right path as well. So let's just start where we start with all of our guests. Let's start with the foundations as we do, it seems to be with the practicing, with the training. Let's start with you. Where'd you start? What's your story? How did you get to where you are today with USA Basketball? Take your time in telling us.
Don: I get asked that question a lot because obviously when you worked for USA Basketball, that's pretty significant organization to work for if you're in the basketball world. I actually coached high school basketball for 42 years in Iowa, ending up in Iowa City. I am very fortunate to have some really good teams, had over 600 wins in my career at four various schools throughout my career. And at the same time I was coaching high school basketball, I got involved with USA Basketball. I met people, and a lot of times you know how we all get involved with things. You kind of end up meeting the right people at the right time and that's pretty much what happened for me with USA Basketball. Back in 1998, I met some people that were very instrumental USA Basketball and they asked me to coach the Hoop Summit, which is a game where our top seniors will play against international groups. I coached that in 1998. Went on to coach McDonald's game after that and I was on some committees for USA basketball during their festivals. Then FIBA started the youth 16 and youth 17 divisions in 2009. And they started those because there really wasn't anything from FIBA at that age group. So it's been a really a good thing. So starting in 2009 they asked me to coach it. You kind of remember back, I think USA Basketball was going through some tough times at that time, just with our Olympic team finishing, getting a bronze a little earlier than that. And Mike Krzyzewski just took over as coach of the senior man's team. So a lot of things were happening at that time for USA basketball and a lot of transition was taking place. So youth 16 evolved into the youth 17 world championship. Youth 166 is the qualification tournament. So I end up coaching that those groups for 10 years, from 2009 through 2018. Had some really, really good players. You know guys like Jason Tatum, Collin Sexton, Josh Jackson, Jaren Jackson, Bradly Beal, Quinn Cook, Andre Drama, and I could go on and on. Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker, Dyes Jones, Trey Jones, Wendell Carver. Two years ago we had five of the top 15 draft picks who played on the slate of our junior national teams. And then three years ago, USA Basketball had asked me if I'd be interested in coming full time with them. And I was at the point of my coaching career that I thought it was a good move for me. After 42 years, I felt I'd probably done about everything there is to do at that level. And this was really appealing to me to work with, you know, obviously lead athletes, great coaches who I worked with since really 1998. So I went full time with them, coach director and now I've transitioned over from from 2018 to coach the team into overseeing a lot of what we do with our junior national teams. So very quickly. In a nutshell, that's kind of where my career started and that takes me up to today. And I tell coaches all the time, you need to do a great job with where you're at because somebody notices. And if you do a great job of where you're at, you'll get an opportunity to do other things. And if you don't ... If you can't coach a ninth grade team very well or you don't want to, you're not going to get a chance to coach a better team. So those things really stuck with me and I tried to do a really good job wherever I was at. Fortunately with the youth 16, youth 17, we went 10 gold medals and we were 62 and 0 over that span, which I look back on and ... At that time you go through those things, you don't think it's that big a deal. I look back on now and I'm surprised that we 62 and 0, and didn't lose a game or two here and there. So that's where we're at.
Craig: No, that's great. Yeah, Coach, thanks for walking us through that. You obviously have had a long and storied career, but let's go back to high school, kind of think about your time as a high school coach. How does a good high school player compare to the elite ones you're now coaching?
Don: Well yeah I think there's obviously skill. The physical aspect of the elite players are at a higher level. Yeah. AI say this a lot of times, many times the skill level, the actual skill level is not sometimes not as good at the elite level as you think it should be. But those guys are so physically gifted that they can get away with a lot of things that less skilled guys can or less physical skilled guys can do. Some of the guys that are under the radar that we really look at hard are guys that are really, really very skilled but maybe not quite have that elite athletic ability. But fortunately I think, when they come, when we get them for our training camps, they seem to really improve in the skill level, I think because they're playing against really good players that are just as physically gifted as they are. So at some point we tell them, you get to the NBA or wherever you get to at some point, there's going to be somebody that is going to be as physically gifted as you. And then where's your game going to go? And then just going to have to depend on can I shoot the ball? Is my foot work good enough? Can I make great passes? So you're down again to the fundamentals of the game.
Craig: Yeah. And is that what you would recommend for players that are at that, really, really talented high school level but still not towards the elite level? Is that what you would recommend that they work on is get those fundamentals as solid as possible?
Don: Yeah, and I say this all the time: I think kids play way too many games in the off season. To me there's no need to play 60 or 70 games. That's the time to get better. And if you think about it, you're only going to take maybe 10 shots, 12 shots, 15 shots a game. And that's not a way to get better shooting. You've got to get reps in. And so I think turn down on the games and do more skill work, especially in the areas of shooting. We find out that there's just very few really good knockdown shooters across the whole country in the United States. It's really disappointing because shooting takes work and you have to get in the gym and do that aspect of it. And some of the lesser athletic players are the better shooters. So shooting, passing, and catching is really an important skill. And then the footwork part to it we think is really important too, because that's how you learn to score. You learn to shoot ... We always say he learned to shoot from the waist up, you learned to score with your feet. You know how you're getting to the basket plant this foot, go up, those kinds of things. So by playing too many games, you only work in the games. Generally you only work on things you're good at. If you're going to your right, you go to your right all the time in games. So you've got to really be dedicated and learn enough about yourself, about your skills that you could take those skills and say, hey, what am I weak on? And work on it. And to me, it takes a special young player to do that. Most of them don't do it.
Tristan: We're certainly going to touch on that a little bit, about working the whole body when it comes to getting these drills in. And certainly it's all about the reps as well. Real quick though, I want to stick with the youth 16, youth 17 teams that you coached. I want to know, do you have any part in recruiting these athletes? And for the some of our young athletes out there that you know maybe that is sort of their intended path, how do they try out? How do they get on one of these teams?
Don: Yeah, I mean basically Sampson, Kioti and myself, we scour the country. We go, I take a lot of the ... Go from Colorado where I reside now at our offices. I pretty much go take east of Colorado and he takes pretty much west to Colorado. And any recommendations we get, we hear about or we see, we go watch some point. Whether they're on their shoe teams or whether they're playing for high school. The big tournaments, we always go try and watch players play. For us, we don't really trust anybody else to give us a good evaluation of a player that's good for us. I'm not going to give a good evaluation or give evaluation. I know the coach, what's good for them. They have to see that player play. I think we do a great job of hunting out kids. For instance, if you give me a name and say this kid's really good, we will go check him out. We'll watch him on film first. And then we think that we'll go watch him out. We go to all the camps in the off-season and watch kids. And so having gone and said all that, we invite this coming up camp, we only invite about 20 players per grade, incoming seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen. And you know, we have, we have four basic camps a year. So kids, we watch a player playing and we say, "You know what, he's probably not quite ready yet. Let's see how he progresses." We might invite him in October, we might wait until April to invite him. So a lot goes into it. And like I said, we look at what the scan reports put out somewhat. Obviously, you know, we want to see what other people think about the players. But in the end we go watch the players play playing. Like I said, not every player that is really gifted, is a type that we want for USA Basketball.
Craig: And what about film? What role does that play?
Don: It's huge. I mean, if you would call me and say this player, I think is really a good player, we'd say, "Hey, send us a couple of game films." And so that's the first thing we'd look at if we haven't already seen him or have a chance to see. So as we look at the film, we think, yeah, he could be somebody we'd go take a look at in person, and then we go in person and evaluate him. So film is really the start to it if we haven't already have something on him.
Tristan: Sure. Now you mentioned you'll take these tips and you go watch these kids play. Is there any sort of national camps or programs that you'd recommend for some of these athletes that may be looking to get on the a USA Basketball junior roster?
Don: With your high school team, we'll go to the City of Palms, we'll go to the big tournaments in and around Christmas time that we go look at. We see a lot of the kids play there. But just going to a camp ... There's not really a lot of camps that we feel real comfortable that we can go watch. John Lucas has good camps, CP three just finished theirs. They have young kids. But just basic camps to say the truth, sometimes they don't really do a lot for us. We need to see them in how they play the game, because the kid in the camp sometimes isn't ... What he shows in camp is not really who he is as a player. And again, we need to see him, how are you reacts with other teammates. What kind of body language does he have? We can see that in a camp somewhat. We can really seal when he plays for his team.
Craig: Yeah. You talked about a couple of the traits that you look for in players. Is there a consistent trait that you see in your athletes where you see that trait and then you say, man, I know that this player is going to be successful?
Don: Obviously he's gotta be really skilled. I'll just take for example, this past year, Kamon Lindsey, He's from Ames, Iowa. Plays at the same school that Doug McDermott and a couple other players played at. He was probably not the most talented player that we invited. In fact, we didn't think he was going to make our final 12. We invited him in. But as the training camp went on, we just felt we were better with him. It was one of those kids that gets on the floor after loose balls. He did all the dirty work, took a charge. He was great to play with. Players loved to play with him because you get him in the ball. So those kinds of things stick out to us and probably more so than than the guy who is a high flyer and can dunk it all the time. Because there's a lot of those guys out there, but we want to see more substance in what a player has. Also what kind of teammate is he? We're really big on, you know, can he buy into what we want with USA Basketball as being a great teammate? Does he have those qualities where he makes everybody better when he's playing with? Can he play with four other really good players? We get these guys in who are really good and we find out they struggle playing with other good players because they think they have to be the guy on the floor and they struggle with the other good players. So obviously the talent's got to be there, but some of the intangibles like that or are things that we really take a look at as well.
Tristan: Got it. So Coach, you walk us through, you're going out, you're watching these kids, you're recruiting them, you're seeing who really has that fit with USA Basketball. Now let's say you've assembled the team and you've got everybody together now, how exactly do you go about starting out your campaign? You yourself, you're undefeated in USA Basketball junior play. How do you go about starting that campaign once you've narrowed down the roster. Where do you start?
Don: Well, you know, we start with about training camp. Forming a team, we'll start with about 30, 35 players. And we take them through nothing different than I would take my high school team through with, with the drills and with the footwork stuff and see how they handle that. And then of course we do a lot of three-on-three action, four-on-four stuff where we can see it, how coachable they are. We want to make corrections when we take that into account. And then they got to be versatile. For us, they have to be able to play several positions, maybe a combo guard, maybe three, four guy or I can kind of stretch four, play a five. So being versatile is really helpful as well. And then when you put that team together to get to final 12, sometimes it's really struggle to pick just the right player for us. So you know, is he going to be a good 11th or 12th guy for instance. We can't have guys that are going to be a pilot at the end of the bench. Then I plan if they're loving the 12th. So that it takes in a lot. And how are they coming off the bench. Just an example, Jaylin Green played for us. He was MVP for us, in 2018 youth 17 world championship. Came off the bench for us but he ended up being MVP of the world at that age group. He came off the bench. Colin Sexton. Obviously everybody knows who that is. He plays for the Cavs and is drafted what number three or four or whatever. He came off the bench for us. So we like guys that you know that tell us, hey coach, we'll do whatever it takes to win, whether I come off the bench. Jason Tatum started for us for about two games. And we said, you know what, Jason, we're going to be a better team when you come off the bench because you're going to give us that instant firepower coming off the bench. So we like guys like that
Don: That buy in. But what we want is ... So to get it from 35 to 12, it's kind of an elimination process skill-wise, but then it's also those other things and how they fit. It's kind of like a puzzle. They have to fit into what, what we determine to be that makes a good team as well.
Tristan: Right? Yeah. No, I think it speaks to again, those intangible traits that you look for. The fact that a guy like Jason Tatum can come off the bench and be humble enough to do that and still succeed. That speaks to it.
Tristan: So you mentioned you're going to start them out there with a few drills, not too different from what you would do back in your Iowa High School coaching days. Can you talk us through some of your favorite drills, what you really like to get the players going with?
Don: Yeah, at the level we bring them in at, most of them are not individual drills. Obviously we have 35 kids, so we're going to take them through some team drills, but we always start out with a lot of footwork stuff. We call it line drills, where they just take out two hard dribbles, learn how to jump stop or stride stop to reverse pivot on either foot, front pivot on either foot, make a pass, make a pass to your partner, go to the end of the line, different kinds of passes. We'll do a lot of two ball stuff, two ball passing or they're both passing the ball to each other at the same time using left-hand push passes, one bow pass, one air pass. So we put them through a lot of that so we can see how they really focus on what's going on. But foot work toward drills that really big for us. We do a game called cutthroat, which is a very intense four on four game with a certain number of rules. So, are in teams of four, three basic rules are you got to catch and square up with the basket, look at the basket. Once you make a pass, you got to move. You can't stay and be a ball watcher. The third rule is once you score, you got to turn and thank the passer, point to him and say thank you. If you don't do one of those three things, your team is off the court, new team is on. So it's really a fast paced game, but it is also teaches really everything we want taught. You're being a great teammate by saying thank you. You're moving when the ball is passed so you got a lot of movement there. You catch them on you square up and look at the basket rather than just catch it and put it on the floor right away or put it above your head right away. So that kind of thing, that's one of our great drills that we do three on threes. I think the game is taught really very much playing three on three. We learn in the back cuts and we put a 12 second shock lock on a three on three, which is the fever rule for three on three thinking like a lot of back cuts with that and catching, squaring up and just moving. It shows that what players can understand about how to play the game, but it also shows that they can play defense in three on three situations. Those are some of the really fun drills and competitive drills that we do. Obviously, we spend time on shooting game shots. We spend time on using your feet with the game shots. But a lot of it's just a normal high school type of practice. And we always ended up, of course, with a scrimmage because we want to see how they do, more of a control type of scrimmage where we'll out with front, five on five, and then we'll made or miss basket, we'll transition to the other end and then we'll stop and bring the ball up front. So it's kind of really controlled type of transition work we do. That's kind of what we do with a lot of it. And we evaluate what we think the players understood with what we do.
Craig: Nice. I think describing some of those drills is really helpful for our listeners, both players and coaches that tune in. Thanks for that. Do you have any stories in particular that you can share with us about an athlete that really improved and what went into driving that improvement from a particular athlete? Maybe that person was struggling at first. Obviously incredibly gifted to be on the team, but can you give us any kind of a success story?
Don: Well, I think we have a lot of really good success stories. Justise Winslow is a great example. I think we're all aware of of who Justise Winslow is from Houston, but he plays for Miami Heat now. I think he just signed a contract a couple of years ago or max contract here last year for Miami Heat. But we cut him as a U16 player. He came to our training camp and we liked him, but we just didn't feel he was what we wanted to make the team. So, we cut him. He could've done a number of things. He could have pouted. He could've said that the coach didn't like him, that he was good enough to make the team, but he showed really a lot of heart. He just said, "I got to go back and get better." And he went back and worked and worked and had a really a fine season the next year in his high school. And we said, "Oh, let's invite you back and see what happens." We did, and he ended up making the team, the U17 team, which is on a world basis because we play as [inaudible] to make up the World Cup, Europe, Asia, African and the Americas. He came back, he played UC17 for us. He ended up being one of those kids that was really a great player for us. He still says to this day that he probably would not be where he is today with the Miami Heat playing, making millions and playing the game he loves had he not been cut as a U16 player. I think that's one of those stories that was really heartwarming. How a kid at that age can really decide, "You know what? I'm not going to play the blame. I'm just going to get better."
Tristan: That's great.
Don: We always say that there's going to be a lot of adversity that happens to those young kids at 16. It's not going be all easy stuff. When you get cut, I said, "Those kids never been cut before. Justise had never been cut from anything in his life." And all of a sudden he finds out, "Man, I'm not good enough to make this team. I got to go back and really do a much better job of improving my skills." That's a great story.
Tristan: Yeah, very inspiring for sure. Something that just stands out for me is the types of players that you've coached. Have you ever been able to keep track of how many pros you've coached over your time there? It's incredible.
Don: I think off our first team was in 2009 and 10. It was Brad Beal, Michael Gilchrist was on the team. Marcus Teague, Quinn Cook, Johnny O'Brien, who was in the League for about four years. Most of the guys that make our final 12 cut, I would say generally looking back, and I don't have my rectus track with me, but nine or 10 of those have played in the league at least for a year or two. That's pretty incredible when that happens. Jeren Jackson, what was the number two draft pick by Memphis last year or two years ago? He played for us. Wendel Carter was what number three or four or five draft pick for the Bulls? Collin Sexton, I could just go down the line with those kids and what they've done is phenomenal.
Tristan: Short answer, a lot it seems like.
Don: Yeah. The neat thing about it is, is they're not premadonnas. They're very good kids. I would say every year of the 12 we took, I still keep in contact with many of them and just from the standpoint of being great kids, great people that that stands out. That's part of what we want with USA basketball. How do they represent USA basketball? How do they represent themselves? For them it was really an honor for them to play with USA basketball and that's what we want.
Tristan: Exactly. Like you said, the intangibles right there. That in itself is a great story. Okay coach, obviously here at Hustle we are all about the technology and when it comes to integrating the sport and integrating into practice and training. Let me ask you, is there any technology that you utilize today specifically for your training, for your practices? Where do you see the future of technology in training going?
Don: Well, you're definitely right that technology is advancing at a rapid rate. You can get anything you want on your app, on different apps. There's an app for everything that you can do to get better. I'm a little bit old school in what happens. I still think it's very important that you have a coach who is dedicated to helping your players get better. If that means technology, if that means personally doing that, if that means showing a video, if that means giving game clips, if that means, "Here's an athlete I think you should use," I think it's very well worthwhile. But specifically, to tell you the truth, we just get them out at our Olympic training center. We just work them out one on one, two on two if they have time, and then as a team. Again, there's some good technology out there. There certainly is. We use films, break down everything that a kid does plus our team as well. Huddle synergy are all useful as well. We do a lot of in game stuff. We chart on apps. We chart where the shot's taken from. An interesting one for us is what our shooting percentage was when we get the ball reversed or swung side and side. And it goes from, if we don't do it at all, we shoot about 30, 33%. We swing at once it goes up to about 50. We swing it back again, it goes to about 68, 70%. So if we can do that, show it to the kids and say, "Hey, here's what happens if we swing the balls side to side three times. 30% of shots we have are going to go in." So just things like that I think really make an impression on the, on the players themselves.
Tristan: No, that's definitely a good point. Like you said, making a little game out of it could really go a long way. So coach, appreciate your time here tonight. Definitely, definitely appreciate it and the insight and certainly given our athletes the insight into getting to play under you one day, that's for sure. Let us close out here with where we close out with all our guests, a little rapid fire round. We're just going to fire some questions at you. You just fire right back at us with the first thing that comes to your mind. That sound good?
Don: That sounds great.
Tristan: All right, here we go. So we're going to go easy on you to start out here, coach. Favorite sports movie of all time. What is it?
Don: Favorite sports movie of all time is ... There's a lot of good sports movies. I know how I'd say Hoosiers.
Tristan: I knew that was it.
Craig: There you go.
Tristan: Something told me.
Craig: That's a good one. My question is, do you have a favorite quote?
Don: I have a lot of quotes. Actually we use what we call mind candy with our players before practice.. One of my favorite quotes is, and Jabari Parker tells me this is his favorite quote of all time that we use, "Pressure can either make diamonds or burst pipes. What's it going to do for you?"
Tristan: All right coach, let me ask you this, going off that question here, is there such thing as a clutch gene?
Craig: All right. Good one. I get it. It's something that you work on. It's confidence. A question here is who is the coach across any sport that you admire the most?
Don: Well, I mean obviously it was at one time John Wood, when he was still living. I worked his camps for 20 years. So, really got a lot of input from what I do from coach Wood. I would still say coach Wood.
Tristan: Got it, coach. All right, you are getting the guys ready for a USA basketball match against some other country. What is the best warmup music to play for them?
Don: You know what? I let them choose that. As long as the words are okay in it, I don't really care what they play. I let the kids pick that.
Tristan: That's right. We got to stay decent a little bit. Of course, we got to show our best selves out there. That's for sure. All right, coach, like I said, definitely appreciate your time here again tonight. Is there anything you want to plug before we go here, social media, any organization, USA basketball, anything like that?
Don: USA basketball, I mean people should follow that of course. You go to our website. We have coaching academies coming up in Dallas, in Vegas and New York and DC coming up here in August and September. We like coaches to be out there. Actually, we have a regional camps for players. I think it's a great start for young players to get a handle on what we want with USA basketball. So check our website at USAB.company. Check out our regional camps. Check out our coaching academies. Those are great things, especially if players want us to see them in action. Those regional camps are a great start for middle school kids.
Tristan: Definitely go make sure you check that out. Check out Don Showalter there on Twitter and all the social media outlets. Appreciate your time here. Good night. We'll let you go on your way and hopefully we'll catch up with you down the line.
Don: Yeah, for sure. Thank you. And you guys do a great job with promotion and growing the game of basketball. That's what we're all about.
Tristan: Great. Thanks so much.