Jerome Allen told me once that if he weren’t a basketball coach, he’d be a teacher.
And in coaching, like in teaching, one of the pitfalls instructors often fall into is seeing a problem and simply pointing it out rather than trying to understand why it is occurring.
Instead of figuring out why a student is sleeping in class, a teacher may simply yell at the kid to wake up.
There is a three-step process that actually serves to rectify the issue. First, you identify the problem — a student is sleeping in class. Next, you translate, asking yourself what the source of the problem may be — perhaps the student is sleeping because he is bored, or he isn’t getting enough sleep at home. Finally, you take action — talking to the student about his home life, or changing up the lesson plan.
Allen is great at the first step, because he can damn sure identify problems.
After Saturday’s blowout loss versus Harvard: “Some things are going to have to change.”
After a win against NJIT: “We don’t value the basketball. Sometimes, we just play basketball without understanding that each possession is important.”
And after the rout against Big 5-rival St. Joe’s: “Hopefully this game tonight stings. It’ll get [the players] to pay attention a little bit more. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
On Jan. 2, after a grueling loss to George Mason after leading at halftime: “You got to hold teams to one shot on every defensive possession, and that’s something we didn’t do in the second half as well.”
The list goes on and on, one quote after another following every contest. Allen is phenomenal at identifying problems.
He thinks sophomore Darien Nelson-Henry could give more effort on the defensive end. He believes that his team doesn’t have the discipline to avoid coughing up the ball or to play tough defense for 40 minutes. And, most importantly, he knows this group of players cannot get motivated for an entire contest.
But just like teachers in so many schools around the country, Allen seems to stop at step one.
Instead of asking the tough questions about why this team isn’t motivated or why Penn makes so many unforced turnovers, Allen simply continues to bang on his critical drum after every tough loss.
I don’t know what work gets done behind closed doors. Maybe Allen has tried his hardest to light a spark underneath his team, has attempted every possible avenue for getting his players excited to play the game of basketball.
Maybe he, like so many teachers, is burned out, frustrated that the image he had of his unit in his head isn’t translating to the real world.
But at the end of the day, when the principal comes into a classroom and sees one student taking a selfie in the corner, another sneaking a bite of his Wawa sandwich from under the table and yet another cursing about the assignment that’s been given, it all looks the same, whether the effort from the teacher is there or not.
For Allen, the current “principal” is leaving, and the next one won’t turn a blind eye to the challenges Allen has faced.
Either Allen finally unlocks the code to this team that he’s put together, or it won’t be his team for much longer.