Coaches Q&A – Jim Brovelli

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Coaches Q&A – Jim Brovelli

Jim_BrovelliFew coaches in America can match the breadth, depth, and influence of native San Franciscan JIM BROVELLI, whose stellar career encompasses successes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels.

Brovelli’s basketball lineage includes basketball greats Pete Newell, Phil Woolpert, Jack Avina, Dick Motta, and Bernie Bickerstaff. Following a high school career at Saint Ignatius (which earned him a position in the San Francisco Prep Sports Hall of Fame), Brovelli was a star at University of San Francisco for the late Pete Peletta. A Dons victory over UCLA in 1963 was the last time Coach John Wooden’s team lost in a regional championship game for many years.

His coaching career had its start in 1965 at Lick-Wilmerding High School where he served until 1972, when he accepted an assistant’s position at the University of Portland under Jack Avina. From 1973-1983 he was head coach at University of San Diego, where he received WCAC and District 14 coach of the year honors, taking the Toreros to their first NCAA tournament appearance. His next position was head coach at his alma mater USF, from 1984-1995, where he took over after the school’s lengthy self-imposed suspension of men’s basketball.

In 1996 Brovelli joined long time friend Bernie Bickerstaff with the Denver Nuggets as an assistant (1996-98) and continued with Bickerstaff at Washington for the Wizards (1998-2000). He also consulted with the Japanese National
Team in 1998 in preparation for the Asian Games and coached the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the Continental Basketball Association. He and his wife, Nada, have two children and five grandchildren.

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Q: In your background, Jim, you have been associated with true basketball royalty.

A: Yes, I don’t know too many coaches who have been as fortunate as I have been to be involved with people such as Pete, Phil, Jack, Bernie, and my coach at Saint Ignatius, Stan Buchanan, who had played for Woolpert at USF on those
great teams with Bill Russell and K. C. Jones that won 60 straight games. Few people recall that Bernie played for Phil at USD and then succeeded him as a 26-year-old head coach. Given that kind of mentoring in the game, it would have been nearly impossible not to get into coaching.

Q: Why have these people, particularly Newell, had such an impact on the sport?

A: I think a common thread, which I hope extended through my own career as a coach, is that these men saw themselves as teachers first. Any good teacher knows more than his or her subject matter, and that “more” includes the ability almost to see inside their students to understand them as people first and as players second. Nowadays this is called “motivation” as if it is something “done to” a person rather than being defined as a relationship skill. As Coach Wooden said, teaching is coaching and coaching is teaching.

The other common trait that these coaches shared is the desire for players to grasp both the “hows” and the “whys” of the game. Though they were tough taskmasters, they did not want a team of five robots on the floor. They wanted
guys who understood the game. Pete Newell used to say “freedom within structure.”

Q: Which leads to the question of how well the coach as teacher model has survived to the present?

A: I would say it really depends on the coach and the school’s administration. The two biggest changes that have come to today’s game are the influence of money and the “win now or else” mentality that has become so pervasive. It is
much more difficult for a coach to build a program for the long term because there is very little patience today.

You can see that most clearly with the growing influence of AAU programs all over the country with younger players. AAU is about getting players exposed to college recruiters which many times will take them away from their high
school programs during the summer months. In many cases the emphasis is on individual play as opposed to team play. Perhaps the influence of the NBA has filtered down to the lower levels. The teaching of team play and developing
students of the game are critical to team success.

Q: When you recruited at USD and USF and later in the NBA, what did you look for in a player?

A: I learned at Saint Ignatius when we competed with McClymonds of Oakland with Paul Silas in the Tournament of Champions at Harmon Gym on the Cal campus in 1960, that talent does not always win, that individual and team
chemistry are often more important. That Saint Ignatius team was coached by Stan Buchanan and went a long way believing in each other. The ultimate goal is to have the combination of good talent and team chemistry.

I always looked for players who were labeled as overachievers, were very competitive, very durable, mentally tough, played hard, and played within the team framework. These days they are called “character” people. I always liked
that Joe Torre called his great Yankee teams “grinders.” There were times at San Diego that I had to curtail practice because of the intensity of the competition. That is the kind of problem any coach wants to have.

Q: At what point in your long career did you become confident as a coach?

A: That’s a hard question to answer because there was never one thing that happened or one game after which I said to myself “OK, you are good at this.” I never felt I had it all figured out. I made mistakes every day and learned every
day, just like anybody in any profession.

I never had preconceived notions about what success was supposed to look like. I had had great teaching and mentoring as a young player and later as a young coach so the fundamentals were there and I felt well prepared to enter the profession. I feel very fortunate to have coached on every level. But without that training who knows how it would have turned out?

Q: How about some people who you respect who are working today?

A: As I watch the game today I see at lot of teams that Pete Newell would call “over coached and under taught.” Because of the presence of AAU and travel teams and the “win now” mentality, so many players don’t have a grasp of
the basics of footwork, passing, shooting, and team defense. That aside, two coaches who in my mind are both teachers first and successful in terms of wins and losses are Tom Izzo at Michigan State and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.

They both demand mastery of fundamentals and team play, they care enough about their kids to see that they graduate, and their teams show a level of consistency of teaching and repetition of basic skills that distinguish them from their peers. They are both people builders. We will never have too many coaches with their blend of theory and practice.

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Coach Q & A is a partnership between G-board and Skip Corsini.  Skip Corsini is a freelance writer, teacher and consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area who has coached basketball at the interscholastic level since 1980. Learn more about Skip on www.twtwritingcoach.com and skipcorsini.tumblr.com. He can be reached at [email protected]et.

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