Rick Barnes once said one of the smartest things I have ever heard about basketball… and management… and, for that matter, life.
Several years ago on Longhorn Sportsline, Craig Way described a recent game where Royal Ivey had come up big—I forget the circumstances—and Way pitched the idea that it was nice to see Ivey become such a contributor because he wasn’t the most talented guy Barnes had on the team. Barnes cut him off with this:
"Playing hard is a talent."
As opposed to an "intangible," Barnes meant. True statement, and the underlying philosophy informs Barnes’ leadership style quite well. Up to this point, Barnes "gets the most out of his talent" serves up one of the easy sound bites for the lazy journalist (right up there with Mack Brown "builds a family atmosphere" and Augie Garrido "drops peyote and listens to Ravi Shankar pre-game").
Ivey provides the best case study. Roy, despite being barely recruited to play big school basketball, still holds down an NBA roster spot: firmly entrenched as the fourth point guard option on the Sixers' depth chart.
What Barnes means by playing hard, historically, has been almost fanatical effort on defense and the boards, discipline with the basketball, the courage and temperament required to play through rough moments and total commitment to Todd Wright’s conditioning regimen.
All good…except this season one suspects that playing hard by the Barnes definition is not just a talent, but the only talent that matters. Oh, if these kids could only be Royal Ivey. Of course, Ivey represents an outlier of a couple of standard deviations with regard to achievement drive.
Achievement drive is a psychological construct that measures ambition and a willingness to work toward goals. Casual fans mistake this—a lot—for competitiveness. All of the Texas kids are competitive: Jordan Hamilton, Avery Bradley, J’Covan Brown (perhaps to a fault). But they may not be driven to the extent required by their coach. Damion James is, of course; Doge Balbay is; and Justin Mason used to be (wasn’t he a "more talented" Royal Ivey two years ago?). Gary Johnson is both full of drive and resilience and so is Dexter Pittman, but he may well have left it all in the training room. If you are not driven, then Barnes will drive you.
If you could just be more like Royal Ivey.
We have a Bobby Knight coach for a John Wooden team. Not a real stretch to imagine the 2010 version of Barnes (or any version of Knight) screaming at Walt Hazzard for not being strong enough at the point of attack, yanking Gail Goodrich after a couple of missed jumpers, complain about Lew Alcindor's "intensity" and kicking Bill Walton straight out of school for smoking pot in the dorm.
What’s the matter with Bobby Knight? He won three titles. But not with the kind of roster Barnes has (or Wooden had). Someone run down for me the NBA career stats of Kent Benson, Scott May, Steve Alford, Keith Smart, Dean Garrett. Knight coached exactly one elite early-entry NBA talent in his career at Indiana (and he’s still pissed Isaiah Thomas left early). He did coach lots of four-year kids who completely bought in to the Knight program and possessed drive comparable to their coach. Barnes assembled a team like that, complete with his own version of Isaiah Thomas, in 2003. But in the age of one and done, he will probably never have another one.
Someone get our man a copy of They Call Me Coach. Then have him, as Trips Right suggested, call Mike Krzyzewski—a Knight disciple who figured it out. Coach K lives by two rules on his teams: no jealousy, no fear.
Think that might be a nice change of pace for these Horns?