Yesterday, the Idaho Stampede held an open tryout. It is common for D-League teams to hold open tryouts once a year. I attended the tryout and saw not only D-League hopefuls at work, but the newly appointed Idaho Stampede head coach, Dean Cooper, at work. I thought I was only going to watch 15 minutes of the tryouts but I ended up watching 90 mins instead. During the 90 minutes I was able to learn about what Dennis Lindsey looks for in a coach, a little about the system that will be ran, and, lastly, Cooper's coaching style.
The tryout took place in a small Boys and Girls Club gym in Garden City, Idaho. Around 40 or so players were divided into two teams. The players were participating in a 5-on-5 scrimmage when I walked in. Scrimmages were broken down into 4 minute segments. Often during the 4 minutes the clock was stopped and Coach Cooper would address the players. Players substituted in and out for each other as coaches tried to figure out who played best with each other. With about 40 minutes left of the tryout, Coach Cooper admonished the players to play less sloppy, to work on the basics.
During the last 30 minutes of play Coach Cooper taught the players how to defend the Pick and Roll. Cooper first demonstrated how he wanted it to be defended by explaining the defense as assistant coaches demonstrated what was being said. Cooper then had a big man join the coaches to learn his role in the defense, the big left would then leave. Then a guard was asked to join the coaches to demonstrate the guards role. In Coach Cooper's defensive scheme a key was channeling, the players were to create a channel. The key words were up, in, over and back.
Watching Coach Cooper teach the players how to defend the Pick and Roll opened my eyes to possibly what Dennis Lindsey looks for in a coach. Cooper was patient with the players as he taught them. He was a teacher, he didn't expect the players to know exactly what to do initially. That is not to say Dean Cooper was not demanding. When the players went back to their scrimmage and were supposed to execute what they learned, Cooper would stop play immediately if a player was out of position.The player was not called out by name but Cooper would have the players say where they were supposed to be on the court and what they were supposed to be doing. Cooper stopped practice more than once due to a player(s) being out of position. Coach Cooper, however, did not belittle the players when he corrected them. Cooper would tell them what they were doing wrong, remind them what they were suppose to be doing, and finish by praising the player(s) by telling them something they were doing well.
When the tryout ended, Coach Cooper called the players to center court and had them huddle up. Coach Cooper told them all what a good job they did, and how well they played. He said that they played the right way and that they played hard. Players were encouraged to keep working hard and not to worry if they don't make the team because their opportunity would come.
After the tryout I was introduced to Coach Cooper. I was under the impression that there would be a quick media session after the tryout but instead I was able to go one-on-one with Coach Cooper. In the ten minutes that we talked, we discussed the offensive and defensive schemes, the Stampeded will run, differences between the D-league and the NBA, and we talked about Coach Snyder and the Utah Jazz.
Idaho Stampede and Utah Jazz Systems:
Coach Cooper said that the plan is to fundamentally play how Coach Snyder wants to play. The goal is to make it easy on the players. Whether the players are with the Jazz or with the Stampede the system will be the same. Of course, they will consider talent level and skill set so, inevitably, some adjustments will be made. But, overall, the basic system on both ends of the court will be the same.
Utah Jazz and the D-League:
The Utah Jazz and the Idaho Stampede have not decided which players to send to Idaho for the season. Dean Cooper said that unless a team is extremely veteran there usually isn't anything predetermined. Many of the decisions made about how the Jazz will use the Stampede will depend on how the Jazz are performing this season. As a young team the Jazz will use the D-League differently than how maybe a veteran team would use it.
In the last 3 weeks, Dean Cooper has worked with Coach Snyder and Utah's coaching staff throughout the open gym sessions in Salt Lake. Coach Cooper shared that both the Stampede and the Jazz will be playing with pace but taking the right shots. When I asked Coach Cooper what is the right shot, he laughed and said, "I'm not going to divulge that information." One can assume that the Jazz and Stampede will be playing a different style of play than the Jazz have in the past.
When Coach Cooper worked with the Houston Rockets, he was known as a defensive specialist. I asked him how his defensive knowledge could help the Jazz and the Stampede.
Coach Cooper on his role with the Jazz coaching staff:
"Coach Snyder has been great at making me part of his staff, which is why I have spent so much time in Salt Lake prior to to coming here. We share ideas in that. We have a really exhaustive collaborative effort from the coaching staff in its entirety. I think our discussions are healthy. I think we come to a decision and, once a decision is made, we just, boom. This is how its going to be. I think, hopefully, I have been able to contribute some things that I've learned along the way. Obviously, that's going to transfer here because we are going to play the same way. It's been collaborative."
Coach Cooper on Coach Jones and Coach Jensen:
Coach Jones and Coach Jensen have been a great resource to Cooper since they both have spent time as head coaches in the D-League. The D-League and the NBA are very different. Cooper knows that he is able to call up Jones and Jensen throughout the season to get their opinions and advice. They will provide a lifeline and clarity so that the Utah Jazz's system and vision is conveyed from top to bottom.
On what Coach Cooper can bring to the Stampede with his 15 years of NBA experience:
What I can bring to the players outside x and os ... I have been very fortunate to coach with some very successful coaches in my career, I mean, very, very lucky. Everybody's dream is to play in the NBA. I've spent 15 years there. I know what it takes to play in that league, to have a chance to play in that league, and what can help you stay in that league. Besides just the x's and o's and how we're going to play and all that, I think I feel I can help them understand. I truly know what its like. So it's gotta be a partnership. You have to trust me when I'm trying to help you get there. I hope that half my team that I start the year with we only have half of that team when we're in the playoffs because they have been called up. That's my goal. If that happens, I think we've accomplished my mission.
Coach Cooper is said to be a great teacher and developer. I asked Coach Cooper if he will have to teach more in the D-League than he did in the NBA. Coach Cooper talked about refinement. He believes it is not really about teaching players new skills, rather it is about refining their game.
Don't know if you have to teach them more. You have to refine them more. Usually what it is its the refinement of their game which allows them to play at the next level. You're refining their game up there too but a lot of times its there's areas of opportunities, the things they need to work out. Instead of being a six inch hole its a nine inch hole, now you just got to shrink it. You have to refine it.
Guys up here a lot of D-League players. The guys up here, they may have a more complete game than an NBA player but a lot of the NBA is being special at something. You have to find something. These guys they're more utility guys but you try to find that one thing that you can that they can become elite at and boom and now they're in the NBA.
Coach Cooper is a perfect fit for the Idaho Stampede and the Utah Jazz. Within the first two minutes of talking with Coach Cooper one can see how much he loves the game, that love shines through effectively to his players. After the practice players were going up to Cooper to thank him for the opportunity and asking to take pictures with him.
The Stampede and the Jazz will both benefit from Coach Cooper's depth of knowledge about the game. Cooper is a good teacher, yet he is demanding. His coaching style will help the Utah Jazz develop their young prospects when they are on assignment in the D-League. Cooper's style allows players to gain experience, learn the system, and to be disciplined. Players will leave his tutelage knowing how to play the "right way".