695HOOPS WHERE IT'S ALWAYS ALL ABOUT THE GIRLS
With coaching stops on his resume at Morgan State, Goucher, St.Frances and currently St.Paul's School for Girls, Coach Mike Horton has experience almost everything. We chatted about where he's been and what he's into now.
695: Tell me about your coaching career…
Coach: I got started in 1996 because a family member asked for help coaching a middle-school girl’s team at St. Ambrose. After a few weeks, she stopped showing up and suddenly, by default, I was in charge. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I loved coaching. I gave up Friday night Happy Hours because I’d rather be in the gym practicing. I volunteered for 3 years and then in 1999 became the Head JV Coach & Asst Varsity Coach at St. Frances Academy. In my 5 years there, we won 3 championships, then in 2004 I got lucky enough to land a Division I job as Asst Coach at Morgan State University. Unfortunately, the very next year the Head Coach was fired and I was out of a job. The next season, I landed an Asst Coaching job at Division III Goucher College. From 2006-2008, I didn’t coach at all. I was getting burned out and had to re-evaluate if I wanted to continue in this career path. I returned in 2008 as an Asst Coach with the Baltimore Starz AAU team and it’s semi-pro women’s team. In March 2010, I won the championship in the WEBA league and was voted Coach of the Year. A few weeks ago, I accepted the position of Head Varsity Coach at St. Paul’s School for Girl’s.
695:What do you to stay sharp and improve your coaching skills?
Coach: Early in my career, I worked camps in the summer; UCONN, Univ of VA, Univ of MD, and the U.S. Naval Academy. I also attended a few clinics sponsored by Nike and I usually go to the NCAA Final Four because they usually have great workshops. I really need to get back into some of those because it’s been a while. I also just watch and try to learn from some of the local college coaches. For instance, Wednesday night I watched Towson University practice so I could learn how to run a more efficient practice.
695: Talk about the St.Paul's situation...
Coach: Well, 2 years ago the school won a championship but since then the program has fallen off of a cliff. They haven’t had a JV program since 2008 to help feed it’s varsity team and the majority of the girls who try out usually play basketball as their 2nd sport. So, it’s a very challenging environment, but I'm up to it.
695: How do you feel about the general direction of girls basketball in the area?
Coach: There are certainly some very, very talented girls in the Baltimore/DC corridor but…I think a lot of girls are overrated. Too many parents & coaches telling these kids how great they are, then when they don’t get recruited by a top Division I school they think the coach didn’t do enough to prepare them or give them enough exposure. The reality is, most kids are Division II players but don’t want to hear the truth. True Division I players are unique and special but try telling a parent their kid is just average…good luck.
695: You are the president of the Baltimore Starz. How did you get involved with AAU?
Coach: I took a 2 year break from coaching basketball so when I returned I wanted to see what all the hype was about AAU so I volunteered to be an assistant coach with the 14 & under girls team. Previously, I had coached middle school, high school, division I and division III but never AAU so I had to see what it was all about. I’m glad I did, it’s really exciting and gives girl’s the much needed exposure if they desire to get recruited by colleges.
695: What challenges are you facing with the program?
Coach: Money…somehow it always comes down to the dollars. Whether it’s HS., college or the pros, the best funded teams usually are more successful. Fundraising is such a big part of the program but without it we wouldn’t exist. It takes the focus away from recruiting and coaching and can be very exhausting, and sometimes discouraging.
695: Who is your biggest influence on your coaching style and philosophy?
Coach: As a kid, I grew up watching Magic Johnson and the Lakers so I’ve always liked Pat Riley and the fastbreak style offense. Then, Michael Jordan and the Bulls came along and I gravitated towards Phil Jackson’s calm demeanor on the bench. I also became obsessed with rebounding because of Dennis Rodman. Both of those coaches influenced my thoughts on basketball waaay before I even thought about becoming a coach. As far as the influence during my career, I’d have to say Jerome Shelton at St. Frances Academy and Geno Auriemma at UCONN. Year in, year out, Shelton has the best offensive talent in Baltimore, period. But, in his system if you can’t play man-to-man defense, you’ll stay on the bench. No exceptions. It really humbles some kids and takes away some of that overinflated ego and prepares them for college where your inability to play man defense will give you the wrong kind of exposure. Plus, Shelton took me to coaching clinics sponsored by Nike. It was a great learning experience listening to some of the top coaches in college and even a few NBA coaches. That’s where I heard Geno talk and was so impressed with his philosophy. He only recruits the absolute best talent, period. For 3 consecutive summers, I worked UCONN basketball camp and had a chance to see his style up close and personal, I even had a chance to play pickup with his team, Ann Strother, Barbara Turner, and of course Diana Taurisi.
695: A lot of teams are skipping the AAU state tournament and playing strictly in College showcase events. Do you see this trend continuing?
Coach: Possibly, AAU has it’s advantages but kids that want scholarships really just want exposure. I think both can co-exist.
695: How do you think the new NCAA residency rules will impact the DMV area?
Coach: I don’t think it’s a big deal. It will affect some programs but the ones who want to bypass the rules will find a way. I think it only affects AAU teams so…teams that only play in showcase events won’t be affected and they’ll still get the exposure they need.
695: You were coach of the year last year in the WEBA after your team won the title. Talk about that and the league in general.
Coach: The league is very extremely competitive! You can’t underestimate anyone in that league. We lost a home game 101-100 and one of the opposing players, Sasha Palmer, had 49 points. She was a former Division II player but she had played professionally overseas. I wish there were more teams but if the WNBA is struggling for fans, just imagine how hard it is for a semi-pro league for women.
695: What do you think about the new AAU age determination rules?
Coach: Just another tactic to be more inclusive. AAU wants more players eligible and you do have some kids who are 19 and still in H.S. and under previous rules they would be ineligible. But how many kids are we really adding to the mix? I don’t think it’s right but it’s probably a reflection of the reality of kids academic performance in school. Kids are failing and repeating grades.
695: What do you think of the IAAM/WCAC all-star game in March?
Coach: Great! It’s a much needed game. I wonder why someone didn’t think of this before. Great idea and can’t wait to see the matchups.
695: What's your biggest pet peeve as a coach?
Wow! That’s a tough one. Can I give you three? (Laughing) Ok, here we go, in no particular order: 1) Bad hands, especially from a post player, UGHHH!! Drives me %$#& crazy! That’s why guards don’t feed the post and the reason you constantly hear coaches yelling get on the floor for the loose ball is because girls can’t catch. If you would catch the ball, we wouldn’t have a big pileup and the ref signaling “jump ball”. 2) Missing uncontested layups. I don’t have a problem if the defender is applying pressure but too often I see girls missing a “free” basket. 3) Letting shots that are “air balls” hit the floor. I’m really big on rebounding and starting the fastbreak. To me, an “air ball” is a shot like any other shot so rebound it the way you would any other shot. It absolutely drives me crazy. On a deeper, more philosophical level though, I think it says a lot about the female gender’s ability to judge the path of the ball and their spatial relations in general. I’m probably gonna get a lot of hate mail for saying this but hey, like the title of Charles Barkley’s book, I may be wrong, but I doubt it.
695: What else are you into?
Coach: I have dreams of starting a Coach Mike Scholarship Fund for Baltimore area girls who want to play college ball but aren’t Division I material. In my opinion, this represents the majority of the players in the area. I haven’t decided on all the selection criteria yet but I’m basically looking for Division II players who were only offered a partial athletic scholarship and want to study Business, with preference given to Finance or Economics majors. Players must have graduated from a Baltimore area HS but their choice of college is entirely up to them since we only have one Division II school in the state of Maryland. Starting, funding and maintaining this venture is really going to challenge my fundraising skills. I’m definitely going to need help.
Copyright 2010 695Hoops. All rights reserved.