695HOOPS WHERE IT'S ALWAYS ALL ABOUT THE GIRLS
Sam Walker, program director for Baltimore's Charm, sat down with us recently and we talked about his program and a few other topics.
695: Tell me about your coaching career...how you got started...when you got started and what teams you have coached.
Coach: Never intended to coach!! I always felt I would be too tough on kids considering my passion about athletics and the benefits I received from playing ball. My oldest son and daughter wanted to play and my wife and I felt like they were not receiving the tutiledge they needed to reach their goals. So that was the impetus of me coaching. After many of our kids at EDRECO needed a higher level of competition, I begin coaching AAU for three young ladies Candyce Jeter, Qiana Cheatham, and Tierra Cobbs. Whew!! That was 13 years ago. We started as Freeplay Magic, got those three kids off to school and I thought I was done. Then Andy Gaeta with the Waves asked me to join him. I coached for the Waves for a couple of years before starting Baltimore's Charm.
695: Nice. I didn't know you were with Freeplay. Tell me about Baltimore's Charm...when you founded the program, philosophy,
key members etc.
Coach: I am fond of telling my kids that if it were not for playing ball I would not have a college education. So, Baltimore's Charm is founded solely on that principle to assist student-athletes in obtaining athletic and academic aid for a college education. We started the organization in 2005. When I say we; I am including my wife Wanda because without her support I could not do this. Kendall Peace, the Head Coach at Poly, who started with me when we were Freeplay Magic, she had just graduated from college. Carolyn Jefferson-Leach, my sister-in-law helps people understand that I am not as bad as I sound or as mean as I look; and I am most proud to say that two of the three reasons why I started doing this have came back to coach in the program Qiana Cheatham and Tierra Cobbs. The ladies really run the program I am just a figure head (laughing).
695: I know Carolyn. She does a good job. What do you do to stay sharp and improve you coaching skills?
Coach: The number one thing for me is that I played ball at a pretty high level. As I tell my kids all the time, "boys are the originators of the game and girls are the imitators". So our goal is to get our kids to play like boys. I learned this game from the old men at my recreation center in my hometown in South Carolina. Playing in the half court setting picks, tough man-to-man defense, being able to hit the open jump shot, and take what the defense gives you. We are constantly trying to teach and instill a strong basketball IQ. I do a lot of reading and I watch what is going on at the collegiate level, but nothing has replaced what I have learned from playing basketball in the street.
695: What challenges are you facing with the program?
Coach: We pride ourselves in working with the kids who are not the superstars. The kids who have financial barriers to participating. In the last two years, we have begun establishing younger teams. The main reason is that we get kids in our high school age group and they have not developed the fundamentals needed to play at the college showcase level. So, finding coaches who can truly TEACH the game is a huge challenge. Also, with our economy being like it is and our target population, financing a season becomes the ultimate challenge.
695: Tell me about it. Money is a big problem. How do you plan a spring/summer schedule for you high school age teams?
Coach: After 13 years of doing something, I basically know what tournaments to hit and the ones not to hit. Usually the Blue Chip Event at Penn State starts off our summer. Bill McDonough traditionally has over 400 college coaches there. The Nike event in Chicago is the next big event. We first went out there because we had kids who were interested in schools in the midwest. Now, it has become a premier event attracting east coast coaches as well as west coast coaches. USJN in DC has to be considered one of the best for exposure and competition. This year we hope to go to Atlanta to Mike White's tourny at the end of July. My litmus test will always be college coaches. If a tournament has a track record of having many coaches attend, we want to be involved.
695: How do you feel about the overall direction of girls basketball in the area?
Coach: Overall girls basketball is thriving in the Baltimore Area. I think their needs to more emphasis placed on girls developing their skills through practice. Girls must also begin to understand that the weight room and overall conditioning plays a huge role in their development as a basketball player. I watch girls everyday who could become outstanding basketball players, but they have not committed themselves to conditioning to reach that elite level.
695: Some programs have started to skip participating in the state AAU tournament and play exclusively in college showcase events. How do you feel about that and do you think that trend will continue?
Coach: Well! I say to each his/her own. I would like for my kids to compete in 40 to 50 games during the spring/summer. Competing in the regional AAU event is a inexpensive way of accomplishing that goal. If you are talking about AAU Nationals, I am one of the fierciest critics that it takes too long and cost too much. Although I love the facilities and the tournament structure. Baltimore's Charm high school aged kids will not attend another AAU Nationals. It's just the economics of the summer circuit. I can go to a Blue Chip, USJN, or a Mike White event and take 20-30 kids (2-3 teams) on a bus and all of them are able to be seen by college coaches. Whereas AAU there is only one age group. Its just the economics of the summer basketball. As club directors, we must keep costs down to give more kids opportunities.
695: What do you think about the new AAU age rules that were recently put in?
Coach: The boys side of AAU is a joke as far as age determination!! The grade base rule aligns us with the boys and now this will become a joke. I can see the younger ages being riddled with kids who are older playing with younger kids and there being many ugly confrontations this spring and summer. I hope I am wrong but time will tell. The age rule at the high school level does not affect the game as much because the more talented kids tend to play up regardless of age. The more interesting rule change to me is how will the big time select teams get around the NCAA rule of having only three players from out-of-state and the state has to be an adjoining state.
695: What's your biggest pet peeve as a coach?
Coach: I like kids who work hard!!! I do not like soft kids who are prima donnas. Kids who believe the world revolves around them and they do not have to work as hard, those kids do not last very long in my program. The previous statement might be my top peeve but skill level is 1a. My kids know I preach defense and making our opponent do what they can not do (i.e. handle the ball with their weak hand, hit open jump shots, among many more). My kids know if our opponent takes away one side of the court we better exploit them on the other. It pains me to see so many tremendous athletes who lack the basketball skill level to compete at a high level.
695: Do you think the number of Club/AAU teams in the area helps or hurts the game?
Coach: I say this with an asterisk!! Personally, I believe the more clubs and teams helps the game. More teams gives more kids the opportunity to play. I see these teams with 12-15 players on the team and only six kids play in the game. If many of these coaches are honest with the parents and tell them that I will keep her but I do not see her getting much playing time. Maybe they need to look at sucu and such program. Or as we were attempting to do with our 12U. Bring more kids into the program and split the team so all kids get floor time and develop. That's a benefit of more teams and or more clubs. The negative part of more teams and clubs is that all parents do not know the game well enough to teach it. So, although we are seeing more girls playing. We are not see more kids with greater skill level.
695: How do you manage the parents and their expectations of what AAU basketball will do for their child?
695: Participating in athletics in general provides so many positive attributes such as socialization skills, learning principles of teamwork, physical conditioning, the ability to travel and see different parts of the country, and developing solid character traits. I hope parents bring their children to AAU for more than just basketball. When I am seeking to have a child play in my program, I tell the parent and the child that the contract is between me and the child. I am here to help them get better and get to a level where they will draw interest from college coaches. At the youth level, if a parent is only about winning our program is the wrong fit and we say that upfront. Do not get me wrong, we want to win. If anyone has ever seen me coach I portray that pretty well. But, I also hope they hear the teaching and instruction. At the high school level, I know we play in the right tournaments and because we have been around so long coaches will come and watch us play. At that level, I do not have to manage expectations. The letters they get from the colleges tells them what their expectations should be.
695: Thanks a lot coach and good luck next season.
Coach: Thanks for the opportunity and good luck with the website.
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