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Personality Of Each Coach Reflected In NCAA Men's Basketball Teams


To get this far in the NCAA college basketball tournament, players have to be skilled, prepared and motivated. Different coaches have different ways to motivate their players and often their personalities are reflected in their teams. NPR's Mike Pesca looks at the strategies that go into eliciting intensity and effort.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Ask a fan what motivates players and you'll probably get an answer about a coach's fiery half-time speech. Ask players what was said to them to fire them up and they'll usually say, if you need words to get fired up, something's wrong. But coaches know words work and not usually the impassioned words barked out right before a team takes the floor.

The important words are communicated as goals, mantras drummed into young players as mission statements. This way the words become mindset and mindset translates to wins, as with the case last night in Washington when the Marquette Golden Eagles dismantled Miami as described by Dial Global Sports.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Blue gets the angle. Inside (unintelligible) from the base line. It's Jamil Wilson.

PESCA: The team had a great game plan and they played with intensity. It was all overseen by their emotional coach Buzz Williams. Williams route to his players' hearts often bypasses Xs and Os. He talks about faith and family. And here, after Marquette's narrow win against Butler, he spoke of focus.

BUZZ WILLIAMS: When it's all over, however it goes, we'll add up all the superlatives. We'll make a really long highlight video. We'll get the biggest, baddest ring. But we can't worry about the superlatives right now. We have to figure out what's on the next test.

PESCA: The Marquette players say Williams has a naturally raspy voice, but how would they know what's natural? He loses his voice in the preseason and never really gains it back. Big man Devante Gardner hears it all season.

DEVANTE GARDNER: It's just raspy, then, like, towards the end of the game, you can't hear him a little bit. So it takes like a day or so for him to get it back. But he drinks honey during the game sometimes to help him out.

PESCA: Last night, Marquette forward Juan Anderson contributed one rebound, one assist and one great post-game impression of his coach.

JUAN ANDERSON: Gosh, damn, you got to get to the paint.

PESCA: But there are other ways to coach and other ways to communicate.

BILL SELF: You know, a lot of people think when you're coaching hard, that means you're yelling loud and that's not necessarily the case.

PESCA: That's Kansas coach Bill Self, who's certainly intense, though at a lower volume. Self made news earlier this year by saying, after a bad loss, that his current Kansas club was the worst the school had ever fielded since Dr. James Naismith coached the Jayhawks. Self's team responded to the public flagellation. They're still playing. Michigan State's Tom Izzo, widely regarded as one of the very best coaches in the game, has been known to yell and to push his team to become what he calls player coached.

TOM IZZO: I need players to get on players sometimes.

PESCA: Last weekend, two of his players got in a towel-snapping fight during a time-out. Izzo laughed it off, saying the incident shows the team is a brotherhood. There are coaches in the tournament who are emotive or particularly lugubrious. Jim Boeheim of Syracuse expresses humor, disappointment and petulance, but hardly ever anguish or larynx-crippling rage.

After defeating Indiana last night, Boeheim was asked about the travails of guard Michael Carter Williams whose family's house burned down just days ago. Boeheim didn't say anything about pulling together or growing from challenges or rising from the ashes. He just said...

JIM BOEHEIM: We'll they've got a place to live. They have insurance. So, I mean, I think that will work itself out, but this is the best he's played all year.

PESCA: Boeheim's next opponent is Williams or rather, Syracuse's next opponent is Marquette. It's sometimes tempting to meld team and coach. It's also tempting to call one motivational tact superior or to pronounce the winning style the best one. There are 12 teams still alive in this tournament. They're all still playing because they're highly motivated, no matter what the source or method of motivation.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, Washington.



You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.