Mile High Hoops Coaches Corner: Vernon Whittington
Head Coach: West High School (2nd year)
Coaching experience: 10 years
Previous Jobs: Johnson & Wales University, Aurora Christian
Coach Vernon Whittington is in his second season at the helm of the Lady Cowboys. His team is 5 -11 on the year, with quality wins against Alameda and Adams City.
Zach Cohn: What is your favorite part about coaching high school hoops?
Vernon Whittington: I think it’s the spirit. The overall school spirit. When you get the student athlete and the student body into one venue. You got the band playing and the student section going. It’s just the feeling you get being able to compete and believe in something and have a little fun while trying to accomplish your dreams.
ZC: What do think differentiates coaching high school girls as opposed to coaching high school boys?
VW: I think in a lot of cases people tend to put women’s sports overall on the back end. But when dealing with high school girls the game is a little more fundamental, but at the same time it can also be more rugged. On the boys side you are going to get a very well coached team or you are going to get a very athletic team. With the boys you are going to get the excitement aspect, with the spectacular plays and the dunking. On the girls side you are going to get more team basketball. One thing that I have learned coaching girls is that if you get a girl to trust you, and they believe in your teaching and what you stand for, they will run through a wall for you.
ZC: What do you think differentiates coaching in the inner city as opposed to coaching in the suburbs?
VW: The biggest difference is that the kids in the suburbs have more access. They have more access to coaching and training, and more access to competitive leagues. Most of the kids in the inner city are playing at a Boys and Girls Club or at YMCA’s – local rec leagues. Sometimes they are coached by parents who just want to see their kids with an opportunity to play. Sometimes they are coached by counselors, and they are not really learning all of the components they need to move up into the high school ranks, and play competitive basketball. For example, when they get to high school they say, “yeah I have played basketball before,” but some of them still don’t even know how to dribble yet.
ZC: Who are some of your main playmakers this year – Lady Cowboys that continue to impress you?
VW: First player I will mention is Briana Rivas. She’s a senior for us. She actually has been a really bright spot. She’s a first year kid in the program. Before playing ball for us she was actually a head cheerleader. I didn’t really know how that was going to translate to basketball, but she brings a spirit to our team that we didn’t have before. She plays really hard, pretty much playing 100 percent for us all the time. And she has a little bit more maturity because of her leadership experience with the cheerleading squad. She’s also 4th in the league in blocked shots right now in 4A. Our coach on the floor for us is Toni Grant. She is a junior. She is a player that every coach wants. You can put her on the floor and its like you’re out there on the floor. You can call anything and she knows how to get the team into it. She has good court recognition. She sets up the offense and then has to turn around and guard the other team’s best player. We are a totally different team when she’s not on the floor.
ZC: Without divulging any of your secret strategies, what are some of the main concepts you work on in practice?
VW: The first thing we always do in our program is to have the kids trust each other, to love each other. The only way you are going to go into battle with someone is if you know the person on either side of you. To have each other’s backs. We also try to bring out a competitive nature. Don’t give up. Fight through everything. On the court we are just trying to develop a style of play. I don’t bombard them with 12 different plays or a bunch of different defensive sets. One of our terms that we use is “creating healthy habits.” Kids are seeing things over and over and over so they become habits, which creates confidence.
ZC: Who are some of the coaches across the state that you look up to? Coaches that you enjoy going to watch as they work their trade?
VW: I’ll be honest with you. One guy that I absolutely love to death is Garth Tschetter. He gave me my first coaching job at Aurora Christian. His knowledge of the game and his knack for the fundamentals was great. He knew the purity of the game. He was so instrumental in molding me into the coach that I am today. One of the coaches I have always liked is Bob Knight and they share some of the same philosophies. Antics are a little bit different but that share some similarities. Being able to play high school ball and work under Coach Carey at East was also instrumental on the inner city side of things. Outside of that I like Bob Caton at Highlands Ranch, and I really love watching Ken Shaw at Regis too.
ZC: I’m glad you mentioned Rudy Carey. You played for him at East when he was just starting his career for the Angels. What was it like playing for Coach Carey?
VW: It was a breath of fresh air because Coach Carey came in with a style where we did what he wanted, but he let us play ball. He created a tenacity that not only put people in the stands, but other teams didn’t want to play against us because we were all over the floor. He’s a great guy to talk to. He doesn’t get enough props for his ability to build relationships with kids. He’s really good in the community. Kids come from all over and want to play for him.
ZC: You also won state during your time at East? How fond of a memory is that?
VW: You know that 1996 state championship team was a special group. We had a bunch of guys on that team that had been playing together for a while. These guys came up through the Carey system. The year before we had a great run but got tripped up by I believe Arapahoe. From the buzzer of that last game, everyone started to work on winning state the next year. The attention that we got was cool. You know we got to meet the mayor and go on radio shows. We walked through the halls of East and everyone was off the walls about the state championship. It was also great getting legendary Coach Carey his first ring at East.
ZC: You run a successful club program called C.A.M., which stands for Colorado Athletic Ministry. Tell us more about that.
VW: Basically my wife and I got tired of seeing club coaches put together these all star teams and looking at the end of the bench and seeing three or four players on the bench that never played. We wanted to start our own program because we wanted everyone to be able to play ball. Whether they had money or if they didn’t have money. Whether they were a top player or whether they weren’t. We wanted to give kids good fundamental coaching and show them it doesn’t really matter where you are at in life. We wanted the kids to become a student of the game. We would play in various club tournaments with J.A.M. and the Gold Crown, and we won some championships. We try to get our kids playing ball so they could go on to play in high school. We wanted to create an opportunity for kids who could play, but just were not getting an opportunity. And we also show the kids what belief and faith will do for you.
ZC: Well we have talked a lot of basketball here my man so what is your favorite non-basketball related activity to do on a day off?
VW: That’s kind of tough because I do basketball pretty much 24/7, but I would have to say spending time with my family. There is a comfort there and it just feels good to be able to spend time with my family. Seeing my son grow up and creating him opportunities that I might not have had.
ZC: Woman to woman or zone defense?
VW: Woman to woman.
ZC: Brady or Manning?
ZC: Cheetos Crunchy or Cheetos Puffs?
ZC: Lakers or Celtics?
ZC: Dr. J or Pistol Pete?
VW: Ooh, got to go with the Dr.
ZC: Tulo or Cargo?
ZC: Tacos or Burritos?
ZC: Hoosiers or White Man Can’t Jump?
ZC: Cowboys or Angels?
VW: Ohh. I got to go with my current team. I got to go with the Cowboys.
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