Although the “learning journeys” have slowed down once basketball season started, I wanted to share some thoughts from a trip last week to visit the Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette University for 3 days. It was one of my favorite trips of the season. Why? Because even though there’s a distinct contrast between the pro and college game, the way both teams (and organizations) went about their business held some strong common threads that apply to ANY level. So here you go……
- ALIGNMENT – Whether it’s Bucks GM Jon Horst and Coach Mike Budenholzer, or Marquette AD Bill Scholl and Coach Steve Wojciechowski (I’ll refer to him as Coach Woj from this point forward – sprained a finger while spelling) – there was an immediate feeling of “alignment” in both practice facilities. The mindset and messaging from the top on down was evident: “WE ARE DOING THIS TOGETHER”. This vibe was felt the first day of the trip, and it set the tone for everything else I saw.
- TALENT – An organization can function really well without high level talent. But special talent gives you a chance to be in special conversations – potentially championship conversations – and those are the ones you want to be a part of. Obviously Giannis (no I’m not spelling his last name…you know him) sets the tone for the Bucks. He is their hardest worker and loves the process. And the first guy to come over and shake my hand after practice was Markus Howard. Both teams have talented players, but neither star acted like a star. Talent provides “roster competition”, which provides depth. To function at a high level, you definitely want both.
- OWNERSHIP – While I can’t provide specific details from both practices, I can tell you this: Both teams had players take charge of certain things without having to be told. They possessed a “this is our thing” attitude. While the Bucks had a calmer vibe like surgery or a business meeting, Marquette brought great intensity and “juice” in the gym. Both teams were “switched on” and very specific. But the players had a stake in the game, and it was for real in each facility.
- DEVELOPMENT – Marquette’s workouts were a bit more scouting based, so I didn’t see a lot of skill development that day (before a game). In contrast, the Bucks had played 40 games already, so they did a bit more skill work. But “development” was in the air. Coach Woj does a great job letting his assistants work on the floor – their voices are strong with the players. His COACHES are developing as well, which was impressive. As I like to say “practice isn’t just for players, coaches need to practice coaching, too”. With the Bucks, Assistant Coach Chad Forcier explained to me how every player has a development plan that carries them throughout the whole season. Their work on the floor reflected his statement. It was done with extreme care and razor sharp clarity.
- INCLUSION – While this topic is more gender-specific as a recent trend, I want to get into the “totality” of inclusion in each organization. Coach Budenholzer’s Special Assistant, Cassandra, shared with me how she was immediately accepted and felt “at home” when she started with the Bucks. Zora Stephenson, the Bucks beat reporter, shared the same thing. The Bucks “half court shots” fun ritual after shoot around allowed everyone to hoist a half court shot for an undisclosed stack of cash from Coach “Bud”, as they call him. Everyone got a chance: trainers, video people, player development assistants….everybody. At Marquette, I had lunch in the office with Assistant Stan Johnson and Coach Woj on my last day. The have a small “cafe” area set up to feed everyone – and everyone passed through: Assistant AD’s, Academic Advisors, everyone associated with the program. Bottom line? There are defined roles in both programs….but no lines drawn that make someone feel like they’re not important. Everyone matters…a lot.
A bit lengthy this time I know, but these 5 things can be implemented at any level. I can’t thank the Bucks and Marquette enough for the practice access and games (2 Bucks games and Marquette game in between). I can’t predict if either will win a championship this season, but they’re both operating at a championship level. As the saying goes, “CHAMPIONS ACT LIKE CHAMPIONS BEFORE THEY BECOME CHAMPIONS”. Best of luck to all of you as February approaches – almost time for the stretch run!
For the Love of the Game,