Marquette Assistant Coaches Play Vital Role Amidst March's Madness
March 27, 2013
Members of the Marquette University men's basketball team participated in the NCAA's open practice Wednesday at the Verizon Center. Players and head coach Buzz Williams also spent time meeting with local and national media in advance of the Golden Eagles' regional semifinal. GoMarquette.com caught up with assistant coaches Jerry Wainwright, Brad Autry and Isaac Chew earlier in the day.
By Chris Jenkins
WASHINGTON -- Jerry Wainwright knows just about everyone and has seen just about everything in a coaching career that spans more than 40 years, making him a treasure trove of experience and knowledge as an assistant coach at Marquette.
But as the Golden Eagles prepare to continue their NCAA tournament run with a Sweet 16 game against Miami on Thursday night, Wainwright's biggest piece of advice to his fellow assistants has little to do with watching film or diagraming plays on a markerboard.
Wainwright, a former head coach at DePaul, Richmond and UNC-Wilmington, wants them to take time and enjoy the moment.
"When you take a breath, let's say after a game like Davidson, I think sometimes the emotion in today's time and high pressure is relief," Wainwright says. "Don't let it be relief. Let it be joy. And just really try to remember as much about that moment as you can, because you'll remember it even better when you're older."
Head coach Buzz Williams says that's a sign of Wainwright's perspective, even if it's more easily said than done.
"He tells me that, too," Williams says. "I appreciate that. It's one of the reasons I hired him."
Is it possible to smell the roses in March?
"I can't," Williams acknowledges.
Neither, it seems, can assistant coach Brad Autry, who joined Marquette as the director of student-athlete development and was promoted to assistant coach before this season.
"If you spend too much time looking around and enjoying the moment, you forget what got you to this point," Autry says. "There's always time after the fact to look back and enjoy. Right now, it's still a business trip. We want to enjoy what we can, but we have to understand that our mindset and our intensity, both mentally and physically, is everything to this. And we don't want it to end. And if you don't want it to end, you'd better stay pretty focused."
Autry's intensity is a reminder that while assistant coaches rarely get credit in college basketball, Marquette wouldn't be where it is today -- its third straight Sweet 16 appearance -- without the likes of Autry, Wainwright and fellow assistant Isaac Chew.
"That's true of every head coach," Williams says. "Every head coach can say that. And if they don't, they probably should. Who you hire is the most important decision you make as a head coach."
Autry went to the Elite Eight as a member of Tulsa's staff in 2000. They lost to North Carolina, and one of the biggest lessons Autry took away from the experience was the effect that outside distractions -- including the time demands of friends and family -- can have on a team as it advances in the tournament.
"What's helped me to learn is, you have to control your environment, you have to control your emotion, you have to have discipline of energy as players, as a staff," Autry says. "You have to have all that."
The same distractions can happen to coaches, too.
"You close your door a lot more, and get away from the phone a little bit," Autry says. "Because in all honesty, it's wonderful, and it's hard at the same time."
The experience is fairly new to Chew, a former assistant at Murray State and Missouri.
"It's the first time I've ever been to the Sweet 16, so it's been really exciting," Chew says. "At the same time, it's been a lot of work. But the process has been fun, because this is what you work for all year long. To see these guys play well on the biggest stage is why we do this."
Chew acknowledges that the quick-turnaround trips with limited time to prepare for the next opponent can be challenging.
"But throughout the course of the year, so many games are on TV, so you've seen teams play here and there," Chew says. "And as soon as we see the opponent, we're able to get film and things like that."
In addition to scrambling for film, coaches also reach out to other coaches for advice and insight.
"It's not CIA work, but information is important," Wainwright says. "Especially for a guy like Buzz, because Buzz is a numbers guy."
That's another place where Wainwright's history comes in handy.
"I've been very blessed," Wainwright said. "There's not many people I don't know, and as you build relationships through the years, I'd like to think I helped a lot of people. And it's not, `I did this for you.' I came out of a time when there was a brotherhood of coaches. I'm not so sure that's true now, because of the nature of the competition and the money and everything else."
That said, no level of preparation or intelligence will compel Marquette to stray too far from its identity.
"There's a saying: adapt, but don't adopt," Wainwright says. "We're going to be us, but we have to adapt to their personnel or whatever happens in the game."
And, perhaps, have fun in the process.
Wainwright says he looks at each basketball season as a train trip, and implores his fellow coaches to enjoy every stop. That, he says, is part of his job as Marquette's senior statesman.
"For an older guy who everybody probably thinks should be sitting on a retirement porch, to be right in the fire pit of what this has all been about has not only been exciting, but I've really enjoyed every moment," Wainwright said. "I think I have a better perspective than most. So I think my biggest job is to make sure everybody keeps perspective."
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