viewpoint Getting out of coach’s doghouse not as ruff as you think
STORRS — One game, one redemption, one missed dunk into his college career, Sidney Wilson walked off the practice court Friday at Werth Center and into the scrum of state media.
“I’ve never been coached as hard as Coach Hurley is doing right now,” Wilson said.
Asked for an example, the 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman obviously had a list fill his mind.
“Ha! Anything,” Wilson answered before settling on one. “Me being in one rotation and my man in the corner getting the ball and me not getting out there fast enough.”
You get out there fast enough, you earn minutes.
“Me and Coach (Dan) Hurley talked,” Wilson said. “He wants me to defend and bring energy to the team, and whatever happens on offense happens.”
Sidney Wilson, a Top 75 recruit who sat out last season after transferring from St. John’s, is a dynamic player. Of that, there’s little doubt. He also is one who sat out the first month of this season, suspended for an undisclosed violation of university policy. That is no way to win the admiration of the new coach.
“It was very difficult not being able to help the team,” Wilson said.
Wilson got in for five minutes Tuesday night in the 22-point rout of UMass Lowell, pulled in three rebounds, missed a put-back dunk and sent this message: His college career is in front of him. So is Tyler Polley in the rotation.
“I’ll have plenty more chances,” Wilson said of the missed slam. “I was a little rusty first time on the court in college. It’s going to come back to me.
“Sitting out, watching, you learn a lot. You become more mature as a person and a player. That’s all I’ve been doing the last year and a half. That being taken away, basketball in general, makes you hungrier, makes you more humble.”
Coaches have notions on players, of course, preconceived, ever-evolving, never-ending. They can fall in and out of love. They can demand something and be left empty-handed or with a cornucopia of stat-stuffing performances. That’s coaching. In that sense, all team athletes are day-to-day.
Which brings us to the topic of a coach’s doghouse. Whether it’s off-court behavior or on-court selfishness, there can be more than one entrance to Chateau Bow Wow.
“I look like somebody who holds a grudge,” Hurley said. “I’m not really like that. When you’re able to change things about yourself that you harp upon, either habits, or how you carry yourself, or your playing style and how conducive it is to us winning — when I start to see those little changes and start to see guys really trying, I jump. I’m in your corner quickly.
“When you’re not responding to our pleas to change, obviously I don’t think I’m an easy person to deal with. When you start showing me you want to change and be better, I’m with you. I want you out of the doghouse. I want a vacancy. I don’t want you in there.”
Wilson must prove himself. So do others. There is no more fascinating study than Christian Vital. He forced 3s last year. He celebrated ones he hit when the Huskies were down 20. He’d get into tussles and pick up technical fouls. Lots to like. Lots not to like. He was a wild mustang.
You wondered how it would work between proud Christian and a fire-and-brimstone coach. The answer so far? Much better than one might have suspected. Sure, Vital will occasionally jack up a head-scratcher, but his shooting percentage has jumped and so has Hurley’s view of him.
“There are not a lot of fiery players on this team,” Hurley said. “There’s more ice than fire as far as personalities. This team desperately needs Christian’s confidence, his fire, his passion, his emotion. This isn’t an emotional team. There are a lot of quiet guys. He has impressed, to this point, the entire staff.
“You get into different parts of the summer and first month or two together and you’re like, ‘Does he really have it within his person to change?’ You start spending more time around him, that third or fourth month, and that kid has really tried.”
Across the building, Geno Auriemma considers Hurley’s fire, passion, emotion. He smiles.
“How long do you think Danny is going to last?” the Hall of Fame coach joked. “Man, I love watching him. He puts everything into every play.”
It is that unshakable desire to win that leads Auriemma to claim coaches don’t put players in doghouses. They put themselves there.
“I always get a kick out of how somebody will go, ‘So and so is in Coach’s doghouse.’ ” Auriemma said. “Whatever coach it is. He’s always got somebody in his doghouse. I laugh. Why would a coach take a kid they know can help you win games if you had them on the floor and put them in the so-called doghouse? They wouldn’t. No coach in a million years would do that.
“The kid’s in the doghouse because they decided at some point along the line that it’s a lot easier being there than busting their ass every single day. Because if the kid’s doing that, they’re probably not in the doghouse. Within a week’s or two weeks’ period, the kid made a conscious decision of being in the doghouse. ‘At least I’m not getting yelled at anymore. I’m not playing anymore either, but at least he’s off my back.’ ”
Auriemma riffs into a corresponding point. He said he struggles with it sometimes.
“A great coach told me one time a player is only as good as you think they are,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense. A lot of times when you only see the upside in a kid, that kid tends to give you the upside. When you see the downside and only see the bad stuff the kid does, that kid lives down to your expectations. The worst thing a coach can do is make a decision on a kid before the kid plays or actually plays into that bad place.
“If a kid proves they can help you win, they’re going to be on the floor.”
That’s what Sid Wilson is in the process of proving.
“We’ve got one more day of practice (before Arizona on Sunday),” Hurley said. “In any good program you earn your minutes in practice, especially when you’ve been out for so long. With Sid, I think it’s just trying to get comfortable, understand what we’re doing on both ends of the court.
“Sid’s a talented guy. He has got to practice at such a high level that he climbs above people who are ahead of him on the depth chart. He took a good step toward that today the second half of practice. He’s got to keep going.”