This interview was supposed to run in the latest issue of Rebound magazine, but got cut due to lack of space.
A few hours before Game 1 of the S74 UAAP Finals, I was lucky enough to get to chat with Ateneo head Coach Norman Black. Our conversation lasted about thirty minutes, much more than the five minutes I asked for, but questions beget more questions and Coach Norman is always very gracious. This isn't the entire transcript as I left out some more FEU-specific queries and some SINAG stuff as well.
AD: What aspect of coaching is your favorite? The way you and your staff make adjustments at halftime, it seems to me that you excel at the “chess match” aspect of the game.
NB: I think more than the chess aspect, it’s just being prepared, planning to anticipate. First of all, scouting them [the other teams] and finding out what they’re trying to do and what they’re trying to accomplish, and what plays they’re running offensively and defensively, and making sure your players are prepared for that. Outside of that, there’s also the anticipation of what they might to, what they might come up with.
AD: That came up when you played FEU in the second round right, when you realized that they had gone back to the triangle offense used last season under Glenn Capacio right?
NB: We watched the first game and they used a little bit of the triangle in the first game, but they really used it extensively in the second game. That surprised us a bit, but they’ve been using the triangle since that game pretty consistently, so the only thing for them to do is go back to their old plays again, their flex offense, or come up with new plays.
AD: Coming into the Ateneo job, did you expect to love coaching collegiate ball so much?
NB: I enjoy coaching, period. I could be coaching in grade school and I’d be very, very happy. I could be back in the pros and I’d be very, very happy. I just enjoy coaching. I enjoy mostly taking players, recruiting them, molding them and watching them grow and get better, and as they get better, the team gets better. If you have a team and you don’t improve over the course of the conference, the year, and in the case of some of these guys, over the course of five years, then that’s a bit of a disappointment. Maybe you didn’t get the best out of them and they underachieved. To see them continually get better and improve their game, that’s what coaching is all about because coaching is basically just teaching.
AD: So you could see yourself doing this forever?
NB: Yeah, I’m a coach for life.
AD: Could you see yourself being coach for life at Ateneo?
NB: I have no idea. You know what they say about coaching, you’re hired to be fired. I know I’ll be coaching. Hopefully it’ll be in Ateneo, but if not, I’ll be coaching somewhere.
AD: Could you talk about your graduating veterans a bit?
NB: They’ve been leading the team very well. Everyone understands that since it’s their last year, their last two games, so a lot of our motivation is those three guys.
AD: Is it difficult to see veterans graduate?
NB: You remember when you recruited them, and how time flies. Last year, I couldn’t believe that Eric Salamat was graduating, because it seems like I just recruited him from San Sebastian, [and] all of a sudden, he’s graduating. Same thing with Kirk Long, Bacon Austria and Emman Monfort. You hate to see them go, but you know there are other guys that you’ve also recruited.
You know, the difference between the system of Ateneo and the system of other teams is most of the players that come to Ateneo know they may not become a star immediately. That’s why some of them don’t come to Ateneo. They know they may not become a star immediately. We normally have to recruit guys who are good players, but are willing to wait one, two years for the seniors and the juniors to graduate before their star can start to shine. The disadvantage is they don’t become Rookie of the Year or star players immediately. The advantage is they are on a winning team. They learn a winning tradition and what it takes to become a winner, and how hard you have to work to make it happen. By the time it’s their turn, in their second, third, fourth year, they’re ready to play.
Everyone keeps asking me how come your players don’t play as much as say, some other star players of other teams. Obviously, with winning 13 out of the 14 games, if I was letting my starters play 35 minutes a game, we’d probably have everyone on the Mythical Five team. But we’re all about winning and luckily for me, I’ve been able to convince my players of that, to put winning as a team ahead of individual accomplishments.