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"The Road to March starts in September"

St. Bonaventure

by Vinny Pezzimenti

The "Zen Master", Phil Jackson, once said, "A journey of 1,000 miles begins with one breath."

Well, now is the time when college basketball coaches and players alike can take their collective breaths and relax, because the march to March will soon be on.

In just two months, a mid-October midnight will officially start the voyage to New Orleans. All 324 Division IA teams have their eye on the prize and all, deep down, believe they can get there.

Wait one minute, though.

Yes, the run to March does begin in October, but the month of September can actually make or break a run to glory. It is the month when the college basketball player is created. The month when the player works into shape to endure the wars of a Division I schedule.

The 31 days of September are filled with preseason workouts. There are the wind sprints in scorching heat, the intense weight room sessions, and conditioning drills in the gym. How much the player is dedicated to the workouts, the better he and, more likely, the entire team will be when the battles begin in late November.

At St. Bonaventure University, dedication to workouts in September isn’t the only component for possible success during the season.

Understanding and comprehending head coach Jan van Breda Kolff’s complicated offensive and defensive schemes is a huge part of the September workload.

Van Breda Kolff’s style of play is similar to the "west coast offense" brought to the basketball world by former Loyola Marymount head coach Paul Westhead, only there is more discipline. Westhead’s method was like a never-ending fast break with little organization on offense or defense. There was no emphasis on stopping the opponent from scoring. Rather, the goal was to appease the other team into playing up-tempo as well and to create a game in the hundreds. It was basically chaos, but the van Breda Kolff game can best be described as organized chaos. There are a myriad of offensive sets and a strong emphasis on turning the opponent over with a variety of defensive presses.

Van Breda Kolff’s style comes from all over the basketball world. Of course, there is the aspect of Loyola Marymount, but there are also wrinkles from van Breda Kolff’s father, the innovative and legendary Butch van Breda Kolff. There are aspects of the Princeton backdoor offense taken from van Breda Kolff’s time as an assistant under Pete Carill. And finally, there is a little touch of the pro game, taken from van Breda Kolff’s nine years as an NBA player. With this jumble of basketball knowledge, van Breda Kolff has taken three different schools to post-season play.

For the players at St. Bonaventure, especially new recruits, going to three classes everyday is not as mind-boggling as learning the van Breda Kolff style. The players will learn the system sooner or later. It better be sooner, though. The early non-conference schedule includes Alabama, Connecticut, Boston College and Michigan.

It’s a good bet the Bonnies will learn the system sooner and hit the ground running. The proof is in the results from the 2001-02 season. Van Breda Kolff, in his initial season at St. Bonaventure, proved himself as one of the best coaches in the country by leading the team to a fast start and an eventual NIT berth. And, yes, a huge reason for the success was the September chalkboard lessons.

 

by Vinny Pezzimenti