Wilson's Coaching and Philosophy Part of Hoop Team's Difficulties
The Sporting Scene
Next November, a small group of men will invade the dark haunts of the IAB's gym and begin practicing for the 1963-64 basketball season. They will attract little attention either then or later during the season. The CRIMSON will probably make a few snide remarks, the Office of Sports Information will send out the usual press releases, and most students will shake their heads sadly, mumbling to themselves about the "state of Harvard basketball."
The traditional apathy which greets every season of basketball has existed for so long that any other situation would seem wildly incongruous. After all, it's hard to get excited about a losing team--and Harvard basketball always loses.
Lack of alumni support, poor facilities, a dearth of really talented players, and poor coaching rank high on the list of excuses for the poor showing which has become the trademark of Harvard hoopsters.
While all these elements admittedly hurt basketball at Harvard, many good, and some excellent, players still show up in the IAB each November, each year producing a team that plays far below its potential. And far worse, for a college which desires its athletic teams to provide an educational and enjoyable experience, most of the players find little more than "frustration, unhappiness, and dissatisfaction."
Undoubtedly, the consistently poor records of the team contribute to this malaise. But every player on the junior varsity, despite a losing season, felt he had fun and enjoyed playing basketball while varsity players complain that basketball at Harvard is often not enjoyable at all.
This problem is not peculiar to this year's varsity, and it will probably continue to exist as long as Floyd Wilson remains the Crimson basketball coach. Wilson performs his job as Director of Intramural Sports very ably, but as a basketball coach, he falls far short of the mark.
By the job's very nature, a coach must be the leader of the team or fall. He must decide on the starting lineup, grant or withhold recognition by allowing a man to play or by keeping him on the bench. The coach determines the style of play of a team, and above all, it is the coach to whom players must look for helpful comment, criticism, and guidance.
Yet in almost every one of these areas, Wilson consistently falls down. In fact, he occasionally completely abdicates his role as a leader. During the half-time breaks, he will tell the players to talk among themselves, reserving his own comments for the last few minutes. As one player observed, "If you think no coach is bad, you should see what it's like with ten." During the game, he often fails to notice when one of his players is winded and needs a rest. Another team member must point this out to him, and sometimes, the player himself has to ask to be taken out for a while.
Coaca Wilson's one winning season in his ten years at Harvard (13 wins, 12 losses four years ago) occurred when Mike Donahue, a very dynamic "born-leader," captained the team. In this one instance someone was available to fill in the wide gaps left by Wilson's passiveness.
Of more importance, an almost complete lack of individual attention further undermines Wilson's relations with his team. It has become practically a cliche in Harvard basketball circles that no one ever improves while playing under Wilson.
In practice, the varsity's coach rarely works with any player on his individual faults or on improving specific aspects of his game. Not only does this lack of individual development produce deep-seated resentment and frustration among the players, but it obviously contributes to the weakness of the team. (The varsity was 5-9 this year and 3-11 last year in Ivy competition.)
Certainly, Wilson's inability to communicate with the team doesn't improve the situation. Despite his good intentions, his passivity often appears simply as aloofness.
At times, Wilson doesn't seem to understand the naturally delicate position inherent in any coaching assignment. Just before the varsity's games with Penn and Princeton, Wilson was quoted in the Boston Herald, predicting that both Penn and Princeton would win the rest of their games. Over breakfast that morning, a team-member observed, "I see where the coach says we're going to lose tonight."
Although Wilson apologized to the team for this particular incident, it indicates a trend of self-fulfilling "realism." Last year, with eight games left in the 1961-62 season, he observed to one player that the team probably wouldn't win another game all year. He was perfectly right, but for the team this attitude amounts to defeatism.
Wilson himself is really quite anxious to win games and to understand his players. But his apparent conception of the coach's role as a low pressure, passive adviser often produces an attitude which the team interprets as either negative or apathetic. His attitude rarely produces in his teams any of the "go get 'em" close-knit team spirit which, interestingly enough, is so characteristic of Harvard's freshman teams.
The Harvard coach's relations with his team are further hampered by his occasional questionable basketball strategy. No one doubts his knowledge of the sport but he appears hard-pressed to put his information and book-learning into effective practice.
Once he has picked his annual offensive pattern, he does little or no work with individuals who have trouble adapting their particular styles of play to his "chosen" offense. Naturally enough, these players, not able to fit themselves into the pattern and with no one to help them change, become increasingly unhappy and frustrated as the season progresses.
In the last three years, freshman teams have had impressive winning records (9-2 this year, 9-4 last season, and 11-2 two years ago). Each of these teams has advanced into a losing varsity quintet, and found varsity basketball a quite different, much less enjoyable experience than their first-year endeavor.
Regretfully, the situation has developed to the point that much of the team simply has no respect for Wilson as a basketball coach. Many players believe that Wilson is a negative force which must be overcome if they are to have a good team. Several players each year either quit the team or do not return the next season because of the coach. Wilson's extraordinarily poor reputation among lowerclassmen discourages countless others from even attempting to make the squad.
The University has little control over alumni support, student interest, or the production of great basketball players. If there is at present little apparent undergraduate interest in basketball, perhaps new facilities are not justified. But all these weak links do not justify maintaining another--one over which the University has direct control. It is time for Harvard basketball to become an enjoyable and rewarding experience. It is time for Harvard to have a good coach