"Once you like a kid then you go do your homework on them."
by Transition Hoops Report
JC Isakson is an assistant coach at Montana State University Billings. We had a chance to speak with him at a recent showcase camp and get some insight on what he is looking for in prospects when he is at a camp or tournament. He also sheds some light on how their coaching staff applies the 80/20 rule, the style of player they need in their system and the high level of competition in the GNAC.
Below is the transcript from our interview. You can also see the video interview on our Facebook page by clicking here. If you want to follow Coach Isakson you can click here for his Twitter account, click here for his Instagram account or click here for his Facebook page.
Vince: We are back at the day 3 of the Idaho Showcase and today, we have the opportunity to speak with Coach JC Isakson from Montana State University Billings. A team that qualified for the tournament last year in the incredibly difficult GNAC so obviously, these guys are on the come-up right now and we’re excited to have you here. So you know let’s start off, Coach just maybe give us a little idea of when you come out, you're looking at one of these [showcase camp], what are you looking for in a player or even when you’re at a tournament and you're watching guys play. What kind of stuff are you looking for there?
Coach Isakson: Well obviously first, the easiest thing to see is skill level and at MSUB, we kind of have a philosophy; we put a high emphasis on passing and then following or shooting. We move the ball really well, we play at a fast pace, we want everybody to touch the ball every possession. So we're not just enamored with raw athleticism or crazy handles, we want to see guys be able to make the right pass, highly-skilled level passes, get their teammates involved, effective passes that lead to score and then after that, we want guys that can shoot it because if we’re putting great passes on the floor, we want to be able to have guys around them that can knock down shots.
Vince: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. Earlier you were talking to the guys, you were talking beyond just the skill stuff, but also some character and culture building stuff and you mentioned the 80/20 principle and actually how in this case, it’s not a good thing. Explain a little bit what you're talking about there and some of the things that maybe you see in these deals that you go uh oh, that might be a red flag.
Coach Isakson: Well, first I’ll kind of go back to the showcases. First thing you can see is the skill. Once you like a kid then you go to do your homework on them and that's where this 80/20 rule comes in. As a coaching staff, it is a bad thing when you're spending 80% of your time on 20% of your roster. That 20%, those are individuals that are little bit high maintenance. They’re a liability academically. They're late to meetings or just on time or not—their approach every day is a little lackadaisical. That takes away energy we can put into the rest of the team.
So when we’re looking and going into the next round of recruiting with a kid and building a relationship, we're asking those questions to AAU coaches, high school coaches, anybody affiliated with them. What's his approach? How is he in the classroom? Is he a gym rat? We need to know those things because there's a lot of talented players out there and those are the type of things that separate. Going back to 80/20 rule, you're not going to be very successful as a program if you're constantly spending all this time and energy on a few select people on your roster. You want to have guys that buy into the whole culture so eventually it becomes 100% of the roster is taking self-accountability and not a liability outside of the courtroom or outside of the gym.
Vince: That makes a lot of sense so obviously, you want to focus on the winning aspects of your program. Now you talk a lot about due diligence; you find a recruit, you like them, you do some due diligence, you do some background checking on him. Is there anything you can see in one of the events or tournaments where you go, “I'm not so sure. This guy might be an issue or whatever?” Are there things that you're looking for in that regard?
Coach Isakson: Absolutely. The first one is whenever you get to the gym if as a coach I'm coming to watch an event and it’s 5 minutes before the event starts or game time and that kid’s just rolling in, you came to watch and he’s putting his shoes on. He's not ready to go. He's not prepared. That's a little bit of a red flag. Body language on the bench. When he comes off how he supports his teammates. I mean, we’re watching all those things. Is he—one thing we talked about is touches on the court. Is he going out? Is he helping his teammate up? Is he giving high fives? Is he patting him on the back? We want to see players actively engaged with their teammates like that.
Vince: That's great and so important. It goes beyond just the skills set. You’ve got to be a total package and just to see if you're watching this, if you're curious. These guys [college coaches] are paid to find this kind of stuff. It's not like they just go on and watch skills. They are paid to find this little detail so very important things if you're a player. The body language I always thought, it was very big but the little things being on time and not just being if you're on time, you're late. If you're not 15 minutes early, you're probably late. So little things like that.
Now MSUB, lot of momentum coming this year you got into—I mean, the GNAC’s incredibly difficult.
Coach Isakson: Very, very difficult.
Vince: People don't realize how hard it is. But you guys got in the tournament last year. You got some momentum going. What are you looking to do this year to for you guys to build your momentum as this season approaches?
Coach Isakson: Well like you said, the GNAC’s an incredible league. 11 teams and there’re just no off nights. There's a lot of great leagues around the country but you know we’re faced with a large travel schedule. We’re flying to Alaska in the middle of winter to play a couple games. We're flying everywhere so that just having that mental approach to the game. It's a very, very tough league to win at.
What we're looking for this year: 6 out of 11 teams in the GNAC go to conference tournament essentially you have to finish in the top half. We want to get there because we feel as if we can get there, then anything can happen after that point. If we are good enough to finish in the top 6 out of 11 teams in a very competitive league, once those 3 days happen in March and it’s the conference tournament. We feel confident that we can beat anybody over the course of those 3 days. It's just a matter of getting there.
So for this year, we just want to repeat. We want to win enough games, have a successful conference season, get to that tournament and then let the dice fall as they may and see what happens. See if we can string some together.
Vince: Alright yeah that's great. And then the travel schedule, if you’ve not traveled a lot, it is difficult and that's the name of the game for everybody in the conference so that mental piece of it becomes another winning aspect of it. So appreciate you taking some time.
We are going to be in Montana in a couple of weeks to another showcase over there. Hopefully, we get a chance to see you. I know you guys got an incredibly busy schedule so if you can slip away, we'd love to have you here. Otherwise, thanks for coming out to Idaho, checking it out. It's a long drive for you. This was great. So stay tuned, we're going to have hopefully All-Star game coming up here later today and then we will see everybody over Montana. Thanks so much.
Coach Isakson: Thanks, Vince.