Coaches clinic draws crowd
By Dan Wolken
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Vance Walberg was standing in the lobby of the Grand Casino Resort convention center, talking about basketball and his surreal journey from anonymity to maharishi when he spotted a former rival coach from the California high school ranks.
They stopped and chatted for a few minutes, talking about common friends and old times in a comfortable moment that seemed to bring Walberg's rise to stardom full circle.
Just a few short years ago, Walberg would have been just as likely as his old friend to be among the roughly 400 coaches attending a clinic in Tunica, Miss., waiting to absorb words of wisdom from the likes of University of Memphis coach John Calipari, Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy and longtime NBA coach Del Harris.
And yet this weekend, there was Walberg, entering his second year as head coach at Pepperdine, co-starring with Calipari at the first adidas Mid-South Coaches Clinic and sharing his ideas with basketball icon Larry Brown during a 70-minute walk, which, with all due respect to his wife, might have been among the best 70 minutes of his life.
"It's weird," Walberg said. "Five years ago, I'm coaching high school. That's all I really ever wanted to coach. And then now the way this has evolved, it's kind of crazy."
Crazy, in many ways, is an understatement for what things have been like for Walberg ever since Calipari helped expose the country to the "Attack, Attack, Skip, Attack, Attack" offense by using it to win 66 games the past two seasons. Inundated by phone calls from coaches at all levels, Calipari put together the Tunica clinic this weekend, which is simply a larger version of what Walberg has done several times on the West Coast recently.
"Last year, we had 255, 260 coaches at my own clinic," Walberg said. "Then I do another clinic in Sacramento. I try to get two, three in the fall and two, three in the spring. The worst part is how many people call, e-mail and say, 'Hey, do you mind telling me about it?' And you just can't get it in a half-hour or an hour. It's going to take you -- kind of like what I did when I visited Cal -- you have to sit there for four, five, six days. For a lot of them, it's like a foreign language. Unless they really come and study it they're going to have a tough time."
And Walberg, who developed his system as a high school coach in Fresno, is clearly gaining admirers. Dozens of high schools in California, he said, have started to run his system, as well as four of the five highest-scoring junior college teams in the country last year.
Calipari, who calls his version of the offense the "Dribble-Drive Motion," envisions a similar kind of response in this region. Though coaches came to the clinic from as far away as Lebanon and Puerto Rico, the largest contingent was from Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and other nearby states.
Walter McElroy and Kimberly Jenkins, who coach the boys and girls teams, respectively, at Valley Springs High School near Harrison, Ark., said they traveled to the clinic not necessarily to learn a new offense but to pick up a few techniques they can incorporate into their practices.
"We get a lot of drills; it will add some flavor to what we already do," Jenkins said.
"You always see stuff, and it looks real good when you're talking about Calipari and these guys," McElroy said. "You have to figure out if you can work it in with your kids at home."
The clinic also offered other basketball perspectives, including coaches like Eustachy, whose halfcourt offense at Southern Miss certainly doesn't mesh with Memphis' free-flowing style.
White Station coach Jesus Patino was among the first coaches to arrive at the clinic, pulling out a 10-year-old book authored by Harris, who was among the speakers Friday night.
"I want to get it signed," Patino said. "I read this book, underlined it and learned so much from it. It made my life so much easier. His mind is amazing; I finally get a chance to see him in person."
Though Calipari said he believes it's easier for a high school to run his offense, simply because it's not about calling set plays every time down the court, he admits that it requires a leap of faith.
"We're pretty conventional," Calipari told the clinic attendees in his opening remarks Friday night. "When you see (Walberg's) stuff, you're going to say, 'This guy is a psycho.'"
Though Calipari made the philosophical jump to Walberg's side three years ago, Walberg said he's always pushing Calipari to do a little more.
"He's 66-8 (the last two years)," Walberg said. "I wish he would play faster, but more important, I want him to get a couple guys that can just straight-out shoot. He loves those athletes; get a kid who isn't as good an athlete but just a shooter. That stretches that defense and makes the offense even more effective. But John, when we're together, I feel like we've been brothers forever."