By Joan Steffen, Assistant Womens Basketball Coach MSU-N
The events of the past week have not unfolded the way the university or the Skylight players have led everyone to believe.
Neither Coach Emerick or myself ever verbally abused the players. If they have been exposed to psychological abuse, it is because of the situation the university has led the team into this season.
Coach Emerick did state that the team was not even playing like a good high school team on occasion. In fact, last Thursday and Saturday night I'm not sure a high school team wouldn't have beaten us soundly.
He never called any player a "joke." Rather, he stated what had been told to him by an opposing coach that the player did not have to be guarded and that it had become a "joke" on the opposing team that they were playing five on four at the defensive end because of her inability to put the ball in the hoop. Coach immediately stated along with that comment that he knew she was much better than the competition thought and she needed to start playing like it. He then worked with her one on one in an attempt to help her become a better player.
Coach has repeatedly attempted to get control of his team over the past four weeks. The Skylights have been blaming officials, our administration, teachers and us as coaches for their problems and poor play. This has been especially true since we have lost games over the past three weeks. Their behavior on the court with foul language and vulgar gestures to officials and others has got to stop. Coach has tried to do this by disciplining these players. One of our coaches was fired last year for allegedly allowing this type of behavior to continue unchecked.
After 36 turnovers and very embarrassing play on Thursday night at L.C., we did have a loud and "attitude adjusting" practice session on Saturday afternoon in Utah. I thought that was what coaches were supposed to do when players are not focused and are "sleep walking" through a practice session. It's not happy time. Coach was not nearly as tough on them as I would have been if I had been running the practice.
Coach has used the word "damn" and "hell" a couple of times this year but has never directed any foul language at the players individually or at officials.
Coach never told the team he could do anything he wanted to them. What he did say was now that the Supreme Court has ruled and this matter is resolved for the year, things are going to be different. He said he could "push them" now and get more out of them as a team and that is certainly necessary. Naturally the team resents being pushed it makes them uncomfortable.
Coach has singled players out repeatedly and pointed out deficiencies in their play. He always balances this with positives and is very intense and firm in his positive reinforcements as well as the negative. When you are as a team playing poorly, the negatives may come more often than the positives. Each player has to decide how to respond to being challenged and has to be committed to improving their play. This is usually accomplished through extra work or more focused work on the court, or both.
Coach refused to read their "Position Statement" Monday and said, "We have practice in five minutes and Joan and I will be here every day at four o'clock for any of you who want to work on getting better." As they refused to practice and were walking out, they said it was "two-fers" at 15 West. Let's go get some beer, and that it's party time for the Skylights the rest of the year. I hardly think our local parents and "little hoopsters" campers would understand such childish and selfish behavior from the Skylight program. This unfortunately has been the norm since Dec. 12 when the administration stepped into the middle of a very successful season.
These players receive thousands of dollars in scholarships, trips to exotic locales, charter bus service to and from games, the best meals and hotel accommodations, new shoes and gear, sweats and wind suits, and the "privilege" of playing collegiate basketball.
What they don't get to do is run the program regarding practice times, drills, offenses, etc. Coach Emerick and myself had individual meetings last Thursday with two of the players quoted in the papers on Tuesday. They were asked if they had anything to tell us or if they would change anything and the answer from them was "no." Now after their poor performance last weekend, they have lots of comments and suggestions to take the focus off themselves.
Any whining they may do sounds awfully hollow to working Montanans who have to adhere to a work schedule, show up on time, do as their bosses ask, be loyal, focused and committed to the task at hand, and not try to undermine and disrupt the organization or company they work for.
If pointing out a player's deficiencies is "verbal abuse" then the definition has changed dramatically in the past 10 or 12 years.
We had 36 turnovers in one game, almost 60 for the weekend. We've lost five of nine conference games. What did they want? Ice cream and a pat on the back?
I have a "position statement" of my own. My position is this: our play and conduct is embarrassing. Take a look at last week's game tapes and then say whether we need extra work or not. See if the people of Havre and this university want players cussing at officials and each other on the floor. See if the water and ball girl on our bench should have to cover her ears to keep from hearing sailor-type, vulgar language during games and halftimes from our players.
I have no time for their immature behavior and lack of accountability for their actions.