The Wisdom of Coaches

Top local coaches—from Ozzie Guillen and Tom Thibodeau to Oliver Purnell and Kelly Amonte Hiller—reveal sacred truths about perseverance, motivation, the importance of hard work, the value of failure, and more

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Oliver Punell of DePaul's Men's Basketball OLIVER PURNELL

POSITION Men’s basketball coach, DePaul University
STATS Head coach for seven seasons at Clemson University (138–88 record; three straight NCAA tournament appearances); previously coached at the University of Dayton (two NCAA tournament berths)

Turning around programs is something that I’m passionate about. The reason why you are doing this is because you can, and you enjoy it. The other reason you’re doing it is because there are a lot of people saying you can’t.

Basketball—and life—is a game of habits. When the pressure is on, whatever habit you have, whether it’s good or bad, that’s what’s going to come out. A lot of coaching, to me, is building good habits.

If you lose your confidence, work at it. If you are not shooting well and you’re lacking confidence, one of the first things you need to do is get in the gym and shoot more. Then you start thinking, I deserve to be making these shots. Because, in the back of your mind, if you don’t feel like you worked hard at something, you subconsciously tell yourself, Well, maybe I don’t deserve it.

Every team I’ve ever coached, every camper I’ve ever had in my basketball camp, has heard me talk about the story of [former University of Maryland star] Len Bias—who he was, what kind of person he was, and how he died [a cocaine overdose]. At the end of the talk, I give the moral of the story. It’s not that drugs will kill you. If cocaine killed him, obviously it can kill me or you. The moral is that he didn’t honor his talent with the decision that he made. We all have special talents, and some of us don’t even know what [they are] yet. But you need to honor the specialness of that talent—and the fact that you are a special person—by the decisions that you make each and every day.

Look for small wins every day. You could be miserable all the time. We lost our last game. And we could be miserable from then till our next game. But if you can enjoy every day and enjoy the small successes, you become a happier person, a more positive person, and I think that that comes through to the people around you.


Photography: Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune


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