What happens when a basketball team tries to blend four recruited players, two walk-ons, two freshmen and a whopping seven transfers with a coach who has a spectacular record of success in almost every area of the game but little experience in her current job?
Kara Lawson says she’s not sure but she seems excited to find out.
“I’ve only coached four games, so I don’t know if I have a philosophy on anything,” Lawson quipped on Duke women’s basketball media day. Lawson was being more than a little disingenuous, of course, because she immediately followed that with numerous references to installing her system and it’s hard to have much of a system unless you have a philosophy.
But she’s not totally off the mark, either. This year’s Duke women’s team is one full of contradictions and questions. Duke only played four games last season before calling it quits over covid concerns. But many of the key players on this year’s team played full seasons last year. Only they didn’t play them for Duke. And the holdovers who have played lots of games together didn’t play them for Lawson, so there’s still a learning curve there, questions that can’t be completely answered in practice but only in the crucible of competition.
In other words an inexperienced team full of experienced players coached by an experienced coach with little coaching experience.
And Duke didn’t get a lot of answers last season. Not only did Duke only play four games but also none of the four games was remotely competitive. Duke won three non-conference tuneups by margins of 30, 27 and 25 points before losing to Louisville by 25. We don’t know how Lawson will coach the final minutes of a close game because she’s never had to. Even her spectacular success in the 3x3 universe doesn’t tell us everything we need to because there’s no coaching once the game starts.
But Lawson certainly has been successful in every other area of the hoops arts. As a player she led Tennessee to three Final Fours and has a WNBA title and an Olympic gold medal. She was a top-notch analyst for ESPN, one of the first women to coach in the NBA and has dominated the 3x3 basketball as a coach.
“We work on competing every day,” Lawson said of her team “and our players are working on picking up the system as quickly as they can. I don’t really have a philosophy as it goes. I guess maybe when I’m in this long enough maybe people have stories about ‘well this is the perfect number’ or ‘this year we had this number and we did well.’ I think you have to just keep coaching the players and keep improving them and see them in game action as well.”
The word ‘pragmatism’ comes to mind. Later that day Lawson talked about watching basketball all the time, men’s, women’s, college, pro, AAU, trying to find a set, a play, a variation that will work for her and her team.
About that team....
Drop by tomorrow for Part II.