There are Xs and Os. There is game preparation and halftime adjustments. There is motivating players and making them better. There are gifted leaders and forward thinkers.
Forget all those very important coaching nuances for a moment. How about the simplicity of discipline and doing what’s right? Both have quietly slipped a little when it comes to the high school game, resembling more and more like the player-driven NBA and look-the-other-way NCAA.
Proviso East coach Donnie Boyce hasn’t let it happen. He hasn’t succumbed to the pressure of being an inexperienced coach of a high-profile basketball program. Boyce has maintained a realistic approach and kept things in perspective.
Even in this first week of the high school season, the second-year coach was hit with the unexpected. He had to do something no coach ever wants to do: suspend one of his players. The fact it was his best player, all-stater Sterling Brown, shows more about what Boyce is about and how he views his principles, his team and the Proviso East program more than anything else.
The suspension wasn’t due to breaking the school’s code of conduct or any serious off-the-court issues. Brown was suspended for two games for something plenty of coaches would have maybe looked past.
Last week’s loss to Oswego wasn’t a game Brown will sit down and watch a replay of on DVD. He struggled in the overtime defeat, and his frustration resembled more of Ron Artest on a bad day than of a veteran senior leader. He had words for just about anyone who would listen — and those that didn’t.
“He’s a teenager who made a mistake in the heat of the moment,” says Boyce of his star player. “Sterling is such a competitor, a fierce competitor. He got caught up in the moment. I understand the emotion of the game and the atmosphere we were playing in, but there are certain expectations we have. He will learn from it.”
Players have lost their cool, let their emotions get the best of them and have acted out in a negative way before and will again. It happens. Some coaches ignore it all, let it happen. Boyce knows better.
Last season, during an unbeaten regular season and a state runner-up finish, one would think it was smooth sailing for four months; it wasn’t all roses. Behind the scenes there was some internal turmoil that Boyce kept in check. Even Zen Master Phil Jackson would be proud.
It was a Proviso East coach, in fact, who instilled many of the coaching philosophies Boyce uses today. Bill Hitt won two state championships while coaching at Proviso East, including the 1991 state championship with Boyce as one of his star players. All those days playing under Hitt helped prepare Boyce for these tough coaching decisions.
“So much of what I do I take from what I learned from coach [Bill] Hitt,” says Boyce of the coach he played for in the early 1990s. “I saw how he handled things. He had a way about him. He emphasized the importance of the program and the tradition and history at Proviso East that goes back to coach [Glenn] Whittenberg before him.”
Now Boyce is trying to instill that same mindset into his players today. Every group is different; it’s not always easy to get each team to buy in. Boyce’s familiarity with the Proviso East program and the connection he has with the community and his players has helped, along with the reputation he has as a former player.
“We need everyone on board, on the same page and to understand there isn’t one player bigger than the program,” says Boyce. “I need to do a better job myself of making adjustments. We’ll learn, get better. I think we’ll be fine.”
With Boyce in charge, the Proviso East program will be fine.
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