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Posts tagged ‘men’s basketball’

Andy Toole – The Thinking Man’s Coach

Riding along I-91 in Connecticut in a charter bus en route to the team’s next opponent, Andy Toole just seems like one of the guys. He trades jabs with the players and other coaches. He scrolls through his Twitter feed to see what’s trending. He shares memories from his own playing days with the University of Pennsylvania.

But then, as we arrive at the gym for the team’s scheduled practice, something changes. Suddenly it’s all business. “Let’s go!” he says to the players as they scramble to get changed and get out on the court. “Get your energy up! It’s time to work!”

Toole’s passion for his job is unmistakable. As head coach of the Robert Morris University men’s basketball program, his intense competitiveness, which helped him find success as a player, now drives him to be the best coach he can be. Intelligent beyond his years, he sees and hears everything, and he can analyze and adapt to situations in a flash. He is the thinking man’s coach, even at the tender age of 33.

“I know how fortunate I am to have an opportunity like this at my age,” says Toole. “I’m thankful for that, and I try to show my appreciation through my passion and my commitment to the team.”

Toole learned a lot from his coaches during his own playing days and also from those he’s worked with over the years. But feels his particular coaching style is unique. “I’ve had some good and bad coaches,” he says. “And I’ve learned from both.”

One advantage is that, at his age, he can still remember his college career clearly and honestly. “The further you get away from those times, the more you start to think you were perfect, when, in actuality, you really weren’t. I can relate to what his players are going through. I made mistakes like anyone else, and I learned from them. I try to relay that knowledge onto my players.”

Toole is the first to admit that his passion causes him to be a little hard on his players at times. And that’s just fine with him. “Sometimes I’ll try to get under a player’s skin in order to motivate them, if I feel that’s what will work for that particular person. Each player is different. Maybe I’m a little harder on the younger guys, but everyone’s got to show their level of commitment. I’m tough on you until you can prove your worth; your commitment to the team. The older guys understand what needs to be done. It’s a maturation process, really.”

He also encourages player leadership, believing that some things are more meaningful when they come from teammates rather than from “the guy who ruins their day every day.” “It has a lasting effect,” he says. “The best teams police themselves.”

When he’s recruiting new players, Toole says he tries to have energy and intensity, and he lets them know that he will be brutally honest with them. “I’m realistic with my players about their strengths and weaknesses. My parents didn’t sugar-coat things, and that’s how I run my program, too.” He also lets recruits know that he will care about them and be relentless in coaching them, both on and off the court. “I’ll push them to be the very best person they can be, even though they won’t always like it.”

Take Gary Wallace ’11, for example, a former player of Toole’s who’s now playing for the Tromso Storm in Norway. Wallace has sent thank-you emails to his former coach, saying that it wasn’t until he graduated that he really understood what Toole was trying to do teach him. “My players might not understand what I’m saying or doing until five or ten years down the road,” says Toole. “I just make sure to tell them the important stuff over and over and over—that’s what my coaches did for me.”

And he isn’t just talking about basketball. Toole tries to show his players how to be successful not only on the court but in life as well. “I always tell them, if you treat people well and if you work hard, you’ll have a good chance at being successful in anything you try.”

And they already are.

Velton Jones ’13 was a star guard for the Colonials. “Coach Toole is a very intense coach,” says Jones. “Demanding. A real player’s coach and someone you love to play for. He knows how to get everything out of you and push you to your limit. He’s very loyal. He wants to treat you like a man; he’s not going to baby you. He will help you, but he lets you do your own thing and will guide you in the right way. He’s a great guy.”

Chris Shovlin, RMU’s play-by-play announcer for 28 years now, has one word to describe Toole: intelligent. “Andy is really, really sharp,” says Shovlin. “Andy doesn’t miss a trick. He’s wide awake. It’s amazing how much he knows about his players.”

As for his legacy, Toole says he’d love to have great success and maybe even coach in a Final Four one day. But more important, he wants to be remembered as a coach who cared for his players and pushed them to be their very best. “ESPN analyst Jay Bilas played under Coach Krzyzewski at Duke, and he said that he and the other players ‘got Coach K’s best, every single day.’ That’s what I’d like my players to say about me.”

Written by Valentine J. Brkich

On the Road with RMU Basketball – Into the Carbonite Bobcat’s Den

The third day of our Connecticut invasion was a quiet one, thank goodness. Following the previous day’s victorious battle, the men needed some time to rest, recover, and prepare for their next challenge.

And I needed some time to browse Pinterest.

Day four, our final day in the Nutmeg State (whatever that means?), was to be our longest, most challenging day yet. My wake-up call came at 7:20 a.m. and nearly knocked me out of bed, it was so loud. A bull horn would have been more subtle. As I made my way down to breakfast, ears ringing, I looked outside and saw that the previous night’s torrential rains had given way to a clear, sunny day. However, a stiff, cold wind gave the day an ominous feel. After I woofed down some runny eggs, home fries, and around a half a pound of salty bacon, my stomach had an ominous feel, too.

Ski Lodge and Carbonite Bobcat

Once again it was silent on our charter as we traveled the six or so miles to Hamden to face the Bobcats of Quinnipiac. After climbing a long hill, we finally reached the summit and the TD Bank Sports Center, i.e., The Den. Out front, a large Bobcat, which had obviously been captured and frozen in carbonite, much like Han Solo, stood guard.

Across from the center, there was a strange complex resembling a ski lodge and a number of oddly shaped windmills. Obviously this was their source of power. If I could only dismantle it, I thought… But then, I thought, Geez it’s cold out here! And I ran inside.

Quinnipiac's sole source of power

As soon as I entered the building, a Quinnipiac supporter tried to push one of his little yellow “Go Bobcats!” towels on me. Being from Pittsburgh, I felt strangely compelled to take the golden towel and whip it above my head. But somehow I managed to fight off the urge and escape the Siren-esque trap.

Prior to the contest, the men were energetic and upbeat. They even participated in some kind of pre-game dancing ritual to get themselves fired up for the battle that lay ahead.

And what a battle it was. RMU dug itself a 10-point hole mid-way through the first half, and it looked like the Bobcats might run away with an easy victory. But the resilient Colonials managed to scrape and claw their way back into the game, and by halftime the score was tied, 38-38.

The second half continued to be a tight, hard-fought struggle. The men battled courageously despite the hostile environment inside the arena, but at the end the Colonials fell just short, 73-69. As they walked back to their locker room, the men were forced to watch the Bobcats celebrate on their own court in front of a delighted home crowd. It was a painful show that, no doubt, the Colonials will not soon forget.

The ride to the airport was a somber one, as we began our long journey back home to Pittsburgh. But although our Connecticut adventure ended in defeat, Head Coach Andy Toole and his men were able to come away with their heads held high, knowing that they had fought hard and courageously. Now they get to prove their worth in the 2012 Northeast Conference Men’s Basketball Tournamentwhich begins this Thursday as the Colonials host the Hawks of Monmouth at The Chuck, aka, the Sewall Center Arena.

As I look back to my time embedded with the Robert Morris University Men’s Basketball team, the memories are bittersweet. Bitter, because I wasn’t able to help the team more; sweet, because I had my own double bed, flat-screen TV, and no kids to wake me up before the break of dawn.

But such is life on the road.

Valentine J. Brkich

On the Road with RMU Basketball – Day 1: Enemy Territory

The following post is the first from RMU correspondent Valentine J. Brkich, who is embedded with the RMU Men’s Basketball team during their current road trip to Connecticut…

The players wait, focused on the objective

This is my first dispatch from the road. For the next few days I’ll be accompanying the RMU Colonials Men’s Basketball team as they invade the state of Connecticut. This may be my first trip with the team, but I’m certainly qualified for this assignment. After all, I was the third best guard on the second team of the Sts. Peter & Paul Pacers during the 1986-87 season. I also started in my high school Spanish club’s first annual picnic basketball tournament back in 1993.

So, yeah, I know my way around the hardwood.

Our journey began yesterday morning as we boarded the tiny commuter jet in Pittsburgh. The players fanned out inside the plane, their spirits high despite the vertical challenges inside the cabin. I sat in the window seat next to a man named Dirk, who, after I questioned him, claimed to be a “consultant.” Of what, he didn’t reveal. From then on, I avoided conversation, just in case Dirk – if that was his real name – was working for the other side.

After landing in Hartford, it didn’t take long to realize we were in unfamiliar territory. Riding in the charter bus, I noticed that the roads were smooth and conspicuously devoid of potholes or orange cones. A roadside sign read, “NO BREAKDOWN LANE AHEAD.” I was still trying to figure out what a “breakdown lane” was, when another sign warned that something called a “Train Station” lay just ahead. Obviously we weren’t in Kansas, i.e., Moon Township, anymore.

Coach Toole studying film

As we moved deeper and deeper into enemy territory, Colonials Head Coach Andy Toole remained composed and focused. During the bus ride from the airport, he studiously watched film of the team’s next opponent, the Pioneers of Sacred Heart. At one point, however, his focus was broken by music emitting from headphones further back in the bus. The culprit: “Ice Ice Baby”.

Discipline was swift and stern. “NO VANILLA ICE!” declared Coach Toole, setting the tone for the rest of the mission.

Before long we arrived at our destination–Sacred Heart’s William H. Pitt Center. (No relation the namesake of our beloved Pittsburgh, but a welcome omen nonetheless.) As the team prepped for practice, Coach Toole, always the recruiter, watched as a young man named Daniel showed his stuff on the court. After Daniel swished his only shot, Coach Toole swapped cell numbers with him and told the boy to give him a ring in 12 years.

Coach Toole evaluates future talent

Following an energetic practice, we checked in at the hotel and then gathered for some much-needed nurishment at a local Chili’s. It being Lent, I had the salmon.

All in all, it was a productive first day. But I know today will bring new challenges. I can only hope we’re up for it. (By we, I mean the team. I’ll just be joting notes in my little notebook like always.)

To be continued…