Coach `travels' to girls basketball

Mentor: Once a coach in the high-pressure world of men's college basketball, Jim Emery nowadays shares his knowledge and love of the game with girls in the Howard County Youth Program.

Howard At Play

January 14, 2001|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Some basketball coaches make it as far as the pressure-packed atmosphere of men's NCAA Division I competition. But the really brave coach girls travel basketball.

"I've worked my way up the ladder with 12-year-old girls," jokes Jim Emery of Ellicott City, a coach in the Howard County Youth Program's basketball league for girls age 12. He once was the assistant men's coach at George Mason University, a Division I college in Fairfax, Va., but he gave up the job when the sales work that paid his bills became too demanding.

When his three daughters started playing sports, he found himself back in the arena. He also coaches for the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County, but at the moment he is coaching two basketball teams with the help of Don Lavin. Emery's daughter, Meghan, plays on one team.

He credits SAC/HC coaching clinics with helping him coach at this level.

Emery quotes another youth coach about the differences between coaching males and females: "You just can't challenge [girls about] their manhood."

"He's right," Emery says. "You get guys to respond by getting in their faces. ... But as I coach more and more, I realize there are differences. I can't change thousands of years of evolution. When I get in [the girls'] faces, they would shut down."

He tries to teach the girls to be more competitive, "because in the world of athletics, they'll need that," but Emery concentrates on instilling a work ethic.

He has also put aside many of the high-powered strategies he used at the college level, concentrating instead on the basics: one-on-one defense, footwork, ball handling, passing and shooting.

Another key difference, he says, is that girls usually don't watch basketball and lack role models. So he takes his team to college games.

"I never taught the `outlet' in basketball," he says. But when they go to games, he instructs his girls to watch how players instantly react when a team misses a shot. "The next day in practice, they'd go to the outlet spot" to be ready for a pass that will advance the team upcourt.

One of the reasons Emery went into youth coaching, he says, was his concern that "athletics doesn't educate on how to problem-solve and communicate and work harder and be supportive of your teammates."

In the past, he explains, adolescents played for middle-school teams, "and they couldn't leave to play for someone else - it used to be that they had to work it out, or the choice was not to play."

Now, he says, that experience is hampered, if not lost, by parents' ability to switch a child from one travel team or program to another. His efforts have earned him praise from Jeff Loveless, HCYP's basketball commissioner, who has a daughter on Emery's team.

"What I've found he brings to the table, what these really good coaches bring, is they give them extra things," says Loveless. " ... He and the other guys also teach them lessons about life, not just basketball."

In addition, Loveless praises Emery for helping to train other youth basketball coaches.

Emery, who played at Ithaca College, began coaching at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y. From there, he moved to an assistant coach's position at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., where he met his wife, who was a dorm director. Working under Bill Nelson, now the basketball coach at Johns Hopkins, Emery was at Nazareth in the early 1980s when it set a school record for wins.

That earned Emery an assistant coach's job at George Mason, which he held for three years, first under Joe Harrington and then Rick Barnes. When Barnes moved to Providence College, Emery helped out for a summer, but his career in sales, covering a large territory, was consuming more of his time, and he reluctantly quit coaching.

Emery has another daughter, Annie, 8, who is playing rec basketball. Daughter Caitlin, a high school sophomore, is into what he calls "travel ballet."

"She is a wonderful dancer, and I haven't coached her a lick," he says.

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