Double Teamed

Winning Annapolis High School coach John Brady faced a different kind of challenge when he took on a new coaching job -- his daughter's team.

January 16, 2001|By Susan Reimer

When John Brady's basketball players make a mistake, he barks like a big dog. His eyebrows knit and his mustache dances under a nose that is uncomfortably close to a player's face.

The long-time Annapolis High School coach is one of the most successful coaches in Maryland -- he should notch his 500th victory this month -- and certainly one of the most intimidating. His practices take place in pantomime. No one speaks when Brady is on the court.

"I think I've mellowed," says Brady, 53, now in his 24th year as coach. It is hard to find a Panther player who agrees, or one who would say so if he did.

However, evidence of this new-age Brady can be found outside the pressure-cooker of the Annapolis gym, where his players have delivered 19 seasons of 20 wins or more.

In a middle-school gym in Brooklyn Park, Brady is teaching his 12-year-old daughter Erin and her friends the game of basketball.

"I thought I'd try to help out. Maybe teach them some stuff," says Brady. "See if I could do it."

But on this Brady team, players chatter like chipmunks. One cries when she fouls out. Another, after watching Brady diagram a play, asks, "Are we the offense or the defense?" The rest of the girls know the coach -- a man who has been to the state high school basketball "final four" 15 times -- simply as Erin's dad.

"I don't seem to faze her," Brady says of his only child, a seventh-grader at St. Phillip Neri.

The players who have come to Brady at Annapolis have been so talented after years of playground ball that it has been easy for his critics to say all the coach has to do to win is roll the ball onto the court.

That's not the case this season in the Anne Arundel County recreational league. The players he inherited on the Brooklyn Park Panthers are actually softball players who thought it might be fun to play basketball together.

They are so raw that Brady printed up a glossary of basic basketball terms, like "box out" and "press," adding a diagram of the court marked "baseline," "elbow" and "top of the key."

"He makes it easy to understand," says Erin.

But that's where baby-girl basketball ends. Brady put in the same running, pressing, trapping style his Annapolis High players used to gain the state finals last year at Cole Field House at the University of Maryland.

"It makes us feel good that we have the same plays as the boys," says Erin. "That way, we will be as good as them."

The practices are the same, too, Brady says, though the boys might do their drills a bit faster. To prove it, he took his girls' team to watch the boys' team work out and had Nick Good-Malloy, one of his hulking post players, demonstrate the position to one of his girls.

With the plays and the practices the same, the results are similar, too. Both Brady teams are undefeated in their leagues.

"I'm the same jerk with both teams," says Brady with a shrug.

Not exactly. Godzilla and Barney war inside Brady.

It is hard to imagine Brady clapping his hands in gentle encouragement at Annapolis star Marcus Neal and hollering, "You have to move, dear," as he did to a player during a recent girls game.

But then a clipboard hits the floor with a sharp crack, and without looking you know it is the same John Brady who paces the Annapolis sideline like an angry bear.

"I'm not a patient guy," Brady says. "And I'm pretty hard on people."

There is a theory in sports that girls and boys respond to different kinds of coaching because they participate in sports for different reasons. For the boys, it is pure competition, against teammates as well as opponents. For girls, sports is about relationships.

Brady doesn't agree.

"I don't see differences between the boys and the girls, but then I'm not looking for it. I look at them as athletes," he says.

"Girls don't have a monopoly on sensitivity either. I've had guys who, if you look at them wrong, you might as well send them to the locker room because they're no good to you from then on.

"And I think boys are about the relationships, too. The best friends I have, I have made in sports. And I have liked the players on every team I've had."

It would seem that the girls' game, especially as played by 12-year-olds, would frustrate Brady, whose high school team is nicknamed "The Running Panthers" for good reason. But that is not the case.

"The girls' game is how [basketball's inventor James] Naismith envisioned basketball. It is pure. No 360s, no dunks, no behind-the-back passes," explains Brady. "The women have to rely on the repetition of basic skills. The guys can make mistakes and get away with it because of their athleticism."

Brady works his boys two hours a day, five days a week. They play two games a week, and every opponent is gunning for them. The girls practice for an hour-and-a-half two days a week and play one game on Saturday morning.

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