Pressing his emotions to the side, team ahead

Girls basketball: Jim Stromberg's commitment to coaching hasn't changed since coming to St. Paul's. He's just a bit looser now.

January 25, 2001|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Every once in a while the old Jim Stromberg emerges from the St. Paul's bench.

Blasting out of his chair after a Gators turnover. Barking instructions when someone misses a defensive mark. Yelling at the girl who takes a contested shot when a teammate is open.

Mostly, though, Stromberg is a kinder, gentler basketball coach these days.

He has to be. Coaching at St. Paul's School for Girls is not the same as coaching at Seton Keough, the program he left last summer after six seasons, three tournament championships and a 146-36 record.

At Seton Keough, Division I basketball prospects packed the starting lineup. At St. Paul's, an Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference program that has never won a basketball title, the lineup is more likely to be packed with blue-chip lacrosse players.

Even though Stromberg, 42, now sits more and yells less, he cannot completely stifle the intensity that has become his trademark.

"The first time I saw him coach, he got thrown out of the game," said St. Paul's JV coach Suzie Friedrich, a former Gators varsity coach. "He got two technical fouls and he got tossed, but he was standing in a stairwell coaching his team. One of the parents of an opposing player kept yelling, `He's coaching from the stairwell.' "

As hard as Stromberg works officials, he works players harder.

"He's intense, extremely intense," said Seton Keough senior Keisha Blackwell, an All-Metro guard headed for Providence College.

"He never let up on us. He never backed off to let us figure things out for ourselves. Not to say we couldn't do that, but he was always on our backs telling us the right thing to do before we could make a mistake. He's so committed to basketball."

Make no mistake. The commitment is still there. Only Stromberg's approach differs.

"He has toned down a little bit," Friedrich said, "but he will not lower his standards. I admire that in him and the kids respect that. But the intensity is still there."

The transition to a new school wasn't overly difficult for Stromberg. It was hard to leave Seton Keough, he said, but he left on good terms to become athletic director at St. Paul's, whose population is expected to grow from 365 students to 450 by 2004.

The transition to basketball was another story.

In Stromberg's first meeting with the players last summer, they told him to place the same expectations he had had for the Seton Keough players on them. That impressed the new coach.

Once he stepped into the gym, however, Stromberg knew things would have to be different. When he started using basketball terms such as back screen, pivot foot and jump stop, the girls didn't know what he was talking about.

"I didn't expect those things. I saw these kids who were athletes and maybe we'd be able to change it into something else," Stromberg said. "Never did I expect the kids would not have the basketball knowledge. This has nothing to do with the kids really, but they weren't taught the things that I value in basketball."

Although the players wanted expectations high, they were stunned at what Stromberg told them was necessary to meet those standards. They had to play summer league, fall league and Amateur Athletic Union ball. They had to practice on Saturdays. They had to go all-out every minute of every practice.

"I didn't expect to have to give as much as we do," said junior guard Allison Schindler. "Last year, everything was optional."

The players also were taken aback by Stromberg's coaching style. Initially, he came at them with the same intensity he showed at Seton Keough.

"At first, I thought it was rude," said sophomore guard Carrie Thieman. "I didn't know what to think and I didn't know how to respond to him. My first reaction was I'm not going to want to do this next year."

Stromberg's intensity overwhelmed and confused the players, but if they had complaints, none ever reached the administration.

"Since he's been here not one student or parent has come into my office and complained about him," said Dr. Evelyn A. Flory, St. Paul's headmistress. "That's really unusual with a new employee."

Although a couple players opted not to come out for the team after Stromberg coached them in fall ball, everyone who started the season in November has stuck it out.

For a long time, though, Stromberg saw a lot of deer-in-the-headlights looks.

"It was more like deer run over," he said, with a laugh. "But I'm the first person who's ever challenged them in basketball. I think maybe I'm the first person who has ever really challenged them to step outside their comfort level."

Stromberg also was stretching his own comfort zone for the first time in a while.

He's gotten a lot of advice over the past few months, but Dave Greenberg, whom Stromberg assisted for 12 seasons at Mount Hebron, offered a unique perspective. Greenberg had been in the same position six years ago, taking over a 2-20 program at Centennial after winning six state and 13 Howard County titles at Mount Hebron.

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