When hands-off is a basketball plus

Approach: Former NBA star Phil Chenier Sr. has made a point of not intervening in the professional life of his son, which the Wilde Lake High School varsity coach appreciates.

Howard At Play

February 06, 2005|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Phil Chenier faces the same concerns any other high school basketball coach has at this time of the season. His Wilde Lake High varsity squad was 9-7 as of late last week and trying to get everything together for a late-season roll heading into post-season play.

Chenier, 31, is a former standout player at Wilde Lake and Howard University who knows the game and loves teaching it.

He also is fortunate in that when a basketball question occurs, one trusted source he can turn to is a three-time National Basketball Association all-star who, as a television announcer, is still involved in the pro league.

That's Phil Chenier Sr., longtime Columbia resident and NBA player for 11 years, most of it with the Baltimore and then Washington Bullets.

But in this age of overly protective parents who try to run their children's lives in and out of sports, regardless of age, the elder Chenier and his son look at things differently.

If you ask the elder Chenier, 54, how he interacts with his son and then ask the same question of Chenier, the younger, you hear the same answer: very little.

Chenier, in his fourth year as Wilde Lake's coach (and math teacher at the school), asked his father to speak to the team at practice once a few years back - one of the only times the former pro has been to a Wilde Lake practice.

"It's his team, and he is the coach," said Chenier, the father. "I don't try to act like I know it all. He is a man, and it's his team."

The former NBA standout shooter said he has always been careful to give his son space and be kind of hands-off when it comes to basketball, working hard to not push too much or cast too long a shadow. When his son played for Wilde Lake, Chenier would come to every game that he could, but he remained a low-key figure in the crowd, simply there to watch the game.

A television analyst for the Washington Wizards for about 20 years, Chenier is still well-known in basketball circles, another reason his son likes how his dad does things.

"He's kind of always had that approach, which I definitely appreciate because it's nice to be given that respect," said the younger Chenier. "Obviously, he could easily be saying, `You should be doing this, doing that,' and he'd probably have a good point because of the level that he's reached [in the sport].

"But it is my team, and these are decisions that I have to make."

The decisions that the coach makes, he said, are based on teaching his players about basketball and life. Chenier said he looks at coaching as teaching and tries hard to make his players understand the importance of doing the little things in life and on the court.

Boxing out opponents defensively under the basket and communicating on defense are vital on the basketball court, the younger Chenier said, while making one's bed and eating right are important in life. The coach tries hard to impress upon his players that if you worry about the small things like these, the bigger ones will take care of themselves.

"I believe that this carries over in life skills also, life skills they can use when they're finished playing basketball," Chenier said. "I try to give my kids just the fundamentals of the game, and I try to prepare them for the next level. ... [Hopefully], they will understand how to play the game - that's really what it's all about."

Adam Eldridge, Wilde Lake's athletic director, said he loves the younger Chenier's approach with players.

"He's always positive," Eldridge said. "He's making them understand that basketball isn't the only thing in their lives. He's really, really done a great job."

Both Cheniers say they wonder what the future holds.

Chenier, the son, wanted to play after college, trying out for the minor-league Baltimore BayRunners but was a late cut. That wound up pushing him toward coaching and teaching. He also did some college scouting up and down the East Coast for the Wizards, even after taking the position at Wilde Lake.

"I see him at some point trying to look for an opportunity to move into another level," said his father. "A lot of it is planting seeds with those contacts and resources. You have a track record with them, you know them, they know how you think."

The son agreed.

"[Moving to college] is something I've always thought about," said the Wilde Lake coach. "Even getting back into the professional world, be it in scouting or coaching or player development, but I'm happy here now."

That is why the younger Chenier's main concern is getting the Wildecats ready for the playoff run in a competitive county in basketball. It is probably fair to say that he is not just seen as Phil Chenier's son anymore.

"It's tough when you're the son of a famous person," he said. "Just trying to etch out your own identity and not just being referred to as such and such's son. Not to say that's a bad thing, but obviously, as an individual and as a man, you'd like to develop your own identity."

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