NORCROSS — Blue Devils head basketball coach Jesse McMillan’s accomplishments and achievements in the coaching realm are remarkable, but he said he only developed a method of self-evaluation in the past four years or so.
Experience in the head coaching position and the birth and growth of his kids and changing dynamic of his family have affected his perspective and ability to look at the Norcross basketball program as a whole — with youth development and middle school feeder programs, a booster club and network of assistant coaches and support staff — more than just the Xs and Os of a basketball team.
There are some things McMillan said his team “rents” each year. These things depend on the talent and athleticism of his players, the assistant coaches, the relationships between players and parents. Then there are some things McMillan and his Norcross teams “own.” These things, like competitive practices, player accountability and character are as inherent in the Norcross basketball program as the Blue Devil mascot.
It’s priorities like these that McMillan learned from his mentors and coaching clinics like Saturday’s, hosted by Berkmar grad and East Jackson head basketball coach David Akin and his organization, Team Belief.
“The foundation of my philosophy was formulated with my time with coach (Eddie) Martin when we were at Norcross together for six years,” McMillan said. “A lot of the foundations that he helped me set are in place. Over the years you build. I’ve gotten a ton of stuff from clinics, trial and error. But I really learned a lot from visiting practices, trying to identify college programs that try to run the same things you do, or want to do.”
The clinic, held in the Paul Duke STEM High School gymnasium, is one of several events Team Belief hosts, providing basketball opportunities to metro-Atlanta area athletes and strengthening the network of prep basketball coaches in the state.
“I think it’s apparent that these guys are eager to help,” Akin said. “Sitting on a couch on a Saturday is refreshing, but there will be a point in your life when you need help from someone. … When you see a coach at one clinic, then another, then another, now you have a relationship to start. That’s when these coaches can be that much more valuable.”
The clinic hosted lectures, drill demonstrations and question-and-answer sessions with four historically successful and established coaches — McMillan, former Berkmar coach David Boyd, Pace Academy’s Sharman White and Maynard Jackson’s Doug Lipscomb — in addition to a local referee, athletic directors and Gwinnett County Athletics Director Jon Weyher.
“When you get to a point when you’re looking at that next job, especially jumping from an assistant to a varsity head coach, a lot of the interview process is not about how to attack the 1-3-1 zone. Are you going to be able to handle the other stuff that comes with being a head coach — dealing with parents, booster clubs, those things.”
Wyher was at the first edition of the clinic last year in Atlanta, and he provided advice regarding how a good candidate for a head coaching position can conduct a varsity basketball program.
The clinic was also evidence of a rich network of basketball coaches within the state. Boyd was Akin’s coach during Akin’s senior year at Berkmar when the Patriots captured one of the program’s back-to-back state titles.
That relationship with his former coach was important for Akin landing his first assistant coaching job in Gwinnett, and he encourages new coaches to strengthen the networks of communication with opportunities such as Saturday’s clinic.
North Gwinnett athletic director Matt Champito, Peachtree Ridge’s Ryan Lesniak and Parkview’s Nick Gast were part of an afternoon AD roundtable. Several head coaches and assistants were spectators as well, including Duluth’s Cabral Huff.
In the clinic’s second year, Akin said he’s learned how to best find intriguing, entertaining guests for the coaches clinic who will not only provide valuable advice but be a personality attendees want to meet and network with.
“That’s why we have the four coaches in the morning session today because at the end of the day these guys have been successful with championships, guys playing at the next level, and their communities,” Akin said.
Team Belief hosts events throughout the year. Information about upcoming events is available at teambelief.org or on Twitter @team_belief.