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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Interview with MIT Associate Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger

Dr. Oliver Eslinger is the associate head coach of MIT's basketball team. His duties range from coaching to scouting to working with alumni to recruiting. MIT aspires to be the Duke or Stanford of Division III basketball, a program combining high academic standards with athletic excellence.

Dr. Eslinger told me about some of the better players who have played for MIT recently:

"A few years ago (2005-06) we won 21 games and set a school record and we had the good fortune of coaching the first All-America in MIT history, Mike D’Auria. When he was a senior and we won 21 games we also had the Conference Rookie of the Year, Jimmy Bartolotta from Colorado. Now he is an All-American as well as an Academic All-American, so you can see that over the last few years there has been a shift in the culture of the basketball program. People see that and read about it and realize that MIT can be tops in schooling and basketball and that certainly helps recruiting as well."

He also mentioned a player who helped to lead MIT to four wins during its first international basketball tour since 1983: "It helps to have at least one guy back there who can at least alter some shots. We have a guy named Hamidou Soumare who is probably one of the most athletic players in the conference and he can certainly block shots. We just call him ‘Dou.’"

I asked Dr. Eslinger which coaches have had the biggest influence on him and he gave an interesting, broad based response:

"Going back to when I was playing, when I started playing basketball in fourth grade in Oklahoma--where I grew up--my coach was named Jack Hale. I fell in love with basketball just because I love the sport but also because he is a great guy, someone who I felt comfortable with. He was nice and he was understanding, so that was my first image of a basketball coach. Since then, throughout my career as a player and as a coach myself, there was a teacher at Bethlehem Central High School in Albany, New York—that’s where I went to high school after I moved from Oklahoma—named Chuck Abba. He was a coaching legend there. I didn’t play for him but I ended up working with him for a year after I graduated from Clark and before I went to grad school. He taught me a lot about how to structure practices and really that when you are a coach you are a teacher and you are an educator. He demanded a lot from his players but he also understood them. His son actually won a national championship at Williams. In the pro ranks, Phil Jackson has been a big influence on me, especially when he was in Chicago and was able to manage players. In the NBA it is so important to manage personalities because everybody is good and so it is a matter of finding the right chemistry and getting the right characters to believe in your philosophy. I think that Phil Jackson has done that. I’ve read all of his books. He talks a lot about the Zen Buddhist philosophy and he got his players to buy into it, he got Jordan to buy into it. He was able to get those guys to buy in to what he was talking about, the five fingers on a hand coming together and that sort of thing. I think that in the college ranks, (I admire) the way that Coach K runs his program and that he’s been there so long and that he may not always have the best players in the country but he gets the guys who are the right fit for Duke and for the campus and for his program. That says a lot. Of course, John Wooden. I was looking at his website the other day and there was a little blurb there about how he believes that his time management and discipline were the most important factors in his success, plus getting to know players on an individual basis as people. That is a key ingredient in my philosophy and that is one reason that I got into psychology. I really enjoy getting to know our players at MIT. Larry Anderson at MIT has been a tremendous influence as well. He has taught me so much about the game and about building a program, especially as it relates to attention to detail, offensive and defensive strategy, and how to get the most out of players."

You can see more from my interview with Dr. Eslinger at SlamOnline:

Athletic Intelligence

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:31 PM



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