Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter – @HCChargers
John Tharp is the Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Hiilsdale College. He has 274 wins as the Chargers’ head coach and an overall head coaching record of 478-252.
Tharp has led Hillsdale to four appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament, in 2012, 2018 2021, and 2022.
Tharp came to Hillsdale after a very successful 13-year stint as the head coach at Lawrence University, a Division III school in Wisconsin. Tharp left Lawrence as that school’s all-time leader in victories and winning percentage, compiling a record of 204-108 during his tenure.
Lawrence University was Tharp’s first head coaching job when he was hired at the age of 24, prior to the 1994-95 season. He spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Beloit (Wisc.) College before taking over the Lawrence program.
John earned his bachelor’s degree in history in 1991 and played his college basketball at Beloit, where he was also a two-time all-conference player and led all NCAA Division III players in assists for a season.
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Grab pen and paper so you can take some notes as you listen to this episode with John Tharp, Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Hillsdale College.
What We Discuss with John Tharp
- Growing up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and attending Coach Tom Desotell’s Whiz Kids Basketball Camp
- Working camp for John Wooden & Pat Riley in high school
- The story of his daughter receiving one of Coach Wooden’s last letters to is wife
- What Coach Desotell told him before he made two free throws to clinch the state championship game in high school
- His decision to play for Coach Bill Knapton at Beloit College in Wisconsin
- His relationship with Coach Knapton and how his time as a player helped him when he became a coach
- Getting his first coaching job back at Beloit under Coach Knapton and teaching high school history at the same time
- Becoming a head coach at Lawrence University at age 24
- His relationship with Pat Juckem as a senior on his first team at Lawrence
- Making the final decision as a head coach
- His strengths as a young head coach – enthusiasm and relationships
- “I think you need to build something that is built to last. And the only way to do that is to start establishing, Hey, this is who we are. This is what we do on a daily basis. This is what we’re about.”
- “You catch people doing things right. You catch them and you make sure that you celebrate that.”
- “I hug every one of my guys every day.”
- The challenge that Hillsdale’s president put in front of him during his interview “Can you do this?” and how that helped lead him to leave Lawrence after 13 seasons
- “I challenged them. Why not us? And I said listen, I need you guys to be the start.”
- The joy of providing a scholarship and an education to a player’s and their family
- Valuing winning in the recruiting process
- “We don’t get caught up in…maybe the guy’s an inch too small, but is he tough enough to be in the right position?”
- What he looks for in AAU vs High School when it comes to recruiting
- Everybody’s attacking the transfer portal. We’re relying on high school kids and we’re going to continue building it that way.”
- Kids not fighting through adversity or leaving their situation rather than persevering
- The “Marriage Portal”
- Using small sided games to build player IQ
- “We’re working constantly with the timing of our actions and when the action should occur.
- Great players know how to play without the ball
- “The beauty of the sport is when the extra pass is made or the great read occurs.”
- The balance between stopping action in practice and providing instruction vs letting the players figure it out
- Learning to incorporate your skills with the other players on the court
- “We’re critiquing the jersey number, we’re not attacking your character.”
- Don’t be a finger pointer
- Taking responsibility for your mistakes as a coach
- “I hope I impact their life not just from a basketball perspective, but for the rest of their life.”
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THANKS, JOHN THARP
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TRANSCRIPT FOR JOHN THARP – HILLSDALE COLLEGE MEN’S BASKETBALL HEAD COACH – EPISODE 631
[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: Hello, and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. It’s Mike Klinzing here without my co-host Jason Sunkle tonight, but I am pleased to be joined by the head men’s basketball coach at Hillsdale College. John Tharp. John, welcome to the Hoop Heads Pod.
[00:00:11] John Tharp: Yeah, Mike, I appreciate it. Thanks for the opportunity. And congratulations to Jason. Really important things are happening in his life.
[00:00:20] Mike Klinzing: No question, bringing home your fourth kid is always an exciting time and man, he’s I got three going for four he’s a better man than me, so he’s probably having more fun than you and I so nonetheless, we’re going to try to make it a good one.
I want to start out by going back in time. Tell us a little bit about how you got in the game of basketball when you were a kid. What are some of your first experiences that you remember?
[00:00:44] John Tharp: Yeah, Mike, a great question. That the kind of interesting when I started to prepare for this a little bit and just having a chance to reflect it’s been kind of fun the last 24 hours to think about the start of things and it really, for me, Mike, I grew up in a town in Wisconsin, Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
And I had three older brothers and you know, my dad coached us all the way through middle school and, and growing up my, our high school coach at Sheboygan north was a guy named Tom Desotell and coach Desotell. When he retired from high school coaching a few years ago, he has over 600 high school wins.
I think he’s the all time winning winningest coach in, in the state of Wisconsin at the highest level. But coach had this great camp called the whiz kids. And you, you your first year you’d go to whiz kids. You know, you got an orange shirt, right. And every year after that year two was a different colored shirt.
Year three was a different colored shirts. And, and coach was, this was this tremendous high school coach. And in the high school team, she boy north, he always had him, him. And so when you’re a little kid, right. You’re and you’re sitting there on a Friday night and you always dreamed about playing for coach Desotell and Sheboygan north.
And that’s where my love really started. And you know, so in 1986, I had a chance to play for Sheboygan north and lucky enough to win a state championship as well. And one great thing, Mike, that was just an amazing experience that I had coached Desotell desoltel was his dear friends with was dear friends with John Wooden and going into my senior high school.
I had a chance to go to California and work the John Wooden camp and the Pat Riley camp. Wow, that’s cool. It was so cool. And having an opportunity to meet coach wooden during that time. And then the next week Pat Riley was the smoothest man that I’ve ever met, you know and, and obviously having the chance to see coach Wooden talk about the pyramid of success.
And, and just something that I have that memory is so ingrained in me. And I, and I, and I always thought I, if I ever had a chance to do this for a living, I’m going to sure give it my best spot. And so the other thing that Mike, it was just great because a week after camp ended and we get back to back to Sheboygan, there was a letter in the mail.
It was from pat Riley with an extra a hundred dollars for working camp. And when you’re 16 or 17 years old, and you’re getting a lot of money, a lot of money for Pat Riley
[00:03:18] Mike Klinzing: to say,
[00:03:20] John Tharp: you know, getting a hundred bucks from pat Riley was, was really you know, so it was just coach Desotell like I said, this created.
Such a culture of, for the community and the local kids to be a part of, of wanting to be, to be a part of Sheboygan North basketball, and on Saturday mornings in high school, we would drive down to Milwaukee and play in the playground and see some of the best players in the state. And so it just really was ingrained from my dad, to be honest with you and my three older brothers.
And when you’re the youngest brother, you get the snot kicked out of you all the time. Absolutely. And they, they might, they always tease me because they always said I’d go and crying to my mom, but you know, my mom was good enough to always send my butt back out there. So it’s just a, it was a family that loved competing and I love basketball.
And just, I, I give coach Desotell a ton of credit for, for the beginning of the passion of basketball and you know, Mike talking about Jason and then just. You know, my three kids in their bedrooms growing up, they had the pyramid of success signed by John Wooden in their bedrooms.
And, and my daughter, when she was a young girl she, she was giving, she was giving lectures on John Wooden.
[00:04:41] Mike Klinzing: Those are, those were class public speaking gigs.
[00:04:42] John Tharp: Like I said, because of coach’s relationship with coach wooden I had a chance to be in coach wind’s apartment and my two sons and I, and my, of my three kids and I visited coach about five years ago.
And coach has tons of memorabilia and he, and my two boys something on, on with John Wooden’s autograph, some really cool. And then she knew, but he didn’t give my daughter anything. And he, but he didn’t know that my daughter had this much passion. Right. You know? And so he calls me about 24 hours later and said, do you think my daughter do you think your daughter would want something from coach wooden?
I said, coach, to be honest with you and I kind of told this story about how much she admired him and in my daughter’s apartment was one of the last letters that coach wooden wrote to his wife. You know, how you write it, where it was, this moments like that, that I had with coach was, was so special.
And it just, it just gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of different people. And then I had the great blessing Mike, of, of I played division three basketball for a guy named Bill Knapton and coach Knapton and spent 40 plus years at Beloit college. He was president of the NABC my senior year of college.
And coach had nearly 600 wins and I just had such great examples of, of, of men to learn from. And so yeah, that’s how it really kinda just that passion started started with, with from my dad to, to coach Desotell and to coach Knapton.
[00:06:24] Mike Klinzing: All right, let’s go back to your high school experience first.
And then I want to dive into a little bit of your college experience. When you think about that state championship run, is there one moment memory that sticks out more than others? When you think back to that opportunity to win a state championship?
[00:06:40] John Tharp: Mike, Sheboygan north was there. The two years were they made the final four in Wisconsin.
And so it was as a sophomore as a freshman and sophomore, I saw north get to the final four and Madison and, and one thing that we were the number one ranked team the entire year. And ranked in the top 25 in the USA Today.
[00:07:05] Mike Klinzing: That was big back then, the USA today, top 25,
[00:07:08] John Tharp: It was huge. And we had a seven foot center that was a great player and a power for that were seniors. And the first game that we played there was, was Milwaukee, Madison, and that’s where coach Desotell was the JV coach at, for years. And so there was this great rivalry that coach really wanted to win that game.
And, and then the semi-finals coach Mike, you’re going to laugh at this. We’re playing a really good team in TOSA east. And they had a kid that went to Marquette named Tony Smith. And I was, I was the sixth, sixth or seventh man on that team, but my seven foot center, Mike fouled out out of the game with us up one with about seven seconds, eight seconds left and, and coach submit.
And I got fouled immediately. Okay. And coach called a timeout or the coach of east called a timeout to try to ice. And I sat on the bench and I’ll never forget this coach does to tell it looked at me and said, looking right in the eyes and just said, Hey, dislike you and your front, front yard and the driveway, something that you’ve done for you for since you’re six or seven years old.
Right. And he just made me focus that this is just something that I’ve done all those years. And Mike, I went up there and honest to God that ball hit every part of that rim. Every part of that rib and the ball went through the net and I was able to make the next free-throw. Well, there was no three point line and we ended up winning the game and, and Mike recently at a kid from Sheboygan north that played for me here at Hillsdale and, and you know how the, the, the, the, the world kind of grows stories.
And he, honestly, this player thought that I had that, that I I was the guy that led north of the state championship game and he goes home one day and he sees a newspaper article and it says, Thorpe leads Sheboygan north to victory. And he reads the article and I only scored two points,
but Mike, for, for coach to sit in that time out situation and just kind of, kind of calm me down as as a 16 year old to say, this is what you’ve been doing. This is, but you know, this is what you either, you’ve always dreamed up dreamt of doing and, and having that first one go through the night.
And you know, I saw my family, my whole family, like I said, there’s a, there was six of us, right. The whole family was in Madison, Wisconsin. And they were celebrating hard when I got back to the hotel.
[00:09:40] Mike Klinzing: I believe that. It’s a Testament to knowing your players, right?
Knowing the right thing to say at the right time, he obviously delivered the right message that got through you at resonated with you. And then you now have this, this memory that you carry with you and Hey, you led the team to a state title. Nice work job, good work. I like it.
[00:10:02] John Tharp: Don’t do it. Don’t ever tell anyone any different the secrets, the secrets out now, I guess, you know what Mike, and what you said, right?
You hit it right on the head. And, and, and in that moment and I always remember this coach coaches, words and he coached that was his, that was his, his, his moment to coach and to calm to calm me down and, and just almost this, this faith and trust that he had. And again, that was such a special moment that that always I’ll always remember.
And you know, to the day I’m close with coach and just means a lot.
[00:10:36] Mike Klinzing: I can’t even imagine the opportunity to go through and, and win a state title. And just how that connected you to the coaches, players, just the collective memory that you and your teammates and that coaching staff have to be able to have gone through that.
And then obviously as you stay in the game and continue to be able to talk to people and tell the story and relive it, it gets I’m sure better and better and better just thinking about what that moment was like. Cause again, there’s not very many players on any level to get an opportunity to win, whether it’s a state championship or a national championship at the college level or whatever it might be.
So to be able to have that kind of memory, I’m sure it was special for you then as you transfer, I’m sorry, as you go and you start thinking about college basket. What’s the process, like in terms of how you chose Beloit, what was your recruiting? Like? What did that look like at the division three level back when you were going to school?
[00:11:27] John Tharp: Well Mike, I was talking to a few different colleges, but it wasn’t quite as intense as, as you know, what, what recruiting is right now. But one of the visits I had Mike was, was that was that UW Plattville with Bo Ryan and, and I had a chance to meet coach Ryan for a variety of different reasons as I was growing up.
And I always just had so much respect for coach Ryan. But I didn’t know if I was quite good enough to, to have a successful career there now may have been a heck of a move later on in my life as a coach. Right. But, but coach Knapton was a legend. There was a very dear family friend that played for coach napkin and just thought he was.
One of the classiest men around and had a great basketball mind. And so my dad and I went to the visit and it was, it’s a great school academically. And the true blessing of, of picking Beloit was just what a great man coach napkin is and was, and he had a tremendous basketball mind.
And, and, you know I’ll never forget this, Mike and I became as assistant coach, and I’m not, not to move too fast here, but I became his assistant coach right after I was done playing for him and coach. And I would go to lunch almost every day. And we would walk out with 12 napkins full of stuff, full of X’s and O’s, and, and coach loved entries.
I mean, he loved entries and he was a big believer in intro entries in the start of often. But my, my time as a player with coach it was a point guard for him during the four years and the relationship that he and I had over those four years, I really started to understand the importance of, of a point guard play from the standpoint of getting guys in the right positions and the responsibility and the communication, I think that the head coach and the point guard needed to have.
And so that’s where that kind of grew. And, and I’ll never forget that with coach. And you know, we had a chance to win a conference championship and, and I just, I, I love coach for the man that he was in. And not only that, but just, just a great basketball mind that he had. And so again, I was, I was blessed to have somebody like that to be a part of my life.
[00:13:57] Mike Klinzing: Sounds like you are impacted tremendously by two really great coaches and great people. And I can just hear the respect that you have for those two guys and what they were able to do for you as you’re going through. And you’re playing. Are you, are you sold on the fact that as soon as my career is over, I’m going to go into coaching.
And are you kind of looking at what’s happening while you’re playing? Not only from a playing perspective, but also from a coaching perspective or were you still just, Hey, I’m playing and once my playing career is over, then I’ll kind of figure out what my next step is. Or were you already kind of preparing for that next stage of your life in terms of being a coach?
[00:14:37] John Tharp: Mike? I always, you know what, to be honest with you, I was the one that I always thought I wanted to coach. That’s what I, that’s what I thought my path was going to be, at least I was hoping my path was going to be. And I just fell in love with the game and I fell in love with competing in the thing that I would say is that that coach gave me, as you continue to get older as a player, coach gave me my voice a little bit in the sense of there was, there was great communication that he and I had.
And we just talk even as a player about things things that were, that, that I saw maybe. And again coach was, was, was so secure in who he was, that, that he was, he, that I could speak freely. Right. It wasn’t something that was ever disrespectful. Don’t misunderstand me, but he was, he was somebody that would just say, Hey, what are you seeing?
What are you thinking? And again, that’s something that I’ve hoped that I’ve continued with in my career, but I knew that I wanted to, this is what I wanted to do. And Mike, to be honest with you, I didn’t know. If not coaching, what, what, I was good, what I was going to be doing. I understand what was I going to do understand?
Yeah. You know, and so and, and so I wasn’t a great student, Mike it was something I just loved. I loved basketball and, and I loved competing. And, but at the same time the idea of trying to figure out how to win games or be successful. I think it started in those college days.
[00:16:11] Mike Klinzing: Did you always want to be a college coach?
Was there ever any thought of, maybe I want to go back and be a teacher and a coach at the high school level. It was that always, was it always a thought that, Hey, I think I’m going to be in the college game.
[00:16:22] John Tharp: We, it was more so college Mike, and the reason why was when I graduated college, they had a, they had a one-year master’s degree in education, and I was a history major.
And I received my, my teaching. And so I student taught I came back at AA college because coach offered me the assistant coaching position right away. And, and it was a part-time position. So I student taught for a semester and the guy I was student teaching under, believe it or not, I was at this Catholic school.
He ended up getting a different job at the semester. And so I became a full-time teacher at this bowl at the lake Catholic high school, and then started my master’s degree while I was working for coach napkin as his assistant coach it was a division three, it was 1991. There weren’t many places that had full-time assistant coaches.
And so I was trying to balance trying to be a teacher. And Mike, that alone is, is that’s a full-time job. It’s a full-time job. And and, and I was learning, I was learning to be an assistant coach while I was being an assistant coach. Right. And, and again, coach Knapton, we just had this special relation.
And so I was able to be a teacher for those three years and be an assistant coach and the coach napkin from 1991 to 1994. And it was just and he he empowered me as an assistant coach and I continued to learn a great deal from him and Mike being a player is one thing.
Being an assistant coach is something completely different. And then moving that one seat over is something completely different as well.
[00:18:03] Mike Klinzing: No doubt about that. All right. So I’m going to go, I want to come back to that, what you learned there as an assistant, but let’s, let’s jump to the decision real quick about, so you’re there as an assistant coach for three years.
You’ve been teaching that whole time. So at some point you kind of have to make that thought of, well, yeah, I’m making a full-time teacher salary, which you’re at a private high school. So I know that teaching salary wasn’t gigantic, but you’re still making a full-time salary compared to you’re a part-time assistant at the division three level.
When you make the decision, when you get the opportunity, obviously you’re going to go and be a head coach. Was that kind of what swayed you on? Hey, I got to go and pursue the college coaching. It seems like the teaching part of it. You were more into, Hey, I want to be basketball day. And not that obviously when you’re coaching, you’re not doing basketball all day, but things that are related to your program.
So just, what was your thought process there?
[00:18:57] John Tharp: You know what, I loved teaching to be honest with you, there were days I didn’t, but, but there was something about you know, almost your craft of teaching and communicating with young people. And I think my again helped me become a coach, a head coach, and, and what happened to me too.
Mike was a miracle from this standpoint. So I’m three years with coach Knapton and coach Knapton in the Midwest conferences, the most respected man. In, in around, right? I mean, everybody knows him in, in, in Wisconsin. He’s a legend. And what happened to me, Mike was, was in 1994 Lawrence University, which is in the Midwest conference, which is the, I mean, it was bad, Mike.
It wasn’t a very good program. Like it was really bad. And I said, I asked coach, I said, coach, I said, this coach, this is crazy, but I’m going to apply. Right. I’m going to throw my resume out there. And you know, I’m 24 years old and coach said, go ahead. You know, and what happened was the, the president of, of Lawrence University and the athletic director, a woman named Amy Proctor.
I got an interview at 24 years old to be the head division three coach at Lawrence university in and the president called up coach now. And says to coach napkin. Listen, we really liked this kid, this kid, but he’s 24 years old and coach Knapton God bless him said, said to him, you would be foolish not to hire him.
And they gave me a coaching job. And it was early may when I was 24 years old. Okay. I interview, I get married on May 28th. I’m on my honeymoon. I get a phone call and they offered me the job. And so I arrive at campus, my wife and I arrive at campus as a head college coach, then turned 25 a couple of weeks later.
And that’s how it went.
[00:21:06] Mike Klinzing: So obviously you get that job and you’re completely a hundred percent prepared to be a head coach, correct?
[00:21:14] John Tharp: 100%, 100%. It, can I tell you this? I got to tell you this Mike, one of the great memories that I have during the interview process there was, there was only two seniors on Lawrence’s roster coming back.
And one of those seniors was a gentleman named Pat Juckem. And I think passing the pets of the coach. Yeah. And so pat, it was going to be my senior captain. I’m I’m 24 Pat’s, 21. And I said Pat, let’s go out on the track and let’s walk. And he and I walked together on the track for 45 minutes and in, and that’s how the relationship with Pat and I started.
During that interview he was the player representative. And it’s something that I will always it’s a strange thing. How that happening that moment, right. He came became a lifetime friendship that, that pat and I have. And so we arrived, like you said you, you, you think, you know what you’re doing and you have no idea as a head coach.
[00:22:24] Mike Klinzing: When you think back to your perception of what being a head coach was going to be an, obviously you’ve been a head coach now for a long time, but when you think back to that first experience and you’re going into it, and you just find out you get the job, what’s something that when you look back on it, now that you think, and this is what I thought it was going to be like, but it there’s a part of it that was completely different.
So what was the, what was the biggest surprise to you about being a head coach compared to your previous experience as an assistant.
[00:22:55] John Tharp: You realize that every final decision it comes to you, right? You have to make this, you have to make this final decision and, and you start to realize that you have you have 14 young men that are looking at you right.
To lead them in every situation, in every circumstance. And I don’t think as an assistant coach, you always realize that and decisions that you’re making they’re just recommendations when you’re an assistant coach. But when you’re in that head coach and you have to make those decisions, I think that is, that was always the most, like every decision, right.
You know, recruiting your substitution, playing time, how you’re going to play. And at times it can be overwhelming. Yeah. But I think it’s a humbling experience. And when you, when you, when you go through it and you we were eight and 14, I think our first year and you, you go through it and almost you, you start to begin your convictions.
You start to figure out what you really believe in, in what are important things that you want your program to be about. And, and I think, I think those are the experiences that you kind of, you have to go through. And I was lucky again, Mike, I had a great a great assistant coach, a guy named Mike DeGeorge who was my assistant coach. I brought, he was somebody that I knew. And Mike DeGeorge right now is the head coach at Colorado Mason. Who’s had a ton of success. And so he was my assistant coach at that time. And the other thing that really started for me was just how much I’ve relied on my assistant coaches.
And not only from a basketball perspective, but a friendship. And the idea of that, you’re kind of in it together, you know what I mean? Those good times and those hard times you’re in it together. And, and so, so all those different experiences, right? You’re just kind of getting yourself you’re you’re okay.
What’s in front of you today. What do you have to figure out today to be successful? Who needs you today on your team? What’s happening in kids’ lives and you start to figure out what I think are the really important things. And sometimes you’re figuring that out as you’re getting your butt beat and, and, and like I said, we were eight and 14 that first year, and then we started to have success after that first year.
[00:25:28] Mike Klinzing: Okay. Two questions. First one, when you think back to that time, and you think about yourself as a coach, what’s something that you feel like you were pretty good at. Right out of the gate. Let’s answer that one. Then I’ll jump back to my second.
[00:25:40] John Tharp:, Mike. I thought because I was young I thought I brought this contagious, like just the attitude of excitement and enthusiasm for, for the day and practice.
And, and I thought that was the one thing that I brought I, I could bring and so I, I just, even when we’re eight and 14, it was, it was I was a head coach at 25 years old. It’s the greatest day of my life, right. Every day was that mindset. And, and I hope I I just brought the love of the game to kids and enthusiasm for that game.
And that would be, I would say I wish I told you I was this great ex and old guy, right. I had this great basketball mind. But for me, I tried to bring this, this passion and love for the game on a daily basis. And. And, and the other thing I would, I would hope that over the 28 years of joining this our got my guys knew know and knew that I cared deeply about them.
And which I think is such an important part of this profession.
[00:26:48] Mike Klinzing: All right. Second part of my question, when you mentioned kind of getting a feel for what your convictions are and what you believe in, how long into your stint at Lawrence, did it take you to sort of feel comfortable with your philosophy as a coach that could be philosophy on the floor philosophy off the floor, in terms of what you expect of your guys to kind of culture you want to build?
When did you feel like, Hey, I’m really molding the program into. What I want it to become how many years into it until you kind of felt like you had a handle on this is what I really want it to look like.
[00:27:25] John Tharp: You know, Mike, when it’s kind of an interesting thing that happened to us. So in the 1996 season, we won a conference championship at Lawrence University.
And that was the first championship that they won from. It was like 1944. Okay. And to be honest with you, Mike, I’m thinking, my God, this is easy, right? This is not you, you do it in three years. This is, this is we, we have it rolling. And, and then we went through a stretch where we went backwards.
And to be honest with you, it was my fault because I think I almost took a deep breath, almost like I’ve we’ve arrived. Okay. And what happened to me again now back to pat. Pat was the head coach at mannose rock, Ron Kali and I lost Mike DeGeorge and I bought Pat in this was about five years into the program.
And pat and Pat’s wife was a successful business woman. And we started talking about, well, what are we, what are we doing? It has to be more than just about recruiting the wins and losses. And so with the help of Pat, we started to establish a mission statement, core values, a vision. And at that moment, those are the things that we started to talk about on a daily basis.
Right. And so it went, and again, that was the immature, the immaturity that I had as a head coach, I was so focused on, okay, we’re just going to try to get the best players in one games. And, and we did that in three years. We did that. Okay. And then we, but, but it wasn’t something that was sustainable. If that makes sense.
It’s, it’s what I’ve always said. I think good programs. And good teams. They it’s okay to build it slowly because I think you need to build something that is, is to last. And the only way to do that is to start establishing, Hey, this is who we are. This is what we do on a daily basis. This is what we’re about.
And for us, those were the, those are the core values. And that’s what we started preaching on a daily basis. And ever since that day that we started that with the core values and mission state, every team from that point on that I’ve had that’s how we start every year with, and those are the non-negotiable things.
This is what we think that needs to be done for us to be successful.
[00:29:52] Mike Klinzing: What’s an example of a core value. And then how. Make that real in the players’ lives and their daily interactions with you as a coaching staff. So maybe if you can give us an example of here’s one of our core values, here’s how we get that message across to the players.
Here’s how we want them to demonstrate it, something along those lines, just to kind of give us a feel for what that looks like boots on the ground.
[00:30:14] John Tharp: One of them, Mike, and none of these are magical things, right. But one of them is we, we talked about toughness and, and for us when we start talking about toughness, there is a part of that toughness we talk about is, is, is just your, your daily responsibilities fulfilling your daily responsibilities for yourself and your teammates, the people that are relying on you and those daily responsibility includes the classwork, the classroom work, doing your job in that perspective, the, the taking care of your body taking care of your, your, your mind.
And, and then there’s the physical part of it, right. You know, we just talked about taking charges and loose balls and, and, and things of those nature for us screening is a form of toughness for us setting a cut up to come off a screen is a form of toughness for us. And so those are the examples and there’s, there’s many more examples within that, that we, we try to that’s what we try to talk about from a demonstrating on a daily basis.
You know, part of it is, Hey we’re, we’re counting on you. And we really talk about this with Mike it’s, it’s the pride in who you are as a person and in your last name, that goes back to how I was brought up. Right. You know, six kids, we didn’t have a lot, but that, that mindset of Tharp that last name of Tharp and how you try to go about your business.
That’s the only thing. That is that anybody should, should that you demonstrate on a daily basis, other people and, and just how important you should to have pride that the, where you came from and how you act. And so those are the things that we just really started to turn to. And there’s tons of examples in practice from cheering on a teammate when things aren’t going right for you is we, we catch Mike there, other thing that I’ve learned you catch people doing things right.
You catch them and you make sure that you celebrate that. And, and for me we’ve had some I’ve had huge rosters at times when I was at Lawrence, I had 20 guys on my roster and you have to make sure that that that’s so-called 18th, 19th, and 20th guy, that they feel that they’re as important as that all American and that their job is.
For us to be successful. And so I just, that’s what we became. That’s what we, we started to talk about and that’s on a daily basis and, and yeah, there’s some cool stories with them.
[00:32:54] Mike Klinzing: How do you go about building those relationships with players? One was your best player compared to player 20 out of roster, because look, anybody who’s coached at any level knows that it’s really difficult to keep the morale up of guys on the bench who aren’t getting many minutes and that’s a tough situation to be in.
So how do you as a coach, what’s your thought process on how you build the relationship with your star player compared to player 20, who you know, is probably not going to contribute very much during a game on the floor. So as you said, you have to be able to find ways. To let that player know that they are contributing, that they are a valuable member of the team.
Just what does that relationship like building look like for you?
[00:33:40] John Tharp: Well we, we, we always talk about some of our most successful teams that I’ve had over the years that so-called scout team, whatever you want to call those guys those scout teams, those guys, and we really talk about their roles and their importance of their roles for us to be successful.
And we really tell those stories those so-called star players, you wouldn’t be as good if these guys weren’t battling you on a day-to-day basis. And sometimes I’ve got star players that have gotten ticked off at the so-called 15th guy that threw an elbow Adam. Right. You know, and, and, and I just, I make sure that they, they realize the importance of those guys and the importance to, to me.
And then you know, again, we celebrate their successes in different ways. And for a lot of our guys, it’s interesting, Mike, I’ve had some guys that their freshman year, you probably looked at them like they have no chance, but all of a sudden their senior year, and they’re the eighth man for your team and they help you win games.
And some of those experiences that they had as a freshmen and those guys that stuck with it to have those opportunities, I think they go out and celebrate those and they go there and they take advantage of those opportunities because they’ve been waiting for that for three years. And, and so the so-called stars you know, obviously probably a little harder on those guys, but it really goes Mike, I, every one of our guys to the day I hug every one of my guys every day.
And, and I just give them a hug. We start practice, right. I look them in the eyes. I, I touch them. I make them look, Menia. And I think that they know that we’re there. And I say, we’re there not only the assistant coaches, but you know, I’ve had this great coaches, wife that, that our guys have been at the house so many times and sick players.
My wife’s a nurse and down in the basement, you know? And so it’s, those are the moments, right? Those are the things that I think you build trust with kids. And, and Mike, you and I both know, kids know when you’re fake. Right. They know they can read through that so quick. And so my players over the years, they’ve seen me not only as a coach, but they’ve seen me as a father.
They’ve seen me as a husband. We’ve had discussions in our office where my guards down, we know there’s lines that aren’t being crossed obviously, but they’ve seen me in a lot of different lights.
[00:36:11] Mike Klinzing: I think being able to see your coach as a human being and realize that there’s more sides to that.
Than just somebody who’s demanding more of you on the basketball floor. I think that certainly coaching over the years has turned in that direction probably more than it was when you were a player or when I was a player. I think there are more coaches that believe in that today than there were 30 or 40 years ago.
And it’s something that I think when you look at where basketball has gone as a game and where coaching has gone, you’ve certainly had this much greater emphasis on the relationship piece of it. The relationship like you described with your coach at Beloit, right? Where it’s, it’s not just about, Hey, you do this because I told you to do it.
It’s we’re talking about it. We’re working together. It’s, we’re a team in the truest sense of the word coaching staff players. Everybody’s rowing that boat in the same direction. I think that’s really where you can have some success when you get everybody on the same page. So when you think about that piece of it and getting everybody together and you’re building these relationships and you’re, you’re getting up to your core values, you’ve got those things in place.
How do you go about once you have that success through those core values? Is that what you keep coming back to that sort of allows you to sustain what you do?
[00:37:38] John Tharp: I believe that it’s, it’s, what’s with the mission statement and the core values and the five-year vision over the years. I think it’s, it’s always, it always comes back to this.
It always comes back to that. Right. And so especially when, when, when maybe things aren’t going, as well, as you hope as a coach, I think as a program, you kind of go back to, well, what’s, let’s get back to who we are and what we are, and there’s, there’s an X and O component to all of our core values.
Right. And then there’s also the idea of, of kind of. How we go about our business and who we are. And so that those, those are been, that those have been incredibly important to us in Mike. And in all honesty, I think it’s a part of how, how I’ve led from a leadership standpoint in regard to establishing expectations and standards.
And this is what we do. This is how we go about our business here with our program. And, and so everybody it’s clear, you know what I mean, Mike, that’s, that’s clear. There is no that they know what, that they know what exactly what we’re about. And I hope if you interviewed any of my guys they would tell you this one great story, Mike, with, with the, the run that we had with the elite eight this year, there was there was an exchange of about 13 Lawrence players guys, I coached years ago and, and somebody had a.
Of the core values, right. We handed them out and these little cards and, and guys are commenting about how they’re using some of these core values in their lives as business leaders and so forth. And so you kind of have that moment as a coach going, okay, man, maybe they were, they were actually listening a little didn’t feel like that in the moment.
Right. But yeah, exactly. But yes, Mike, to answer your question, I think that these core values and mission statements have, have helped over the years and, and just on a daily basis, just keeps us focused on who we are and what we are.
[00:39:43] Mike Klinzing: So you spent 13 seasons at Lawrence and obviously built that program into something that matched your vision of what you hoped.
It could be. What’s the decision to leave there, go to Hillsdale, move up a level from division to division three to division two. Just talk about how that opportunity came to you. And what the internal debate was in terms of leaving Lawrence a place you’d been for a long time to take on a new challenge.
[00:40:14] John Tharp: Mike, and, and that’s a great question, and in 2003 and 2004 season on the, on that we’re playing UWA Steven’s point a guy named Jack Bennett, right? And, and it’s two Wisconsin teams in Seattle, Washington, and it was one of the greatest small college basketball games, maybe that, that only 75 people saw. And we, we ended up getting beaten over time.
And I’ll share this story with you by the, the, we, we lose we’re up three with about 16 seconds left in regulation. We, there’s a time I’ll call in, we’re in a staff and we’re sitting in. And the decision is that we’re going to follow Mike. But, but it was one of those situations where we were going to let the ball get across half court, make a pass take some time off.
And then we were going to file. We came down and, and they came down. We, we had soft pressure. They came cross, half court made one pass and Nick Bennett hits the most ridiculous three point shot I’ve ever seen. We ended up getting beaten over town. We miss a shot at the buzzer and I’ll never forget this.
I addressed the team afterwards and I’m in this hallway. My father was, was in the hallway, walked to me and gave me a hug and said it was the greatest college game that he’s ever seen. And, and I give him a hug and he just said you have you guys, you should be so proud. I know it wasn’t the result that you wanted.
And I I give my dad a hug and he starts walking away and he turns around, he goes, I go, what he goes, you should’ve fouled.
[00:41:54] Mike Klinzing: It’s always easier. It’s always easier to coach from the stands, right?
[00:41:56] John Tharp: Yeah. Yeah. You know, and you can go the things that we’re saying under my breath at that moment. And then, oh five and oh six, Mike, we, we were, we’re the last team in college basketball to get beat. We were 25 and all, we got beat in the sweet 16 and and then in oh seven I spent 13 years in Wisconsin is my home.
My family, my parents are an hour and 15 minutes away. My in-laws at the time, hour and 50 mile an hour and 15 minutes away. But Mike, it was one of those situations where I started to see kind of what the cost of private education was looking like. And in the state of Wisconsin, it has some of the best division three basketball in the country, which you’re aware of with, with those massive state schools in, in, and we have these two great teams coming back.
And I got a phone call from Hillsdale College. To come interview. And so I came to interview and having scholarships, right. That the idea of not dealing with financial aid. And I sat down with the president here at Hillsdale college and, and I you know, Mike, I’ve had chances to sit with Wooden and, and sit with some of the greatest, coach Knight one-on-one.
And this president that, that we have here is this, this, this tremendous leader and interviewed and, and, and got a phone call at 24 hours later, offered me the job. And I said, well, there’s thank you for the opportunity, but, but there’s there’s somebody really important that needs to see it and, and is my wife.
And so we, we got in the car and we’d our three kids at the time. And my daughter was I think probably about nine years old and we drive to Hillsdale, Michigan, and we were kind of in the middle of nowhere. And my wife looks at me, it’s like, where are we? You know? And I started laughing. I said call I go, sweetie.
I’m not sure to be honest with you, but they’ll still Michigan Hillsdale, Hillsdale, Michigan and we sit down and, and with the president and his wife and the president in his own way, in his own craftiness, right. He almost, he almost challenged me. You know, he was like, can you do this?
You know, can you come to this place? And, and we’re we’re considered the best academic division, two school in the country. Can you, can you do this? You know, and, and he and so by doing that, almost kind of, there was my juices. There are goals and, and then he looked at my wife and, and, and he goes to my wife.
He says do you what concerns do you have and can your husband do this? And my wife in her own way and goes Dr. Ron, there’s no doubt that my husband could do this. And the only concern that I have is are you going to pay him? And so you know, Mike, it was the hardest decision to be honest with you.
And I’ll never forget this. I I called I I called my parents and, and told them I was leaving. And Mike, I teared up, I teared up bad because my, in my in-laws still have not not forgiving me for taking the grandkids, the grandkids out of state, out of state, but it was, but I, I, I felt like I turned down some other really good jobs when I was at Lawrence, but I felt like I needed this challenge in this growth because I was, I was, I wasn’t, I could’ve stayed there my whole career, Mike, and I think I would have been.
And at the same time I needed that. You know what I’m saying? And when the president did that, and again, it was his own crafty way of challenging me. And I want I wanted to say you, hell yes, I can do this. And that’s and that’s, and I took the job and it was, but it was yeah, it was, it was a tough decision.
[00:45:42] Mike Klinzing: What was the state of the program like when you took it over?
[00:45:45] John Tharp: There were only four guys that remained when I arrived here in April of 2007. And Mike I’ll never forget that interview process because the only there was guys that were graduating, people were leaving it was one of those things and I they had some success, but it wasn’t necessarily something that was sustained over periods of time.
Right. They had success in the past, but, and I sat with these four guys and, and I walked in there and I sat in the old locker room. And I kind of looked at them and I just said, Hey guys, I said I need you to help me build this. And kind of was like, in my own way, I challenged them. Why not us?
And I, and I said, listen, I need you guys to, I need you guys to be the start. And I need you guys to be the men that I talk about years down, the stretch that you were the four guys that were the start of this program. And I had one senior and three juniors that stayed and we kind of threw it together that first year.
And I think we ended up being 500 that first year. But, but Mike, my first year grand valley beat Michigan state and Finley beat Ohio state and exhibition games. And I went home to my wife and I said, Jenny, I’m not a hundred percent sure what we just got ourselves into because I’m thinking what to, what what just had.
And, and that’s, that was the start. And we just kind of rolled up our sleeves in, can I tell you this? It was one of the most enjoyable years of coaching that I ever had because there wasn’t these crazy expectations and we had a blast and we just kind of relied on each other to try to be successful.
And they were good players, Mike, they were those four guys that stayed were good players. And, but the other blessing was that was, it allowed me to start recruiting, you know guys in the freshman class that we brought in the next year really was kind of the start of us wanting the championship in 11-12.
[00:47:55] Mike Klinzing: When you talk recruiting. So you mentioned earlier that one of the differences division three, no athletic scholarships, division two. You’ve got scholarships. Now you can give, so when you think about the change or the difference in recruiting from how you recruited as a division three head coach to how you now recruit.
But division two head coach is the approach, any different mindset, different. Just how do you go about going through your recruiting process now compared to what you did as a division three head coach?
[00:48:22] John Tharp: You know, when I was back at Lawrence Mike, we recruiting 120 kids hoping that we get five, right.
You know, that the financial aid, the fit would be that. And now at the division two level, we’re kind of our location. We recruit five states heavily. And, and for us, 1 cross that we bear, and one blessing that we have is the academic profile is a big part of our recruiting.
And so you know, what that 11 and 12 team we had five different five starters from five different states. And, and so we recruit these five states, but our, our list gets narrow pretty quick because of some of the academic profile that we need to have at Hillsdale college. And that idea you know, Mike to sit across a family.
You know, a middle-class America family and go, Hey listen, we can pay for your whole education. You know, there it’s, it’s one of the cool things that, that I never, I still enjoy that because it’s I mean, I had loans coming out of college, right? Like my, my parents in there, it was, it was still something that I, I, to the day, I, I love having the opportunity to, to look at kids going, Hey, all of your hard work, we’re willing to pay for this world-class education.
And so our list becomes more narrow based on some of the academics, but then it’s the evaluation process for us. Mike is extremely important
[00:49:49] Mike Klinzing: When you evaluate, and I’ve talked to some other coaches about this, just curious to get your perspective, how do you value what you see from a player in a high school setting with their high school team versus what you see from them in an AAU setting?
Do you value one more than the other? Are you looking for certain things in one environment that maybe you don’t expect to see and the other, just, how do you balance those two as you’re trying to take a look and see what kind of player you have there?
[00:50:17] John Tharp: Yeah. Mike, one thing that just kind of, for us right now, we value winning so much.
Within high school programs in our style of play are we’re a little over throwback with our style of play. And, and so for us, these guys that have that IQ on that skill level is so valuable for us and in the game of basketball in today’s world, I think there’s obviously such an athletic component.
But for us we’ll, we don’t get caught up. Maybe the guy’s an inch too small, but is he tough enough to be in the right position? Is he, is he tough enough to make winning plays at that high school level? And then the AAU program for us, it gives us a chance maybe to see kids to compete against maybe a different athletic ability that they may not see at the high school level. You know, for a point guard maybe to play against a kid from New York city, for example, right. And lightening quick kid, how does this, how does this young man deal with pressure? And so we, we really value both settings greatly.
And we value winning. And so it’s important for us to see them in both lights, but we, we rely on high school coaches and AAU coaches. But really try to get to know kids and families to try to get to know the kind of their character and do they possess some of those things that we’re really looking for and kind of that day-to-day stuff, Mike, which I think is so important for your success, those kids that, that really do love the process.
And, and so those are the things that we try to figure out. I always tell everybody I’m the best mid-major recruiter in the country. You know, I text my guys, tell me about this guy, coach. He has seven mid-majors. There’s a reason why you like them, you know? But it’s, it’s it’s because
[00:52:11] Mike Klinzing: You got to go after it, right, John.
I mean, if you’re going to win at your level, you have to recruit kids who are capable of playing a level of love, where you’re at. I mean, it’s amazing the number of coaches that we’ve talked to that share that same sentiment, that look, if I’m going to compete for a division three national championship, I have to be recruiting scholarship players and those are the guys I got to get into my program
[00:52:28] John Tharp: Mike that’s. Right. And for us, it’s one of our selling points here at Hillsdale is, listen, we know you’re a low ma you know, you could play maybe low, major basketball and, and, and you’re, you’re good enough. And we start talking about the overall experience that they can have here, the impact that they can have, the career that they could have here what they could leave a legacy that they could leave.
Right from the start. And we’ve had some guys that have turned down scholarships to join us, and we’ve had guys that have grown to be great players. When, when they look at they look at them as juniors and seniors, like, well, how are they at Hillsdale?
And that’s why we say, well for these particular reasons, right. Maybe somebody passed up on them. And, and today, right now, Mike we’re, we’re, we’re putting all of our chips in everybody’s attacking the, the transfer portal. We were saying, you know what, we’re going, we’re relying on high school kids and we’re going to continue building it that way.
And I think there’s going to be some very good players that may not have some scholarship opportunities at the division one level that may have to rely on us division two player.
[00:53:38] Mike Klinzing: The portal is crazy to me. I just, I look at it and I understand the logic behind allowing players, the opportunity to transfer and not have to sit out, but when you look at some stories that are out there of this whole teams, five starters, the day after the season ends, they’re in the portal. And it’s, it speaks to what you’ve talked about a couple of times where you have kids who maybe as a freshman, sophomore there, they’re not ready.
And by the time they’re a junior or senior, they can be major contributors in the world today with so many people in players’ ears and social media. And the challenges of that, that I think you have a lot of kids that, Hey, I just go to this school. And then I know after a year I can go somewhere else and you see right, the MBA, I signed my five-year max contract and a year or two later, I’m demanding a trade to get out of there.
And it keeps going down to lower and lower levels. And I can only imagine the challenges that coaches face with, Hey, this it’s just this mentality. That’s out there that as a coaching staff, I think one of the things that you always try to do right is develop your players. Like you may have a kid who comes in, who’s not.
A starter as a freshman, but that kid if they develop and they work hard, that they’re eventually going to be an important part of your program. I think you probably have to work harder than ever as a coach to be able to keep those kids engaged and keep them a part of a program and continue to build that relationship so that you have the opportunity to develop them over the course of their four years.
[00:55:04] John Tharp: Mike you’re so right. I tell kids this, right. You know, you know what I mean, weddings, I’ve been at where we’re the guys that are standing next next to them, where those were their teammates for three or four years. And those relationships that are built that are lifetime, that, that are the most, the most important thing, those meaningful relationships that they have, those guys that they’re going to have for the rest of their lives.
Well, it’s happened because of the three and four years of battles that they had together. And, and when these kids are leaving after a year or two years, I think they’re missing that opportunity to, to have those, those lifetime friends. And because they want things immediately. Right. And I still think it’s what we talked a little bit, you as a young coach, me as a young coach, young players, I think you have to go through some things in order to be the best version of yourself.
And, and I think that’s important that you have to go through those challenges to, to, so you can establish that, that metal, that, that, that, that toughness to get through those tough things. And what I’m worried about at times is that that the kids are running from those situations or they think something’s better.
And, and, but, but they’re the ones that should make things great for their programs, because I think in my opinion, that’s how you, again, start establishing who you are as a person for later on. You know, if, if my wife had had a, had a marriage portal, she would be in up.
[00:56:43] Mike Klinzing: That’s a great line. I’m gonna start, I’m going to start using that one job that I’m stealing. I’m stealing napkin. Sure.
[00:56:48] John Tharp: I’m stealing, I’m stealing that one.
[00:56:51] Mike Klinzing: I’m going to be, I’m going to be able to use that one tonight when I start talking to
[00:56:53] John Tharp: people. Yeah. But you know what I mean? So that’s, that’s what I’m, I’m worried about.
I’m worried about this. I’m a little bit, and I’m just Mike that’s, that’s the old school miss in me. Right. That’s the division threeness in me. And, and I’ve talked to a few different guys over there in the road the last couple of weeks. And they’re, they’re worried about is our is this going to be more transactional?
And, and I’m going to fight this as much as I can because for me, the relationships are the most important thing. And I just refuse to give in. I refuse to treat these guys strictly as basketball players, I am not going to do it. And it may end my career.
But I just think it’s so important that we keep building these relationships and I think that I think the kids need it.
[00:57:45] Mike Klinzing: And part of that is developing that relationship even before they step foot on campus in the recruiting process, right? Where you have a feel for the kid, the family.
And obviously you’re never going to bat a hundred percent, oh, this kid I’m going to bring them in and they’re never going to leave or transfer. It doesn’t work that way, but you can get a feel for the kid, the family, the background, what they’ve done in the past and their career as a student, all those things kind of go into it.
And if you can find the right people, then you can at least minimize the risk of have kids go. I just think that everybody out there it’s, I mean, it permeates all the way down to the lowest levels of the game. You talk about fourth and fifth grade AAU teams. Kids on this team one weekend and then they’re on the next team.
And then this year they’re on this team. It’s just, the, everybody always thinks the grass is greener on the other side. And the fact of the matter is, is that what you have to do is you have to figure out, Hey, what do you believe in? And then go there and just put your flag in the ground and try to make the best of it and make it work.
And I think ultimately that’s when you get the best results. Again, I think my experience both as a player and as a coach leads me to that same conclusion that you’re talking about, which is you got to fight through a little adversity things. Don’t always go a hundred percent smoothly. I think the freshman year, my freshman year as a college basketball player where I played, I dunno, six minutes a game, maybe if that was by far, the hardest year in basketball that I’ve ever had, there were lots of days where going to practice was not the thing that I was looking forward to.
And that was the first thing. First time I ever experienced that, but I also. Kind of looked ahead and could see where the path was. And part of you wonders that if I hadn’t had if I had different parents or I had a different high school coach, I had a different experience and the portal was available right.
Midway through that year when I’m like, oh God, I don’t know if I’m sure I want to go to practice today. Right. Would have it. Would’ve just been easier to pack it up and say, Hey, I’m going to go try somewhere else. And obviously the law where I’m really glad that I didn’t have to do that. So it’s, it’s just interesting.
So you mentioned bringing in players, you’re looking for players with high basketball IQ. So clearly that’s something that you’re targeting during the recruiting process, but how do you go about once you have them in your program? How do you continue to develop that IQ within the confines of your style of play and how you want to do it?
What’s it look like in practice on a daily basis, as you’re trying to help your players learn how to play the game and develop it even a higher IQ than they bring to the table.
[01:00:19] John Tharp: Mike, we do a lot of small sided stuff, to be honest with you from an offensive perspective and, and for us, with our style we’re constantly reading the defense as a screener and a cutter.
And, and and so that’s, that’s where it kind of starts. And, and we always talk about this is whoever has the ball in their hand, you’re C your QB number one, right? You’re your, your quarterback number one. And we begin to try to start teaching them kind of the progression. Obviously your feet are ready when the ball is in the area.
You’re thinking shot, you’re thinking you’re thinking attack and close out. But after that, it’s, where’s the action. Okay. And we’ve got to get the ball to the action and how you kind of do that. And, and so we’re working constantly with our timing of our actions and when the action should occur.
And for us, my w we always talk about. It’s we want one threat, a second threat, a third threat, a fourth threat within possessions. And, and, and so it’s constantly kind of, it’s constantly happening one after another. And, and, and we, we begin to teach our guys as with the ball in your hands and without the ball in your hands.
Because I think the great players, Mike they’re they’re, they, they they’re the really great ones I think are so good when they don’t have the ball on your hands. You don’t, I’m talking about when you scored a thousand points in your career, and of course you you did it with the ball in your hands, but the really good ones, I think we, we tried to teach them how to play the game without it.
And sometimes Mike is just spacing and chilling out what we say this chill out you’re okay. Just relax. You’re creating spacing by. By just standing there.
[01:02:09] Mike Klinzing: That’s a great point. I love that because I think one of the things John, that I see all the time is you watch the best players. I don’t care at what level you’re talking about.
You can talk about grade school, you can talk about high school. You thought about college. You can talk about the NBA. The best players are the ones who can, once you can play with change of pace, change of speeds, and know that they don’t have to run a million miles an hour. You go watch a fourth grade basketball game, and every kid is running a zillion miles an hour to nowhere.
And you watch like the best high school player, the best college player on the floor. And those guys have movements that are, there’s a purpose to their movement, as opposed to just running and running and running and running to nowhere. And I think that’s the point that you’re getting at is you gotta be able to read when it’s right to move and when it’s right to stand still
[01:02:56] John Tharp: That’s right Mike, where we always talking about this, right? The idea of making a great cut and all of a sudden, now your teammates opened because of your. You know, the right read. And again we kind of talk about those. Those are the things that we reward our guys with, right?
Those are the that’s our own assessed per se. And in, in the beauty of the sports when, when the extra pass is made or the great read occurs, the great cut curves, the great spacing occurs. And so there’s this so much three-sided action for us in two-sided action and, and, and kind of that mindset of, well, this action occurs what’s next.
Well, this action occurs, this occurs what’s next. And so, and none of those things are being called, right? Mike, we’re not those aren’t set plays for us. That’s, that’s the, that’s the beauty and the artwork of the game of play. And it’s so funny. Like I talked to our guys about recruiting, I want to recruit.
And, and I said, we’re a little old school. And I said, it’s like, when you go to the YMCA and there’d be five old guys at the end of the. And you get beat 11 to eight and you’re not quite sure what just happened.
You know, the guy makes the right car you the guy you turn your head and there’s a layout, right? There’s, there’s a guy that makes a great offensive rebound or an extra pass. And, and you’re just furious because you just lost the loving eight to got to a team that you didn’t think that you should have lost, but, but that’s, that’s who we are.
And we we’ve been, we’ve been we’ve been blessed being one of the top 10 teams in assists over the years and assist the turnover ratio. But it really goes back to your question, how do we do it? Three sides of stuff, two-sided stuff. And all of a sudden, now it becomes five guys, five guys on the floor and, and how it all kind of transitions from the transition standpoint to have court on offense.
And those are the things that are constantly being talked about it. And sometimes, sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes it looks ugly. But, but what I was telling you. You know, by the freshman year of December, they’ve made great strides and, and going to summer ball after your freshman year, you, you hate how summer ball is played because of how you kind of get accustomed to how we play.
[01:05:10] Mike Klinzing: When you move the ball and you make good decisions, it just makes the game so much more fun to play. I mean, that’s, that’s one of the most amazing things and I’ll give you a good playground pickup basketball example. Just kind of to go along with your losing to the old man team. Yeah. There’s guys, right.
Where you can step on the floor. And within like 15 seconds I never want to play on this guy’s team ever again because they’re dribbling between their legs 17 times. And then they only pass when every single opportunity they have to take a shot is taken away from them. And I think that it’s really easy.
You go and watch a new basketball and you can see teams that have tons of talent and they bring the ball up floor. And one guy makes a move and maybe passes it, or maybe you shoot something and that’s it. And then you see other teams that are well coached and they move the ball and do things. It’s just, it’s such a stark difference when you see guys who can make reeds and make plays and do those kinds of things.
So when you’re trying to teach that through small sided games and you’re on the sideline and a kid makes a read that maybe isn’t the one that you would have made, how do you approach that as a coach in terms of helping them to improve their ability to see those different options that you talked about?
Are you doing. On before where the kid comes off and you say, Hey, do you remember play X from 30 seconds ago? What did you see? Are you using film? Is it a combination? Just what are you talking with the kids about as you’re going through your practices, your film work to help them recognize the types of decisions that you want them to make.
[01:06:45] John Tharp: Great question, Mike. And I think there’s a great balance of all these and, and you know, with coaching right now. I think there’s a lot of coaches that, that it’s the five on five and letting them play, letting them figure things out. And I think you need that at times. I also we, we also need to, to point out, especially early on when they don’t make quite the right read.
Okay. And so for us, at times, we just pause it and, and, and we, we, we really focus at times as a cutter in, as a screener. We’re not very caught up with where the ball’s at. Mike, we’re more concerned with. You know, we’re looking at the guy that’s guarding, guarding you as a screener, as a cutter. And so we focus so much on that, that there, our eyes are on the screener and the cutter, but what we also then talk about, so we at times will stop it.
I’ll be honest with you. You know, we stop it at times. We let it, we let it go until I get them back on the sidelines, because what we need to talk about is they have to, even if it’s the wrong read, they have to finish their cut with the right type of pace because we’re separating from that screen. Okay.
And, and the other thing Mike with us, which is kind of interesting is if you and I were together on a side plane, right. And you’re a great shooter to know that you were, what, what are things that I should be doing to help you get open in? Sometimes it’s, it’s, it’s the wrong read, but it’s the read that was needed in order for you to be successful, if that makes sense to you. Okay. And so we were constantly talking about, know your teammates, know who you’re playing with. We’ve got some guys that have great first steps at times. And one of our things with our offense is if, if you catch the ball at the wing and I’m below you, I’m on the block, right.
We’ll step out just to clear that side because that’s what you can do. And so for part of our teaching, if there’s an individual component, but there’s also the idea of what does it mean to play with the other three or four guys? Because again mentioned what you mentioned, Mike, there are some guys out right now that can do more individual ball handling and things, and I’m amazed at what they can do.
And then you put them on the floor with four other guys and it doesn’t match. Right. It doesn’t fit in. We were always talking about, Hey, listen, I love that. How does it fit with what we try to do? And, and so at times we’ll pause it at times where we’re like, Hey this, no, no worries. He made the wrong cut.
What’s next, what’s next within our possession. And then there’s always film work constantly with our guys. And we try to bring them in here in small groups six, seven clips of them them individually, and then clips as a team about what possessions should look like. And then we find we find the good ones and going my God, look at, look at the look how beautiful this was.
Why was this a great possession? Well, we had three great basket cuts. You know, we had a back cut snap back. We stepped out the QB number one made it made an extra path that, that hockey assist mentality. And we celebrate that, that type of stuff.
[01:10:02] Mike Klinzing: I think the film piece of it is critical and obviously it’s.
Easy today to be able to pull the slips and be able to show guys things. And I’m sure comparatively to, when you started your career, the ability, the ability to utilize film, you can at least be more efficient. You may not spend any less time on it. Cause now you probably just watch more stuff. Right. But, but you’re certainly can be more efficient with what you do when you’re thinking about what you show to the players.
How much of it is, here’s what we did well, versus here’s something that we did wrong that we need to correct. How do you balance showing them positive things versus showing them things that need to be corrected?
[01:10:40] John Tharp: One thing that we’ve really established, like to kind of answer the, the film work.
The one thing that we really started talking to our guys about is, is, Hey guys, we’re critiquing the Jersey number. We’re not, we’re not attacking your character. Right? And so there there’s a part of being a man in, in our program, no one wants to be. Okay. That’s the thing about it. The kids nowadays, they don’t want to be embarrassed.
And so we started establishing with this. The only way that we’re going to reach our potential is for us to, to understand that we were not, this is not a character. This is not attack of you. This is the Jersey number, the action of the jersey, the number on the Jersey. And it’s, it’s kind of almost a one for one type thing.
You know, Mike it’s one day here are 10 great things. Here are 10 coach. You know, we call them coaching things that we got to clean up, and the other thing might fit our guys. Many times. They’ve heard me say, Hey, fellas, this, this was my fault. You know what I mean? This was me. And when we talk about losing as a program, we lose together as a program.
And w we’re not we’re, I know this. I’m not I hope not that I’m not a finger pointer. Right. And, and I always talk about them. Hey, listen, I need to take some responsibility. If we get beat on a game I need take some responsibilities because what did we do the last two days leading up to practice?
What were some of the decisions we made as a, as a coaching staff? That weren’t right. So it’s, it’s the opportunity that the only way that we’re going to take these losses, that we have to get better. And so that’s our approach with film with our guys. And then there’s always, we know the extra pass, the loose ball, the guy that’s on the sidelines, cheering in a game, those are caught on film, and those are showed as a program.
Because again, it goes back to the celebration of those, those so-called 14th and 15th, 16th guy that were freshmen in back to your point. You know, Mike, when you were a freshman, right? I think good coaches said, Hey, listen, I know this is hard, but you know, you keep creating that vision for that young man of what they could be and how important they are on your daily practices and so forth.
So that’s how we use film. I don’t we’re, we’re pretty heavy scout. We’re not there for 45 minutes because I don’t think their attention span can handle that. I know mine can’t Mike. I know I can’t. And so we try to catch them with the good things in the bad thing. Yeah.
[01:13:10] Mike Klinzing: I think there, you have to have a balance to be able to show them, Hey, here’s what you’re capable of.
And here’s where maybe you didn’t live up to what we hoped you could do and you get that balance. And it’s just so easy for kids to watch stuff today that I think that when you get, when you get them in the film room, I think you really, there’s just a tremendous benefit because of just the ease of watching film today.
We’re coming up close here to an hour and a half John. So I want to ask one final two part question. And it’s one that I’ve asked to a lot of coaches. When you think about where you are right now, and you look ahead over the next year or two, what’s your biggest challenge. And then the second part of the question.
When you think about what you get to do on a daily basis, what brings you the most joy about being the head men’s basketball coach at Hillsdale? So your biggest challenge and then your biggest joy.
[01:13:57] John Tharp: Yeah, I’m going to start with my biggest joy. The greatest reward that I have in my life is that almost every single day, I have a chance to, to be around really great young kids.
And I hope that I have a an and I hope I impact their life not just from a basketball perspective, but for the rest of their life. And as I continue to get older. And as I mentioned to you, when I went through that, when we went through that elite eight, and, and there were a lot of text messages that were sent from years of coaching.
And it wasn’t about the winning, you know what I mean? Like, it wasn’t about the winning. It was about the, the things that we went through. In the times of the, of the kids’ lives, right? So from, from 26 years ago to this year and when we going to Evansville and the elite eight two of those four guys that played for me at Hillsdale were in those stands.
And, and those were the two guys, two guys that I hug, I hugged at the, at the end of that game. And I think those two guys were staying in building this. And I told them that the, the, the program was built on your shoulders. And so me hugging those guys on a day-to-day basis, that I have a chance to do that.
It’s the most rewarding thing. And, and to be honest with you, Mike my wealth is not going to be that of from, from financial wealth. It’s going to be that. I hope that I’ve, I’ve had these guys in my lives and that I hope that I’ve impacted these guys lives as they’ve continued to do. Most challenging thing is Mike, I am worried right about what the world of college athletics looks like.
And this, this this, this everything is so it’s like one kid does this, it becomes this okay, I’m going to do this, I’m going to tweet this. I’m going to tweet that I’m going to do this. And I’m a little worried about that. And I’m worried about sustaining this program at the level that I want to, I want to sustain it at.
And you know, we’ve lost some great players. And so it’s, it’s the idea that we need to continue to work on a daily basis of, of making this a great culture and, and creating that vision for us, that we’re going to, we’re going to fight every day to make this program the best that we possibly can.
And that that definition of being the best that it possibly can, can go a lot of different ways. And I hope that academic and them as human beings, Them winning as a program is, is something that, that’s the challenge that I have to face every single day. And I’ve been blessed with great assistant coaches that in, in my sister coaches right now are outstanding.
And I know the importance of these, these young people, these young assistant coaches in my life and the players’ lives. And so, yeah, those, that’s the challenge. And I pray that I have enough energy every day to do that. You know?
[01:16:57] Mike Klinzing: So there’s certainly a new world order in college basketball. Let’s put it that way.
[01:17:01] Mike Klinzing: Before we get out, I want to give you a chance to share how people can connect with you, whether you want to share emails, social media website, just how people can reach out to you, find out more about your program. And then after you do that, I’ll jump back in and wrap things up.
[01:17:14] John Tharp: Yeah. You know, Mike, I’m not much on social media, to be honest with you. And so anybody can just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My cell phone number is 517-610-4262. And you know, I do think that as a part of my responsibility, as I continue to get older is I’m willing to share anything with anybody and with how we do.
And in no stretch, do I do what we think that we’re we have all the answers, but I love conversations. And I think that’s the one thing that I’m also worried about when I first got into your college, basketball is you’d go to the final four and, and you’d go to these clinics and everybody was so willing to share everything.
And I think that we’ve lost some camaraderie as a coaching community and people like you doing things like this, I think are so important because I think there’s so many nuggets that we continue to learn from and how to do this better. And so I just think it’s needed.
[01:18:15] Mike Klinzing: I appreciate that kind words are always, always welcome, and we cannot thank you enough for taking the time out of your schedule to share with us, I’m appreciative to Matt Lewis for connecting us. And I just want to say again, thank you for your time. Really, really had a good conversation here. I think there was a lot of things that we pulled out. It was fun for me to get to know you get to know a little bit more about your coaching career and to everyone out there thanks for listening. And we will catch you on our next episode. Thanks.