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Kevin Sapara is in his first season as the Head Boys’ Basketball Coach at Strongsville High School in the state of Ohio. Prior to his arrival in Strongsville, Sapara led Avon High School’s boys basketball program for eight seasons. His resume includes two Lorain County Coach of the Year awards and two conference coach of the year honors, as he guided the Eagles during their transition from the West Shore Conference to the SWC.
Before Avon, he coached at Claymont High School in Uhrichsville, Ohio for three seasons. Sapara also served as a graduate assistant and video coordinator at Cleveland State University.
Sapara attended Muskingum College, playing basketball and baseball.
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Be ready to take some notes as you listen to this episode with Kevin Sapara, Head Boys’ Basketball Coach at Strongsville High School in the state of Ohio.
What We Discuss with Kevin Sapara
- Growing up in Strongsville watching and tagging along with his Dad, Frank, as the head coach at Cuyahoga Heights
- Looking up to his Dad’s players as heroes
- Seeing his Dad’s passion for basketball and how much he loved coaching
- Being a multi-sport athlete – basketball and baseball
- “If you want to be an elite player and be very skilled, basketball is a tough sport. You really have to put the time in.”
- Losing to Medina with Tony Stockman his senior year
- Playing both baseball and basketball at Muskingum University
- Educating players on the merits of Division 3 college basketball
- “There’s not division one basketball players at every school. That’s just not the way it is.”
- How watching late night college basketball games on ESPN during college inspired him to try and become a college coach
- Talking with Coach Burson at Muskingum to find out how the steps he needed to take in order to coach in college
- Working college camps in the summer in order to learn and to network
- The story of his hiring as a GA at Cleveland State with Coach Gary Waters
- Learning from Coach Waters and Coach Larry Desimpelare
- Spending a lot of time in the film room at Cleveland State
- “You have to learn, you have to be around people that know how to do it and want to want to help you if you want to do it successfully.”
- His reasons for taking a high school job rather pursuing a college position after finishing at Cleveland State
- The advice Coach Waters gave him about coaching in high school
- The transition from GA at Cleveland State to Head Coach at Claymont High School.
- “Make sure that you’re treating the people that you’re working with, that are working with you the right way.”
- “If you want people to work as hard as you do and care as much as you do, you have to show them that you care about them.”
- The off the court responsibilities were the toughest adjustment
- Looking for assistant coaches you can trust
- Relating to players and building positive relationships
- “Every player, regardless of how talented or gifted you are, if you are fundamentally sound, you’re going to be 10 times better.”
- His interview for the Avon Head Coaching job and leaving Claymont after 3 years
- Hiring his high school coach Joe Lynch as an assistant at Avon
- Why Strongsville was his dream job as a high school coach
- “We want to set a culture and expectation for our kids. We talk about discipline, unity, toughness, and passion as our four pillars in our program.”
- Building relationships with kids of every age in the program
- “We are not skipping the little steps to success.”
- “We are committed to trying to make this a great, great youth program where your kids are being developed and having a lot of fun.”
- The time he puts in as a coach to build a great program
- How he makes sure kids understand their roles
- The process he goes through to plan practices on a daily basis
- His favorite shooting drill
- How he and his staff share the duties for breaking down film
- Why he believes understanding your opponent’s personnel is so important at the high school level
- The challenge of getting people to expect success and to expect to compete and to believe they can be a winning team
- The joy of coaching at his alma mater and impacting kids that are growing up in Strongsville like he did
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THANKS, KEVIN SAPARA
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TRANSCRIPT FOR KEVIN SAPARA – STRONGSVILLE (OH) HIGH SCHOOL BOYS’ BASKETBALL HEAD COACH- EPISODE 423
[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: [00:00:00] 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 coach of the Strongsville High School Mustangs. Kevin Sapara, Kevin, welcome to the hoop heads pod.
Kevin Sapara: Thanks for having me, Mike. Appreciate it.
Mike Klinzing: Absolutely excited to have you on full disclaimer. Kevin is the high school coach in the community where I live and where my son goes to school. So as we go through and we’re talking, you’ll see that we have a lot of things in common, a lot of familiarity with sort of our similar backgrounds. So just to get that on the record off the top, Kevin wanted to start by going back in time to when you were a kid, tell everybody a little bit about how you fell in love with the game of basketball when you were younger
Kevin Sapara: [00:00:40] Man, it’s crazy. I can remember back being in kindergarten and I grew up in Strongsville. I went to kindergarten at Chapman elementary, all the way through high school, and I can remember playing basketball in the classroom, in kindergarten, moving on, my dad [00:01:00] loved basketball and I always got a chance to follow him around.
He always coached, he coached middle school when I was younger and he became a head coach when I was in fourth grade at Cuyahoga Heights. And I thought that was the coolest thing. I remember Christmas breaks getting up in the morning and going out to practices and shoot arounds for games and just thinking it was awesome.
You just couldn’t believe that I was part of it and I got to be around the guys and see what at that time were superstars for a fourth grade kid and just really loved that experience and being around my dad and sharing that with him really got me thinking about playing basketball and having basketball as a part of my life.
Yeah. So I can remember it for as long as I can remember basketball was something I was interested in and always enjoyed being a part of. And my dad played a big role.
Mike Klinzing: [00:01:57] When you think back to that time, did you [00:02:00] realize in the moment how, I guess lucky you were that you had access to the gym or it was just kind of, this is my experience.
My dad’s a coach, so I get to go and shoot around. As you said, kind of look up to your heroes or was that something that you just were like, Hey, this is just the way it is.
Kevin Sapara: [00:02:14] You know what, I don’t think I took it for granted. I brought friends along and I saw that they realized how cool it was.
And even to go along with that, I was a ball boy back in the day at Cuyahoga Heights for football games. And when my dad would do the scoreboard, he’s a head coach and he did other things for the school and just being in that atmosphere as well, getting into high school sports in itself was awesome.
I wanted to share that with other people. I knew that not everyone had access to the gym or everyone was in the gym as much as I was. I was able to realize that an early in age, which, which was good.
Mike Klinzing: [00:02:54] Yeah, absolutely. What do you remember looking back now at your dad as a [00:03:00] coach now, yourself being a coach, what do you remember about your dad’s coaching style or just something that sort of stands out to you when you think back about your time watching him on the sidelines?
Kevin Sapara: [00:03:12] Man, I’ll be honest with you. It was the coaching style. I don’t really remember. I remember some of the players more than the style. I know, I remember hearing the word motion a lot from my dad and ball fakes from my dad, but not really looking too much into the patterns they were running, as opposed to the players that I liked to watch or their motions and how they were setting screens or how they were ball faking and using screens or making passes. I was more interested in the players.
I was also interested in my dad. No doubt, just his antics and how into it he was, and just how passionate he was about the game. And it kinda bothered me when they lost [00:04:00] and when they won, I was ecstatic. It was just a really special time and just to be around all those kids, we’re talking early nineties where that’s where you were…
When did you graduate?
Mike Klinzing: [00:04:13] I graduated in 88 and I was an assistant at Richmond Heights from 95 up through about 2009 with Coach Schmook.
Kevin Sapara: [00:04:28] Absolutely.
Mike Klinzing: [00:04:29] I know I crossed paths with your dad, obviously a lot, but I’m sure you and I crossed paths for sure.
You were shagging balls. No question about that. Who’s your favorite player that you looked up to at Cuyahoga Heights during the time when you were growing up?
Kevin Sapara: [00:04:47] So it was no doubt. It was Curtis Gardner. I believe he was a 97 graduate sounds about right. Yup. And they went to the regional finals against Zanesville Rose [00:05:00] Rosecrans, but they had an unbelievable season.
They won the district, which was held at Strongsville which was at the time I think it was Lorain Catholic, which is not around anymore. And I remember they were the one seed and Cuyahoga Heights was a two seed, but I remember Curtis, he was just the man. He was the best player my dad ever coached. He was a head coach for five years. From what I remember, it wasn’t really close to that. Some good players, but he was the guy.
Mike Klinzing: [00:05:26] Yeah, he was a really good player. And during that era at Richmond we had some, we had some pretty high level players.
My first year we got there, we had a kid named Steve Robinson who was a senior. And then we had a really nice sophomore group that year. We had James Dickerson and so Dickerson ended up going and he played at Edinboro, real good player, lefty, and then later we had Eddie Days who ended up walking on, he was on the Ohio State Mike Conley Greg Oden team as a walk-on. We had some really fun times. Cuyahoga Heights was always one of those games [00:06:00] that it was always a tough environment because the crowd was always into it there. And it felt like a big rivalry game.
We missed the Mac eight when it broke up, because we always felt like that was a really solid basketball league. Your dad had really good teams.
Kevin Sapara: [00:06:19] Independence with Coach LaBella. Lutheran West was always good and he was always good. And then you got to love that Coach Schmook is still getting after it out at Twinsburg.
Mike Klinzing: [00:06:25] It’s crazy. The man he’s been around. I tell people all the time, I feel fortunate to have been with him for the number of years I had. And I tell people consistently that I never saw anybody get as much out of the kids as he was able to.
And I felt like in the whole time we were there, we probably lost maybe only once or twice to a team that I felt like we were better than. And so he just always had his teams prepared and yeah, if there’s ever a guy who you would describe as a coaching lifer, Phil is [00:07:00] definitely without question that guy.
So as you’re growing up and you’re around the gym, around your dad and you’re around coaches and you’re just starting to get that feel for, Hey, basketball is going to be the game that I love. And I know you played some other sports. I know you were a baseball player as well. So talk a little bit about your multi-sport experience and how you think that played into your development as an athlete, whether you look at it from a basketball perspective or baseball, or just enjoying your childhood, being able to be a multi-sport athlete.
Kevin Sapara: [00:07:30] Yeah, I mean I was actually a big baseball kid, summer baseball, AAU baseball. And you know, I played basketball, but it was not something that I was completely into. I always liked playing it, but I was baseball and that was my thing.
And my dad was also a baseball ball guy as well, but I always played basketball. That was something that I really enjoyed. And until I got to high school, [00:08:00] when it almost, it somewhat flipped a little bit. I really enjoyed baseball, but basketball, the fans, the practices were so intense, just everything being inside with your teammates and getting after it was, it was something that really attracted me to the game. And in middle school, I got a chance to play for at Albion at the time. And I had Coach Smith and he was very passionate about the game and that’s when I think I really started getting interested in it and trying to be better than just good and I think that’s when I really understood that not everybody’s going to play in high school by accident, right? Yeah. We have two middle schools. The schools that we’re playing against center we’re the same age, we’re going to be in the same grade. I started figuring things out and that’s when it started and I had a great high school experience too, with basketball.
And I think that was what got me wanting to do that as part of [00:09:00] my life.
Mike Klinzing: [00:09:00] Sure. So what did it look like when you started to say, Hey, I want to put some more time in with basketball. What did your let’s say off season look like between the years when you’re in going eighth to ninth, grade, ninth to 10th grade, what does that look like in the summertime?
As far as you try and improve yourself and get better
Kevin Sapara: [00:09:17] Now back then, things were a lot different than they are now, like I said, I wanted to play baseball, so I put a lot of time into baseball too, but in the summer and in the off season, but for basketball, it’s getting shots up.
It’s going to the gym with my Dad and using chairs and going through chairs and working out as much as I could. Obviously looking back, I could have done a lot more and it’s hard when you’re young. It’s hard even now to get kids to understand the big picture showing what it really takes to be great.
If you want to be an elite player and be very skilled, basketball is a tough sport. You know, you really got to put the time in, but yeah, I did what I could. I got shots up. I enjoyed myself. I [00:10:00] played at the park with friends, we’d have some great pickup games at high point. And I loved it. I could be at the park for hours upon hours.
Mike Klinzing: [00:10:10] Yeah. It’s one of the things that it’s kind of been a theme Kevin through our show is just me always lamenting the fact that pick up basketball, especially outdoor pickup basketball has kind of disappeared and it just doesn’t exist in the same way.
And I always say that I feel bad for kids today because I just know what a good experience that I had just playing at the park and traveling around all over the city, trying to find games and just felt like that really helped me to develop not only as a player, but also as a person, because you’re playing with kids of all different ages.
And now we know that kids primarily play with kids their own age, and they’re in a gym and mom and dads are in the stands and there’s a ref and there’s coaches. And I think sometimes you lose some of that creativity that you might’ve gotten from just being able to play with your friends, without anybody watching.
Cause you can try stuff. And it’s just, it’s interesting how. Different kids’ experiences [00:11:00] today in the year 2021, compared to what it was like for you and I back in the day as a couple of old guys.
Kevin Sapara: [00:11:06] Yeah. There’s no doubt. I mean, things have changed so much. You look at skill development, AAU, all of that stuff was not as apparent as it is now.
Mike Klinzing: [00:11:16] Yeah, for sure. So when you think back to your high school career, what’s one or two moments as a high school player. That stand out for you that when you think back to your time, as a strong, as well Mustang that you think, man, those are, those are the moments that are going to stick with me for the rest of my life.
Kevin Sapara: [00:11:32] Well, I remember being with my teammates. I remember being out late with my team, with my teammates as far as like the senior pickups with the cheerleaders where you’re just celebrating with your family, with your team. And I remember on the floor against St. Ignatius. We lost by it was one or two. We had a shot at the buzzer to win it. And we missed, I remember getting crossed over by Pete [00:12:00] Cook, fell down, got back up, but he still hit the jumper. So, I mean, yeah, little things like that, but one moment that I think kind of really pushed me into wanting to do basketball as part of my life was our last game of my senior year.
We lost to Medina and we had split with them in the regular season and they had a really good team. They had Tony Stockman who was Mr. Basketball in the state who went to Clemson and then transferred to Ohio state, phenomenal player. Travis Schwab, he’s currently the head coach at Muskingum. They had some guys and we lost the game 46-43 lost by three.
And I remember going in the locker room and I was devastated because at that point in time, like I’m very upset. I’m crying, that’s it for me, my career is over, but the bigger thing was basketball [00:13:00] was over. I thought, well, I’m not going to play in college and how is basketball ball going to be part of my life? I didn’t see what was going to, I didn’t know what was my vessel? How was I going to get basketball to still be part of my life? And yeah, that was tough for a high school kid to kind of think that way and not really see how he’s going to keep something that he loved with him.
Mike Klinzing: [00:13:26] Yeah. I think there’s no doubt. And that’s one of the things that as adults, I think sometimes we take that for granted, like when a season ends and we’re coming back as a coach, we’re coming back for the next season. And so we’re kind of already, you’re planning, you’re thinking about, well, what are we going to do next year?
And you’re losing guy X, Y, and Z, but we got player X, Y, and Z coming up behind them. And you forget that for those kids, those seniors, that there’s a finality to it. And for most kids, that is it. I mean, that’s the last. Quote, real organized basketball game that they’ll ever play. And [00:14:00] not many kids get an opportunity to go on and play at the college level and to continue their careers.
So for most of them, the high school season ends when you’re a senior. And that’s it. And I think that that’s something that as coaches, it’s really important to kind of take that into consideration when you start thinking about how you react at the end of the season, and just kind of how you go through and create an experience for your kids that are part of your program.
So as you get done, Are you thinking about you kind of didn’t have college basketball on your mind, but you ended up going to Muskingum. Talk to me a little bit about your college decision, why you decided to go there and then what your athletic experience was like at Muskingum.
Kevin Sapara: [00:14:38] Yeah, I was going to play baseball there and ended up playing two years of baseball. Great. You know, a great experience there. But still I wasn’t loving it. To be at a division three school where you’re paying your own way. You got it and you want to play a sport.
I love it. You first [00:15:00] shot those kids that are playing division three basketball. It doesn’t mean that they can’t play so that you got to get that idea out of anyone’s head, but those guys want to play more than anybody and they play more than anybody. They played harder usually than anybody because they love the game and that’s why they’re there. So I remember it’s a smaller school meeting, some different kids, Matt Dansby a was one of them. He was a leader. He was a captain for the Muskies back then. And he’s actually currently a principal in Pickerington, Cliff Spraying phenomenal player, Zach Ross.
We had some really good players in our program, just hanging out with them and playing some pick-up ball. Again, like we were saying, we would play down at the park and I’m like, Hey man, I can actually play with these guys, you know? And one thing led to another and I was the 13th guy on a 12 man roster and it was the best experience I had.
Mike Klinzing: [00:15:55] So what’d you like about it? I mean, what was it about because clearly one of the things that everybody likes to do [00:16:00] is get out on the floor and actually get to play. So if you’re the 13th guy in a 12 man roster, there’s not a lot of playing time to be had. So what was it about being part of the program that you enjoyed, that you liked about being a part of it?
Kevin Sapara: [00:16:13] Well, I’m going to start off. I actually was on the JV team the first year. So I still got some time and to me it didn’t really matter. So I mean, if you’re playing to play the basketball and liking that, then you’re practicing and you’re enjoying yourself, you know? So I loved practicing.
I mean, I wanted to work hard. I. Wanted to show that I can play. And I felt like I did that, so I don’t regret any of it. It was a lot of fun and it was a lot of hard work and just loving the game. You have to do that. Like, like I was saying, I mean, those kids that played division three basketball, those guys can play and they love the game. And if you’re a 13th man on a 12 man roster in division three basketball, then you really love it.
Mike Klinzing: [00:16:59] Absolutely. All [00:17:00] right. So let’s take a quick segue away from your playing career. And just talk to me a little bit about you as a coach, your perspective when you’re talking to parents and players that are part of your program. And you’re trying to educate them on, if you have a kid who has an opportunity to play college basketball at whatever level, but let’s say you’re trying to educate a kid about why the division three level is such a great opportunity for a lot of kids.
And I think there’s such a, there’s such a people are so misguided about it’s division one or bus because you see all this stuff on social media and everybody has this vision in their head of what they think is what they want to do. And yet, as you said, multiple times, I think one of the things that we’ve tried to do on the podcast here is just impress upon people that, Hey, if you’ve never gone and watched a division three basketball game and seeing how good the players are in those games. I think most people, whether it’s players in high school or parents of high school players, they’re not always aware of how high [00:18:00] level division three basketball is.
So just maybe talk a little bit about your role in trying to work with your players or help your high school players to understand what their college opportunities might or might not be.
Kevin Sapara: [00:18:10] Yeah. I mean, there’s no doubt that everyone wants to be a division one athlete and there’s people out there that feel like they are, and it’s hard.
Division three, phenomenal, phenomenal basketball players. Division one phenomenal athletes, athletic basketball players. I got a chance when I was a GA at Cleveland State. So I got a chance to be around the division one game for a while, too. And that was my first experience with division one basketball.
And we’re talking Cleveland State where it’s a mid-major and it’s Cleveland State at the time, you know? And that’s a different level of basketball, different athlete. Those guys are crazy athletic and there’s not division one basketball players at every school. That’s just not the way it is.
Mike Klinzing: [00:19:08] All right. So let’s go back to how the opportunity comes to get to Cleveland State. Talk to us about when coaching got on your radar. Was it something you were thinking about because of your experience growing up watching your dad?
Was it something that you didn’t think about at all until after your playing career was finished? When did coaching get on your horizon?
Kevin Sapara: [00:19:30] So I don’t know what it was, but in college you’re up late you or you don’t get much sleep you’re up late, getting up early for class, but I would watch basketball all night.
I would watch college basketball. They had super Tuesday, big Monday, all that back then on ESPN, which they still do. So we had games till midnight and I would watch those and Quinn Snyder was the coach of Missouri back at that time. And I thought he did such a good job with them, putting [00:20:00] them on the map. They have one of the Rush kids back then and they were just so good. And I watched him and how he handled himself and talked to his players and I’m like, man, that’s so cool. I would like to do that. So Coach Burson at Muskingum, I talked to him and I was like, well, how do we do this?
How do you become a college coach? And he was able to call some coaches and hooked me and another player Greg Terson up with working camps. So we worked some camps in the summer. I worked Clemson camp, Tennessee Tech, Michigan, Michigan State. Those were unbelievable opportunities.
And at that point I knew, all right, people are doing this, there’s ways to get in there. You got to obviously network and, and work hard and do the dirty work trying to get in. And see what you can do. And those experiences and the summers were phenomenal learning from those coaches, going to coaches clinics, where they would hold those at night for the [00:21:00] Volunteers.
And got to go to Coach Izzo’s house. He treated us all, all the guest workers to dinner and just that kind of stuff. And meeting those people and seeing the intricacies of coaching and how it really works behind the scenes really got me intrigued and wanting to have basketball as part of what I was.
Mike Klinzing: [00:21:20] Did you, when you were a kid, did you go to any of those overnight basketball camps when you were a kid as a player?
Kevin Sapara: [00:21:27] I went to Hiram a couple of times, but I didn’t go to many individual camps. We went to team camps.
Mike Klinzing: [00:21:35] Gotcha. So like, I always thought when I was a kid, I went to Ohio state’s camp when Gary Williams was there and I went when Randy Ayers was the coach.
And when I was maybe a sophomore in college, I got an opportunity to go back down and work at the camp. And I had no idea like after hours. Wow. what these coaches, what that [00:22:00] look like? Like I had no idea, like as a kid, you have no idea that lights out at whatever nine 30 or 10 o’clock and then coaches are going out and then be just kind of hanging out in rooms or doing whatever and just talking basketball and yeah.
Diagramming stuff. And it was just, I had no idea that that world even existed until I was again, 19 or 20. And I went and worked at Ohio state’s camp and kind of got that behind the scenes look. And I think that’s one of the things, you talking about going to work at camps and it’s amazing how many coaches got their start by doing just that. Like I’ve talked to so many people here on the pod where they said, yeah I was a sophomore in college and I was the video coordinator for wherever, or I was a senior in high school and I had just finished playing and I was trying to get into coaching and somebody told me, Hey, just pack your car up and go work 14 weeks at camp in the summer, wherever you can, wherever you can work and network, get to know people. And I mean, it really is amazing. The [00:23:00] people that you can meet. And obviously even now today, the camp circuit is a lot is a lot different.
There isn’t those old school, traditional individual camps you have the elite camps and then you got the team stuff and whatever, but it’s just, it’s still, I think, a great way for any young coach to be able to who wants to break into the business to be able to meet people and make those connections with.
Then gives you an opportunity, like you got to Cleveland state. So I didn’t mean to interrupt, but go ahead and continue, how you ended up working at working at Cleveland State.
Kevin Sapara: [00:23:27] I was looking for a graduate assistant job after talking to some different coaches. And I went into Coach Garland’s office at Cleveland State and had a great conversation with him and at that time they didn’t have any openings, but he got my information and obviously we would have seen what happened with that.
But got my information and introduced me to some guys around and the next day, or actually that I remember talking to him in his office I actually walked past the secretary, [00:24:00] just say just kind of like, Hey, and I walked in and he was right there and I just sat down. He’s like, well, how’d you get in here, her name’s Colletta. So I went in, he was talking to me, he talked to me for about 45 minutes hour. I mean, he was great. He was just awesome. Really open with me. And I remember him saying, man, you sure you want to get into coaching? You know, it’s a stressful thing. And a couple of days later he was let go from Cleveland State.
So. Gary Waters took over. And I was like, Hey, I got to go to this press conference. I got to try to get in and see what they’re doing. So I went to his press conference. Wearing a tie. Like I was trying to impress somebody. I remember going up to Coach Waters. I caught him right outside of the where they were holding his media, his press conference at.
And I was like, Hey coach, congratulations. And Hey I’m looking for a graduate assistant job. If you don’t have your staff. And he was like, [00:25:00] come back and see me tomorrow. You know, and he’s smiling because there’s other people around and he doesn’t want to be like, who is this?
Mike Klinzing: [00:25:07] Exactly. Yeah. That’s funny. That’s funny. Yeah.
Kevin Sapara: [00:25:12] So I come back the next morning, the suit and tie on and I come into the office and I say, Hey, Coach Gary Waters wanted me to come in here and talk to him today. So. Colletta at the time she went back and Larry DeSimpelare comes up and that’s one of his assistant coaches for they were together at Kent and Rutgers and Cleveland state.
And so he comes out and he’s just, Larry is just the nicest guy in the world. He’s such a friendly guy, just, he’s one of my mentors. And I love that guy. I can’t say enough good things about him, still talk to him on a regular basis. He’s just me means a lot to me. And what I’veb een able to accomplish as a coach. And I owe a lot to a lot of it [00:26:00] to him and part of why I say that is for this reason, is he coming out and Hey I’m like, Hey coach waters wanted to talk to me. He’s like, no, he’s in a meeting right now, but he’s like, so what are you in here for?
And I started talking I’m looking for a GA spot. He’s like, well, we probably got a guy that we might be re keeping from Cleveland State. Currently the GA, but we might have a guy from Rutgers that wants to come, so there’s some different options.
He said, just give me a call next Wednesday. And I said, all right, should I call you at what time do you want me to call you? He’s like call me at night. So I called him at nine o’clock on next Wednesday, nothing, he didn’t know. I don’t know anything yet. Give me a call next week. This went on for a good two months and I called him, bugging him and finally everything falls through, nobody wanted it. Or for whatever reason I get an interview [00:27:00] and the next day I’m hired on. And that was the coolest experience of my life. I was very, very ecstatic to get that. I felt like I was in a place that was making me happy and I was learning.
I learned so much. I remember thinking when I got to college. I could coach high school or I can even coach college. Right. And heck no, I couldn’t do any of that. You know, you gotta learn, you gotta be around people that know how to do it and want to want to help you if you want to do it successfully.
Mike Klinzing: [00:27:32] What was the most surprising thing to you? This is a question I’d like to ask people is you, a lot of times you get done as a player or you have an idea of what it means to be a college coach or a high school coach, and then you actually do it.
And you’re like, Oh man, I had no idea that coaches had to do so much of this. What, what do you remember about something that was surprising when you first got there? You’re like, man, I had no idea that they spent so much time on.
Kevin Sapara: [00:27:58] Oh man. Well, it [00:28:00] film, there’s no question about film. I was a video coordinator.
It was part of my graduate assistantship. I spent hours upon hours upon hours. They flew somebody out from California to train me on the software, the film exchange. The organization of game tape and break down a film. It was, it was, it was awesome.
Mike Klinzing: [00:28:23] You would have to explain it. You might have to explain that to young guys who just think you can just hop on hudl and cut everything up digitally.
Kevin Sapara: [00:28:30] Oh yes. I mean, it’s a little different. Sports code where you’re you’re live coding games and breaking it down and coaches watching it just to see tendencies or just, Hey let’s see, just defense right now. Let’s just see our defensive possessions. Let’s just see our offensive possessions.
Let’s see our, our miss shots and that’s at halftime of a game. We were playing Butler and you got to tie a game and they want to see that. So things like that. And the time off [00:29:00] was there was none. That was my life. And I loved it. I didn’t make any money.
I made $250 every two weeks and my classes paid for, but the knowledge and the experience and understanding really what a division one player and team looked like was awesome. We had some really good groups.
Mike Klinzing: [00:29:22] Who is your favorite player during the time while you were coaching there?
Kevin Sapara: [00:29:29] Yeah, we a few and I think relationship wise, J’Nathan Bullock, and Cedric Jackson, those guys were top-notch guys and they were always well, Norris Cole too. I mean, Norris was unbelievable. Norris was the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. First one, literally, he had a one offer from Walsh. He was committed to Walsh. Norris and Jason Gee came in and wanted him out of Dunbar.
And he was able to, to offer him that was his only division [00:30:00] one scholarship. And he came in, he was a little scrawny, but athletic and worked his tail off. So we talk, work your tail off. What does that mean? All right. He’s up at five, getting shots up he’s lifting relentlessly, he’s the last one to leave the gym.
He’s doing everything that and above what you need and he was fortunate enough to make it as far as he did.
Mike Klinzing: [00:30:25] Absolutely. Where are you getting to do some stuff on the floor in that role or no?
Kevin Sapara: [00:30:31] Yeah, I was able to, it wasn’t much, it was more working with drills and setting screens and making passes and helping out in that aspect.
But it wasn’t much coaching, helping out the coaches as much as I could. I knew what my role was and it was getting the film, making sure the coaches were organized and practices were set.
Mike Klinzing: [00:30:52] Yeah, there’s a lot. I mean, I think when you look at what a division one staff looks like, and again, [00:31:00] every year I think it probably grows and gets bigger.
You look at the number of people that are on a bench today compared to what it was like back 20 or 30 years ago. The number of coaches continues to grow at every level. You just think about how specialized things have become, especially when you talk about the division one level and the knowledge that coaches bring to the table.
How long was coach Gee there with you? I got to know him because his son Brian was yeah. In my class as a fifth grade teacher, when back when Brian was in fifth grade and his older son played for us, I think for two years at Richmond. Yeah. Brandon, before they, before they left.
And he ended up finishing up at Cornerstone. But coach Gee was a great guy, I always liked him. And we always had a good relationship just again, like I said, cause I was his kids, his kids teacher in fifth grade.
Kevin Sapara: [00:31:51]
No, I was there the first three years and he was there all three years as well. I think he was there maybe seven or eight [00:32:00] total. And then he went to Longwood. I think he’s at Cincinnati right now.
Mike Klinzing: [00:32:03] Yeah. I believe he is at Cincinnati. I think I saw that and I looked him up at some point. All right. So, you’re going through, and obviously at that point while you’re going through this, are you still thinking you want to be a college coach and does that at some point shift?
Because obviously now you’re on the high school level, so how does it progress from you being in the office and hunting down Gary Waters to be able to get the job too? You’re there for three years and now you get done. What happens when you finish that causes you to go the high school route? Was it something that circumstance just made it happen?
Was it a change in kind of the way you looked at things after having been in it for three years? What was your mindset like at that point?
Kevin Sapara: [00:32:47] Wow. Well, I’m 26 at the time as my third year. And you know, I start thinking at the beginning of the year, all right, what’s going to happen in four months when this is done, you know [00:33:00] I wanted to stay in college.
There was no doubt, but I also had a mindset where I wanted to start making money. I feel like 26 years old is getting old. Hey, if you’re listening and you’re 26, you’re not old. You have plenty of time to do what you want to do. But I wanted to make some money and so I applied at a couple of schools.
I was gonna go out to Loyola for an interview, but ended up, they ended up hiring somebody before I got a chance to interview and I was actually offered a job at Dartmouth from Coach Waters, knew the head coach there really well. He had come in and kind of was mentored with, with Coach Waters and was looking for a third assistant coach.
And I got a chance to talk to him and would have had the opportunity to take the job, which at the time paid $19,000 and it’s in Maine, I believe so. We were paying $19,000 and I would have had a [00:34:00] teacher. There was a lot of in and outs to deal with it. And at the time, I didn’t know if that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
I didn’t want to continue to be broke. But I knew basketball was something that I was, there was no doubt basketball was going to be my one of my avenues and try to keep that as part of what I, what I was doing. So I would’ve taken that if I didn’t go the high school route, what happened with high school was I had applied to a few schools that were open had some openings and I actually got a call from Claymont high school down in Urichsville.
They were looking for a head coach. So I went down that day. I was working out at Cleveland state when I got a call to come work out. I’d never been there. Never heard of it. I just asked the distance how far it was and I got an opportunity to go interview down there and I remember coming back up and talking to coach a couple of days later, I was offered the job and I came back up to talk to Coach Waters.
And I’m trying to figure out [00:35:00] is this is what I want to do. Did I just spend my last three years busting my tail, doing all this crazy stuff to not take the next step as a college coach or in the college ranks, or do I want to do this? Do I want to just stick with high school? And I, you know what high school was always intriguing to me too, because first of all of my high school experience and second of all.
I always liked working with kids. I like teaching and I had my masters in education. Teaching was something that I was passionate about. And so that was something that made sense to me. And I remember going back up to Coach Waters and saying, Hey coach, what do you think about this?
What do you think about this? He said that being at Claymont would be a great, great decision to be an actual head coach and that wouldn’t close the door to getting back in college at all. But he said, though, one thing I do remember him saying, and I’ll never forget this because I didn’t really understand what he was talking about at the time.
But he [00:36:00] said the worst thing about coaching high school is going to be the parents and I had no clue what he was talking about, right?
Mike Klinzing: [00:36:06] Oh yeah. Well, as a graduate assistant there, I’m sure you were completely isolated from any, I mean, if there were any conversations between coaches and parents, you probably were not privy to most of those discussion if there were any.
Kevin Sapara: [00:36:19] No. Yeah. And it was more, I mean, in college, you got who you wanted and if they didn’t like it, they would go somewhere else. And then everyone was talented, but at the end of the day, that’s their living, it’s a lot more intense, at the end of the day, that’s their livelihood.
Mike Klinzing: [00:36:41] So yeah, no question about that. So. When you go to a place that you’ve never been, you go from being a graduate assistant, kind of taking orders and doing things for them, for the rest of the coaching staff. And now suddenly you’re thrust into a position where no longer are [00:37:00] you doing work for someone else, you are now the decision maker.
So what’s that like both from a standpoint of going to an area of the state where you haven’t been, you’re not really familiar with it. And then to transitioning from somebody who’s an assistant coach to somebody who is now the head coach and has to run a program. What did that look like? What did it feel like when you started, maybe before you started,
Kevin Sapara: [00:37:25] Oh man. Well, it felt great. I remember I was so excited. It was so much different, obviously being in the leadership role. And I remember I was trying to imitate or you know, act as much as I could, like the coaches at Cleveland state, I would talk like them, use their language. Obviously basketball wise, everything I did was based off of them because that’s what I knew.
That was it. I mean, and it was a lot, I loved it. I’ve learned a lot there’s there was so much [00:38:00] to go off of. But I think the biggest thing that I learned that first year was first of all, making sure that you’re treating the people that you’re working with that are working with you the right way.
I think that is absolutely huge. If you want people to work as hard as you do and care as much as you do, you got to show them that you care about them. I think as a leader, Communication with your staff. I learned obviously being a head coach at that young age communicating with your staff and delegating things was very important.
I knew I couldn’t do it all by myself. Right? But there was a lot of learning to do as far as, not so much basketball itself, but just all the little things about high school basketball that are different as far as scheduling buses and team [00:39:00] dinners and things of that sort that we didn’t really have to deal with at Cleveland State, but, but then also trying to get the video equipment that we could for Claymont. So we could still do the video that we were doing at Cleveland state. So, I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that I was trying to get used to, but the basketball thing was pretty much the easiest thing to do. All the things outside of the basketball. They were a little bit tough.
Mike Klinzing: [00:39:24] All right. So. First question related to your staff is how do you put together a staff as a young coach in an area that you’re not familiar with? How do you do that? And then two, you talked about being able to treat those people. Being able to treat them well. So what does that look like in terms of then trying to build relationships with your staff?
And you can frame that through what you did at Claymont all the way up through what you did at Avon and what you’re doing at strong as well, just in terms of how you try to build that relationship with your staff and give them. The empower them and delegate things to them so that they feel invested in what it is [00:40:00] that you’re trying to build as a head coach.
Kevin Sapara: [00:40:02] Yeah. Yeah. I remember my first year, that was the first thing that I had to do was interview people. And so that’s the first thing I did. I was like, Hey, we gotta get this out, get this posted within whoever can apply. And I met with a lot of people and just, we asked them the questions that needed to be asked to kind of read them on what their intentions were and how they could fit with me and what I wanted to do and what I wanted to implement. And basketball was really important, I think at that time for knowledge, but I really was looking for people that I felt like I could trust and wanted to just work, being able to just have conversations with, and take criticism and understand that we’re all in it for the same purpose.
That’s huge. And I feel like my staff understands that I care about them. We talk on a regular basis. We would talk. And [00:41:00] have weekly meetings and Hangouts just to make sure that we’re all on the same page with things. But I try, I mean, even at Claymont, starting it at a young age, I would lose my mind on my assistant coaches a couple of times, not lose my mind, but I would get on them and I learned from that. There’s a time and a place and a way to talk to people. And I think by not doing that, sometimes you learn and you realize how important that is. And I think that even building a program in and of itself building relationships is how it’s going to be done.
I mean, you gotta be able to trust people and they have to be able to trust you. Regardless. I mean on the floor at practices, if there’s no trust within the staff, there’s going to beproblems.
Mike Klinzing: [00:41:52] That’s a disaster, as you well know, and anybody who’s coached anywhere.
And you’ve, if you’ve ever had a situation [00:42:00] where you don’t have trust within the coaching staff, that goes South really, really quickly. When you think back to that first experience, what’s something that you feel like you were pretty good at right away out of the gate as a high school coach, something that when you came in, you said, I feel comfortable with this piece of coaching.
I feel like I’m pretty good at it. And something that was a strength and has continued to be a strength of yours as a coach.
Kevin Sapara: [00:42:28] I thought there were two things that I was good at. I thought the first thing was just relating to the players and just kind of having them see the leadership role that I was going to present.
I think just getting that rapport. I was good at it naturally. And on the floor, I think defensive schemes, as far as man to man I thought we were a good defensive team and we did a lot of really good things that I thought translated. But again, it [00:43:00] changed, people adjust teams adjust, but my first year I thought that defense was something that we were pretty consistent with.
And won us games and kept us in games and translated from the college game.
Mike Klinzing: [00:43:14] All right. So let’s ask the reverse question. What’s something that you feel like you were not very good at the beginning of your career that you’ve improved upon over the course of your time as a head coach.
Kevin Sapara: [00:43:26] I knew that was coming. Of course, there’s no question. There’s I mean, how much time you got man? I mean, from my first year, I mean, this is my 12th year as a head coach and I hope, I feel like I’ve learned and made adjustments as a man and as a coach and I know early on offensive schemes was not something I was really great at. Teaching the fundamentals of the little things as far as setting screens and [00:44:00] boxing out properly was something that I wasn’t good at. I thought everyone knew how to do that. You should know how to box out. You should know how to set a screen.
You should know how to cut, come tight off of the screen. But. You know, that’s something that I learned, Hey, we’ve got to still work on it. That’s a fundamental. You’re going to win games with fundamentals. There’s no question about that. Every player, regardless of how talented or gifted you are, if you are fundamentally sound, you’re going to be 10 times better.
So those types of things with player development was something that I felt like I gotten better at and seen the importance of as the years have gone by.
Mike Klinzing: [00:44:44] Right. So how does the opportunity after three years at Claymont, how does the opportunity at Avon come across your desk and talk about the decision-making process for leaving Claymont and coming back closer to home to Avon?
Kevin Sapara: [00:44:58] Yeah. So I [00:45:00] had an unbelievable experience at Claymont. I was there for three years. I met my at the time fiance and she’s my wife now down there and I learned so much, I got to fail. I got to succeed and I got to meet new people. I got to be around new people. I got my first three years of teaching in down there, I got to learn what it was like to be a part of the teaching team as well.
But I knew I wasn’t going to retire from there. I knew that that was just not realistic. So I wanted to stay, but I was always wanting to keep options open and see some available possible locations to move. And I remember seeing that the Avon job was open on the OHSAA website and I remember thinking, wow, that would be a really good job.
And I had applied talked to Larry DeSimpelare a little bit about it and. Just got some advice from him and I ended up getting an interview [00:46:00] and I remember at the interview there’s a whole team in there interviewing me and it’s going well. And they we’re talking about football because the football team’s just getting off of their first state final appearance.
And you know, how are you going to. How do you feel you can get this program going in the right direction. And I’m like, Oh, just like the football team we’re going to be working hard. And I mentioned the football team, just like their head coach. And I mentioned all of that.
Did not know Coach Alder was in the room interviewing me too. So shout out without even realizing that he was in the room. So that was one thing and a bad thing. But it got a chance to just show who I was and it was a good conversation. And I was very, very fortunate to get that job. I’ve been very, very fortunate all my life.
Especially with my teaching career and being at Claymont and then going to Avon for eight years, phenomenal [00:47:00] place, phenomenal community. Had an awesome experience with basketball there. Had a couple of conference championships, really good kids and I have nothing but love for Avon. I had a great, great experience there.
Mike Klinzing: [00:47:13] Talk about bringing in your high school coach, coach Joe Lynch, to work with you at Avon and what that experience was like for you and for him?
Kevin Sapara: [00:47:22] That was awesome. So I had asked him the year after he had left Strongsville, if he wanted to help out with me at Avon. And he wasn’t too interested in getting into basketball or staying in basketball at the time and went back to me a year later and he was more intrigued, more interested and kept on him and he wanted to help out.
And he was awesome. I mean, he was with us for five years. Very rarely missed a practice. I still have a picture of him up cutting down the nets in our last year, second to last year there. And it was just awesome having him around and him [00:48:00] teaching the guys our free throw break and some different things we were going to do.
It was awesome just to see him see him happy. It was cool.
Mike Klinzing: [00:48:08] So what’s it like from a relationship standpoint where the previous relationship is. He’s your coach, you’re a player. Then you go to this new relationship where you’re now both adults and you’ve transitioned, but now you’re the head coach and he’s an assistant.
Just what was it like navigating that? And obviously I know Joe is a great guy, and so clearly there’s not going to be any issues there, but just talking about like what that was like from a perspective of the relationship between the two of you and how it. You know how it you know, how it changed and transformed over, over the course of that experience?
Kevin Sapara: [00:48:45] Yeah. I mean, it went from man, that is my coach. That guy gave me an awesome high school experience. I loved and got me kind of kick-started in getting basketball as part of what I do. [00:49:00] And then went from there to, Oh, he’s not the coach. I got to get him on my staff.
I love that guy, so it went from that to Hey coach, you want to come on our staff? Yeah. Let’s do this. And we never had any hiccups along the road. I mean, we got along great. He helped out so much just his knowledge of the game and his perspective and his attitude.
And the kids loved him and just being around him just made everybody happy. And our relationship was great. It was so like having him over for our coaches meetings and getting to experience that with him and seeing the different side of him where you don’t necessarily the coaching and player relationship is as it’s more of a friend, it’s more of a colleague [00:50:00] relationship 20 years after, 15 years after you graduated. So it was awesome.
Mike Klinzing: [00:50:05] Did you ever get past calling him coach?
Kevin Sapara: [00:50:10] I sort of, I don’t think so. I don’t think to his face, it was always coach maybe behind his back.
It was Joe. There you go. It’s definitely coach now when I see him
Mike Klinzing: [00:50:20] Yeah. It’s one of those things that I think it’s it’s funny as a, as a 50 year old. So this year I got, I hadn’t talked to, I had a assistant coach at Kent and then my head coach, I hadn’t talked to either one of them probably for 20 years.
And so now I’m a 50 year old man and this summer just got reconnected to both of them had you know, had an hour, hour and a half phone call with each one of them. And it’s amazing. Like you go back and. You know, you, you would think that by the time you get to be my age, that you would have the relationship where you just call them you call them like a colleague and you call them by their first name.
But I couldn’t, both of them were just coach to me. And I think it’s just, you [00:51:00] know, you think about what those relationships are like for you as a player and just. I guess the reverence that I looked up to every coach that I ever played for, I could not, I could never see calling them by their first name, despite the fact that they might be 75 now, and I’m 50.
I still just couldn’t bring myself to bring myself to do it. It just doesn’t feel right. No, it doesn’t the fact that you worked with them for five years, where obviously that’s even more of a collegial relationship where you guys are working side by side with one another and still.
You know, you still can’t, you still really can’t pull the trigger. I’m calling him. I call him Joe. It’s hilarious. All right. So talk to me a little bit about the decision to leave. Avon. Obviously an opportunity to come home to Strongsville, but how difficult was it to have the conversation with the Avon community, the parents, the kids, your players, what did the [00:52:00] end of your tenure at Avon look like?
And we’ll get to that before we go on to trying to rebuild the Strongsville program,
Kevin Sapara: [00:52:08] Man. Well, It was, it was definitely tough. I wanted to I loved Avon and I could have seen myself there and helping out the basketball program at any capacity for as long as I could be there.
But Strongsville has always been something that’s intriguing to me as far as basketball. And is just as far as life because when I decided to go down the high school basketball path to me it was Strongsville was the public school. Where else would I want to be besides Strongsville?
You know, that was where I went, we are the Mustangs and why would I not want to be there? That it was the pinnacle of public school basketball for me. I don’t know. I [00:53:00] had the connection there. I played there. There’s only one school you can really say that about. So while you’re coaching to be able to do that, I just think it’s just an unbelievable experience. And to be able to say that coaching high school that I got to play at and had an awesome experience at, and I’m very blessed. I’m very humbled by it. And people might say, Hey, you’re just a head high school basketball coach, and yeah, for sure.
But I always wanted to do this. I always wanted to be the head coach here. I always wanted to be a part of our basketball program, whether whatever aspect of it, but it was something that, that’s where I’m from. It’s just a little different, it’s just a little different.
And it goes along with, with Coach Fitz over it at Avon. Now he was my JV coach at Avon for eight years. And he had been coaching prior to that, but he’s an Avon graduate [00:54:00] and it’s different for him. It’s just different, you know?
Mike Klinzing: [00:54:03] Yeah. I think there’s, there’s no doubt that when you have that personal connection to the school, that there’s a benefit.
There’s a benefit to that. And I don’t know what it is and I don’t even know if you could articulate it. I know I can’t articulate it, but I think that there’s just this feel for. Hey, I have just this extra 1% of pride or effort or determination because I’m a part of this in multiple ways. I was a part of it as a student.
That was a part of it as an athlete. I’m a part of it now as a coach. And so as a result of that, I think it’s, I could see, I could see where over time you would look at it and say, Hey, that’s the, that’s the crown Juul of high school jobs. Because not because somebody else thinks it is, but just because you think it is so.
When you talk about this and you look at the program has been, I’m just going to use the word down for lack of a better way of saying it a little [00:55:00] bit over the last several years. So when you come in. What are some of the things that you learned at Claymont and at Avon in terms of building a program that when you came in, you felt like if we’re going to get this thing where it needs to go, here’s some things that I’ve learned at my other stops that we’re going to have to figure out and start to take care of.
Right off the get go. And obviously this year is a lot different because of COVID and there’s the situation of how much contact you can have with the players. And obviously the season’s all goofy and you guys have been quarantined multiple times, but just in an ideal, in an ideal world, thinking about what do we have to do to turn this thing around?
What were some things that you learned from your previous stops that are going to help you to get things going in the right directionat Strongsville as well?
Kevin Sapara: [00:55:41] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the first thing is we want to set a culture and expectation for our kids. We talk about discipline, unity, toughness, and passion as our four pillars in our program.
And we want all those kids to understand what those mean and why we have those as our foundation. And we as coaches, [00:56:00] we preach it and we talk about our expectations of our program and our kids. And our relentless effort, we want to be practicing, and working relentlessly in the off season.
We want the kids to be having fun and enjoying themselves and working as a team together. So the biggest thing is the culture aspect, getting our coaches to be visible to know the kids by name, to be down at the middle school when we can right now for games, just to see them.
We had some middle-school workouts in the summer too, but I mean, the first thing that we are trying to do is just to get our word out of what we’re going to be about and what we’re expecting out of Strongsville basketball players, to be around as much as possible to meet the kids and to build those relationships.
I’m huge on getting kids to trust, trying to build trust within kids and keeping open [00:57:00] communication. So that they understand where they’re standing and what their roles are. But that ended up itself is the first thing we are trying to do is get the culture and the expectation of hard work built and instilled within the program.
Mike Klinzing: [00:57:16] All right. That makes a ton of sense. So when I think about, and I hear about a coach talking about the pillars of their program, and obviously there’s a lot of coaches that have a lot of different words, just like the ones that you used as part of the program. When you look at those and you start to say, okay, these are the things we’re going to build our program on.
How do you translate that? For the players. So that if discipline is one of the words, how does a kid know within the program? What discipline looks like? In other words, how do you translate those pillars into behaviors that the kids can exhibit so that and they know that, Hey, we’re living up to this.
This pillar of discipline just as an example.
Kevin Sapara: [00:57:57] Yeah. I mean, we’ve [00:58:00] talked about this on and off the floor. So as far as on the floor, we preach the little things as far as if we’re not going to do things right. We’re going to have to fix it immediately. We are going to do things right. Or we are going to have to run.
We’re going to do things right. So that our teammates are also being pushed and doing things right as well. We are not skipping the little steps to success. We talk with confidence because we feel like we should, but we can’t be all about talk.
We have to be about this and planning and doing the right things and the little things running hard, getting to your spots. As far as off the floor, we talk about making good decisions and it’s hard right now. Obviously they have limited contact and we have a limited context, but we preach that as making good decisions.
You got a good thing going, we are Strongsville basketball. You [00:59:00] got their name on your chest, you gotta be making good decisions. And we have talked to you. We have to, anytime something comes up, we always have to address that. And just making sure that people gotta realize if you want to be a Mustang basketball player, you’re going to make a decision.
If you’re not disciplined, you can’t be a part of it. We’re a cut sport. We have a lot of kids that want to be a part of it. We got to get the right ones in there.
Mike Klinzing: [00:59:29] All right. So you talked about building relationships. And to me, that’s one of, I think the most important things that as a high school coach that you have to do.
And when you’re talking about relationships, especially as the high school varsity coach, you mentioned going down and making yourself visible at the, at the middle school games, making yourself visible in the program so that people begin to associate coach the par a with. Strongsville basketball. And there becomes one of the things that I felt like has been, has been [01:00:00] missing here at Strongsville in the last, whatever, since century coach Lynch left.
And I think coach Collins tried to get it going a little bit is just the fact that there hasn’t been this desire. Too for kids to look up to, like you mentioned going to Kyle Heights games with your dad and looking up and seeing that those kids, those kids were heroes. And I know when I went to Strong’s when I was in second, third grade and my dad would take me to games and I couldn’t wait.
Like I used to watch the warmups and just dream about one day being able to run out to the fight song and slap the back board during the layup line. Like that was the, that would have been the most thrilling thing. If you would’ve told me when I was in fourth grade, that that was what I was going to get to do someday.
My life would have been complete at that point. And I think that that, that desire that aspiration to be a Mustang, I think is something that has been lacking. And so just talk a little bit about how you go about making yourself visible and obviously this year with COVID, it’s a lot [01:01:00] different. So maybe talk about what you’ve tried to do under the circumstances, and then what you’re going to try to do once, hopefully things, things get back to normal at some point.
Kevin Sapara: [01:01:10] Yeah. I mean right now we’re getting to middle school games that we are available for. As far as our schedule allows We’re going to, once we get back to normal, we’re going to be working with the middle school kids as much as high school kids.
We want that them to be involved with us as much as possible. We want the lingo to be the same. We want the kids to understand the expectations at an early age so that we are all on the same page and they know what, like I said, what is expected of them moving throughout the program.
As far as the youth program, we want to make it to our youth Sunday games. They have a lot of games that are played. We’ve had a coaches clinic up at the old rec center. It’s the church over on [01:02:00] Prospect. I forget what it’s called.
Mike Klinzing: [01:02:02] Pathways
Kevin Sapara: [01:02:04] There you go.
Yeah, we’ve got a coaches clinic and we plan on doing a lot of things. We want to try to hold a youth tournament in Strongsville. And obviously it’s tough with gym time and finding things for that. But we are committed to trying to make this a great, great youth program where your kids are being developed and having a lot of fun.
And we want to play games in Strongsville. Unfortunately, this year we weren’t able to do so. But I also think that’s important for our kids to be able to play in their facilities. And I see a big benefit in that as well, but holding camps for the kids throughout the summer and middle school kids going to camps with us and having their workouts on a regular basis as well.
The weight room is a non-negotiable starting in the summer off season. I mean, these guys are going to be lifting no questions. I mean, that’s a non-negotiable right. There’s going to be [01:03:00] opportunities for basketball on a regular basis for these guys. And the off season outside of dead periods and we expect them to be grinding whether they’re multi-sport athletes or they’re just playing basketball. We’re going to give them as many opportunities as we were allowed to give for them to develop into you know, solid Mustang basketball players.
Mike Klinzing: [01:03:19] All right. So let’s give let’s do a public service announcement for the parents of kids who are part of any program, not just the Strongsville program, but talk a little bit about just the amount of time as a high school varsity basketball coach that you put in during the four calendar seasons of the year. Just talk about some of the things that people who are out there, maybe don’t see publicly. Some of the things that you do that you have to do if you want to be a success. Cause one of the things that I’ve always said is you look at the baseline amount of time that it takes to be able to compete as a high school basketball program and convert [01:04:00] and.
You know, subsequently as a high school basketball coach, I think you go back 25 years and the amount of time that was required to build a good program was less than what it is now. So just talk a little bit about the time that you put in outside of what the public can see with just practices and games.
What are some of the other things that you’re doing that the average person may not realize in season? Mike? Yeah, let’s start in season, then we can go off season after that.
Kevin Sapara: [01:04:29] Well, I mean in season, it’s a lot of meetings with coaches. A lot of meetings with players. Film is nonstop. We break down our own film on a daily basis.
Not only our film, but Preparing for the opposition. One thing it’s huge as a coach is you got to have a wife that’s understanding because she really doesn’t see me very much from November through March. I’m not joking either. So you gotta [01:05:00] have that understanding. But I mean, it’s a lot of time, like I said, like we’ll have a practice at four until four 45.
Get a lift and then we’re headed to a middle school game. And then I get home at seven watching film. And then next day we get up obviously have a day at work. We go to practice watching film as a team, go through practice. And then like today we met with all our kids individually.
Just to make sure just to talk about roles, make sure everyone understands their roles and expectations. So we’re all on the same page because you know, we don’t, obviously I make sure that they understand their roles and what’s expected of them. You know, they’re high school kids. We want to be on the same page with them.
We don’t want them frustrated. And the best way to do that is just. Let’s communicate with them. So we had one-on-ones with them today with the coaching staff and just little things like that. Sending in some stats and talking to people about players [01:06:00] on the phone, talking, sending emails, replying to emails dealing with basketball and practice, the schedules.
And right now it’s just crazy trying to find games. There’s a long email list, chain, email lists, where there’s, Hey, we lost the game Tuesday. Anybody want to play? We lost the freshman game Friday. Does anybody want to play? And you know, it’s just a lot of that throughout the day. And obviously planning your practice accordingly making sure that you’re preparing your guys not only to improve on our team building and team skills overall, but preparing for the next opponent as well.
You know, so I mean, there’s a lot to it and that’s why you can’t do it by yourself. And that’s goes back to trusting your staff and having a good support system.
Mike Klinzing: [01:06:50] Yeah, no doubt. What is your practice planning process looks like? So when you, when you finish a day’s practice and you’re going into the next practice, or it’s the day after a game, you’re trying to [01:07:00] figure out what is the next day’s practice look like?
When do you do that? Are you doing that during the school day, during a planning period? Or do you, when you’re doing that late at night after everybody goes to bed at your house, when are you doing the practice planning?
Kevin Sapara: [01:07:11] We talk after practice about, all right, so what do we want to do tomorrow? So we’ll take some notes and we’ll just make sure we get that into a practice plan. The practice plan is usually made the day of practice at lunch and I consult with Coach Eicher as well. Cause he’s up there and we talk. Just to make sure we’re on the same page. We always want to warm up and make sure we’re competing with everything that we’re doing.
So we try to keep them going up and down early just to get loose and competing for sprints. So we get into that and then we work on the basics and fundamentals we want to do defensively and, and kind of work our way into offensive schemes and sets that we want to improve on as well.
Mike Klinzing: [01:07:53] Do you have a favorite drill or a favorite? I don’t know what you call it, concept, skill that you want to make sure that you hit [01:08:00] on every single practice. Is there a go-to drill that you do some variation of every practice or do you like to keep it, keep it all varied up depending on what, what the needs are of the kids and your team?
Kevin Sapara: [01:08:10] Yeah, well, there’s a shooting drill, continuous shooting that I really enjoy doing, and that’s something I’ve pretty much done. I would say 80% of the practices since I’ve been a head coach and it’s just a two minute warmup drill, where you’re competing against the clock. And I got it from Cleveland State with Coach Waters and it’s.
You sprint the floor, you got to get a lay up and there’s two skip passes where you’re hitting the shot and layups worth one and a jump shot, no matter where it’s from is worth two. And you got to get 50 in a minute and I just love competing against the clock. You know, I just love it.
Mike Klinzing: [01:08:43] Yeah. Having competition built into your practices, I think is key, especially with kids today. I think the more you can get them competing for. Again, whatever it is, whether it’s competing against the clock or competing against an opponent and score and drills and stuff. I think a lot of coaches have gone to that.
I don’t know if it was as [01:09:00] prevalent even 10 years ago as it is now in terms of people charting stuff and keeping track of those things and trying to make their practices as competitive Dave as possible. You talked a little bit about watching film, how much film, like during the season, if you have a.
If you have a game a week where you have two games, how much film are you watching on average during that, during that week? And you can either give me minutes and hours, or you can give me the number of games that you’re, that you’re watching?
Kevin Sapara: [01:09:26] Yeah. I mean, right now, since there’s not the teams that we have played, we haven’t, they haven’t played a lot of games.
Yes. We’ve been able to watch pretty much every game that our opposition has played. It varies some like Coach Shep’s done a great job. He loves watching film. He does a great job breaking it down as well. Coach Eicher too. So we delegate it and then I’ll look at some offensive stuff and see what we want to show. And coach Shep will look at some defensive stuff and see what we want to show. And then we’ll put some playlist together to show [01:10:00] the kids. But we all watch it. We watch, I would say every game so far. You know, we had a game last night and started watching Brunswick for Friday.
We’re already on that, obviously. So seeing a few of their games already and getting ready for them.
Mike Klinzing: [01:10:16] What are the main things that you look for when you’re sitting down to watch a film, what are the main things that you’re trying to pull out? And then once you pull those out as a coach, how much of the film that you’ve watched do you share with the kids?
So when you sit down and watch film with the kids, how much, how many minutes of film are you sharing with. You know, with your kids, obviously you’re watching a much greater volume than what you end up showing to your player. So just talk about how you break that down.
Kevin Sapara: [01:10:39] For instance. Today we, we watched some clips from our game last night and we had 22 clips.
I don’t know about, probably about 10 seconds per clip. But again, you break it down and you talk about it. And that was from one game. But for your opposition, you find a few times that they ran the same set. They’re all their [01:11:00] baseline out of bounds plays, all their sideline out of bounds plays called blobs and slobs.
So we go through all of those yeah. You know, if they have different press breakers or different presses, different press breaker, Just try to separate them in the film. And so you want to talk about their scheme obviously, and then we want to definitely hit personnel. I think high school personnel is huge.
Just understanding tendencies of your opposition is important. You definitely want to try to be prepared with what they have on a personnel side of things heading a new game as well. So yeah, you try to break that down as well. That’s more talking about personnel. And showing film about schemes and tendencies.
Mike Klinzing: [01:11:42] Got it. Makes sense. All right. We are coming up. We just passed an hour and 15 minutes. So I want to wrap it up by asking you one final question that I’ve kind of used to wrap up a lot of episodes recently and it’s a two-parter. So the first part is. What is when you look ahead to the next year, the next five [01:12:00] years.
But when you look ahead, what’s the biggest challenge that you see on the horizon. And then number two, what’s the biggest joy that you have when you get up in the morning and you go in and you get to be the head varsity basketball coach at Strongsville High School. What’s the biggest joy that you get from that?
Kevin Sapara: [01:12:15] Well, I think the most difficult thing that I’m sensing that we’re going to be facing is just changing the overall goes back to just the culture and the way we view our basketball program. It’s obviously things are different than when you played.
And when I played things are different or things are going to be different in 20 years from now as well, but getting people to expect success and to expect to compete and to not just to have the winning culture and the belief that [01:13:00] we’re gonna win. And we are a winning team.
We are champions. We will be champions. We’re gonna fight, that’s who we are. I think that’s something that isn’t as prevalent as it has been in the past. And we’re trying to get that back, you know just to go off of that real quick. I know we’re wrapping this up, but we we’ve lost 19 games in a row to Brunswick.
That’s, that’s a lot of games and that’s an old school rivalry, man. I mean, that’s what high school basketball should be all about. And 19 games in a row it’s a lot. And I feel like we want to try to be back. We wanna try to be a team to be reckoned with and have that belief that we are as good as anyone.
Mike Klinzing: [01:13:49] Absolutely. What’s your biggest joy?
Kevin Sapara: [01:13:51] Man, I get to wake up every day and I get to go into the high school and teach and do what I [01:14:00] always wanted to do. And you know, our situation is what it is right now with school and with the world. But at the end of the day, I still get to work with kids and I get to coach basketball at Strongsville with kids that were just like me.
And just like you and share the love of the game that I have with them and hopefully rub off on them and have them have an awesome experience like I did in high school. So that, I mean, that’s awesome.
Mike Klinzing: [01:14:30] Doesn’t get any better than that. That’s awesome. Great answer. I couldn’t agree with you more before we get out, I want to give you a chance to let people know who are listening to the podcast, how they can get in touch with you, how they can follow you, how they can learn more about your program at Strongsville as well.
And then I’ll jump back in and wrap up the episode.
Kevin Sapara: [01:14:46] Yeah, sure. You can follow me at @coachsapara on Twitter. And that’s the best way to get ahold of me. You want my email too Mike? Oh, yeah. [01:15:00] firstname.lastname@example.org. Yeah. I mean, any questions, anything pertaining to basketball or follow up questions?
Mike Klinzing: [01:15:08] Awesome. Kevin, I cannot thank you enough for spending almost an hour and a half with us tonight. Really appreciate your time. Again. I’m excited to see what you’re going to be able to do with the program that is not only near and dear to your heart, but also to mine. I’m invested in it on a number of levels.
Not just as an alum, but also, as I’ve said to our audience, my son is going to hopefully get a chance to play for Kevin at some point. So I’m excited for that to happen. And again, to everyone out there, we appreciate you tuning in and listening and we will catch you on our next episode. Thanks.