SPECIAL JENNINGS – MONTVERDE ACADEMY (FL) GIRL’S BASKETBALL HEAD COACH – EPISODE 428

Fran Dunphy

Website – https://mvasports.com/sports/2016/12/30/about-girls-varsity-basketball

Email – special.jennings@montverde.org

Twitter – @SpecialJennings

Special Jennings is in her first season as the Girl’s Basketball Head Coach at Montverde Academy in Montverde, Florida. 

Jennings’ was previously the Associate Head Coach at The University of Illinois at Chicago, spending two years there from 2018-19 to 2019-2020.

She spent the 2017-18 season as an Assistant Coach at Flagler College in Saint Augustine, Fla. Before arriving at Flagler, Jennings honed her craft as an Assistant Coach at Augusta University for three seasons.

Prior to her time at Augusta, Jennings got her start as an administrative assistant for the women’s basketball program at Wright State for the 2013-14 season.

Special stood out as a player, starting 115 consecutive games at Xavier University. She is currently tied for fourth in all-time assists for the Musketeers with 515. Jennings led the Musketeers to an NCAA “Elite 8” appearance in 2010, four Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament titles, and three other NCAA Tournament appearances. 

Jennings then went on to spend 2011-13 as a professional player in Finland.

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What We Discuss with Special Jennings

  • Playing quarter back for an all boys football team as a young girl
  • The story of getting connected with Coach Melvin Burke which led to her getting into basketball
  • Spending her childhood playing almost exclusively with boys
  • Taking the game more seriously as she got into middle and high school
  • Playing AAU basketball with All Ohio out of Columbus, traveling from Cleveland
  • How AAU basketball has changed since she played
  • Get good and then get seen, instead of the opposite
  • Unqualified coaches at the AAU level and the problems that can cause
  • The need for certification for coaches
  • How she ended up choosing to attend Xavier University
  • The struggle she had early in her college career because of her attitude
  • Realizing she had to become more coachable and get on the same page with the coaching staff
  • “They have to know that you care about them as a person and not just as a player.”
  • Developing relationships organically rather than forcing it
  • Getting to the sweet sixteen and elite eight as a player at Xavier
  • “It doesn’t matter who gets the credit… I’d rather win a championship.”
  • Her experience playing professionally in Finland
  • Why coaching was already on her radar as a player
  • Her first coaching job at Wright State
  • Participating in the “So You Want to be a Coach” program being put on by the WBCA
  • Meeting LaChina Robinson as part of “So You Want to be a Coach”
  • Wearing many hats as a D2 assistant at Augusta and how that accelerated her learning
  • Why she felt it was so important to get on the floor and learn by doing rather than watching
  • Getting used to the administrative side of coaching
  • What she took away from her year at Flagler
  • Working with Tasha Pointer at University of Illinois-Chicago
  • The challenges are the same at all levels of coaching
  • How working for different coaches at schools helped her to learn different ways of looking at all aspects of building a program
  • Why her #1 priority at Montverde was getting to know her players
  • Working to make sure that the product (team) she is putting on the floor is going to be great.
  • Why she wasn’t nervous about building a great program because of the resources and support available at Montverde
  • How her preparation and growth mindset leads to more confidence as a coach
  • Why Carla Morrow from Ohio State would be be her first call when she needs advice
  • Helping other young women get opportunities by fostering relationships with other coaches and former players

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TRANSCRIPT FOR SPECIAL JENNINGS – MONTVERDE ACADEMY (FL) GIRL’S BASKETBALL HEAD COACH – EPISODE 428

[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. It’s Mike Klinzing here tonight with my co-host Jason Sunkle, and we are pleased to be joined by the head coach of Montverde Academy, Special Jennings. Special, welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. We are excited to be able to have you on and talk about all of the interesting things that you’ve been able to do in the game of basketball.

Growing up in our hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. We’ll go back to that time. Tell us a little bit about how you got into the game when you were a young kid.

Special Jennings: [00:00:31] Ah, man, I got into basketball actually from playing football and so I played football for an  all contact all boy team. I was a starting quarterback as a kid.

And I grew up and across the street from my house was a recreation center and there was a coach that would come there all the time. He was familiar with a lot of the people that work there, Melvin Burke. And he saw me one day and he kinda asked me who I was and things like [00:01:00] that.

I kind of ignored him. But I lived right across the street from the park. And so he came and knocked on my door and he asked to speak with my grandmother and they had a long conversation. And from there I started working out with him. I started going down to the rec center with him and it just took off from there.

Mike Klinzing: [00:01:18] How did you get into football? So football led you to basketball. How does a female get into playing football.

Special Jennings: [00:01:23]  Wow. I had a friend back then that was always at the park? And they were the bird brothers and we had this bet, Oh, you can’t do this. You can’t do that.

And I was always the type that I was always up for a challenge. And so I tried out for the team. I’ve always been athletic, so I kind of can do anything, which was weird growing up. And so man, I tried out for that team and they saw me throw the football and I was tough and it just happened.

Mike Klinzing: [00:01:53] So when you transitioned to basketball, what did you like about the game of basketball? What was it that [00:02:00] about the game that attracted you to it? Was there some particular aspect that aspect of it that you especially liked when you were younger?

Special Jennings: [00:02:06] No, I just was fun. It was fun. When I first started out, it was a great way of getting out the house and meeting new people.

And it was fun. I didn’t take it serious until I kind of became good at it, but in the beginning it was just a way to get out the house

Mike Klinzing: [00:02:27] As a young player, were you mostly playing against boys or were you playing with girls?

Special Jennings: [00:02:32] Oh yeah, I was with the guys.  I was with the guys in the park on the, on the black top, on the concrete. I played in the travel league with the boys.  I’ve always played with the guys.

Mike Klinzing: [00:02:46] Was that because of a lack of opportunity for girls or was that because of just your ability and sort of makeup  as an athlete?

Special Jennings: [00:02:56] I think it was more so due to the ability that I had at such a [00:03:00] young age there were all types of girls leagues and things like that, but they weren’t as competitive as the boys league.

Mike Klinzing: [00:03:07] So when you started getting into it and you thought, Hey, basketball is where I want to spend my time and you started to get a little bit more serious about it. What did that look like for you in terms of your plan to get better and improve? Was it continuing to play the pickup games and playing travel basketball and eventually playing some AAU stuff? Or were you also doing some stuff on your own, working out with coach Burke or just, just tell us a little bit about what your summer workouts might’ve looked like to try to get yourself to be a better player.

Special Jennings: [00:03:39] Yeah. So starting out it was with work all the time. We always had some type of work. We used to go down to Lonnie Burton recreation center. And you know, it was a lot of kids down there and Burke was actually the director of that center. And he coached at East tech and he had a lot of the top athletes and things like that.[00:04:00] coming down there, working out with him. So I got really heavily involved in that. And then once I started playing AAU is when I knew, like it was time to start taking it serious because on the AAU circuit for so many young ladies that are pretty good. And at that point they started taking it serious.

And so I had to work hard to elevate my game and be able to compete at that level. It was no longer pick up at the playground or pick up at the rec center, it was serious basketball.

Mike Klinzing: [00:04:29] And so when you say serious basketball, just give us an idea of what your situation looked like when you were, let’s say in middle school into your early high school years, what team were you playing for?

How many games were you playing in the summer? What did a typical, if there was such a thing as a typical summer, what did that look like for you on the AAU

Special Jennings: [00:04:50] circuit? I didn’t start playing AAU till the eighth grade. It was, seventh or eighth grade and I played for All Ohio out of Columbus, Ohio.

And [00:05:00] I would get in a van or a car with Burke and Wood Stovall, and we’d ride up to Columbus and we practice in Columbus and then we play. All Ohio was an elite, still is an elite program, sponsored by Nike.

So we played in all of the top events. And so we’d be gone while the whole month of July. Your July is gone. You have your fun in June because July is all AAU. And we were in a  different city, different state every weekend.

Mike Klinzing: [00:05:37] What did the transition look like for you in terms of you grew up as an elementary school age kid playing against the boys primarily, and now you get to AAU and you transition, you’re playing all girls.

What was that transition like for you, did it seem, at least initially, was it almost easier because you weren’t playing against the boys anymore? Just what was that [00:06:00] transition like for you? I’m curious.

Special Jennings: [00:06:01] It wasn’t easier because we played up. We played against older young ladies. So the competition has always been tough.

And as I stated, all Ohio is an elite program. And so the tournament’s, you’re playing against the other elite teams. So you know, it wasn’t like nowadays, I feel like it’s so watered down for sure, because there are so many teams, there are thousands of teams.  When I played AAU, this was the team in that state, that was the team And it was like state rivalries and things like that. Now there’s so many interstate rivals that it’s just watered down the games because you may have one really, really good player on every team, but when I played there were about nine really, really good ones and you’re playing against nine really, really good players.

So it was just different.

Mike Klinzing: [00:06:58] So talk to me a little bit [00:07:00] about that difference in the way that sort of the AAU system is set up today. Obviously there’s still, those elite teams are still in existence, but yet, as you said, AAU has sort of opened itself up to everybody playing.

Whereas when you played and I’m an old man. So back when I played, there was basically the only, the very best players were playing on those AAU teams. And now, again, everybody’s into it. So when you look at that from a coach perspective and you could take this from a coaching position where you are now at the high school level, or think about it when you were at the college level, how do you think that the youth basketball system that we have in place today, how has that impacted the game positively, negatively? Just kind of maybe give us your feelings about where basketball is from a youth standpoint

Special Jennings: [00:07:47] I think for me, and one of the reasons I stepped into this position that I’m in now. I think that the game is not being taught at a level in which, and I’m speaking from strictly from [00:08:00] fundamentals, everybody tries to do what they see on TV with the Brons and the Kyries and all those things in the street doing all the things that they do. Little do they know that they played at, different levels, Steph Curry, you didn’t know about him until he had his breakout year a Davidson. You didn’t know about, Kawhi Leonard or you’re not going to even use females Diana Taurasi and all those players.

You didn’t know about them until they get good, get better, and utilize the fundamentals and things like that to get them to that level. And now you see kids doing the Euro step, everything you have a regular traditional layer that you can make and you turn it into something, something crazy.

And so I think that at this level, and right now the game from a fundamental standpoint, isn’t being taught. It’s not being taught. Like kids don’t know how to reverse pivot yet. They want to do step backs. And so  [00:09:00] It’s been tough to watch.

Mike Klinzing: [00:09:01] I think that’s because the system today encourages kids just to play games because of the business side of it, where there’s a lot of money in tournaments.

There’s a lot of money in running teams. And as a result, there’s not as much money in running practices for those teams. So do you think that’s part of it is just the fact that our kids are playing, in some cases, 50, 60, 70 games in a summertime when you go and your playing every weekend, these tournaments.

Special Jennings: [00:09:27] Yeah. And see, like, when I played AAU, we practiced, like there was practice, we practiced. And so now, like you said, these kids are playing so many games without the practice. So they’re getting seen without being good. You know, when I was on a collegiate level was almost like if I’ve already seen a kid and when I saw them, they weren’t good.

You know, naturally, someone’s gonna say, Hey, this kid that I’m already saying, listen, I seen that kid play already. You know, they’re not that good as opposed to getting good and [00:10:00] then getting seen so it’s just, it’s super backwards.

Mike Klinzing: [00:10:04] I could wave a magic wand and fix one or two aspects of the current system that we have.

And again, you can look at this from whichever coaching perspective or maybe even from a playing perspective, how could we make it better? What’s one or two things in your mind that you think would make the youth basketball system that we have today better?

Special Jennings: [00:10:25] Stop hiring Uncle Joe, and Cousin P and cousin Roberto, to run a team that has no basketball knowledge of any sort.

Obviously kids are playing for the parents and just people without any type of knowledge of the game and I’m not talking about knowledge of, Oh I know what a travel is. I know what a carry is. I know there’s more to it than just that. And when you’re just out there, because a lot of these teams, you may have someone, a parent that has a good key is like, why don’t we build a team around my kid, as opposed to like [00:11:00] allowing your kids to go develop and go get good and go play with other people that’s competitive that’s going to push them. That’s just a big problem. That’s a big problem. There’s a lot of coaches with no credentials on that level. I’ll leave it at that.

Mike Klinzing: [00:11:14] Do you think that we could, and I know this is something that USA basketball is really pushing forward with their coach certification, but I think it’s a really challenging, it’s just a challenging environment out there.

When you think about the number of coaches that are required, which goes back to what we talked about earlier, where a U is. Watered down. You have so many kids that are involved in it, that there’s only so many qualified coaches out there. And I feel like that if you get to a good program that provides at least some degree of coach training, even if you just run a quick clinic and say, Hey, here’s how you organize a practice or here’s how you relate to kids.

And so much of coaching, especially when you go down to the younger ages is. Yeah, you gotta be able to know basketball, but you see it. I’m sure you’ve [00:12:00] seen it as a college coach and you’ve seen it with the amount of experience that you’ve had out on the, a circuit. I mean, you see a lot of bad coaching and not even necessarily bad basketball coaching, but just bad human interaction of trying to coach kids in a way that I don’t think is conducive to helping them to love the game, the way you loved it.

The way I grew up loving it the way Jason grew up loving it, where. It’s just like, that’s all I wanted to do. I just wanted to go play. And I, I attribute a lot of that to the way that my family handled my situation and the way that my coaches encouraged me to play. And it sounds like you had coach Burke who kind of watched over you and encourage you to play and saw and nurtured your talent.

And I just think that that, that coach training is such an important part of it. And when you have, as you said, a parent coach or an uncle’s coming in or coaching, or you have a parent who. Isn’t qualified, but their son or daughter is a really good player. And so then they’re say, they say, well, I’m going to coach the team.

Cause my kid’s the best kid on the team. And then everybody else kind of misses out on quality coaching. I think that [00:13:00] it’s a challenge, but I think coaching certification could be a way that we can handle that. And I don’t know if you do it again with USA basketball or you do it on a more on a smaller scale with these individual AAU programs.

I don’t know what your thoughts are on that.

Special Jennings: [00:13:13] Absolutely. I mean, I think it’s a smart way to kind of weed certain scenarios out. Last year I was at an event where you see, I think these coaches are doing less coaching and more screaming at officials. You know, they’re paying attention to their kids and things like that.

Or, you know a call may happen here, but just not really paying attention to the game. And so it’s just, yeah, I think being certified just means that you have to go through a few steps and if that pushes you to have to learn a little bit about the game or kind of study the game. I think, I think you have to be certified to be an official, right?

You have to be certified. So, so it’s definitely a challenge. And I definitely think there needs to be some change because it’s just getting out of [00:14:00] control. You’ve seen more and more altercations at events. Now you see more and more kids talking back to coaches or more and more kids fighting, you see more and more kids happen, teams, you see more and more kids in the transfer portal.

Like it’s just, all of it is a direct correlation to kind of how you go through the game.

Mike Klinzing: [00:14:22] I’m going to make two points based on what you just said. And I think it’s a great, great statement that you just made about just making sure that coaches have that training that they need.

And one of the things that I’ve seen when it relates to players and just the behavior of players and coaches and people jumping around and skipping teams and having issues within games, obviously with COVID now you’ve done away with the post game handshake and at least where we’re kind of like waving at the other team.

Right. And in a way, as a coach, part of me feels this sense of relief that I don’t have to worry about. What’s going to happen as my players go through the layup, [00:15:00] you know, go through the handshake line that somebody, I mean, I can count. A number of times that my team’s gone through the line win or lose.

And after they get through the line, they come back to me and they say, Hey, coach player X said this to me when we walked by or player X pull their hand away. Or, and those are things that look they’re kids. Sometimes those things happen. But a lot of that comes from the leadership at the top, where you’ll, as you said, they’re screaming at officials or they’re doing this, or they’re doing that.

And I think that’s something that we should be able to, we should be able to fix. Without question just by again, giving coaches more training. And if we were to do that, I think we’d end up with a better, better product out on the, out on the core, for sure. Let me ask you about your recruitment. As you get into high school.

Obviously you have a tremendously successful career at Lutheran East and you start to look around the landscape and you had a lot of success from the time you were very [00:16:00] young. So when did college basketball kind of get on your radar? Has, Hey, I’m pretty sure I’m going to get an opportunity, opportunity to play college basketball.

And then just talk to me a little bit about what the recruiting process was like for you and ultimately making the decision to go to Xavier.

Special Jennings: [00:16:16] Probably 10th grade for me is when I was like, okay, is this thing serious? And this can definitely be a vehicle for me to get an education, a free one at that and kind of compete at a higher level.

I knew that I had to get some sort of scholarship. I’m very smart though. I had great grades and things like that. So whether it be an academic or athletic it had to be either one because my family would not have been able to pay for me to go to school.

So definitely 10th grade like I say, I played for all Ohio, we’re traveling and we’re getting seen by a little bit of everyone. You know, I was like, okay, I gotta buckle down. And in the recruiting process for me, I guess in the ninth grade, I kinda, like, I [00:17:00] always knew, like I was going to Ohio state.

It was just like a thing like, Oh, I’m going to Ohio state. And, but once you grow up, you mature a little bit, you start really understanding the process and understanding, Hey, you, you have to go somewhere that suit you somewhere where you can not only be successful athletically and of course, academically.

I always wanted to go somewhere where I can create my own legacy, build my own legacy, not go and be in someone else’s shadows or when I’m playing, I have to hear the comparisons of someone else that has already come and done and gone.

And so that was huge. And so when Xavier popped in, I had a couple people that I knew from AAU, they played for the family ever hairs, the Shia Phillips. We played against them several times over in Indianapolis. And you know, Amber Harris was a year older than Tisha and I, and she ended up going in and coming to Xavier and just talking to Sheila [00:18:00] and we kind of.

To me in the game of basketball to be really good. You just need a triangle and everything and everyone else to fulfill their role and knowing it, okay, this will be a great triangle. You know, this is a huge triangle. And what they had already had there at Xavier. I knew that man, I can come here and really make my own mark, do my own thing.

The school had made an elite eight. And I wanna say it had been awhile. It was when Amy was played, they actually had beat Tennessee to go to the elite eight. But you know, it hadn’t been any, anything done in, in the decade or so. And so again, when I got there, Kevin McGuff met with him, met his wife, met the rest of  the coaches on that staff and just the atmosphere as Xavier.

You know, I had a feeling. I called Xavier. After I came from the visit, I was on my flight when my flight landed, I called Kevin and committed, [00:19:00] because that just a feeling I had when I left here, it was like, wow, this is it. And so that’s how I landed there.

Mike Klinzing: [00:19:07] That’s very cool that it came to that clearly that you had that strong of a feeling that when you were there and I think.

You know, it comes down to you gotta have a fit with the coaching staff. Obviously got an opportunity to meet the players. You had an idea in your mind of kind of wanting to forge your own path and be able to have an opportunity. So when you get there, what’s the adjustment like for you both on the basketball floor, academically and socially, going from high school to college, what was the transition like for you?  What was different?

Special Jennings: [00:19:39] Because two of the coaches that was on that staff were no longer there when I got there. Tasha Pointer was she was an assistant as Adrian and she had went all, she had moved on and became an assistant at Rutgers. And then Mike Bradbury had become the head coach at Morehead State.

And so the staff was different. [00:20:00] That’s the first thing. So just that adjustment to kinda getting to know the new assistants and kind of say, Hey I signed up with these coaches. And kinda just making that adjustment, but you know, the great thing is that again, Kevin is phenomenal and he brought in great pieces to the puzzle and call tomorrow and Mike Neighbors and we had what I would consider a dynamic coaching staff.

And so the adjustment was fairly easy. And from that standpoint as a player, I think when I first got there, I had the everyone was against me mentality. I had the, I have something to prove mentality. And what that made for was, was me being uncoachable. And so those first seven games I think of my career, I didn’t start.

And, and I think that was my wake up call to say, Hey you don’t know it all, you don’t have it. All these people are not, they’re not after you, they’re here to help you. Kind of sit back, [00:21:00] listen, take it in, learn and do what they’re saying so that I can grow. And I think that was the best thing that ever happened to me was Kevin not starting me in those first games when I got to Xavier.

Mike Klinzing: [00:21:13] So what did that look like in terms of your attitude, your behavior during that initial period that made it so, Hey, I’m not starting and then. You flip the switch. So what was different about your day to day interactions or the way you went about your business?

Once that light came on for you?

Special Jennings: [00:21:31] I mean, think about it. I’m a kid coming from Cleveland I’m this, I’m that, state this and all this and that and recruiting and blah, blah, blah. So of course I felt disrespected at first for lack of better wording because I felt like man, I’ve worked I know that I’m suitable.

This is I should be starting and. No, I had that going on. And so again, it took me getting out of my own way and realizing that, [00:22:00] okay, what is the reason he’s not starting me? Let me scale back and figure out why he’s not starting me. There’s a lesson in this. And so once I was like, again, once I sat back and got that lesson of, Hey, you’re not being coachable, you think, you know it all they say, Zig zag, you know?

So just, I had to get on the same page. I had to get on the same page.

Mike Klinzing: [00:22:26] So that’s a pretty mature response for someone who’s 18 years old to kind of be able to self analyze that. So was that something that you came to on your own? Was that something that you talked with a teammate, with coach Burke, with somebody else in your life?

Special Jennings: [00:22:42]

Yeah. So that’s how I think that’s why Carla Mauro and I are so close and her and Amber stocks. As well. You know, again, I didn’t understand it at first and man, I despised them at first and I was like no, this is not what I signed up for [00:23:00] and all those things. But again, once I bought in, I bought into to what they were telling me, we had our side conversations and I was in the office and I really, really wanted to understand what was happening and Carla and Amber did a phenomenal job of putting the facts in front of me. And I mean, obviously as an 18 year old is a hard pill to swallow to say, Hey, you’re not cutting it. What you’re doing is not going to get you anywhere anytime soon but you know, and there’s a lot of people in my same situation. It’s just, you, you have to have those people in your corner that, that can, that can break it down to you in a way in which you understand, but you also have to be receptive to the information.

It works two ways. And I was fortunate enough to get out my way and become receptive and turn the corner from there.

Mike Klinzing: [00:23:52] How have you used that experience that you had as a player, as a coach? Because obviously I’m sure you’ve run into over the course of your coaching [00:24:00] career players who are in a similar position to what you were in, where for whatever reason, they’re not seeing that whole picture.

So how did you use your own experience or how do you use your own experience as a player to be able to convey those messages to the players that you’re coaching

Special Jennings: [00:24:17] Kind of the same way. Did it kind of get to know me off the court so getting to know players outside of basketball, outside of the gym, because I was not, I was not bought in because I didn’t believe that they believed in me.  I didn’t believe that they understood Special the person and not just Special the  player.

And so I always want to make sure that I know my kids outside of the gym because life happens. And a lot of coaches, I think we fail to realize that whether it’s high school kids or college kids 18 to 22 year olds, life is still [00:25:00] happening to them. And they’re trying to adjust to that.

And a lot of times they don’t know how to, and so all that negativity or whatever it is, is going on in their little bubble. No, they bring that to the gym and you know, that that can positively or negatively affect them. And so getting to know your players is huge.  That’s a big deal. You have to know them.

They have to know that you care about them as a person and not just as a player.

Mike Klinzing: [00:25:28] All right. I want to dive into that a little bit more, even though I know we haven’t quite got to your coaching career. I think this is a great point to be able to. Dive into a little bit more. So how do you go about, and maybe it’s different as an assistant coach, maybe it’s different at the college level, from the high school level, but just maybe give us a quick overview of how you build those types of relationships that you’re talking about with your players.

Is it something that is done on a formal basis where you set it up and. You have a meeting or a breakfast or a meal or take a [00:26:00] walk or whatever it is. And you do that on a regular schedule, or is it more organic where something comes up and you’re sending a text or you’re just talking to players while they’re doing their stretching or you’re having them stop in the coach’s office during school.

Just tell me a little bit about how you go about building. How do you build those relationships? Like you’re talking about?

Special Jennings: [00:26:17] It has to be organic because some cultures try too hard if you’re constantly, if you’re sitting it like as if it’s a meeting. You make me feel like I’m in trouble like it has to be organic like something as simple as, Hey, what’s up, what’d you do today?

You know, what’s going on? How’s your mom,  how’s your brothers, what you just getting the little things, little things and, and naturally people will open up when they want to open up, but you have to give them a reason to open up to you. And so forcing relationships does not make for a good relationship.

It has to be something that’s natural to say, Hey coaches, she serious on the court, but I know [00:27:00] that I can go and talk to her about anything, whether it’s Hey man, my mom really ticked me off today or whatever my, my, my partner, my boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever, it has really upset me or mad at my sister or whatever it may be for them to be able to have those conversations with you outside of basketball.

And we don’t have to always be in your office. Walk, take a walk with them, go get some ice cream, go different things to where it’s not always in the gym.

Mike Klinzing: [00:27:32] Is that easier or harder to do as an assistant coach, as opposed to being a head coach or is it just different?

Special Jennings: [00:27:39] I think it’s different.

Or I think it’s different. I just think it’s again, but kids are going to gravitate who they gravitate to towards and whether you’d have the head or the assistant it’s just who they click with and their comfort level with you? So it just is different

Mike Klinzing: [00:27:57] Makes sense.

Makes sense. All right. Let’s jump back [00:28:00] and wrap up your plank or give me one or two of your favorite memories from your time playing college basketball. And then I want to talk a little bit about your time playing professionally and Finland.

Special Jennings: [00:28:11] Probably one of my favorite memories is making it to the sweet 16.

And I say to, I don’t even say our elite eight and all that stuff, because the sweet 16 was the moment we got over the hump. And so for that that for me was the previous year we were supposed to make it and we ended up losing to Gonzaga. And then that next year, lo and behold, who do we play, Gonzaga?

And we ended up beating them. And it was just like, it was almost like, kind of like a weight lifted off your shoulder because they were very good, Courtney Vandersloot one of the best guards I’ve ever played against. And she still, to me, in my eyes, one of the best still doing it plays with Chicago Sky [00:29:00] she’s phenomenal.

She’s smart. Her IQ is super high. Her attention to details the way she played the game, she played the right way. You know, she has like a Steve Nash kind of flair to her. Just a phenomenal player. And so again, when we played them and got over that hump, that was like one of the best moments for me in my career.

Mike Klinzing: [00:29:18] Yeah, that’s very cool. Those memories that you have that stick with you. And when you have something that as a team and as an individual that has kind of been on your radar of like, Hey, we we gotta get this done. We were supposed to get here the previous year. Now we do, we get over that hump. And those are things that, again, I’m sure you know, will stick with you for the rest of your life.

And so basketball is obviously for anybody who’s listened to you talk so far basketball. Was a huge part of your life continues to be. And so as you come towards the end of your college career, you start looking around and you say, Hey, I want to continue to play. So tell us a little bit about how the opportunity comes for you to [00:30:00] play professionally.

Just give us an idea of what you had to do in order to make that happen. And then we’ll get into what that experience was like.

Special Jennings: [00:30:07] Oh man. Opportunity came from being really good at Xavier. When you sit at number three in the country and you play with people that make you look good that opportunity comes, but also obviously the hard work. I had to put in the work to put myself in a position to play the minutes that I was capable to play in and to be the teammate that I was, and to do the things that I was able to do. Just the hard work and dedication an the blood, sweat, and tears that go into to becoming someone that can compete at the professional level.

When I’m honest, man, again, I played with people that made me look great.

Mike Klinzing: [00:30:48] Yeah, that’s a great lesson for any player who might be out there listening that so often, especially in today’s culture. It’s such a, me, me, me culture. And to hear you say [00:31:00] that, yeah, I accomplished a lot, but I only accomplished a lot because my teammates were there to make me look good.

I mean, I think if all of us could adopt that mentality, not just in basketball, but you just didn’t think about in life. How many people try to grab credit for. Doing this or doing that instead of looking around them at the people, whether it’s their family, whether it’s their coworkers, whether it’s whoever.

That has supported them and helped them and gotten them to the position that they’re in. I think that gratitude that you have is something that if we could transfer that to everybody in every walk of life, we’d all probably be a lot happier and a lot more well adjusted society than we are than we are at time.

Special Jennings: [00:31:38] Why are you trying to win and trying to be successful? You don’t care who get the credit of the day when the goal is common and you’re, you’re, you have a goal and everybody’s on the same page. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit I’d rather win a championship and then score 20 points go ahead.

No, no, no. I just miss out whether they win a championship, I’m more [00:32:00] satisfied with having four rings from Xavier than any accolade that I carry.

Mike Klinzing: [00:32:06] Yeah, I think that that’s something that unfortunately the way that our society is set up and it goes back to that youth basketball culture. And just, this was the point that I wanted to make back when when we were talking about this, that kind of slipped my mind as we were talking.

But I think one of the things that I see with players and their families in a lot of cases is they they’re so focused on the next opportunity. That’s going to come along, that they lose sight of. The moment that they’re in, in other words, when I’m an elementary school player, I’m thinking about, well, I got to get out of this AUT or I can’t wait till I can play for my school and be a starter.

And then when I get done with middle school, I want to be on the varsity right away. And if I’m not on the varsity, then I’m going to transfer. And then when I’m on the varsity, I’m not really enjoying my time playing high school basketball because I’m worried about, am I going to get a scholarship and where am I going to go to school?

And then. Even if I get to college, I’m like, well, I’m not scoring enough points or [00:33:00] I’m just, I gotta get an opportunity to play professionally. And by the time I turn around my time as a player is over and as a parent, this is something that I didn’t understand until I had my own kids and kind of had them going through it.

It just goes so fast. And if you’re focused on what’s going to happen next year, then you miss. What’s right in front of you. And I think that what you’ve been talking about, the theme of celebrating your teammates and recognizing the contributions that they’ve made and just enjoying being with them and trying to have success as a group, as a team, not as an individual.

To me, that really is what is the beauty of basketball. And that’s when you look at the players, the teams that are most successful is they figure out a way to make it a team. And there still may be a star player. There still may be one player who. Is better than the others or stands out more than the others, but on the best teams, everybody finds a way to pull that rope in the same direction.

I think that’s what you’re describing. So talking about Finland, [00:34:00] tell me a little bit about what that was like. You go out of the country, you’re in a whole different culture. What was that like? Not only playing, but also just living in a foreign country for again, a kid who’s 20, 22, 23 years old?

Special Jennings: [00:34:16] Oh it was cold and it was cold.

But I enjoyed my time there. I actually had one of my, one of my teammates actually played not for the same team as me, but in the same, basically in the same area. I lived in Helsinki and I don’t remember where she lived, so we ended up playing against each other. And, and it was a bunch of people over there today I had already played against when I was at Xavier. Rachana McCanns, Vanessa house all, all of those young ladies were there as well. And so it was cool. I mean, we, we would get together. I know, I know one of my teammates, she came and visited and things like that, but obviously moving to a different country, it’s a culture shock. You’re not shy to tell people there’s a difference between visiting and living. You know, you [00:35:00] visited for a week or two or whatever. It’s totally different than living somewhere for nine months. You know, by yourself and in a different culture, seeing different things you know, it’s fine, but that that two wears out you the whole site scene and all of that is only so much sites you can see.

And so it wears on you. They wear on you, but I mean, I wouldn’t change the experience for anything.

Mike Klinzing: [00:35:25] Was that being by yourself piece of it the hardest?

Special Jennings: [00:35:29] Yeah, because Finland was different because they speak their own language. It’s not like French, Spanish things, people that’s typically taught in school where it’s easier to kind of catch them once they speak Finnish.

And so that language is just so hard to learn. There’s translators and people spoke English and everything like that. So it was, it was a great experience.

Mike Klinzing: [00:35:53] All right. I know this is my standard question to anybody who’s played overseas.

What is your craziest [00:36:00] European basketball story? Because everybody has some kind of goofy something that went on, whether it’s with the fans, whether it’s with team management, whether it’s with coaches. I know there’s something. So give us your best one that you can share on the pod.

Special Jennings: [00:36:16] No, I’m definitely. I think when I got to get together with a few friends and we actually got to hang out on an adult level.

I think that’s probably the best part about being over there because you’re in a different country, but you still get to hang with some of your friends. And so y’all should get to share that experience together. I think that’s that makes for the best part, without me going into the craziness on the podcast.

Mike Klinzing: [00:36:45] Understood, understood, enough said. All right. So as you start to look ahead while you’re there playing in Finland for a couple of years, when does coaching come onto [00:37:00] your radar? Was it something that you had been thinking about while you were playing, or was it a case where you finished playing and you looked around and you said, Well, I don’t know if I want to get a regular job.

Basketball has been so important to me in my life. I think I better figure out a way to stay in the game. Was it more of a long-term plan or was it more of a, Hey, I got to figure this thing out cause I want to stay in basketball?

Special Jennings: [00:37:24] No, I knew I would coach when I was a player. I knew I never, I didn’t and I was one of those players where I felt like I’ve done everything I needed to do with basketball.

I played at the highest level. So for me, I didn’t want to play another 10 years. I knew I wanted to coach as a player, and that’s why I did this, so you want to be a coach program and kind of lay those lay down a foundation for myself before I went to Europe. And then that way, when I came back it was already I hit the ground running.

And another fortunate thing obviously is when you build those relationships with your coaches and things like that. You come back and get opportunity. You know, Mike Bradbury was the head coach at [00:38:00] Morehead. He was an assistant as Adrian and he got the head job at Morehead state, but then he left there and became the head coach at Wright State.

And that’s actually where I started my career at. You know, I came Mason call Kevin, would’ve made some calls and boom, when I knew  it was time to hang it up. I wanted to hang it up. You know, he gave me an opportunity. And so it, for me, it was always in the works.

Mike Klinzing: [00:38:22] All right.

So explain to me what the program is that you mentioned. That you participated in before you went to Finland, because there may be some people out there like myself who aren’t familiar with that.

Special Jennings: [00:38:31] It’s called, So you want to be a coach. It’s done by the WBCA each year. And you have to submit an essay explaining why you want to do it and why they should pick you and things like that because they only pick a half.

I think it’s 24 candidates. I want to say it’s 24. I’m not sure what that number is. And so I did that and it was something I went through the school  and through my coaches and everything like that, and [00:39:00] met phenomenal people in that program. It is hosted at the final four.

And so you go to the final four, you have your itinerary of when you’re going to meet and all those things. They have some amazing speakers on the panel. That’s where I met LaChina Robinson who I think highly of who does broadcasting at a high level on the women’s side.

And also she’s done a lot of things for the women’s game and you just meet people, you meet a ton of people and you learn so much about the behind the scenes things and about basketball and you network. You know, lo and behold, sometimes those are the people that give you an opportunity.

Mike Klinzing: [00:39:46] So when you get the opportunity right state and that program sounds fantastic. And I think that’s something that you talked about earlier coach’s certification. I mean, what better way to prepare a group of young women to go into the game as coaches by [00:40:00] one, exposing them to all that knowledge and just all those people that can serve as mentors and sounding boards and everything that goes along with that.

We all know are critical to your success as a coach. So when you get to Wright State and you actually get to start being a coach, what was that like from the standpoint, was there anything that surprised you about coaching that maybe you didn’t realize before getting into it? And then two, what was it about coaching that you knew you loved immediately?

Special Jennings: [00:40:35] Whatever I said, my technical title was not coach. But just to be in an atmosphere of where I can learn and be around the game and working out the players and getting to work with the players and things like that, and kind of get my foot in the water from that standpoint.

And then learning video, learning Synergy, learning the ins and outs and the behind the scenes of coaching, because there’s so much more that goes into it than just. [00:41:00] Okay. You go to practice and you go home. If you think that that’s it, then you have been misguided. And so just being able to get my feet wet and seeing all of that and start to kind of sit down, study the game, learn the game and move from there.

Mike Klinzing: [00:41:21] All right. So you’re in that you start getting into coaching, you start looking around for opportunities, as you said to learn the game to get more involved in the coaching profession, what do you remember that first year? A couple things that you took away from that first season that you’re still carrying with you as a coach, things that made an impression on you that continue to impact your coaching career today?

Special Jennings: [00:41:49] It was a good year it was the first year that the Wright state had ever made it to the NCAA tournament was the first time they had won the conference championship. So, it was a [00:42:00] good year. It was a great year. I learned a ton. I think y one of the people I was close with on that staff is Trina Merryweather, who’s actually the head coach at Wright State now. She was an assistant then. But just watching how she was a recruiting coordinator, watching how she how she did things, how she talked to people just kind of picking her brain. She was one of the ones that I talked to a ton and just trying to build myself up and learn.

Mike Klinzing: [00:42:31] All right. So from Wright State, your next opportunity is at Augusta talk about how that opportunity came to you and then what your experience was like at Augusta?

Special Jennings: [00:42:40] Well, the opportunity came because, it was something that had opened up and I wanted to be on the floor. And I think for me to learn even more was for me to be on the floor.

And so I knew that I had to find a way to get an actual titled assistant position [00:43:00] so that I could be on the floor. Augusta was different because it was almost like just, I got thrown into the fire. At the division two level it’s, it’s the head coach and it’s an assistant coach.

It’s not all the at the division one level where you have three assistants, a head coach, you may have graduate assistants. You may have managers. Yeah, video coordinator, director of basketball, operations, all those things, and at the D two level,  that assistant is all of those things. And that made me learn even more.

You know, I had to learn new things, learn scouting, learn, you know community outreach community service academic liaison. So you wear so many different hats and it just kind of forced me to have to learn things.

Mike Klinzing: [00:43:44] Do you think if you had stayed at the division one level and sort of worked your way up through, again, the administrative assistant position, the director of basketball ops, video coordinator, those kinds of things.

If you had worked your way through all those jobs and still. Not being [00:44:00] able to get on the floor. Like, do you feel like that the jump to division three division two accelerated your growth as a coach and ultimately is going to benefit you and is benefiting you in your car?

Special Jennings: [00:44:11] Yeah, because in those positions, you’re not on the floor you can say what you want about, Hey, you can sit and watch.

It’s one thing to watch. And it’s another thing to have to actually present. When you’re a coach, you have to display demonstrate, you have to be able to communicate. You have to be able to pour in to your players as a video coordinator and director, player, basketball, operations, and administrative assistant, all the you’re not on the floor you can see what’s happening, but it’s different when you have to actually touch it is different to say, Hey, the stove is hot.

Yeah. Yeah. I can see that. It’s hot. I don’t know how hot it is that know. I’ll put your hand over the fire. You could feel that burn you. There’s a difference. And so division two, I think that was the best [00:45:00] decision I’ve ever made. You know, because like I said, I had to wear so many different hats. I do not think, I do not believe that I would have had the opportunity to learn and grow as fast as I did without going that route.

Mike Klinzing: [00:45:12]  What’s something that you weren’t very good at in that position at first, that you feel like over the course of your time there, that you got better at and improved.

Special Jennings: [00:45:25] Oh man, dude, the administrative side, there is a ton of paperwork involved in coaching from evaluating transcripts to making sure academics is on point to getting kids in.

And there is so much administrative work that goes into coaching. And you have no idea until you’re actually in it. And so I think that that was the biggest adjustment for me was the administrative side.

Mike Klinzing: [00:45:57] Yeah. I could see where again, when [00:46:00] you are as a kid, as a player, when you think about being a coach, you think about the things that you mentioned right off the top, which was you think about?

I go to practice. I go to the games and it’s all basketball all the time. And that’s what you think as a player. And then when you actually become a coach, you realize that only a small percentage of what you actually do is on the court is basketball stuff on the court, right? There’s so many other things that are also still critically important to your success.

I think sometimes even when people who get into coaching, sometimes when you realize how much of that other stuff that you have to do, it’s easy to think. Well, maybe that stuff’s not. As important in a lot of cases, it’s just as important as what you do on the floor, because in order to build a successful program, you have to have all those systems in place in order for that to happen.

And obviously as a head coach, you have to manage all that. And then as an assistant, you have to help the head coach and fill in. Areas that they need filled in and help them to do [00:47:00] things, maybe an area that they aren’t as strong in and you can provide a strength and vice versa. And it’s just, we want to have that kind of staff where everybody works together.

And as you said, I think one of the things that’s been a theme special that’s run through our podcast is there’s been a number of coaches that have come on that have said the exact same thing that you shared, which is going and working at a lower level than the division. One level really forces you to get out of your comfort zone and.

Wear so many different hats as opposed to kind of being just focused on, okay. I’m only the operations person, only the video coordinator where I’m only working in seeing this one aspect of the program. And I can only imagine just as you’ve said, the value that you got out of that experience. So your next experience Is at Flagler. Talk to me about again, how that experience, how that came to you and then what your year was like?

Special Jennings: [00:47:51]  Because Nate teamer love that guy to death. We worked together three years at Augusta. His wife is high up in [00:48:00] her job at P&G and she ended up getting, they ended up getting relocated and obviously there’s a decision there.

Do I stay here or do I go with my wife? And if you’re smart, you go with your wife. Okay. And so that’s that’s the decision that he made, and so I have been knowing Erica Lang Montgomery through the conference. And she was just a heartfelt woman kind of.

Every game, we kind of had conversation and then she was just phenomenal. And I think what really like solidified the deal for me was, an unfortunate situation had occurred and my grandmother had passed and I was still at Augusta and Erica Lang Montgomery sent me a card. Mind you, we talked at games.

You know, we never really talked on the phone and things like that. But for me, for somebody to take time out of their day to reach out to you. And we don’t have a relationship to where we’re talking on a daily basis and things like that. And to send her support and condolences and things like [00:49:00] that.

Man, when the opportunity came for us to work together, for me, it was a no brainer. You know, we share like-minded goals and myself wanting to go somewhere and she was at a point at her coaching career where she was making a turn with her program and just to help her go in and be able to help her do that, you know?

And that, and that just that one year, man, I wouldn’t change that either.

Mike Klinzing: [00:49:27] Yeah. I think when you can find somebody who you can learn from, and that you have a good relationship with, it’s so valuable and we’ve talked to coaches actually that have had both experiences where sometimes you get, and you’re working with somebody who.

It turns out that you really click and you work really well together. And then we’ve had coaches on here who have kind of almost gone the opposite where they’ve worked for somebody. And they’ve learned a lot of things that, Hey, you got to learn from what you don’t want to do as well, sometimes in certain cases.

And so it’s just interesting to hear as people go through their story and go through sort of the [00:50:00] chronology of their careers and what. They learn and what they pick up at each stop. And then your last stop before Monteverdi is that the university of Illinois, Chicago. And so now you’re back at the division one level.

What’s that like, just tell me about what your experiences are like as a University of Illinois, Chicago Flame.

Special Jennings: [00:50:20] You know, every experience I had has been different and unique because every person I’ve worked with. Has been different and unique in her own way. I had been knowing Tasha Pointer for a very long time.

Like I said, she was an assistant at Xavier and part of that recruiting process of recruiting me to come there. And so she had been around in the business, heavily respected, like a mentor to me we would have conversations you know, periodically and things like that as I was coming up in the business.

And she was someone that I was looking up to and someone that I respect and still respect to this day. And [00:51:00] so she got the head coaching job at UIC and she gave me the opportunity to join her and, and come work with her.

Mike Klinzing: [00:51:11] Any difference in the different levels that you’ve coached at in terms of, obviously there’s a difference in the job descriptions and depending on what.

Your title is and what you’re doing from that standpoint, but just in terms of when you’re coaching, different levels of players, is your approach approach as a coach, any different, whether you’re coaching division one or you’re coaching division two or you’re coaching at the high school level, does your approach as a coach change other than maybe having to adjust just to the age of the players when you’re talking about high school versus college?

Special Jennings: [00:51:44] No, I think that obviously each level is a little different and when I say different as it. Yeah, you may have more of an elite player who skill-wise, but you still have all the same problems for sure [00:52:00] the problems are the same at every level. You run into, like you said, and you know, whether it’s academic or whether it’s administration or whether it’s what have , you run into the same problems at every level.

So I didn’t approach it as. Oh, this isn’t division two. This is division one. The only difference is you’re recruiting a different type of kid.

Mike Klinzing: [00:52:24] Yeah. There’s no doubt. I think that when you have, and you figure out your approach as a coach and you figure out what you want to do and what’s important to you and how you go about doing it, then I think there’s some universal truths to coaching that if you.

Have your beliefs and you have a system and you have the way that you want to interact with kids and you want to build the relationships like we talked about earlier, then those lessons are going to apply across whatever level you’re coaching. And again, whatever age of kid, if you just make some slight adjustments to dealing with whatever’s going on in their life, outside of the game, then you can have that impact that you want to have.

[00:53:00] So you obviously spend the beginning part of your career as a college coach and. Now you’re coaching at the high school level at Monteverde you go from being an assistant coach to a head coach. So there’s two transitions there in this new position that you’re in. So I don’t know which one you want to tackle first, going from an assistant coach to a head coach or going from the college to the high school level, or maybe weave in both into one answer.

But what’s the experience been like so far in this new position with this new opportunity?

Special Jennings: [00:53:30] The experience has been great. You know, we’ve, we’re meant to both because. My coaching experience at the collegiate level, I think is what really has prepared me for what I’m doing. I know oftentimes people think that coaching at different places is a bad thing.

But for me, I think that that was a great thing because I think that some coaches stick with one coach say you’re an assistant you’re with the same head coach for 10 years. Right. You’re only learning [00:54:00] one way. You know, you’re learning how that specific person likes it and how they want it and how they see it.

You know, I was fortunate enough to be a part of different programs. And like I said earlier each coach was different, their style was different. So I learned different styles, different coaching metrics, whether it’s offense defense there, there were lessons there. So now that I transitioned into a head coach here, I kind of was able to take from each one of those coaches what I thought suited me and able to put all that stuff together and, and mold myself as a head coach.

And I think that that has been like the biggest blessing for me. At this position.

Mike Klinzing: [00:54:43] When you think about being a head coach and going into Monteverde, what would you say was your number one priority? When you got there as a head coach, based on what you would learn at your other stops, what was the thing that you said?

If we’re going to [00:55:00] have the type of success that I want to have as the head coach that I have to establish this, or I need to do this? What was the number one thing that was on your agenda when you got the job?

Special Jennings: [00:55:11] Well, my number one thing on the agenda when I got to Montverde was to get to know the players.

That’s number one. Obviously you have to gain. The trust and respect of the, of the people you’re going to coach. You know, if I come in the door, guns blazing, Hey, this is, this is my way or the highway, that type of attitude it’s already hard when, when people have to transition into playing for someone else let alone a different style different, different personality, a different difference is, is sometimes it’s hard to adjust to different.

And so my number one thing was to just come in and get to know these young ladies. Before I laid any basketball rules, or I don’t even say rules cause we don’t have rules, but [00:56:00] any basketball philosophies or anything down,

Mike Klinzing: [00:56:04] Do you have to go into the Montverde community, the school community, and maybe sell your program is the wrong way of saying it, but just get people to understand what you’re all about, what your program is going to be all about. Obviously that’s a very unique situation for people who maybe aren’t as familiar with the Montverde just the way that it’s set up. And maybe you could speak to that a little bit, just for people who are unfamiliar with that, but did you have to go out to the community, the school community and talk to people about, Hey, this is the kind of program that we’re going to try to put together here.

Special Jennings: [00:56:41] No. I think what I did was well, I kind of sold myself to the president who that’s the one part I asked myself to him and the AD and everybody that was involved in it and the hiring process. But I think honestly I don’t think you have to [00:57:00] sell a good product. I think that when you have a good product and you distributed it the right way, people want to buy it. And so my whole thing was just coming in and kind of getting our product together. I can’t sell something that if I don’t know if it’s good or not a lot of times people try to sell stuff that’s not good. You know? And it’s the same thing. As you know, when I talk about being a player, you got to get good before you get seen.

And so I never wanted to put too much pressure on the young lady that was here, or even pressure on myself by saying, Hey, This is what I’m doing. Distance. It’s a distance it’s done now. Granted, yes, I have goals. I was scared as a head coach. I have goals, but I didn’t apply that pressure on these young ladies as, Hey, this is what we need to do.

You know, this is the end all be all. It’s not that. And so for me, the important part is getting my product good and good salesman. They are when the product is really you making money off the product, [00:58:00] you really ain’t selling nothing because people want to buy it because it’s good for sure.

So. Yeah. You know, less of me trying to sell anything and more of me trying to try to make sure that product is great.

Mike Klinzing: [00:58:12] So as you’re putting that together and you start thinking about what it’s going to look like and what you want it to be, what was the thing? I guess this is a two part question.

What was the thing that as a head coach, you felt the most confident in your ability to do. And then on the other hand, what was the thing that you were maybe the most nervous about stepping into a head coaching role for the first time? I

Special Jennings: [00:58:40] I will honestly tell you that I’ll answer the second question first.

Okay. I was, I was not nervous and I say that like wholeheartedly, because the resources that Montverde provides I can’t man. I see, I couldn’t ask for a better administration here, the [00:59:00] resources that the school provide and, and the support from everybody at the school, like I couldn’t ask for a better situation.

You know, it makes my job easier when I have people that back everything that I’m trying to do, and I have people that are willing to provide the resources for me  to navigate and reach all the goals  that we have set forth. So, I had no trouble there.

Yeah. And you’re I answered the second question first.

Mike Klinzing: [00:59:32] The first question was what was something that you had complete confidence in that you knew that you were going to be able to do right out of the gate?

Special Jennings: [00:59:41] You know, I take full just, just pride in and just being a student of the game and knowing that I’m smart enough to know that I don’t know enough, but I do know that I’ve learned a lot.

And so I take pride in my coaching [01:00:00] ability and player development those things are if I had one thing I had to bring to the table and I’m like, Hey, I’m going to knock it out the park with this is that so, so yeah, man, I had no doubt in my mind because I do my part. I do my homework. I watch a lot of basketball. I studied the game. I listen to podcasts. I listen to different panels. I’m watching different zoom meetings and clinics and just, everything you need to kind of just continue to grow and learn.

Mike Klinzing: [01:00:33] Who’s the one person that if you have a question, if you want to bounce something off somebody who’s that first call go into.

Special Jennings: [01:00:42] Ooh, I have a couple of people, but definitely Carla Morrow will be my first call.

Mike Klinzing: [01:00:49] When you call up and you have a conversation with her and what does that, what does that look like?

What’s, the conversation back and forth with you say, Hey, I’m having this [01:01:00] particular situation. How does she go about helping you to work through that and talk it through?

Special Jennings: [01:01:07] She is  solution-based. She’s very solution-based and, and I go to her because it’s going to just be full honesty. And like I said,  there’s a couple of people I can I talk to, but, and when I first got here, she was that was who I talked to that’s who I called because she’s done it at different levels.

She was my coach at Xavier. She was an assistant coach in the WNBA. And now she’s the assistant coach at Ohio State. And so she has different. She’s been at different levels and she’s been able to see different things and having different experiences.

So she’s who I who I call and she gave it to me real raw and uncut.

Mike Klinzing: [01:01:48] That’s good. That’s what you want. You know, you want somebody who’s going to give it to you straight and not try to sugar coat. Cause we know one of the things I think that is most important as a coach is your ability to [01:02:00] have, I don’t want to say difficult conversations, but just to be able to tell the truth, whether it’s to your players, whether it’s to.

Parents who are involved in your program, whether it’s to your administration. I think coaches sometimes can get themselves in trouble when they’re not. Honest about situations and then things build up. And then before it, you kind of backed yourself into a corner and the coaches that I’ve been around and I’ve known that have had success are ones that are willing to tell the truth, whether the truth is something that people want to hear or not.

Has that been your experience with what you’ve been able to see in, in the coaching world?

Special Jennings: [01:02:33] Yeah. I mean, the only way you’re going to get better is if somebody called you out on your stuff, you don’t grow by everybody pegging on your back and saying, Oh, you’re great. You know, you don’t grow like that.

And so you have to, and this is for coaches to get out and do their due diligence and find people that they can have honest conversations with but it’s two fold. So some people, like you said, don’t want those conversations and others that do, those are ones that, [01:03:00] that am I staying a little bit, but Hey, I needed to hear it move on from it.

And so I’m just fortunate enough that I do have people in my corner that that’s going to tell me the truth.

Mike Klinzing: [01:03:10] That makes sense. All right. So I want to flip the question around on you and ask. I know one of the things that from talking to Evarist who got us connected, he said, one of the things that you’re passionate about is being able to help other young women and lift them up and reach back behind you to help pull up other people behind you and get them involved in the game of basketball and just to be able to lift up young women in general.

So do you have. People who you are the mentor to them. And just, why are you so passionate about being able to help the next generation of players, coaches, young women, to help them to achieve some of the things that you’ve been able to do in your life?

Special Jennings: [01:03:55] Yeah. I’d like to say that I’ve been doing a decent job because of the relationships I [01:04:00] have with my former players I’m still connected with a lot of them.

And I take pride in forming those relationships and fostering them in and keeping them long lasting. And so that as a coach, that’s like the best reward for me to see them go on and become successful  in doing whatever it is they may want to do, whether it’s going to be a lawyer or going to be project management or just different things. Just having that relationship to where my former players are still calling me like, that’s, that’s great.

And just like myself, how I still talk to my former coaches. So it just is like, it it’s like a trickle down effect where I come from and the things that I went through and all those things, basketball was my vehicle and my way out. And of course I like-minded, I want to help the next young lady there.

There’s plenty of people that go through the same thing that I go through. There’s plenty of people that just want that opportunity. And all it takes is [01:05:00] somebody believing in them. And, and awarding them that opportunity. I just think that’s why I do it.

Mike Klinzing: [01:05:07] I always say that there’s nothing more rewarding than getting that phone call from somebody that played for you five years ago, 10 years ago. And you pick up the phone and they’re like, Hey coach. And you just, you just know that. You’ve had an impact. And a lot of times, as a coach, we don’t always know it in the moment because a lot of times players are so caught up in what they’re doing day to day, that they don’t always appreciate what their coach has done for them over the course of their career.

And then two years later, five years later, 10 years later, 20 years later, when they look back on those experiences and the lessons that they learned and just the memories that they have. And when somebody reaches out to share that with you, to me, there’s nothing. There’s nothing better than that particular moment as a coach.

And I think just from hearing you talk, I’m sure that there’s a lot of young women that have [01:06:00] had the opportunity to play for you. That would certainly say that same thing. I want to wrap up your special with one final question against a two-parter. It’s kind of one that we’ve been ending the podcast with recently.

And the first part is when you look ahead, what do you see as your biggest challenge? And then what is the biggest joy that you have in being a basketball coach? So your biggest challenge and your biggest joy?

Special Jennings: [01:06:29] I think my biggest challenge for me is a goal is to kind of build and have multiple teams on the girl’s side at Montverde and kind of build it into like an Academy kind of something similar to like what the boys have.

Just to get more girls involved and have more teams and developing more young ladies. Obviously that’s going to be a challenge because when more people come and hire more staff, more [01:07:00] resources, those types of things. So I think that that’ll be a challenge, but one I’m willing to tackle because it’s something  that I want.

It’s something that I want to happen. And you asked what, what is my biggest joy? Yes. My biggest joy right now is just coaching these young ladies that I have, they come in day in and day out and they work hard for me. I couldn’t ask for a better group, especially in my first coaching job.

I couldn’t ask for a better group of young ladies to kind of get my career started with me. And then this group that I have right now.

Mike Klinzing: [01:07:37] Yeah, I think just that day-to-day relationship with players is something that coaches always mentioned. And I usually say it in some, everybody takes kind of a different approach or shares that in a different way.

But ultimately I think that that relationship with players is really what drives coaches and the basketball piece of it clearly is very, very [01:08:00] important, but it ultimately. As we’ve talked about numerous times throughout the podcast. And I think we started out here. It’s those relationships that are really what makes your coaching career so valuable and so rewarding.

And so many coaches have shared that with us. And I just, I just think it’s so, so critically important when we think about young coaches out there. So often they get into it just because of the basketball piece of it. And then as they’re in it longer, they start to realize that yeah, basketball is certainly a part of it, but it’s those relationships that really drive your ultimate satisfaction as a coach special.

I want to just say. Before we wrap up here. I want to say thank you to you for taking the time out of your schedule to join us. Before we wrap up, I want to give you a chance where to share where people can reach out to you, how they can connect with you, how they can connect with your program, share your social media, whatever way you feel is best for people to connect with you and find [01:09:00] out more about you and your program.

And then I’ll jump back in and wrap up the episode.

Special Jennings: [01:09:05] Special Jennings. You can follow our program, Montverde Academy Girls Basketball on Twitter and on Instagram @MVAGBB. My personal accounts on Twitter, you can follow me @SpecialJennings kind of just to update and stay in tuned to what we have going on.

I thank y’all so much for having me. It’s been phenomenal. You asked a ton of great questions and I hope that my knowledge and my journey can shed light on some things in this industry and help the next generation.

Mike Klinzing: [01:09:38] Absolutely. It was a lot of fun. We had an absolute blast and a chance to talk to you.

And I think learning about your background and growing up in Cleveland and just all the things that you’ve been able to do in the game and all the things that you’re going to be able to do in the game, as you continue to build and grow in your career. We’re just we’re honored that you took the time out of your schedule to join us.

So thank you very much. [01:10:00] And to everyone who’s out there listening, we appreciate it and we will catch you on our next episode. Thanks.

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