Pre-dawn practices build discipline
Third in a series
Our interview with Hall of Fame Coach John Chaney just before Christmas last year is believed to be his last such interview before his death. He passed away on Jan. 29. We continue with excerpts from our one-hour phone chat.
A fitting tribute: Several Philadelphia area boys’ high school basketball teams honored the late John Chaney on the day of his Feb. 8 funeral service by holding 6 am practices. “The opportunity for us to pay tribute to Coach Chaney was a great experience for us,” St. Joseph’s Prep Head Coach Jason Harrigan told the MSR last week.
Former Temple player Marc Jackson during his Minnesota Timberwolves days told us when asked that he wasn’t bothered practicing before sunup, saying that early morning practices kept him and his teammates from staying up late.
John Chaney told us in December that he didn’t start practicing so early in the morning at Temple but rather began this habit before he arrived at the Division I school. “I did it at Cheyney,” he said of the HBCU school where he spent a decade, his first college coaching job, “because I wanted to make sure our players find themselves disciplined.
“You are going to be disciplined when you get up that early in the morning and you go to bed [early] at night. You are not going to hang around.”
Chaney said by holding early morning practices, the players then afterwards could go to classes and concentrate on studies without having to schedule around typical afternoon sessions. It was his overall commitment to them “in order to keep them in school,” Coach continued. “I had to organize a practice that enabled them to get to class, and then go to study after class. That’s why I did it.”
To his recollection, just one of his players ever was late for practice: Terrance Stansbury (1980-84). “I made him run around the balcony the whole practice,” Chaney chuckled. “He kept saying, ‘Now, Coach?’ and I said, ‘Not now.’” Stansbury ran the entire practice.
Lesson learned, noted the teacher: “I never had anybody late from then on.”
Chaney (2001) and Rutgers WBB Coach C. Vivian Stringer (2009) both are Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame inductees. According to the Philadelphia Tribune’s Donald Hunt, who wrote a Chaney biography, Chaney and Stringer might be the first Hall of Famers to have coached at the same time at a Black college, Cheyney State.
“That’s big time,” stated Hunt, who regularly kept up with Chaney over the years and last talked to him on his birthday, nine days before his death in January.
At Cheyney, both Chaney and Stringer’s teams often practiced together. “We practiced together because we only had one gym,” admitted Chaney. “Men and women practicing together was unheard of at the time. We start out with the drills, then go into scrimmages.”
This helped both teams—it reinforced discipline on defense for his squad and toughened up Stringer’s squad to better compete in games. Noted Chaney, “Our team was to stay down [on defense] and not block shots when the women [shot]. It served us well and served them well.”
Stringer, in a nearly 1,100 word tribute to her late friend and mentor, wrote, “He was singularly responsible for the coach I have become. Out of all of the things I have copied from my mentor, the hardest thing to maintain has been his notorious 5:30 am practices. I am a night owl. Nonetheless, I did it just because he did, and that’s how he taught me.
“After we left Cheyney State,” she continued, “we led our respective teams—he at Temple and I at Iowa—to the number-one ranking in the same year, in 1988.”
Next week: Chaney talks about when he learned of his HOF induction and his legacy.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.