Let the record show that at 5:58 p.m. on October 15, 2010—58 minutes into his first practice as the head coach of the Flying Dutchmen basketball team—the perpetually good-natured Mo Cassara got mad.
“Are you telling me that’s as fast as you can run?” Cassara said after he whistled a stop to a drill in which players play suffocating defense on staff members before sprinting to one of the baskets. “Do it again.”
In the second half of the nearly three-hour workout, Cassara grew annoyed when Brad Kelleher and Dwan McMillan, the two players most likely to play the point this season, continued sniping at one another after mixing it up in a physical defensive drill. Cassara used the opportunity to declare he didn’t want to hear any complaining and that the Dutchmen better get it out of their system now.
“Coach Mo getting under some players’ skins today, getting fired up—hey, that’s what we want,” Greg Washington said.
Criticism by Cassara was far outweighed by the positive reinforcement he delivered to his players: On McMillan’s next trip up the floor, he and Cassara spoke and patted each other on the back.
“It’s good for them to know when they do things right and when they do things wrong,” Cassara said afterward. “We’re going to keep encouraging and keep coaching.”
Still, to hear Cassara raising his voice was just one of the many new experiences for the Dutchmen on the first night of the season. “Very strange,” Charles Jenkins said. “Each direction I look, I’m seeing a new face. It’s very strange—a whole new team. A whole new system. It’s different.”
“A lot of freshmen would be like ‘Well, what do we have today?’ and I’m like ‘Well, I don’t know—this is my first time too,’” Washington said with a laugh. “[Last year he could] be like ‘Oh, one time we did this last year, we did that’ and you know what it is. When it’s new, you kind of get nervous a little bit, but it’s good. It’s fun.”
There was at least one similarity to a Pecora-coached practice: An emphasis on defense, which was difficult to highlight during the brief workouts Cassara and his staff were allowed to hold during the first several weeks of the school year.
“No shots are going to go uncontested in this gym,” Cassara said early in the practice.
Cassara was hands-on the entire time, showing the Dutchmen the type of footwork and effort he wants to see as well as the type of verbal commands he wants them to use.
“It’s just so many things so quickly,” Cassara said afterward. “There’s new terms, there’s new phrases, there’s so many different things that they have to learn. And they also have to learn how to come together as a team. You’ll hear me say all the time ‘Team, team, team. Team defense. Team effort.’ Those are the type of things that our guys will have to constantly grasp. And once they do that, we’re going to be pretty good.”
Cassara said he was hopeful it would take “…a good week or 10 days” for the Dutchmen to adapt to his practices, work out the kinks every team has in October and to get into midseason shape. In the meantime, he’s looking for more of what he saw Friday night—effort and enthusiasm.
“This is a new staff, it’s an all-new team in the sense that they’re learning a whole new system, a whole new coaching staff—so a lot of teaching today,” Cassara said. “Overall I’m really happy with our effort and happy with the energy. I think every day we’re going to get a little bit better.”