The Unspoken Truths of State Title Teams

Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive about the title of this piece. You’ve all read the books, watched the documentaries, and heard the speeches from those we look up to and seek out for guidance. What could I possibly add to the dialogue? Truth be told, there isn’t much to discover in terms of the traits of winners. All the buzzwords of success are not only true, but they are known…culture, preparation, work-ethic, etc. (in no particular order of course). You know the public perception of champions, but what about all the stuff behind the curtain? It is my hope to provide you not with something new in itself, but simply a different way of looking at what you already know. I’m not sure any particular point is more important than the other, but we certainly believe all were vital to our success. Enjoy!

5 point guards will compete in any game. 

We may not win, but we’ll be close. That is how important a great PG is to a program’s success. In high school basketball you don’t need a stud athlete, a 6’8″ bruiser, or even an all-star to be successful, but I guarantee you’ll be hard-pressed to find a state championship team without a true coach on the floor. If there is one player you coach early, often, and hard…make it your point. If you don’t have one, make one. I can tell you from experience the latter is nearly impossible, but it is absolutely worth the effort.

Coach your players, not your system. 

Players change every year so why should everything else stay the same? To be clear this was easy to execute in our program. We were a man and motion team. Make no mistake, we had sets and we made use of tactics such as a sinking man to mimic a zone, but we never changed our foundation. We were hard to scout and hard to adjust to because of our players, not our system. Because we were so intent on making sure our roles/responsibilities and strengths/weaknesses were clearly and publicly defined, we were able to overcome a lot of the issues that arise in almost any group of competitive teenage boys. We broke down the intricacies of a game for high school kids and let them play instead of controlling the intricacies of a game that high school kids played. If that makes about zero sense I understand. Try to look at it through the lens of the “give a man a fish” proverb.


In everything I do, whether personally or professionally, I try to utilize the K.I.S.S. philosophy. Basketball, in my opinion, was the most important place to employ the mindset. After all, we are dealing with kids…kids with influences outside of our locker room and outside of our control…a lot of them. Parents, friends, girlfriends, even other coaches are all voices we cannot tame. From the preparation to the execution, we believed in keeping everything as simple and focused as possible. If you are scratching your head wondering how to you might employ this idea as you stare at your 4″ thick binder of UOB plays you put in for the summer, do not worry… a) you certainly aren’t alone, and b) page count in your playbook doesn’t automatically classify you as complicated, especially when your actions are related as most are.

Strength of Schedule (SOS) is the most important statistic. 

Understandably not everyone has the ability to create and sustain a brutal SOS. Constraints such as conference schedules, administrator demands, public perception, and even team morale are very real and very convincing arguments not to. If you can overcome those hurdles though…do it. I can directly point to our SOS as the single most impactful contributor to our success. We played anyone, anywhere, and quite literally did not have a care in the world. To be clear, my administrators were supportive of my philosophy, I couldn’t care less what the public thought of me, and we were VERY forthcoming about our mission with respect to SOS with our kids. If you cannot adequately explain away a loss as a learning experience then there is no point to intentionally schedule a loss. Did we schedule games we knew were going to be 30 point losses? Absolutely not…I’m not sure there is a whole heck of a lot to learn there, but you can bet we scheduled games we were pretty sure we wouldn’t win. Crazy? Maybe, but we were a tough out in March and that was our focus.


I often discount the effort needed to be organized as I’ve got serious personal issues along these lines so it comes easy to me. For others, organization is a very tough requirement to meet. It is important to recognize though, if you aren’t organized, you aren’t going to reach any meaningful level of success. Do you need to be obsessed and on the verge of mental breakdowns when you forget your –only pen in the world you can use to write in the score book- pen like me? No chance, but there is a certain baseline of organization required for any position of leadership or you simply will not cut it. I learned organization early on from my completely OCD father and it is a trait I’m honestly thankful he passed along even with all its faults. As I look to my start in coaching, my obsession with organization was only affirmed as an assistant in one of most successful programs in Indiana’s history under the most successful coach. Everyone had a job, everyone knew how to do it, and everyone felt compelled to do it to the absolute best of their ability day in and day out.


It didn’t take me long to understand the reason(s) a place like Bloomington South has 47 guys on the bench and only 6 or so of them are players. Everyone wanted to be part of the well-oiled, finely-tuned, fast-paced, organized machine. They wanted to be part of it because it was simple, it was efficient, it *is just…right.

Donovan Garletts

State Champions, Bloomington South, 2009

State Champions, Marquette Catholic, 2014

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