What Nolan Richardson Taught Lorenzo Romar About The Art of Rebounding

University of Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar learned a little lesson about rebounding and perhaps storytelling from Tulsa Shock coach Nolan Richardson. Photo via Craig Bennett/112575 Media.

Tulsa Shock coach Nolan RIchardson can tell stories with the best of them.

I still have two pre-game recordings of over 20 minutes (that, by the way, is uncommon) from his visit in Seattle in which he discussed everything from suburban sprawl to his transition to coaching women to his reasoning for trading players.

And personally, I loved every minute of it - it's not often you get to speak with someone who has such a broad perspective on basketball (men's and women's, college and pro).

Anyway, apparently he also has a knack for telling stories at coaching clinics.

During a 50 minute media session yesterday afternoon, Washington Huskies men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar - who was instrumental in recruiting the players for the UCLA team that beat Richardson's Arkansas team in 1995 (coincidentally) at KeyArena - relayed one of Richardson's stories about rebounding to the media. Given the 50 minute media session, perhaps you can infer that Romar knows a thing or two about storytelling as well, but it remains unconfirmed as to whether Richardson includes that in his clinics.

Context:

The UW men's team was ranked in the Top 25 until they lost to Texas A&M last Saturday in large part because they got beat on the boards. So I only (half-)jokingly place the responsibility for a 50 minute media session on Romar - the media asked just about every question one could imagine about rebounding and tangentially related questions about rebounding theory. But the central theme was, What are you going to do about this pattern of rebounding problems?

When asked about why some guys struggle to rebound just over 40 minutes into this session, Romar brought up the story Richardson relayed to the clinic his experience coaching at Bowie High School in El Paso, Texas. He began the story perfectly:

"Sorry man to be long with it, but I gotta tell you a quick story."

Nolan Richardson spoke at a clinic and talked about (how) he went to this clinic and saw someone talk about rebounding, about how to do all these drills. And he was so impressed - he wrote all those drills down and went back and talked to the guy that spoke afterwards. This is just when he was a young high school coach. And he went back to his team. He had a guy that was 6'1" that was averaging like 16 rebounds a game. Dude was just a monster. But he was only 6'1" in high school, but man this guy could really rebound. 

So they started doing all these drills man and his technique was just textbook, just like he saw. And they go out and the next three games and - let's call the guy Richard that was getting about 17 rebounds a game - he's getting about 5.

And finally, coach Richardson said, "What is your problem? All of a sudden you're not rebounding."

He says, "Coach, I'm not being disrespectful, but can I tell you why I think it is."

He says, "Please!"

He says, "Well every time the ball goes up, I'm trying to turn and keep my hands up and put my body on the guy like you said and the ball keep..."

Nolan Richardson said, "Stop. Don't worry about what I said."

[Laughter from the media]

Next game, guy gets 25 rebounds.

[More laughter]

For some it's not technique - it's all off the above. Some it's technique, some is just flat grit, some it's a feel for the ball. You have guys that box out just right - they do everything exactly right and they are extremely athletic and they're strong and they have zero feel for where the ball's coming off. Zero. The center fielder that's very good in Little League that they hit the fly ball to him and he runs so hard and then he starts running the other way and the ball goes over your head; I hope none of you were that guy, but you know that guy that that happens to where they're really good players but they get under that ball and they let it fall. Rebounders are a lot like that sometimes that ball's coming off and they don't know where it's going.

---

Response:

The stories continued after someone asked Romar about the best rebounder he had ever seen in his career, coaching or playing in the NBA. After Romar mentioned Larry "Mr. Mean" Smith, I asked about Kevin Love who played at UCLA and recently grabbed had a 30-30 game (30 pts and 30 rebounds) for the Timberwolves earlier this NBA season (I thus admit to contributing to this particular tangent that drifted further and further away from UW basketball. That Romar continued to answer these questions is only a credit to how gracious he is).

"I forgot about him - he's a good rebounder," said Romar. "And again, how come everybody can't rebound like Kevin Love? Just teach it - teach everybody to rebound like Kevin Love. How come everybody can't shoot like Ray Allen? He's got a gift."

Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook and Basketball Prospectus took a look at the Los Angeles Lakers offensive rebounding against the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the NBA Finals and you can easily see how contextual factors influence rebounding as well - missed box outs, long rebounds that fall to guards, and plain luck of the bounce.

But it's as much an art as it it about context or feel, as Seattle Storm coach demonstrated for media way back during WNBA training camp.

Storm Training Camp Notes: Ashley Robinson & the Art of Offensive Rebounding - Swish Appeal
Having explained what great offensive rebounders do, he then explained how great offensive rebounders do their job, again referring to Griffith. After reiterating the importance of anticipation to the small group of us at SPU, he gave us a little demonstration on the court.

"Yolanda Griffith, her deal was -- if you ever watched her on film was -- she knew how to play in this area," he said stepping away from us and standing in the narrow space in bounds between the baseline and backboard. "When she anticipated the shot to go up, she played behind the backboard. She never moved out there, she almost moved down in here. That was her deal. And of course, you don't ever think about blocking out people down here. She'd go from one side of the floor from the other down here and get position on the back side and that's where she got her spots."

Implications:

There are clearly great rebounders in the women's game as well and Agler mentioned a few of them back in training camp - Griffith, Cheryl Ford, and Natalie Williams came up in that particular discussion. And the fact that each got the job done quite differently reinforces the point that Romar made via Richardson's story - while some will outwit opponents, others will overpower them, and still others will use some combination of athleticism and power. But there's not necessarily one way - particularly at the college level to "teach" rebounding when a team isn't rebounding well.

Romar probably could have just said that and refused to take more rebounding questions, which would have saved you this completely random retelling of that random story.

In any event, all of this obviously leads to the reason why rebounding percentage is more useful than rebounding averages - rebounding averages can be a function of minutes or playing for or against a team that just misses a lot of shots. Rebounding percentages give us an estimate of the percentage of available rebounds a player got while actually on the floor and controlling for that matter of how many shots were missed. That's where we find out who might have that knack or gift or feel or whatever.

For now, here's the list of the league's top rebounders by average for the 2010 season. There are a few players who move up when looking at rebounding by percentage, but the top of the averages list is similar to the top of the percentages list. Of those - particularly when you sort it by offensive and defensive categories - you can imagine differences in how (or why) each of those players gets those rebounds.

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