February 13, 2007

Assistant Coaches Help Develop W. Basketball

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To the left of women’s basketball head coach Dayna Smith’s conventionally shaped office lies a long, narrow hallway. Closer inspection reveals it to be another office. It’s the office of assistant coaches Val Klopfer and Brian Rosario. And while upon first appearance, it may seem like an after-thought of a room, a casualty of a design meant to benefit the whole rather than every part, after spending several minutes inside, one realizes that this office may just be the lifeblood of the team.

The number of people in the room seems to fluctuate on a regular basis. Smith gets up to exit, leaving Rosario by himself.

“For me, I work with the forwards,” Rosario said. “I’m always working with their skill and making sure that we’re all on the same page. Coach Smith allows us to be who we are, but at the same time be an extension of her. She gives us a lot of leeway. It’s important to be our own person in terms of personality because I feel the players pick up on that.”

Meanwhile, Klopfer has slipped quietly into her chair, the one closet to the door. There are three chairs evenly spaced along a jet-black desk that runs wall-to-wall on one side of the room. A few feet behind where the chairs linger is an equally long white board, where mock-up diagrams of miniature half courts are scribbled furiously at crooked angles in bold marker.

“I work more with the guards,” Klopfer said.

Klopfer passes on knowledge she gained during her four-year stint on the varsity squad at Wake Forest, where she ran the Demon Deacons offense. By the time she left Winston-Salem, N.C., she placed seventh in team history in 3-pointers.

“The biggest thing I took away was just the intensity,” she said of her collegiate career. “Playing in the ACC was very physically tough. I think I have a fiery personality and bring emotion and intensity to the team here.”

Rosario paused, then smiled. Spending his undergraduate years at the University of San Diego and the most recent four years as an assistant at Cumberland College in Kentucky, Rosario comes from a much different background than Klopfer, the Albany, N.Y., native.

“I think I’m more calm than you,” he said, referring to Klopfer, causing her to laugh. “Although I have my moments … The four of us bring something different to the players.”

“We all complement each other,” Klopfer added. “We are who we are, and I think the team picks up on that.”

Balance seems to be a word the whole team has been throwing around this season. The Red has backed up its statements, though, with consistent contributions from the front and back courts, and leading scorers coming from up and down the lineup. With each coach bringing a different aspect to the team, each player points to a different coach as helping along the way. And the breakdown is not necessarily as one might expect. A guard might point to Rosario or volunteer assistant coach Dale Parker, while a forward might single out Klopfer or Smith as having the most influence on their overall game.

“On face value, people might look at me as the forwards coach,” Rosario said. “I would hope they also see me as motivated, though, and see that I really care. We’re such a small team we can have a conversation with anyone.”

“There are kids in this office all the time,” Klopfer added. “We have different relationships with each of the players.”

As if on cue, sophomore tri-captain Kayleen Fitzsimmons tentatively stepped into the doorway to inquire about watching film in the office, pushing up the ever-changing number of people in the room. Fitzsimmons, a captain in only her second year, is an example of a common thread that much of the team and coaching staff shares, they are all young. Klopfer graduated from college in 2002, Rosario is in his second season with the Red after going through several coaching jobs since his graduation in 1999, Smith is in the fifth year of her first head-coaching job, and Parker is returning to coaching after an eight-year hiatus.

“The fact that we are a young team means that the one thing the players should get is enthusiasm from us,” Rosario said. “How we carry ourselves shows the team how the team can act. For them to feed off that is great.”

“The team has taken on our personalities,” Klopfer added. “Since we’re all young, we mesh together well.”

In the quieter office next door, Smith talked about how important it has been for the team to allow the young coaches to mature as people and coaches.

“I have trust in all three [assistant coaches],” Smith said. “If the players see me allowing them to have responsibilities they will have confidence in the assistant coaches. I give each one of them 10-15 minutes to work with their players and handle the drills we want done. Before the game we have one of the coaches give the rundown of the personnel of the other team.”

And the half time speech?

“I do most of the talking at half time,” she said. “We do talk before hand, though, unless I’m really mad.”

While each player could probably name a different trait that each assistant has imprinted on the team to contribute to its resurgence, Klopfer sees herself as more of a technical person, while Rosario feels he stresses the cognitive aspect of the game.

“I think I’ve started to establish my own [philosophy] in my brief coaching experience,” Klopfer said. “The basic philosophy is fundamentals and discipline. … My strength is my attention to detail, just my preparation to focus on everyday things. I would say my biggest weakness is still my youth, though.”

“I guess [my philosophy] stems more from the mental side,” Rosario responded. “Showing up, playing hard, that’s what I’ve followed. I would say my best strength is my communication; my ability to talk with kids so that they are prepared for games. … I can be thick-headed, though, in terms of believing that what we are doing can and will work.”

Over Rosario’s shoulder is a tall glass window filling up the space the fourth wall would logically be. The floor-to-ceiling window overlooks the brightly lit courin Newman Arena, where a litany of championship banners hang directly in the eye line of the assistant’s office. One banner that is conspicuously absent from the wall is a women’s basketball Ivy League championship banner.

“Definitely as an assistant … we all have aspirations to be head coaches. But I want to stay around to see an Ivy title.”

“If we did leave, I want to leave [the team] in better shape than when I started,” Rosario said. “Everything’s a stepping stone. This team has the love and the drive to win an Ivy title, though.”