Don Showalter on Jayson Tatum: “We knew he was eventually going to be an All-Star”

Don Showalter
2016 USA U17 World Championship Team head coach Don Showalter. Photo: usab.com

Director of Coach Development at USAB and five-time gold medalist at the FIBA U17 World Championships and Jayson Tatum’s former coach Don Showalter was speaking during his online Q&A session this weekend, as part of the Jr. NBA Coaches – Online program, hosted on OWQLO. Subscribe now by downloading the OWQLO App.

Q: How important are these Jr. NBA initiatives in helping young players and coaches to develop?

DS: They’re extremely important, they give coaches a sense of how and what to coach these young players but then it also gives the players a good chance to increase their skill level. The combination of what Jr. NBA is doing with these clinics is really important for the development of the players and the game itself in different areas of the world.

Q: What are the things you’re looking for in up and coming talent?

DS: For us there are five different buckets that we look at. Obviously skill level is a big one for us but there are a lot of skilled players around the world that aren’t necessarily good players for teams. Being skilled includes shooting, rebounding, footwork, setting good screens, ball handling and passing are some of the main ones there.

Secondly we look at toughness, can they make game changing plays, take charges, get loose balls. Third thing is they have to smart. How do they conduct themselves, making smart passes, taking good shots. Intelligence on the court is really important. If a player continues to make the same mistake over and over, then we start to think that that player isn’t being as good as they can be.

The last two things are being versatile and resilient. Being able to play in more than one position, being able to guard more than one position, an asset on the court no matter where you’re at. Resilience is how you react on and off the court when things don’t go your way and we want players who are very resilient and take ownership of their mistakes, don’t blame other people.

Q: Of the best players you have coached, what set them apart from other players?

DS: We’ve had a lot of good players play for us but I would say top of the list guys like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Green who’s in the G League, Justice Winslow, Colin Sexton and maybe the best player was Bradley Beal. They were all players who were high character players but also gave us those five DNA attributes that we look for: skill, toughness, smart, versatile and resilience. Tyus Jones is in that category as well. In fact we have seven or eight or our former players in this upcoming draft that fill that category as well.

Q: After coaching Jayson Tatum in his younger years, how proud of him are you to see how far he’s come today?

DS: I knew he was going to be a great player when he was with us as a U16 player, and 17, but I think he has made tremendous progress, more progress than I thought he would make in a shorter period of time. We knew he was eventually going to be an All-Star but he’s probably accomplished that feat in less time than we thought. One thing about him is his very high character, he’s got a great family around him that really support him. So, it’s not surprising that he’s reached a level, what’s surprising is maybe how quickly he has reached a very high level. Again, a lot of it goes to how he’s improved skill-wise, he’s smart, versatile, resilient – all those kind of things.

Q: How highly do you rate European basketball talent? Which European NBA players are you most excited about at the moment?

DS: I think Europe has a very high level of players. I think there are several countries that have really made a lot of improvement from the time that I started coaching our junior international team. I think France has done a tremendous job coming up – they have Killian Hayes who is going to be in there, we played against him in 2018 at the World Championship and he’s going to be in the draft. Spain is always good. I think what a lot of the countries that are making really good progress is they’ve really put time and effort, and probably some money, into their youth programmes. That’s where the Jr. NBA comes in, it’s really helped their progress with their youth and that’s really been an important part I know for a lot of the countries. Probably one of the best players that I know about, and I’m sure there’s obviously more, is the big kid from France Victor Wembanyama – he’s about a seven-footer that’s really going to make eyes turn when he develops into his full potential. We always look at players in Europe as being very solid and well-coached players.

Q: What have you enjoyed about the Jr. NBA experiences you’ve had? Do you think the level of coaching in European basketball is often underrated?

DS: That’s a great question. First of all the Jr. NBA has done a tremendous job in organising and putting together camps for both boys and girls to develop their skills and I just appreciate working with the Jr. NBA because I know they have really what’s best for the players. I think European youth programs to me are really where it’s at and they’re getting much, much better. I think overall you’re going to see a big increase in the level of skill that comes from the different areas where the Jr. NBA has been involved with. So, a lot of kudos go to everybody involved there.