Student basketball coaches develop NJB players’ abilities

March 21, 2017 — by Roland Shen and Austin Wang

High school basketball coaches lead NJB team to success. 

“Third place isn’t even worth trying for.”

These few words spoken by a player hung to a huddle of 10 sweaty seventh- and eighth-grade boys on a local National Junior Basketball (NJB) team last month. It seemed improbable that they would win, since they were trailing by a double digits and were going into the final quarter of the game.

Junior Neal Iyengar, the coach for the NJB team and a player for the varsity basketball team, broke the silence with words of his own that would overcome the bleak mood: “A trophy is a trophy — it’s something worth working for.”

Inspired by Iyengar’s words, the team got their second wind and outpaced their opponents with superior shooting and handling. With one minute left on the clock, the boys found themselves down by just one point.

Iyengar decided to try a risky maneuver: the fake handoff. Though the players had never executed the move successfully during practice, in the final seconds of the game, they dribbled past the opponent’s defense and scored the winning basket.

The thrill of coaching intense games like this and helping younger players has drawn high school students to volunteer as NJB coaches over the past few years.

Upon finding out about the student coaching program last summer, juniors Prashant Malyala, Gaurav Mohan and Iyengar signed up. Having played in NJB as middle schoolers, the three wanted to give back to the program that first taught them how to play basketball.

They each coached their own team of middle school students, most of whom attended Redwood Middle School. The typical practice consisted of short workouts, standard layup and  shooting drills and a brief scrimmage at the end. All the drills and exercises were completely administered by the student coaches, and at times, they joined in as well.

Though the NJB players have different skillsets, some completely new to the game and others longtime competitive players, Mohan saw that the league was a good learning environment for everyone.

“Each individual player improved throughout the season,” Mohan said. “They learned to work as a team, which was our biggest goal, and because of that we developed a very formidable team.”

For Malyala, his role as a coach was not to create the next NBA superstars, but to teach lessons that the students could carry on for the rest of their lives, such as teamwork, determination and selflessness.

“We really emphasized hustling and moving the ball and working as a team,” Malyala said. “Whereas people were just hogging the ball to themselves in the beginning, by the end of the season, players were diving on the floor for the ball and taking charges.”

But it was not so easy to reach this result. Malyala and Mohan, who coached the same team, as well as Iyengar, who coached another, recognized that the middle school-age players tended to not treat them as coaches due to the small age gap between them.

The three coaches had to be strict and employ difficult workouts as punishments in order to garner respect.

“In the beginning, it was so hard to get them to listen,” Iyengar said. “We had to drill into their minds that we’re their coach, not their friend, so treat us with the respect we deserve by making them do a lot of running and push-ups.”

In the NJB playoffs, which consisted of dozens of teams from the area, Malyala and Mohan’s team placed second.

“I felt very proud by the end of the season, especially in our NJB playoffs,” Malyala said. “Despite the loss in the finals, they all showed 100 percent effort and hustled. I want to continue helping the kids develop and accomplish a lot of things I struggled to do, especially as a lot of them transition into high school.”


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