Q&A: Shannon Clancy, Senior Manager of Youth Basketball

In this week’s edition of Wizards Digital’s interview series with members of the Wizards’ business staff, Shannon Clancy, Wizards Senior Manager of Youth Basketball, discussed his career path, the importance of keeping basketball fun for the young fanbase and tips for sharpening skills without access to a court.

Q: To start off, can you talk a little about your career path and what your role is with Monumental? How did you land an opportunity with the Wizards?

Our job is to create new fans through youth basketball. Research has shown that most people begin to identify with a certain team or player between the ages of 6 and 14 – so most of our programming is focused on that age group.

I first started coaching and working basketball camps when I was 16 at Long Island Lutheran High School in New York. LuHi was a sort of hot bed for future coaches. There were a number of young staff members there at the time who would go on to become high school, college and even NBA coaches, so it was a great environment to be around. Eventually I took on more and more responsibility at the camp. After college it became my full-time job, marketing and selling the program and helping with the curriculum. Over time I worked my way up, eventually taking over as the director of the basketball program. We’d have 1,200 kids come through our basketball camp over eight weeks each summer, which is a huge number for a single site camp.

At the same time l was also working as the JV head coach and varsity assistant coach at Long Island Lutheran High School. It was a great experience. We won a couple of state championships and placed dozens of players in college – a couple of future pros, too.

From there I took at job at 92Y – a cultural center on the Upper East Side of Manhattan – so I could get a better grasp on facility management and building a diverse slate of programming. I always had my eye towards getting back into coaching and camps, so when this position came across my radar, a chance to build a youth basketball platform from scratch with the resources of an NBA team? It seemed almost too good to be true. I remind myself all the time of how fortunate I am to be in this position.

Q: Have you been a player yourself or did you always have the aspiration of becoming a coach?

Coaches were always very influential in my life growing up, so it was a logical path to follow. When I was a senior in high school I used to stick around after varsity practice and help with the JV team. When I was in college I’d help with my old high school team during the summers. We’d work out together in the morning, work camp all day, and then I’d go coach the summer league team at night – so it was non-stop. I few times I tried telling myself that I wanted to do something else – even tried it a few times – but ultimately I was always drawn back to the game.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the history of the Jr. Wizards Program?

We relaunched the Wizards youth basketball program in summer of 2017. The NBA league office had relaunched the leaguewide Jr. NBA program in 2015 and they encourage all NBA teams to launch their own efforts locally. We started that first summer with just four summer camps. Three years later we’re up to 14 sessions scheduled all over the DMV. We also hold clinics for the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go, hold a two-day, 100+ team grassroots basketball tournament as part of the Jr. NBA Global Championship, and run a showcase for the best high school teams in the area. We also put a lot of focus on coach and parent education – which includes a coaches manual, instructional video content, and in person clinics and panels.

Q: What’s the difference of being a coach for an NBA-affiliated program opposed to a normal school or camp?

For me, the main difference is reach and influence. Running camps locally or coaching at a school gives you great influence over kids in a given town or city. With an NBA affiliated program your reach is much greater – not only within our region, but through our digital content the reach of our program becomes global.

Q: Do many NBA organizations have a similar type of program within their organization? What’s the value in an NBA team having a Jr. program?

Every team is activating in the youth space in some way – some more than others, but by now everyone sees the importance of youth programming. There are a few programs that have been around for 20+ years and are doing really great work. I’m in touch with other program directors constantly. It is a tightknit community. We are always sharing ideas and best practices.

Q: What is your impression of the youth basketball landscape in general? Has there been a big change in recent years?

The game has become a much more global game now than when I was growing up, which is great. An event like the Jr. NBA Global Championship didn’t exist back then, and there were only a handful of international players in the NBA.

In the States, the emphasis over the last decade or so has turned more towards tournaments and AAU. There’s good and bad with that. Yes, it allows high school kids a greater chance at being found by a college – which is great – but too often we lost track of what’s important, especially in the younger age groups. The focus at that age should be on having fun and developing your skills. Instead… and it’s not every coach or parent… but there are too many out there who place winning tournaments as the primary focus. Winning is great, competition is great, but you’re not getting a D1 scholarship because you won an 8U basketball tournament.

Q: When you interact with kids playing the sport for the first time, how do you approach them?

The most important thing to remember with young kids trying something new for the first time is to make it fun. If it’s boring or tedious, if someone is on the sidelines screaming at them, they’re going to move on to something else. The other thing is to be encouraging and set achievable goals. Making progress is fun. Doing something you couldn’t do before is fun. You want a young player to be able to push themselves because that’s how they get better, but if you ask them to do things that are too advanced they’re going to fail – and if they’re always failing, they’re more likely to give up.

Q: Is there a Wizards player present or past that you use as an example during your time when teaching the kids? Are there any parts of a player’s movement that we should look at more that isn’t valued enough?

The obvious example is Bradley Beal and his shooting form. There are some players who have become really good shooters or scorers who don’t necessarily do things fundamentally correct – not Brad. He has a really quick, compact stroke with a high release point and great rotation. It’s exactly how you’d teach someone to shoot it.

I think one of the most overlooked and underappreciated skills is your footwork. To use Brad as an example again, his step-back jumper is as dangerous a move as there is in the NBA and it’s all because of great foot work. That’s how he creates that separation – and it comes from hours and hours of work in the offseason.

Q: What would you advise to kids who aren’t able to go outside and play basketball now? What are things they can do to improve their game?

As long as you have a basketball you can go out and work on your ball-handling skills. You don’t need anything but yourself to work on your strength and conditioning. So that’s where I’d focus right now.

The other area you can improve is your basketball IQ – your overall knowledge of the game. Find some game footage on YouTube and study how the players move on the court. Don’t just watch the ball. What is happening away from the ball that is going to set up the basket? How does the defense react?

Q: What would you advise to aspiring coaches? What can they do during this hiatus time?

Coaching is teaching. Your players are the students. Don’t just teach them plays, teach them how to play. Don’t just teach the what and the when, teach the how and the why. Don’t just teach your zone offense – explain to your players how the zone works, the movements, what its strengths and weaknesses are. The more they understand concepts, the more likely they are to pick up the plays and sets you want to run and the more likely they are to be able to adjust on the fly during the game when something goes wrong.

There’s always something new you can learn, so this is a great time to deep dive on your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Be honest with yourself about the things you need to work on and then go and work on them! If your teams struggle against a certain type of defense, become an expert on that defense! Make yourself better every day.

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