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Five Questions for Irvington Coach Auerbach

IRVINGTON, N.Y. – Mike Auerbach is in his second season coaching the Irvington High School boys’ basketball team. After a 14-7 season last fall, the Bulldogs are rebuilding with a young group. A former high school and college player himself, Auerbach reflects on his career and managing young players while trying to win games.

What was your route to a coaching career?

My route to coaching was paved through having been involved in basketball my entire life. I played at Walter Panas High School and Division III St. John Fisher College. After college I was very fortunate to get an assistant varsity coaching position at Briarcliff High School. At the time, Matt Evangelista was taking over the program there and was looking for an assistant. I knew Matt from high school at Panas, where he taught and coached junior varsity. I also coached AAU for a few years to get head coaching experience. I was given the head coaching job at Irvington (last year).

What are the basics of coaching a team in a new coaching job?

Last year I was lucky to have 11 seniors. We had talented players, so most of my focus was on getting the ball in their hands in positions they were comfortable scoring from. We had a solid foundation defensively from the previous coaching staff, so I built on that. This year, the majority of our team is new to the varsity. While getting wins has been a challenge, it's a perfect group for me to instill my own philosophies and systems and begin developing a program from the ground up.

Some of the basics I follow with a new team is to first develop a half-court, man-to-man defense we can play against most teams. I try to teach them to defend different situations and actions, and drill them so they become habit. Offensively, we are trying to develop basic fundamentals; how to catch the ball on the perimeter and post, ball handling, different drives to the basket, shooting off a pass, using a shot fake, one and two dribble jump shots. We're installing some sets for both the varsity and junior varsity that the kids can be comfortable playing in.

What skills are most important for defensive/offensive success?

I think the most important thing for defensive success if just having kids who are committed to defending and learning how to. It takes less time for kids to improve defensively, if they are willing, than to develop offensive skills. I can teach positioning on and off the ball, and how to defend different cuts, screens, actions, or rotations in help or in a zone much more easily than I can help them develop offensive skills.

Offensively, it's important to learn and develop ball handling, shooting, and passing, regardless of size. The more players you have with these skills the better off you are. I also spend a lot of practice time with our forwards trying to help them become strong with the ball in the post, finishing in traffic, and for them to have some moves they can go to down low.

Who were your mentors?

My dad coached me growing up, so he obviously was influential for me. He comes to most of our games and is very knowledgeable and helpful. I’ve learned a lot about basketball, coaching, and teaching from Matt Evangelista. Shawn Sullivan, who coaches the varsity at Panas, was my junior varsity coach there. We talk all the time about basketball and coaching. I like to read basketball coaching books, watch instructional DVD's, and go to as many other high school games as I can, where I'll watch how other coaches run their teams.

How do you balance players playing time while trying to win games?

Right now it's easy for me to handle playing time, trying to win games. We have seven or eight healthy players, so getting them all in is no problem. I have no set number of players in a rotation. If the team has 10 players who deserve to play and can help, I'll play 10. If we only have six who are ready to play and contribute we'll play six. Since we have a very young team, I have tried to play the bench as much as possible. I think it's important for where our program is to get as many guys quality game experience as possible.

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