When John Brady took over at Annapolis for legendary coach Al Laramore in 1977, he inherited a program that had made the state tournament in five of the previous six years with a state championship in in 1974.
It was a tough act to follow, but Brady has proven to be plenty tough and successful. He used the program’s established tradition as a springboard and, in 35 seasons, has the most wins (717-151 career mark) of any coach in the area. Brady has guided the Panthers to 15 trips to the state tournament, including a state title in 1990 and three runner-up finishes. He’s also won 22 Anne Arundel County titles
Perhaps most impressive is he has never produced a losing season. This season, Annapolis finished the regular season with a 17-5 mark and won its last six games heading into the Class 3A East region playoffs. Led by guards Jourdan Stickler and Delazso Smith – who have combined to average more than 43 points per game – the Panthers are primed to make a 16th trip to the state tournament.
As this week’s Coachspeak guest, we asked Brady about the game today compared to years past, what it will take for his Panthers to make an extended playoff run and what’s he like away from the basketball court.
What do you recall from the very first game you coached?
I remember we got our butts kicked by St. John’s (D.C.) down there – lost by 19 points. And on the bus ride home, [our players] were singing and cutting up and I told them to knock it off, so they started chanting "We want Al [Laramore] back!"
How do preparation and in-game decisions differ in the playoffs compared to the regular season?
In the playoffs, you’re often not as familiar with who you’re playing, so you’re trying to find out as much as you can. It’s also a progression where roles have been defined over a period of time, so you pretty much know what you have and you just try to refine putting players in a position to succeed. You kind of have an idea going into a season, but it changes. We’ve changed our lineup and it’s made a difference. You also pay more attention to detail.
What’s it going to take for Annapolis to make a strong playoff run?
Whenever you get to this point in the season, I’ve learned over the years that you have to guard and play defense, you have to rebound, you have to hit your free throws and you can’t turn the ball over for easy scores for the other team. If you do all those things – it’s basic stuff and really every game is the same – you can be successful. Really, every game is the same in that way. But the deeper you get in the playoffs, you’re playing good teams, so every little thing counts.
What has been the key to maintaining the program’s success?
Obviously you have to have the materials to do it. I think once a standard is set, it’s much easier to keep the standard than it is if you’re not a winning program coming in. It’s much harder to get to that level and maintain it, but if it’s already there it’s much easier. You just got to stay on top of things, keep up with what’s going on and you’ve got to keep refining things as a coach. I’m always learning stuff as a coach. I go up to West Virginia University to watch them practice and I’m constantly reading stuff, so you’ve got to keep working at it. Part of it, though, is the mentality of the players. They expect to win because the year before that team won and so on and so forth.
How has ESPN’s SportsCenter and all the dunk highlights it shows affected high school players today?
It’s led them astray from the fundamentals. If you watch us after practice, we’ve done all this stuff and after practice guys are either trying to dunk or shooting threes or half-court shots. So it’s the dribble drive, slash to get to the basket – it’s changed the way the game has played.
BONUS QUESTION: What is one thing that would surprise people the most about you?
If you don’t know me personally, [it would surprise you] that I’m a pretty laid back, get along kind of a guy. If your perception is formed based on my actions during a game, you may think differently. But I’m not that intense in the rest of my life. I have no answer why I’m like that. It’s just that I feel responsible how the team plays. When we’re not playing well, I may take out my frustration on the players when, in fact, I know deep down I feel like maybe I didn’t do a good enough job.