Coachspeak: Albert Holley, Milford Mill basketball

Milford Mill boys basketball coach Albert Holley says the key to building a successful program is creating high expectations. "It starts with setting the bar academically first," he said.
Milford Mill boys basketball coach Albert Holley says the key to building a successful program is creating high expectations. "It starts with setting the bar academically first," he said. (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore Sun)

Set to start his sixth season at Milford Mill, boys basketball coach Albert Holley has already posted impressive numbers. He has won 102 games, captured the past three Baltimore County championships, and his No. 5 Millers are two-time defending Class 3A state champs.

Holley is equally proud of other numbers he finds even more important: "The past five years I've been here, we've graduated 25 seniors and 23 are in college right now," he said. "Not all of them are playing, some are studying engineering, some are studying to become doctors."

A graduate of Randallstown High and the Univeristy of Baltimore, Holley teaches in the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) program, which is in its 10th year in Baltimore County. Holley and his wife, Melissa, have two girls – Nyla, 8, and Alissa, 4.

The Millers open their season Tuesday night at 7 at Calvert Hall, and they face another challenge against Owings Mills on Friday night.  As this week's Coachspeak guest, we asked Holley about the program's sustained success, the importance of leadership, and more about the AVID program.

What are the key elements in building a successful basketball program?

High expectations. It starts with setting the bar academically first. I believe once they buy into being a student and understanding that learning translates on the basketball court as well, I think you end up with an athlete whose mind is clear and then is open to being taught how to play the game. We found that by doing study hall year round, it gets them in that academic state of mind, and when you bring that onto the basketball court by teaching them the things they need to know to be successful on the court, it's healthy. It translates and it also allows them to think clearly under pressure, which doesn't happen always if your mind isn't as strong.

What are the things you'll be looking to see early in the season from the team's three new transfers -- Isaiah Miles, Kyle Thomas and Tyson Smith?

Are they committed to playing defense at the level we play defense? Are they committed to working hard as hard as we work here and sort of buying into the way we do things here? All the young men have come from places where they've had success. We tend to do things a little bit differently. Just are you willing to sacrifice your game individually because all of them are talented, all of them are coming from places where they were sort of the man. Can you put that aside and be a part of a special team?

Graduated All-Metro guard and two-year captain Isaiah McCray was a special player with so many intangibles, how do you replace what he brought to the team? 

It's impossible. You don't really replace a young man like him, because he's sort of a once-in-a-lifetime kid. He had the maturity off the court, the work ethic off the court and then he brought all that on the court.  He's a great student, he's a great young man and he had the leadership qualities you need to perform at a high level. So you can't really replace Isaiah McCray. You sort of have to do it by committee. Chase [Cormier] will be our leader – he's been in waiting – and he's a good leader and good kid, but it's just a lot different than it was with Isaiah.

What's more difficult to replace: leadership or talent?

The leadership qualities are harder to replace, and they are equally as important as talent because [of] the daily grind of practicing and being in study hall, trying to hold the kids accountable. If it always comes from the coach, it will tend to fall on deaf ears. But if you have a leader on the team that everybody respects, it helps in setting the bar for everybody else. So that to me is as important, if not more, than talent – there's a lot of talent around.

What's the AVID program all about?

It's a Baltimore County initiative in its 10th year. It's at every high school and it's designed for students in the academic middle, so generally most of my students will be the first in their family to go to college. I recruit them out of middle school, bring them into the program in the ninth grade and I teach them every year up until the 12th grade.  The purpose is to develop all their academic skills, strengthen them and then we move them on to college and they become outstanding college students. So it's really just about organizing them, teaching them how to study, how to take notes, how to write effectively, how to read effectively and ask questions – all with the purpose of turning them into high level college students. More than a basketball coach, I'm an educator, and my mission is to educate as many as I can.

BONUS QUESTION: What's one thing most people don't know about you?

That I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. So at home I clean constantly. It sort of takes over, and I don't know that you can manage it. What I've learned to do is apply it to the way I coach – kind of pay attention to every little detail and look at every little thing. It's just something you live with, but for me it just means that I keep everything around me clean, so I guess there's benefits. My rug in the foyer has the little frilly things around it and if they're not all straight than I have to straighten or otherwise I can't get past it until it gets straightened.

HOLIDAY BONUS: What's the best Christmas present you've ever given?

My wife collects black Barbie dolls, so every Christmas I buy her those collector Barbie dolls. She loves them, so that's probably the best gift I've given her. She collected them as a child and had no idea I was going to do that for her. So the first time it sort of brought back some childhood memories for her.  Even though it's a small token, those are the ones that count most, so she was pretty surprised and shocked by that.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun