Basketball has changed over the last 10 years. On the court, the game is faster, the dominant center is a dying breed and 3-pointers are the standard for scoring. But the game has changed off the court, too.
For athletes, there’s now so many voices in their ear and feedback is instant due to social media, a concern new IU men’s basketball assistant coach Dane Fife voiced during a press conference Tuesday.
In the middle of an offseason in which the Hoosiers fired head coach Archie Miller, leading to seven players entering the transfer portal, the coaching staff has had to build and strengthen its relationship with players and act as a support system as they navigated their decisions on where to play.
“It was a difficult time,” assistant coach Kenya Hunter said during a press conference Thursday. “When [hiring Mike Woodson] took a little bit longer and guys started entering the transfer portal, all you can do is talk to them and their parents and support them.”
But for Hunter, that constant level of communication was key, not just for the program as IU tried to keep its roster intact, but also for the athletes and their families. Hunter said he and Woodson talked to players and their parents every day.
Once players enter the transfer portal, they are able to talk to any program in the country — similar to being recruited out of high school — and Hunter wanted to be a resource for these players as they contemplated a potential career-altering decision.
Even after four of the seven players in the portal decided to return to IU, Hunter said he asked to continue talking to players and their parents because he wanted to continue building trust and relationships between the two parties and be someone they could rely on.
“I asked to continue because, you know, they had to continue to get to know coach. But building that relationship and showing that you know that’s what it’s about,” Hunter said. “Yeah, we lost a couple guys, but we feel like the majority of the guys we got back, we can continue to build a team that, you know, Indiana fans would be proud of.”
Fife comes to Bloomington with the same mentality of helping players and their families off the court. He recognizes that just because the coaches convinced players to stay at IU doesn’t mean their time building relationships is over.
In fact, the coaches’ time as a support system is just beginning.
Fife said supporting players and helping them in every aspect of reaching their goals is an everyday process. And a big part of that process is managing and helping athletes filter all the noise and input that gets heaped upon them.
“I’m going to be in the ears of everybody that’s involved with the player, everybody that impacts the student-athlete,” Fife said. “Every little piece, and unfortunately you’ve got the social media, but every time somebody casts doubt in that kid’s ear, that’s one more step away from their goals.”
Fife said it may seem invasive that he’s inserting himself into the athlete’s business, but to him, it’s just like being a parent. Fife said he feels a desperation to help players and that his job stretches beyond just developing their skills on the basketball court. It’s also to look out for the athletes and help preserve their best interests.
“If you start to care about them long enough, they start to kind of mimic the way you treat your own kids,” Fife said. “There’s a new beast out there, and that’s where everybody’s trying to be the hero and make money or make fame off these kids, especially at this level. If someone doesn’t keep their circle tight or you’re not plugged in to what’s going on and that’s your student-athlete, it’s a problem. You got to be in tune with everybody that’s in this kid’s ear.”