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October 29, 2012

Inside the Locker Room with coach Todd Fazio

Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain High School boys' basketball coach Todd Fazio is one of the state's most respected coaches. His name comes up often anytime you talk high school hoops with his peers.

Let me concur with those who think highly of Coach Fazio; he's definitely one of Arizona's bright, young, rising stars.

Coach Fazio does an excellent job outlining his coaching career history below so no formal introduction is necessary. His record as head coach at Desert Mountain is 117-81 annually playing one of the tougher schedules in AZ. Todd's team won the 5AII state championship in 2007.

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ArizonaVarsity: Where did you attend high school and college - tell us about your playing career?

Coach Fazio: I attended Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. I was a 3-sport athlete. I ran cross-country, track, and played basketball. I played three years on varsity for basketball.

We won the Iowa 4A State Championship in 1993 (my junior year). I was fortunate enough to be selected to the All-Tournament Team for the state tournament and was a Third Team All-State selection. I also made the Iowa Junior Select Team that summer.

As a senior, we finished fourth in 1994 (Iowa plays a consolation game). I was again fortunate enough to be selected to the All-Tournament Team for the state tournament and was a First Team All-State selection.

I also made the Iowa Senior Select Team in 1994 where we played in a tournament in Melbourne, Australia. That was a GREAT experience.

After I graduated from high school, I went on to play at Frank Phillips College (NJCAA Division I) in Borger, Texas. I was team captain and led the team in assists, free throw percentage, and 3-point field goal percentage. I led the Western Junior College Athletic Conference in 3-point field goal percentage that year as well at 49.7%.

I continued my playing career closer to home at Iowa Lakes Community College (NJCAA Division II) in Estherville, Iowa. Our 1995-96 team finished the season with a record of 24-8 and ranked 7th in the nation. I was team captain and led the team in assists and steals. I was fourth in the nation in assists with 8.9 assists per game.

I finished my playing career at Bemidji State University (NCAA II) in Bemidji, Minnesota. I was team captain both years and led the team in assists and steals both seasons as well.

AV: How did you get into coaching?

Coach Fazio: I grew up a coach's son. My dad was a coach of just about every sport for over 30 years. He coached youth, AAU, and high school boys and girls' basketball, baseball, softball, and even soccer.

Our family was a very sports-oriented family. My older brother was a very successful wrestler (he got the Italian genes). My older sister, Tracy Fazio, was the best athlete in the family - she was one of the top high school basketball and softball players in the state of Iowa and went on to play both sports at Northwest Missouri State.

My dad coached all of our teams growing up so I was always at his teams' practices and games. I always joke that I was raised by team managers. I knew at an early age that I wanted to coach, partially because it's all I knew. As a player, I was always intrigued by preparing for an opponent, game-planning and in-game adjustments.

My first coaching job was as a volunteer assistant coach at Bemidji High School while I was student-teaching during my fifth year in college.

My first year out of college, I was fortunate to get the head varsity job at Estherville-Lincoln Central High School, a school in small town Iowa in 1999. I was 23 and what I lacked in experience, I tried to make up in passion. I always look back at that year and cringe; it was a great learning experience.

I went on to be a graduate assistant coach at Bemidji State University in 2000 for the coach that I played for, Dave Gunther. I gained a lot of experience in all aspects of coaching that year. Coach Gunther retired after that season so I returned to my hometown and got the head job at Waukee High School, just outside of West Des Moines.

I moved to Arizona in 2003 and was an assistant coach at Horizon High School under Randy Walker for two years. I learned a lot from Randy during those two years.

I got the head job at Desert Mountain in 2005.

AV: How do you manage your time during the season with respect toward your teaching/coaching duties and your social/family life?

Coach Fazio:I have gotten better but have a ways to go. I used to sleep in my office, stay late watching film and planning, attend the lower-level practices in the evening, etc. until we had our daughter in 2008. I've changed some things around to make sure I get home as early as possible. My wife is a saint and extremely patient. It's still an area where I definitely need to improve but I'm getting better. During the season, it gets tough.

We have a 4 year-old daughter and there will be weeks where I won't see her during the week. I usually leave for work before she gets up and get back in the evening after she has gone to bed, especially on game and scout nights. This past season was unique because we had quite a few weeks with three games plus scouting on the nights we didn't have a game. There were a lot of games on unusual nights last year with computerized scheduling.

I try to take advantage of every free second I can with my wife and daughter. It is a work in progress for me for sure; I'm definitely lucky to have a very patient wife. I wouldn't be able to do it without her.

AV: What position do you hold on your school's campus other than your coaching job?

Coach Fazio: I teach physical education and freshman transition at Desert Mountain High School.

AV: Who are your coaching idols?

Dick Fazio (my dad) - Easily the best coach I know. He was very old-school. He was big on fundamentals, team basketball, toughness, and defense. He once told me, "If the kids didn't cuss my name under their breath after a defensive drill, I didn't do a very good job." He was also really good at taking the opponents' strengths away.

He wouldn't last more than one practice today - I know he thinks I'm too soft on the kids at times but won't say it out loud. When I got the job at Desert Mountain, I asked what he thought about taking the freshmen and he (and my mom) laughed out loud. He wouldn't last a day.

If you talk to any of my dad's former players they will all tell you more about how he taught them to be better people than about being better basketball players. Everything he asked his players to do, he did himself. He never argued a call (I am still working on that), never used inappropriate language, and was always over-prepared for every practice and game. I really learned how to run a practice from my dad - he never had a down second in his practices and every drill had a purpose.

There's a saying that 95% of people that go the speed limit do so because they don't want to get a ticket and the other 5% go the speed limit because they are supposed to. My dad is in that 5%. He is a high-character person.

Bill Harris - My high school coach. Again, very old-school and big on defense and toughness. It is pretty safe to say that he kept me humble. He was tough on his players but cared deeply about every one of them. He would do anything for any of his players and made that clear while playing for him and still today.

Bob Grems - My coach at Iowa Lakes. He taught me a lot about the college game and things I needed to do to have success at that level.

Darin Moeller - Assistant coach at Iowa Lakes when I played there. He is the most intelligent coach I have ever talked to - he later became the head coach and eventually dean of the school. We still remain very good friends.

Guys like Tom Bennett, Royce Youree, Sam Ballard, Russ Pennell, and Herb Sendek have gone above and beyond to help the coaches in our state. They have made themselves beyond accessible.

I am a huge fan of Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, and Jeff Van Gundy.

AV: What are some of the personal rewards you've gained from coaching?

Coach Fazio: Seeing our young men grow during their time in our program and the years after leaving our program.

AV: Who are the top three high school coaches in AZ?

Coach Fazio: There are a lot of really good coaches in Arizona. Kevin Hartwig, Tony Fuller, Sam Duane, Randy Walker, Aaron Windler, Gary Ernst, Rick McConnell, Mark Macgowan, Chris Stark, Jay Caserio to name a few. There are a lot more than these guys.

The biggest coach that sticks out for me is Kevin Hartwig. Partially, because we have never beaten Hamilton - ever. In June, November, February - doesn't matter when we play them, they always get us. But more so because I notice he is at every coaching clinic and he implements things from those clinics. He has been around a long time and has won a lot of games but he is always learning. I have a lot of respect for how his teams play and how he approaches the game.

AV: Who's the best player you ever coached?

Coach Fazio: I have coached a lot of very talented players.

AV: If you could pick any AZ high school to coach at (other than your current school), who would it be?

Coach Fazio: I love the players, students, staff, families, and administration at Desert Mountain High School and our community is second-to-none. I can't imagine there is a better place than where I'm at right now.

AV: What was your biggest mistake made in coaching? (game or player management)

Coach Fazio: I make mistakes daily. I just try to make sure they aren't the same ones. I just try to acknowledge each mistake, learn from it, and then do something about it.

I coached an atrocious game in the semifinals vs. Fairfax in 2011. There were about ten things I should have done differently. I still struggle thinking about that game - the boys deserved better than what they got from their head coach that night.

AV: If you couldn't coach basketball anymore, yet could coach another sport, what would it be?

Coach Fazio: To be honest, there isn't anything I can do outside of teaching and coaching basketball. Ask my wife and she will tell you.

AV: What should the role of parents be during their child's high school years?

Coach Fazio: I will never tell a parent how to be a parent. Parents need to do what they feel is in the best interest of their son.

Like I tell my players, you do what your parents tell you to do. Do what you're told.

If a parent is telling his/her son to do something differently than what I am telling him at practice, I will not win that battle. I shouldn't win that battle. If a player has to choose between listening to his coach or mom and dad, it better be mom and dad.

However, if a player doesn't try to do what I ask him to do, he won't play - it's pretty simple.

AV: Would you describe yourself as an offensive-minded coach, defensive-minded, or a little of both?

Coach Fazio: The object of the game is to score the basketball on offense and keep the other team from scoring on defense. If a coach isn't both, his team is in trouble.

We work both ends extensively in practice.

AV: How have you been impacted by open enrollment and/or transfers?

Coach Fazio: Probably not any different than every other school. We have had some kids open enroll to our school in the past. Desert Mountain, which is an IB school, is off-the-charts when it comes to academics. Our administrators and teachers are second-to-none so we have had a few players open enroll, mostly, because of the education they will receive here.

AV: How do you balance listening to/implementing suggestions from your assistants to ensure that they feel their opinions are valued?

Coach Fazio: I have had the best assistants a head coach could have.

Matt Elliott was my assistant for our first seven years here. Matt did all of our substituting and I bounced a lot of things off him. He wasn't a "yes man" and challenged me a few times behind closed doors, which I liked. But once I decided on what we were going to do, he was behind it 100%.

Matt is the new head coach at Moon Valley High School. I have talked to him quite a bit and attended some of his fall workouts and I will tell you that he has quickly changed the culture over there. He has a ways to go but he will get it done. With his work ethic, knowledge, integrity, and ability to teach, he will get things going. Moon Valley got one hell of a coach.

I just want assistants that are loyal, work tirelessly, constantly seek to learn, and treat our players how they should be treated.

I'm fortunate to have a great staff. I realize that I'm not the easiest header to work for. I expect our players to out-work every player in the state so we have to have the same expectations on ourselves as coaches. My assistants work their tails off and are all great, young coaches.

Varsity Assistant: Chris Lemon
Junior Varsity: Cory Bardet
Freshmen: Zach Washut

AV: What approach do you take in "cutting" kids?

Coach Fazio: Cutting players is the worst part of coaching. I meet with each young man individually and let them know why I made the decision I made. I let him know what he does well and the areas he needs to improve if he wants to try out again the next year.

AV: Generally speaking, what do you like to get accomplished during the summer season?

Coach Fazio: As the years go on, the less we do in the summer. We hit June pretty hard and I give them July and most of August off. We don't do nearly as much as we have in the past. We go 9-10 days in June for about three hours in the gym. We mainly focus on lifting, individual skill development, team concepts, and having fun. Each player won't play more than 21 games in June and even that's too many.

It really depends on our personnel. Two summers ago, we had seven guys returning so we focused more on individual skill-development. This past summer, we had guys with less experience so we focused a little more on our team concepts.

We hit skill-development and strength and conditioning hard with our 8th graders, freshman, and sophomores.

We really focus on having fun with our youth kids (grades 3-7) in the summer.

Summer is big for us. We will try some different stuff and see what works, what doesn't work, and what we need to do differently.

AV: Do you see any emerging trends in the high school game?

Coach Fazio: Trends always trickle down from the top. Ball screens are being utilized a lot more than I have seen in the past.

AV: How do you feel about club ball programs?

Coach Fazio: I think we need to accept club basketball for what it is. I believe it gets a bad rap. Club basketball gives young men a wonderful opportunity to be seen by a lot of college coaches and a chance to play against really talented players. Some players get a chance to travel and play in different parts of the country, which is a great experience.

The majority of club coaches really care about kids and want to help them. I'm always very appreciative of the club coaches of my players. They put in a lot of hours for my guys.

AV: Is there any topic you'd like to "sound off" on?

Coach Fazio: Some things that make me shake my head a little bit:

1. Over-hype of players' abilities. Reading some things, there are apparently over 200 NCAA Division I players in our state. A lot of it is agenda-driven by adults. It really hurts kids. Kids want honesty - they want to hear what the need to hear. We don't give kids enough credit. I've had some players really get hurt because of over-hype by adults so the players would continue to pay for their services. The players' goals of playing at the next level were unrealistic which really hindered them at the end of the day.

I have talked to quite a few college coaches who have said that Arizona has a reputation of drastically exaggerating players' abilities and there are some credibility issues with some adults in our state. That has been disheartening to hear - it doesn't affect those adults, it affects the next kid those adults bring up to the college coaches.

2. Player Rankings. It's getting out of hand. I saw 7th grade rankings one year.

3. Ignorance towards smaller schools. It is not kids' fault. There are three D-Is, one D-II, and one NAIA school in Arizona. Kids get locked into D-I because they haven't seen much or any D-II, D-III or NAIA basketball. I had a couple of players get their eyes opened on how good the talent is at those lower-division schools on some visits.

JUCO ball is over-looked too by a lot of players. I've taken quite a few of my players to some ACCAC games for them to see how good that ball is. We are very fortunate to have coaches like Sam Ballard, Matt Gordon, and Dan Nichols coaching in our own backyard. Players that fit that mold need to take advantage of it.

If a kid wants to play bad enough, he is going to have to be willing to go to a small town, east of the Mississippi River, or where it might actually snow in the winter. I really feel there is a program for a lot of players if they are willing to be flexible.

4. Starters shaking the opposing coach's hand during starting lineups. I know it is some "unwritten rule" in Arizona. I have never seen it done anywhere other than Arizona. All it does is draw attention to coaches. Basketball is a player's game and should remain so. I don't send my kids over (unless it's a televised game where it is required). I had my guys do it my first couple of years to be polite. I haven't done it the past five years because it's ridiculous. All of my players will shake his hand after the game. One coach in particular still gets his feelings hurt about it but I am confident that he will be okay. I know I'm in the minority on this one.

5. There were team rankings in JUNE! Must have been a slow sports day.


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