Inside the Hardwood Locker Room with Ernest Shand

Coach Ernest Shand is the head basketball coach at Horizon Honors High School in Phoenix (Ahwatukee), Arizona. Prior to Horizon Honors he was the head coach at Salt River High School.
Below is our first Inside the Hardwood Locker Room Q&A with Coach Shand.
If you would like to come inside the locker room for a Q&A email Scott Clayton at
Arizona Varsity: Where did you attend high school and college? Tell us about your playing career.
Coach Shand: I attended New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, NY. I didn't 'try-out' until my sophomore year and got cut. I was essentially brought back on as a practice player. Not being a responsible student-athlete, I "failed-off" (became ineligible) the team and became the varsity team manager for the next two years. As the manager I got to practice with them every day, travel to away games, fundraise for team gear, etc. I also renewed my focus on getting good grades. It is probably where my love for coaching began as I got to see the game from a different angle while sitting-in on "coach talks" and such. I went to college at Genesee Community College and then SUNY Utica/Rome (now known as SUNY Institute of Tech.). My attempt at walking-on at GCC was derailed by a Sickle Cell Crises the week of pre-season training; although I'll admit that I doubt Bill Van Gundy would've kept me (he later made me his cameraman). By the time I got to SUNYIT - coaching was my sole purpose in life besides graduating. Upon arriving in AZ in 2006 - I earned a master's degree from NAU (distance learning). My "playing career" consists of a few park tourneys in Brooklyn and a record four intra-mural championships @ GCC that I'm very proud
AV: How did you get into coaching?
Coach Shand: In 2000, I'd amassed enough PE credits at GCC to obtain a NYS Coaching Certificate (which I'd hope to use back in Brooklyn @ N.U. someday) and all that was missing was a coaching internship. Newly hired GCC head coach Michael von Schiller allowed me to intern with him. Due to circumstance - I was actually given way more responsibilities than an intern normally would. I helped coordinate our team travel, the video exchange program, did some scouting, in-game/practice coaching, and hosted recruiting visits. I also handled managerial duties like uniform inventory, study-hall sessions, etc. When I got to SUNYIT in 2004, newly hired head coach Tom Curle - now at SUNY Plattsburgh - brought me on as a student/undergrad assistant. I actually got a stipend for it, too! My responsibilities were very similar to when I was at GCC but they meant way more to me because I was actually depended on to help develop our kids as well. It was tough to separate myself from the "joys" of being a student - but if I wanted the respect of our players I had to. AD (and current HC) Kevin Grimmer took over the next year and gave me my first true experience in recruiting. When Tom Murphy (among the winningest coaches in NCAA/DIII history) took-over in '06 - I became a paid assistant and ended-up recruiting a kid who went-on to become the school's all-time leader in assists and steals - Ajani Edwards.
AV: How do you manage your time during the season with respect toward your teaching/coaching duties and your social/family life?
Coach Shand: During the season it's extremely difficult to spend ample time with my wife andkids because I'm working 16-18 hour days sometimes. However, I've balanced that by trying to give my family their due time when it's not basketball season. Basically, my wife allows me the winter and summer (month of June really) and they get spring and most of fall (aside from skill clinics and a fall league). She's very understanding and supportive of my passion - as she's actually the athlete of our family. Our kids aren't of age yet (girl, 4...boy, 1) to feel deprived of my presence. While they may miss me at times - it isn't yet a detriment to them. It helps that my wife and kids are at almost every game we play. As for teaching - being on-campus makes it much easier. I get to stay involved in all things HH and as a MS PE teacher I'm active all around our campus. My AD does a great job at balancing-out our travel arrangements so that the kids and I miss little to no class time. On game-days I do get antsy though - 2:30 pm can't arrive soon enough.
AV: Who are your coaching idols?
Coach Shand: While I respect many coaches throughout history, my idols are coaches who've directly influenced me. Namely my HS coach, Ron Vernon. 'Coach Vern' is an old-school guy who never gave kids too much to feel good about but was always on-time with both his discipline and nurturing. We keep in touch to this day and my hope is that he gets to see me coach someday. I'd love to replicate the career he's had in terms of how many lives he's touched - which pales in comparison to what was also a successful W/L record. He's undoubtedly the greatest man in my life. He was always there when I needed him most - and I never played a second for him...I was just his manager. I love him like a father.
AV: Do you have any current or past mentors and what did you learn from them?
Coach Shand: My current assistant Ed Ziska is indeed a mentor I'm proud to have. I've never met a guy that genuinely wants to see me succeed as much as he does and I appreciate that. He's unafraid to respectfully disagree with me when he sees fit but it's never without reasoning that doesn't have our team's best interest at hand. He believes in me and my philosophy while going about sharing his wisdom as it applies. Ed's taught me how to coach with confidence so that the kids then hopefully play with confidence. Steve Currier is in the same mold. Steve's taught me more than anything how preparation and focusing on "unpopular" stats (i.e. weak-side rebounds, points/shot attempts per possession) can give you more control over a game's outcome and how coaching kids up without selling them a dream is arguably the most useful tool a coach can have.
AV: How could AZ high school basketball be improved?
Coach Shand: Adopting a version of college scheduling - where coaches/AD's select more of their own opponents would enhance competition, rivalries, etc. Furthermore, entrance to the state tourney (like with the Big Dance) should be impacted more by strength of schedule than say your opponents' opponents' victory points (really!). If we stick with the current computer scheduling and power points system "small schools" should get more than the current 5-point difference awarded for just playing a "bigger school" - and even more for beating them and vice versa. More than anything though, I would also like to see better 'working relationships' between coaches and officials and coaches and parents. Aren't we all in this for the improvement of the kids' life experiences anyway?
AV: Who's the best player you ever coached?
Coach Shand: While I've been blessed in my young career to have coached some very good players, the best player I've ever coached is Taylor Kufrovich. Taylor was a 6-foot, do-everything PG who I got to coach my first year [ever] as a head coach at Salt River High School. He'd transferred there from Scottsdale Saguaro a year before I arrived. I know for sure that everything he accomplished for our program at Salt River would've been duplicated had he remained a Sabercat. I've only coached one other kid that wanted to win as bad as he did AND did EVERYTHING asked of him in the sake of winning - and his name is Taylor [Hudzinski], too (lol).
'Kuf' was a leader, could score it in multiple ways, and used his basketball IQ and pride to counter his lack of lateral foot-speed. He always believed he was the best player on the court but never spoke down to his teammates when they dropped a pass or turned it over. He respected all but feared none! I'd coach him a million times over if I could. Hopefully I'll get to coach his sons someday - I'll try not to subject them to any stories that begin with, "Well, when I coached your Dad..."
AV: What was your biggest mistake made in coaching? (game or player management)
Coach Shand: On two occasions now I've untimely called - and been awarded, albeit "late" - a time-out as a player of mine was hoisting a 'three' in a one-possession game that banked-in and would've won us the game. We ended-up winning both those games anyway.
Seriously though, this past winter I didn't make a defensive adjustment to deny the ball to Phoenix Christian's consummate-shooter, Nick Johnson. We were up by eight with just less than a minute to go in the championship game of PC's winter tourney and in sticking to our current defense, Nick buried three 3's - each from further and further back to go along with us committing a turnover, missing free throws, and allowing him to catch-and-shoot without me ever calling a time-out or switching defenses. As my senior captains collected our 2nd place trophy, I had to hold back the tears in my eyes as a result of their tears because I realized that I didn't do enough to guide them in what would be their last chance to win an in-season tourney after taking them to three such games in two seasons.
AV: If you couldn't coach basketball anymore, yet could coach another sport, what would it be?
Coach Shand: Just thinking about not coaching basketball anymore feels like sacrilege BUT I'd have to say I'd coach/train amateur boxers. I'm a huge boxing fan and watch it every chance I get. Lately, I've taken a liking to MMA (UFC) but the brute-force of it sometimes corals the excitement it produces. Whereas boxing - at least for me - is still the "sweet science" it was when my grandfather first let me sit next to his lazy-boy back when you could watch the best fighters fight on primetime TV.
AV: What should the role of parents be during their child's high school years?
Coach Shand: A parent's role during their child's high school years should be focused on working with and reinforcing what their child's teachers and coaches are empowering their child to learn and become; especially seeing as how we are with their kids more than they are. It's become obvious to me that teachers/coaches chose their profession because it's rewarding to assist kids in accomplishing great things in their own lives - not to lie on them, steal their joy, and crush their dreams. It saddens me to see teachers/coaches get belittled, disrespected, etc. when a parent doesn't agree with a teacher's methods or a coach's philosophy and instead of communicating that with the teacher/coach like an adult - refutes to allowing their child to be insubordinate. Now if a teacher/coach is putting a child in harm's way with their method or philosophy, then obviously something needs to be done to negate that. But if your 'beef' with me stems from me not playing your child as much as you think I should, does trying to get me fired behind my back justify what is painstakingly only YOUR issue?
AV: What are your policies for dealing with overbearing or meddling parents?
Coach Shand: Foremost, I try to initiate and maintain open communication with the parents in our program. We allow for open practices, have pre-season and end-of-season get-togethers, and send email updates about the program that impacts them and their kids as soon as possible so that no one is inconvenienced. Starting this past season I also offered for parents to meet with me at their discretion to get the gist of my one-on-one 'role' meeting with their kid directly from me. As for policies, I think because of the type of person I am, I've never really set-in-stone or rather sent in one of my many emails anything that details the manner in which I'd prefer parents to take to discuss with me any issues they'd care to (hopefully) amicably resolve. I do know that in any conversation I've had with a parent regarding their son that, 1) playing-time is not up for negotiation; 2) we will NOT discuss any kid but yours; and 3) any assistance, donation, etc. you'd like to provide our program with will be taken into consideration and if/when there's a need - I'll inform our A.D. to seek you out accordingly.
AV: How do you balance playing time so that the entire roster feels included?
Coach Shand: This, in and of itself is a very improbable thing to attain. Mostly because it's based on what others - players, parents, fans/friends - presume to be "equal" opportunity to play. In my opinion, there is no equality in playing-time because no two players are alike nor do any two players impact the game in the very same way at all times. Thus, I try my best to ensure that all our players get sufficient reps in practice in order to be prepared for when an opportunity to play in a game arises. Whether it be in a close game or one that is figuratively out-of-reach - what I expect our players to be able to execute when they enter a game remains the same - play within what we do every day in practice, pick your spots to be aggressive as you feel comfortable/available and defend intelligently. More emphasis should be placed on how a kid positively impacts a game over how long they are/aren't in the game for.
AV: How have you been impacted by open enrollment and/or transfers?
Coach Shand: Our program has been on both sides of open enrollment. We've lost some really good incoming freshman to the allure of bigger schools/programs and we've also been the benefactor of kids who happen to be good players wanting more for themselves academically and subsequently picking our school. Ultimately, my focus is on kids that want to embody the values of our school/program. With that said, I'm happy to see our school/program surely becoming the #1 choice for our middle-schoolers. We are also seeing a few more incoming freshmen arrive @ HH from other successful middle school programs. I think our recent trend of success is transcending how they view their impending career. The relationships we are able to build with them further reinforces that. It's the way it should be.
AV: How do you feel about players transferring into your program?
Coach Shand: I'm not opposed to players transferring into our program so long as they've done their homework with regard to what our expectations are in the classroom first, then on the court and in the community. I can say undoubtedly that there will never be a player to transfer in to HH under my watch that I'll allow to disrupt the family atmosphere we are cultivating. I could care less about what accolades or reputation a kid may come in with. As long as he and his family go through the appropriate channels and are willing to embrace our program's philosophy, they'll be welcomed.
AV: How do you balance listening to/implementing suggestions from your assistants to ensure that they feel their opinions are valued?
Coach Shand: For me, it becomes easier to do this when your assistant can validate their suggestion. For instance, if my assistant thinks we should switch defenses, he also needs to express to me the rationale behind it - i.e. the other team took their best ball-handler, shooter or 'big' out of the game, etc. Furthermore, their suggestions need to enhance the situation we are in - meaning, in implementing their suggestion, our team should take a step forward, not sideways or backwards. Is that always the case? No. But, it should be more times than not as they too develop as a coach. Accordingly, I embrace any "fault" when something may turn out to hurt us. Lastly, I try to prepare my assistant(s) to be able to make valuable suggestions by allowing them to "coach." As in, during practice, games, huddles, pre/post games speeches - I want their voices to be heard just as mine is. So those suggestions they express to me...I want them to 'take the stage' and relay their thoughts to our kids. It helps the kids build faith in our coaches and likewise helps our coaches be secure in their ability, too.
AV: What elements do you focus on when giving your team a scouting report on their opponent?
Coach Shand: I prefer to focus on a few pivotal things rather than a bunch of various elements. The scouting reports I give my team are broken-down into 2-3 things (at most) a team likes to do offensively, 2-3 defensively, and their main personnel/match-ups. So on the offensive end I'll describe if a team is more half-court oriented or if they like to push in transition. Likewise, are they right-hand dominant or do they reverse the ball well. We'll typically have our 2nd unit learn/implement our opponent's main half-court set and baseline out-of-bounds play so we're prepared to defend it. On the defensive front, do they press, play zone, man, both?.....and do they get back in transition well or do they tend to lose guys if there's early movement without the ball? Our 2nd unit again will replicate what primary defense a team plays so we are prepared to play against it. Personnel relates to who are their shooters, who can we release off of to go trap, and who's liable to commit a charging foul on their drives to the basket, etc.
AV: Generally speaking, what do you like to get accomplished during the summer season?
Coach Shand: I hope that during the summer we become more efficient in things we'll do during the upcoming season. I also intend on the kids and our staff either establishing or continuing strong relationships. While there's no "spoken" emphasis on winning - being competitive (and hopefully winning to an extent) is important to building these relationships and teaching them certain team character-traits because kids don't 'see' past losing. For them, there typically aren't any moral victories; so "learning from a loss" won't occur unless I take the right approach to it. I also like to use the summer to expand and experiment with some things. It's also an opportunity to get our non-starters more playing time, although I do point out to our guys that it doesn't exactly mirror what'll unfold during our season. I get across to them all that it's an avenue for them to gain some game experience in preparation for the next time their number is called.
AV: Do you see any emerging trends in the high school game?
Coach Shand: In a nut-shell - versatility! Kids are being groomed to do more things than what traditional 'positions' limited them to. "Bigs" are now leaner and can run for days - they are also expanding their shot-range out to the arc and beyond - a la Kenny Martin. I also see a huge incorporation of the pick & roll in h.s. basketball. In the last 2 years, I feel that the p&r has taken the "buzz" from the now-standard 'Dribble Drive.' If you have the tools and can teach it - the p&r is tough to guard at the HS level. Based on the personnel and skills set of my current team, we'll combine some Dribble Drive with the 'pick & pop.' In my opinion, the pick & pop is the next h.s. "trend" - the Dallas Mavericks used it almost exclusively with Dirk when they won the championship and now you see any team with a solid point guard that can penetrate-to-pass and a forward that can shoot it out to 16-20+ feet drawing out their opponent's 'bigs' and punishing them.
***Thanks to (and Scott Clayton) for the opportunity for my thoughts to be shared and thanks also to anyone that took the time to read this. Any criticisms, comments, questions, etc. about our boys basketball program at Horizon Honors are welcomed. Take care & GO EAGLES!!!