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Nicole Auerbach, @NicoleAuerbach, USA TODAY Sports

When college men's basketball coaches navigate the maze of friends, family members and third-party influences who can drive wedges between them and their players, one thing becomes painfully clear.

"Trust is everything," Dayton coach Archie Miller said.

It's also hard to come by.

According to the Study of Student-Athlete Social Environments, the annual survey of more than 20,000 college athletes administered by the NCAA, Division I men's basketball players are less trusting of coaches than male athletes in any other college sport. When responding to the survey statement "My coaches can be trusted," 53% of Division I men's basketball players said they agreed or strongly agreed. Players were polled between January and May 2012.

"I don't know if I would call it an outlier, though," said Tom Paskus, an NCAA researcher who analyzed the study along with Lydia Bell. "There are some other sports that are fairly low as well."

The highest percentage of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing came from wrestling (78%), followed by track/cross country (68%) and swimming and hockey (each 63%). The percentage for football was 59%.

But men's basketball is the lowest, and it was the lowest in other trust categories as well. In each of the other statements -- "Most people can be trusted," "I trust my teammates as much as anybody in my life" and "My teammates have my back regardless of the situation" -- Division I men's basketball players had the lowest levels of agreement.

It's worth mentioning, too, that a Pew Research Center survey conducted Feb. 14-23 among 1,821 adults nationwide, including 617 Millennial adults, showed Millennials have low levels of trust, significantly lower than other generations.

In the Pew survey, 19% of Millennials agreed that most people can be trusted.

In response to the question, "Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?" 19% of Millennials said most people can be trusted.

"That number is incredibly low, and there's some sense that it's not only because of their age -- younger people tend to be more cynical in general -- but also that this young generation is really cynical," Bell said. "That's what happens with a low level of trust."

Why so low?

Trust is built between a player and coach on a case-by-case basis, so it can be difficult to decipher why trust numbers are lower in basketball across the board. Coaches interviewed for this story outlined possible reasons the numbers might lag.

One factor that erodes player-coach relationships is annual coaching turnover. That in turn can partly account for the high rate of transfers among Division I men's basketball players.

"More so than other sports, men's basketball players in Division I are coming to a school for a particular coach," Paskus said. "That whole dynamic of movement of both coaches and players may relate to that a little bit."

Many players opt to transfer after the coach who recruited them is fired or leaves. Rodney Hood, who left Mississippi State after coach Rick Stansbury retired, has become one of Duke's most important players. Likewise, Anthony Gill transferred from South Carolina to Virginia after coach Darrin Horn was fired; this season, he has given the East Region No. 1 seed Cavaliers big minutes and production off the bench.

"When you commit to the school, you commit thinking that's going to be the coach," Gill said. "Of course you're going to get an education and things like that, but you have to be comfortable there. If you're not comfortable there, if the (coach) was the reason you came there, I feel like it should be the reason for you to leave."

Perhaps an even more simplistic way of looking at the trust issue is this: If expectations do not match reality, the bond of trust might break. Or, at the very least, the athlete will perceive it's broken.

And, for many players at this level, the expectation is that college is a pit stop en route to the NBA.

"Trust is probably low because expectations are unrealistic," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Everybody expects things to happen so quickly. There are so many variables, like an injury or a player returning after saying he was going to leave early and he's at your position. All those variables change what the player's perception of what his freshman year was supposed to be. A lot of times, it comes down to your freshman year."

Said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim: "There are kids coming out (of high school) who think they're going to be in the NBA and they're not even good college players. They're going to have issues. They're going to say, 'I didn't get what I should have. I got screwed over.'"

It's one thing for a coach to promise a player he'll play at a certain position or for a certain number of minutes per game and for those promises to be broken. As Miller put it, "You've got to be what you say and say what you mean. They're going to call B.S. on you the first time it doesn't look right."

The coaches interviewed for this story said they aim to paint a realistic picture and make sure not to make promises they could break. They think they provide an opportunity for their players to compete for a spot and work hard to get minutes -- and there are no guarantees.

Still, sometimes the concept of earning playing time and earning trust gets confused.

"When a player's not playing, a lot of time the player will say, 'The coach doesn't trust me. He's not playing me,'" Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "The coach may not trust him on the floor in certain situations, but that's totally different than 'Do you trust my word? Do you trust what I'm saying? Have I lied to you?' ...

"There is a difference between a coach not trusting a player in a game because he may not be experienced enough or is making mistakes from a coach saying something and not following through with his word. (You have to) get a player to understand the difference between that."

Donovan says communication is the way to offset differences between a player's and a coach's expectations and talking can help explain a coach's decision to play or not play someone. Like many of his peers, he tries to build lasting relationships with players off the court.

"Trust in general, particularly with kids who come from backgrounds that may not foster a lot of trust, is a challenge," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "We have four guys on our team that had fathers in their homes growing up; we have mostly guys who are not used to trusting a male figure in their life.

"There's no magic formula. I think (what helps to build trust is) spending time off the court, letting these guys know we care about them beyond just the basketball floor, being hard on them.

"One of my favorite quotes, and (Michigan State coach) Tom Izzo said it the other day, is this: 'Discipline is the highest form of love.' If you really love someone, you have to give them the level of discipline they need."

Ways to build trust

A lot of times, unrealistic expectations -- and the problems that follow -- stem from the recruiting process.

It's a peculiar system, one in which coaches try to impress players as players try to impress coaches. But instead of fawning over teenagers and making promises, coaches are learning the best way to approach recruiting is with honesty.

"You can't tell guys they're going to be your best player, that it's going to be easy, you come here I'm going to make you a star," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "We don't tell guys that. (We say,) 'We're going to love you, coach you, try to help you grow up. I'm going to try to motivate you to do your best every day and teach you, coach you as best I can. I can't make you a star.'

"You can't mislead people, because then the relationship is doomed to fail before they even get to campus, because it's unrealistic."

Wright said sometimes he errs on the side of negativity -- or reality -- instead of espousing all the benefits of joining the Villanova program.

"We say to the guys, 'We're hoping what we're telling you right now may not be as attractive as you want it to be but you realize when we're coaching you, you realize it's the truth,'" Wright said. "It allows us to coach them."

Players said they notice things like that. Hood said he started to trust Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski quickly after transferring because of his track record. The 6-8 forward built a relationship with Coach K, bought into his system and said last week, "I trust him with my life." Athletes also pay attention to coaches trying to get to know them as people, not just as basketball players.

"Coach has to be able to talk to you about things other than basketball, about your life, how's your family," Michigan sophomore Glenn Robinson III said. "You want to build it so that you have a connection with your coaches outside of the basketball world."

For Gill, Virginia coach Tony Bennett worked hard and quickly to try to make his transfer feel comfortable. The pair bonded over shared values and their Christian faith.

"He's always talking to us about our personal lives; he's really invested in us," Gill said. "Whenever we get on the court, we have total trust in him. He has our backs off the court, so he's definitely going to have our backs on the court."

 

March 19, 2014

 

 
 

 

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