Heating Hec Ed
Calling him “Coach Chill” or “Coach Chills” is a little misleading.
He didn’t get to where he is now by being laid-back and indifferent. His approach to basketball has been, in fact, anything but “chill.”
Point guard Raphael Chillious was good. As an honor student and underclassmen at LaFayette University, Raphael Chillious left LaFayette because, as he explained at the time, the upperclassmen did not take the game of basketball quite as seriously as he did. He gave his word that if things changed, he would come back. The next season, things changed. The following year he was back. This is not behavior indicative of someone who doesn’t let things bother him or who doesn’t adhere to high standards; and not someone whose word is less than stellar.
Some people like to classify other people, put them in boxes to simplify things. Simplification makes thinking more manageable. Doing so, however, usually results in some subversion of reality. Internet forums have suggested Coach Chillious was hired because he is
a good recruiter. End of story. The dangling implication, then, is that Chillious is not a great coach.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
While Chillious is a good recruiter, as a coach he is a well-organized, disciplined teacher and visionary. He knows what he wants from his players, and will spend the time and attention-to-detail to get them there.
His reputation as a prep school coach at South Kent School was one of fair but uncompromising discipline. Some kids were O.K. with it but many had never experienced a rigid, multi-goal-oriented lifestyle, and the change, taking off their “cool jacket,” was hard.
“I sent guys home more often for not doing schoolwork than messing up in basketball,” Chillious has said. Under Chillious, basketball was one thing, not everything. “…South Kent was one of those places where if you didn’t do [everything] you were supposed to do, you weren’t able to stay there.” Like boot camp, it wasn’t a happy place.
Isaiah Thomas, for example, was miserable. But Thomas said he matured, he grew up. His academic success at Washington was due in large part to personal changes that occurred as he endured the disciplined system under Coach Chillious at South Kent School. He had to be more than a basketball player and, rather than quit, that’s what he became.
At Washington, Jim Shaw and Paul Fortier generally take care of the Bigs. Coach Chillious coaches guards. Chillious and Head Coach Lorenzo Romar are to the guard position what Washington Head Football Coach Steve Sarkisian and Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier, both ex-quarterbacks, are to the quarterback position. If a high school basketball player is a guard with promise, or a Big with enough foresight to appreciate what good, college guard play could do for him, Washington is a smart place to go.
Not that Coach Chillious only knows guards. Like many who play or coach the point, and as a former head coach, he knows what everyone else does, or should do, as well. He knows and teaches “team.” But because he coaches the guards, Coach Chillious is in an important position as Washington fans look forward to some talented guard play when the season begins.
At the point, Abdul Gaddy returns. Tony Wroten and Andrew Andrew are incoming freshmen, with a few fans speculating Wroten will be the starter by mid-season. Hikeem Stewart can also play the point. While the comfort level of some is challenged if the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 are not used to simplify positions, in the Romar system, players are interchangeable and on-court chemistry and efficacy dictate who is where. While Gaddy and Wroten are the names commonly mentioned, there are several others who can play the point. They may never need to but they can if necessary. To play the point well, of course, a player must have speed, handles, good court vision, be able to drive the lane, and shoot well from outside. Who? Sounds like C. J. Wilcox, for one. Counterintuitive? Not based on Wilcox’s vision, shooting and skill with the ball.
Romar could have three or four guards on the floor at once. Romar will have both Gaddy and Wroten on the floor together invariably. O.K. but, as far as point guard is concerned, those are the guys, right? Shouldn’t that do it? The honest answer is no. Not completely.
Reflecting Washington’s talent level, others are capable of playing the point should the need ever arise. Like who? A couple of the taller players actually have that ability, not unheard of in the annals of Husky basketball. There were games, back in the day, when 6’ 9” Detlef Schrempf took over at the point. Presently, Jernard Jarreau could do it. It wasn’t that long ago that he played the point. Although highly unlikely, Jerreau or Martin Breunig can both do it. In fact, Washington is stocked with enough talent to where the only players who probably should be kept away from the point are Brendan Sherrer, Shawn Kemp, Aziz N’Diaye, and Desmond Simmons…although Simmons might surprise.
The point point? Washington has an unusual number of people who have good court vision, can handle the ball well and move it quickly from here to there. Call it the point guard mentality with point guard skills; several players have it.
Studying Raphael Chillious’s face as he in turn studies players working the ball around the floor is almost like reading words in a novel…without the visual you still see the “movie.” Chillious, who has a B.S. in Psychology and a master’s degree with an emphasis in Sports Psychology, knows his subject, relates well to players, is a motivator, and tight team play at a fast tempo obviously stimulates him. When watching him watching them, like a sprint coach watching his guys in the 4X100 relay, nothing seems to absorb the total attention of Coach Chillious like immediate player interaction – offensively and defensively – as the ball flies about at the speed of light. It’s a team sport; again, Chillious obviously loves coaching “team.”
Last year Chillious worked successfully with Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton. For a fan, watching either player going coast-to-coast was inspiring but nothing like the Ultimate Fast Break seen in Seattle years ago: “Gus-to-DJ-to-JJ-to-DJ-to-JJ-to-DJ-to-Gus-to-DJ-to-Gus-who-lays-it-in-and-the-Sonics-are-up-by-five” (where the ball never touched the floor and only Bob Blackburn could talk that fast). Moving the ball around at breakneck speed, say, “CJ-to-Suggs-to-CJ-to-Wroten-to-CJ-to-Suggs-to-CJ-to-Wroten-to-CJ-who-lays-it-in-and-the-Huskies-are-up-by-five” will look like clockwork in large part because of the watchful eye and instruction of Raphael Chillious.
In summary, he’s a very competent coach. While it is unfair to place him in a box labeled “Recruiter,” he is, indeed, both a good coach and a good recruiter. He is, like Romar, multi-faceted. And, like Romar, Chillious’s first rule of recruiting is total honesty.
“You have to be authentic,” Chillious has said, “and the best way to do that is to always tell the truth. A lot coaches are scared to tell players the truth because they’re afraid they’re going to lose the player. I’ve always felt that if you tell the player the truth about themselves and their game, and they decide not to come to you because of that, you didn’t want that guy in your program anyway.” The case is the case; saying something else will cause problems in the long run and, from Chillious’s vantage point, “the long run” is the only way to see things.
Washington basketball has benefited from Chillious’s presence on and off the court. With respect to recruiting, Chillious has said, “Every conversation you have is a recruiting opportunity. I was born to recruit, whether it’s sports, college basketball, even if a company hires me or a school wants me to be a fund-raiser, I am a recruiter.”
Chillious has a gift and, within a well-established network of high school and prep school coaches, guided by a code of strict honesty (sometimes painful), Chillious continually exercises that gift. Enes Kanter initially chose the Huskies but then switched to Kentucky because of Kentucky’s reputation as an NBA prep school. Ultimately, it didn’t matter but Kanter would never have considered Washington in the first place were it not for Chillious. There are other reasons, of course, for selecting a university and, as the Washington basketball image continues to rise (Romar and staff are going nowhere else) and eventually reaches a level commensurate with Kentucky, North Carolina, et al, for kids like Kanter those reasons will begin to tip the scales in Washington’s favor.
The Leader of Young Men
Every head coach should have someone who is naturally a close second, a Nick Holt to Steve Sarkisian. For quite some time that man was Cameron Dollar. Presently, although Chillious is the newest member of the coaching staff, because of his success (he sent three players straight to the NBA) while head coach of South Kent School, his excellent rapport with all players, his excellent mind and grasp of the big picture, and his ability as a recruiter due to his personality and his extensive network of high school and prep school coaches, Chillious comes closest to filling the Washington basketball “close second” position.
Between coaching and recruiting, his responsibilities are challenging but, again, he’s not where he is because he is laid-back and indifferent. He takes things in stride but, continuing the analogy, that stride has direction and the direction is straight. There is an intensity not immediately apparent but which never subsides; the stride doesn’t really slow down.
“Chill” or “Chills” is somewhat flattering because, although there’s never any doubt about who’s in charge, the nickname reflects the affection of his players. In comparison to his style as a coach and a person, however, the name is, again, less-than accurate. In Hec Ed, the effective atmosphere around Coach Chillious isn’t cool.