Men's Basketball

Take a peek behind the Barry Buccaneers curtain

Barry University Buccaneers reaches after a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball exhibition game against the Miami Hurricanes at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables on on Tuesday, October 30, 2018.
Barry University Buccaneers reaches after a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball exhibition game against the Miami Hurricanes at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables on on Tuesday, October 30, 2018. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Coach Butch Estes frowns.

“What are the numbers?” Estes glumly asks his assistant coaches during halftime Tuesday of Barry Buccaneers men’s basketball exhibition game at the University of Miami.

One by one, Estes’ assistants read from statistical sheets, providing their head coach with detailed clues to what’s working and what isn’t, and also what could be done going forward.

Among the numbers were stats on what percentage UM was shooting against Barry’s zone, against man-to-man, on in-bounds plays, off transition and much more.

It was like a surgeon getting information from his staff, looking for ways to revive the patient.

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Barry University Buccaneers head coach Butch Estes gives instructions to his team before the start of an NCAA college basketball exhibition game against the Miami Hurricanes at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

The Bucs, to continue the medical analogy, still had life, trailing the Hurricanes, 41-33, at the half, which wasn’t bad at all for Barry.

Miami plays in NCAA Division I and in the Atlantic Coast Conference, considered the best league in college basketball.

Barry is a powerhouse NCAA Division II program with two appearances in the Elite Eight round of the national playoffs in the past three years.

Still, Division II is not Division I, and the Sunshine State Conference is not the ACC.

Even so, the Bucs didn’t come to Coral Gables on this night with the idea of losing. Just last year, Barry traveled to Alabama and knocked off a Division I team, Auburn, 100-95, in overtime. Auburn went on to win the SEC regular-season title.

For Tuesday’s game, the Barry coaching staff granted the Miami Herald an all-access pass to what goes on behind the scenes — before the game, during the huddles, at halftime and after the contest.

Here’s a peek behind the Barry curtain:

Pre-game prep

Barry’s Daniel Mortensen, a 6-9 senior forward from Denmark, woke up on this day at 6:30 a.m. He took two classes, including one in which he had an anatomy test.

At 1 p.m., Mortensen met the rest of his team to get the scouting report from the coaches. There was a video session where the team went over the strengths and weaknesses of the Hurricanes, and that was preceded by an on-the-court walk-through.

“We follow the scouting report,” Mortensen said. “But sometimes a guy who is not a shooter makes some shots, and we have to make in-game adjustments.”

After the scouting report was digested, it was time for actual food. The Bucs took a bus over to Coral Gables for a 3 p.m. team lunch at The Big Cheese.

“I had spaghetti with marinara sauce and grilled chicken,” Mortensen said. “It was amazing.”

At 5 p.m., the team arrived at UM’s Watsco Center in Coral Gables, and the players took the court to warm up. Mortensen spent time talking to his sister, Sarah, who plays for the Hurricanes’ women’s basketball team.

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Barry University Buccaneers forward Daniel Mortensen talks with his sister, Miami Hurricanes guard Sarah Mortensen, before the start of a men’s NCAA college basketball exhibition game at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Estes did a TV interview with ESPN before meeting with his coaches in the locker room at 6 p.m., one hour before tip-off.

Assistant coach Bill Morosco took to the whiteboard as the staff went over its defensive coverage for UM. Assistants Mike Bradley, Nate Vera and Tito Arias also contributed, and the staff talked a great deal about “hard hedges” and “flat hedges” — in essence, mapping their strategy to deal with UM’s screen game on offense.

At 6:15, the coaches walked to the adjoining locker room, where the players were gathered.

Estes took to the whiteboard this time, and there was enough jargon to leave the uninitiated dazed and confused.

Estes made special mention of two UM players: quick point guard Chris Lykes; and a terrific shooter, Dejan Vasiljevic.

“We don’t want too much pressing in the backcourt, giving Lykes a chance to run,” Estes warned. “When the ball goes into the post, we need good post defense. We can’t play behind them. We have to bump, wrap, bump, wrap. Get them out (of the lane).

“When the ball goes (into the post), we’re going after it. Everybody on the perimeter side is going in, unless you’re guarding No. 1 (Vasiljevic). There’s no jam on him.”

Estes then talked to his team about expectations.

“I used to go into these games (against Division I opponents) six years ago wanting to keep it close,” Estes said. “Now I don’t feel that way anymore.”

In other words, the Bucs entered the game ready to win.

Barry broke up its meeting with the following words as part of a team huddle:

“Play hard on three — 1, 2, 3: PLAY HARD!”

In-game/halftime

During the game, Estes paced the sidelines ferociously.

When a player exited the game, Bradley — who is Estes’ longest-tenured assistant at six years — often talked to the young man about any needed corrections.

“Mike has great rapport with the players,” Estes said of Bradley.

During timeouts, the coaches meet first to get on the same page regarding the message they need to deliver. A chair is then brought out, and Estes sits in the middle of the group, going over adjustments.

After Estes has his say, assistants and even players offer their thoughts as well.

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Barry University Buccaneers head coach Butch Estes gives instructions to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball exhibition game against the Miami Hurricanes at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

At halftime, “the numbers” Estes got from his staff were all pretty even. Had Miami shot much better against zone than man or vice versa, the adjustment would have been simple.

But that wasn’t the case. Miami was just a little bit better, across the board, than Barry.

After the coaches meet, they once again walk over to the players’ locker room for more strategy.

By this point, the Bucs coaches had decoded UM’s signals and relayed that information to their players, explaining what “4” or “34” meant to the Canes.

After that last bit of info, Estes yells out: “Let’s go take this game!”

Post-game drama

Estes had warned his players not to leave Vasiljevic unguarded, but the UM shooter had beaten the Bucs badly early on, with 13 points in the first 13 minutes of the game.

However, those halftime adjustments were made, and Vasiljevic only had 17 points for the entire game in 32 minutes.

Canes coaches had shown Barry plenty of respect, leaving three of their starters in the game with as little as three minutes remaining. Vasiljevic was even out there for the final seconds.

Still, the final score read UM 91, Barry 61, and Estes wasn’t pleased. He was even less happy when he got back to the locker room to address his team only to find one of his players using his phone.

Estes read the entire team the proverbial riot act in a voice nearly loud enough to be heard back on the school’s Miami Shores campus.

In Estes’ view, it was a teachable moment about taking the game seriously and having the discipline to wait until later to use their phones.

“Do you want to put that score out on social media?” Estes yelled sarcastically, referring to news of the loss.

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Miami Hurricanes and Barry University Buccaneers players shake hands after an NCAA college basketball exhibition game at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. The Hurricanes won 91-61. DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Turning calmer, but still teaching, Estes said: “I’m not worried about the score. But I am worried about how we played. We have some people who have to really concentrate in practice so they understand what we’re doing and do it a lot harder.

“You guys can be a great basketball team if we grow up. Roles are going to be defined. For some of you, it will be tough to accept. But you’re going to get out of it what you put into preseason.

“Every single practice, you’re being evaluated by five (coaches). I want to encourage you to take whatever role you get and then continue to compete, so you get more and more. And if you get what you want, you better battle every day to protect it.

“I’m into performance — not reputation. I’m upset because there are a lot of people in this room who are not performing at the level they’re capable of.”

After Estes’ speech, the team had a group huddle, and they all yelled: “1-2-3 Family!”

The night was over, but the journey for the 2018-19 Barry Buccaneers has just begun.

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