Sharif and I have been friends since 2003 but our relationship goes back to the late 90s as competitors on the hardwood. Throughout our high school years as student-athletes, we competed against each other and that continued on into our time as collegiate athletes. Out of high school, Sharif attending Penn State where he had a very successful three year career.
Heading into his senior year, he transferred back home to Wisconsin, and we became teammates. That is where our friendship developed. Over the years I have found that Sharif has a pure passion for the game of basketball and helping student-athletes get better everyday. The interview below shows you some of that passion. Enjoy.
Me: Sharif, give us a quick rundown of your playing and coaching background.
Sharif: First, I would like to thank Freddie Owens for this opportunity and for creating a platform to bring together the coaches and community of Southeastern Wisconsin.
I am originally from Racine, Wisconsin. I attended Racine Park High School my first two years, transferring to St. Catherine’s to finish out my high school career under Hall of Fame Coach Bob Letsch. I went on to play three years of collegiate basketball at Penn State University where I was a part of the 2001 Sweet 16 team. After much deliberation, at the end of my Junior year, I made the difficult decision to leave Penn State University and return home to finish out my collegiate basketball career with the Wisconsin Badgers under Head Coach Bo Ryan.
At Wisconsin, I was part of a team that went to the NCAA tournament two years in a row, including a run to the Elite 8 in 2005. After college, I played one season for the Lusitania Basketball Club, the top league in Portugal, which subsequently brought me back to the States to begin my coaching career.
My coaching roles over the years have included Graduate Manager/Player Development Coach under Head Coach Rob Jeter at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (two seasons), Assistant Coach under Head Coach Gary Edwards at DII Francis Marion University (one season), Assistant Coach under Head Coach Jeff Gard at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville (one season), Video Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin under Head Coach Bo Ryan (two seasons), Assistant Coach under Head Coach Rob Jeter at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (four seasons), and where I reside currently as Assistant Coach under Head Coach Scott Nagy for Wright State University (going into second season).
Me: Why did you decide to get into coaching?
Sharif: Due to NCAA regulations, I sat out my first season at the University of Wisconsin after transferring from Penn State University. During my sit-out year, I took what some would consider a set-back as an opportunity to learn. Bo Ryan, Rob Jeter, Saul Phillips and Greg Gard in one way or another took me under their wing and allowed for me to begin understanding how a successful basketball program is run.
It was the guidance from them that sparked my interest in one day becoming a college basketball coach. I gained an immense amount of appreciation for the work and dedication it takes to coach a group of young student athletes. I knew that my work ethic and knowledge of the game would one day make a difference in the lives of future athletes as a coach.
Me: As a coach, what wisdom do you try to pass on to the players from your past experiences?
Sharif: As players, they need to be told that they control their own destiny. Whether through their perspective, attitude, work ethic or confidence, the ball needs to be put into their court and they need to be held accountable for their actions. Consider it like a job, we come to work and leave everything else at the doorstep. Same applies to their contributions as a member of their team. A positive mindset and approaching their role with confidence will help them prevail in the long run.
Me: What advice would you give to all coaches as it relates to building trust with their athletes?
Sharif: Be as personable, relatable and honest as possible. The athletes and parents of these athletes we all work with on a daily basis desire to feel accepted, and need to know we as coaches and mentors can be trusted. Finding something they can relate to outside of basketball begins to build a layer of trust.
It creates conversation that builds a relationship, not just fills a role. When we are personable and honest with them, their willingness to listen and work with us comes with much more ease. We are role models to these athletes, and despite our own personal qualms, they look to us for guidance and reassurance. Providing them with positive, relatable experiences in turn builds a trusting relationship.
Me: From a recruiting standpoint, what do you look for in a player?
Sharif: There are two key components that are crucial to my recruiting philosophy – success off the court in the classroom and skill level. I want to recruit an athlete who is not only successful on the basketball court, but also has the ability succeed as a student in the classroom. Reality is, while many of these athletes will be lucky enough to have the opportunity to play at the collegiate level, their future beyond college basketball lies in the hands of the education they receive. I want to make sure that they have the potential to create an opportunity for themselves outside of basketball.
Secondly, I concentrate highly on skill level. Those athletes that have put the time and work in to develop their skill level typically stand out as players and leaders. They can always refine their skill level, but it is the ones that are truly dedicated to perfecting their purpose in the game that I tend to recruit.
Me: Sharif, thank you for taking the time to talk with us about your thoughts. We look forward to hearing more at the MCA Coaching Clinic.
Sharif: Thanks for having me.