Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hoops coaching shakeup could hinder Gryphons rebuilding process

I’ll admit it. When news broke on Friday that long-time Gryphon women’s basketball head coach Angela Orton was stepping down, the announcement took me by surprise.

Sure, the young Gryphons were coming off of a season that saw them finish in the OUA West basement, with a record of 2-20.

Sure, Orton’s players frequently looked discouraged, disinterested and unprepared for the rigours of OUA competition.

Sure, there were countless rumours suggesting an internal rift between the head coach and her team that compounded the issues faced by a team lacking experience and veteran on-court leadership.

But for a head coach with 22 years of experience and an impressive resume to just take a 12-month leave of absence from coaching, Orton’s timing is somewhat peculiar.
PHOTO CREDIT: gryphons.ca

Last year, Orton’s team was extremely young, possessing just one fourth-year player in 2009-10 in forward Alex Russell, who has since graduated. For the past two years, first and second-year players have been a major part of Orton’s game rotation, acquiring invaluable game experience in the process. Losing their experienced head coach while the players try to become more familiar with the OUA game has a real ‘one-step-forward-two-steps-back’ feel to it. Whether or not the players were able to connect with their coach and agree with her tactics, Orton’s four OUA West Coach of the Year awards and countless winning seasons speak for themselves. She is a former national team member and was inducted into the U of T Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.

Angela Orton knows basketball.

Throughout her tenure as head coach of the Gryphons, Orton has also held the job title within the Department of Athletics as the Manager of Intercollegiate Programs, effectively serving as the leading figure for all Gryphons varsity teams, among other responsibilities. Upon her resignation, Orton cited the need to redirect her focus and tend to her managerial responsibilities within the department, electing to turn the team over to assistant coach Tom O’Brien on an interim basis.

While O’Brien possesses a wealth of basketball coaching experience, spanning more than 30 years, 2009-10 was just his first year with the Gryphons. Now, going into next season, the team will be dealing with a number of inexperienced players, coupled with a new head coach who cannot be particularly familiar with the system. One can’t help but expect more than a few bumps along the way.

Perhaps Orton’s stated 12-month leave of absence will be just that: one year to reassess her situation, followed by a return in 2011-12. But I don’t think it’s that simple. A year from now, a new recruiting class – one seemingly without Orton’s input – will have entered the program. The system may change; the players certainly will. Time will not stand still during Orton’s hiatus and the landscape of the Gryphons program will likely be remarkably different following her reassessment period. What if the new direction isn’t one that she finds agreeable? Does she start the rebuilding process again? That hardly seems like progress. 

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