Jim Foster gave his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball freshmen homework. It was a round object, 28.5 inches in circumference, used for dribbling unless it's being passed or shot.
Obviously it's a basketball.
When asked why each player got a basketball to carry around with her for the rest of the evening, Foster's reply was simple:
"Learn to respect it," he said.
Foster wasn't pleased with some of his younger players turning the ball over too much in practice, and this was his solution. The approach has been used by football coaches, memorably including Herman Boone in "Remember the Titans" making running back Petey Jones walk around school with a football because he fumbled too much.facebook
The message was as clear after UTC's Monday practice as it was in the movie: Value the ball at all times.
Foster also had used the tactic before, recalling that one player took the ball home "for a week" and became a much better player as a result.
"You don't take it for granted," Foster said. "These kids have 10 balls in their closet. They show up to practice and balls are on a rack. They need to think about it a little bit more.
"Sometimes it's just a reminder that you need to respect this today. Take it home with you, and next time you look at it you might think about it a little bit, and maybe you'll walk in the gym more ready to do what we want you to do."
With freshmen being a vital part of what the Mocs are trying to do, a senior such as Keiana Gilbert is an important piece of the puzzle because she's been around for four years. Her sister Aryanna has been present for all five of Foster's seasons at UTC. The two are now looked at to lead the team.
"I'm pretty confident going into the season," Keiana said. "I feel like I have to stay consistent and be more aggressive, but also getting my shot consistent as well.
"This year I've got a lot more on my back then I had previously. Just leading by example is a big thing for the freshmen: detailed things, what to do right."
One thing they all can do right is value the basketball.
Or in Foster's words, "Learn to respect it."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.