Two homegrown basketball coaches, currently enjoying success at colleges more than 1,200 miles apart, have been spending some of the time away from their respective teams due to the coronavirus picking each other’s brains.
Sandhills Community College head coach Mike Apple is fresh off leading his team to the program’s second national championship in his nine years at the college. That came with the team’s 93-89 title-game victory over Mohawk Valley CC back in March. He was also named the NJCAA Men’s Coach of the Year for the second time.
Sean Stout, whose mentors include Roy Williams and Larry Brown, was a member of the Pinecrest High School team coached by Apple in 2005-06. He was also a student in his coach’s math class.
Currently on the coaching staff of Southern Methodist head coach Tim Jankovich in Dallas, Texas, his journey following graduation from high school has provided the opportunity to learn from highly accomplished coaches at three NCAA Division I colleges.
Stout has been taking advantage of the shutdown at SMU to spend time with his parents Todd and Kim Stout in Southern Pines.
The weekly sessions that have taken place the last two months with Apple at Heins Gymnasium basically turn into an exercise of student learning from teacher and teacher learning from student.
“The first thing that stuck out for me about Sean was his love of basketball and that he really wanted to be a good basketball player,” Apple recalls “You could tell that he was going to get into coaching at a fairly early age because he learned all of the plays really well and he was like a coach on the floor.
“He reaches out to me when he’s in town and we get together. I just have a multitude of questions for him, especially at the higher level of basketball at SMU. He’s always been willing to share ideas and he’s a great person to bounce ideas off of. He has such a wealth of knowledge from the coaches he has worked with and learned from.”
Something in Common
Apple, who played basketball at nearby Union Pines High School and later at Guilford College, and Stout were both inspired by the late North Carolina coach Dean Smith.
“I knew I wanted to get into coaching and Coach Apple was a huge influence on that,” Stout says. “He encouraged me and I watched how he did things. I also had him as a math teacher for two years. I saw how he handled himself off the court and how he handled people and his athletes.
“If you are going to be a coach you want to be the next Dean Smith and you go to Carolina. I wrote my college entrance exam about Dean Smith and his 879 wins.
“Everywhere I applied I was hoping to be a manager. I was told that was a way to get your foot in the door. And with Coach Williams there I was fortunate to get to work for him and find out what he’s about. There wasn’t a better place I could be.”
Learning from the Best
Stout’s preparation to become a coach began in 2006 with four years as a student manager at UNC under Williams. As a senior he was the head manager with six students working for him.
In 2009, the Tar Heels won their second of three national titles under Williams.
“I was there during a really special time,” he says. “Coach Williams was unwavering in what he believes in, in doing things the right way, and in how he treats people and truly cares about his guys. I had a lot of responsibilities. It was a good experience leadership-wise.”
Stout’s first coaching stop after graduation was as the director of basketball operations at Coastal Carolina for two years on the staff of Cliff Ellis, a coach with 858 career wins.
Stout started out as a graduate assistant at SMU under coach Larry Brown in 2012 and earned a masters degree.
One of his positions under Brown, who left SMU in 2016, was as director of recruiting, leading up to his current position as director of operations under Jankovich.
In addition to participating as a coach in practices and games, his responsibilities in that role include liaison to the athletic department and the university, overseeing the budget, NCAA compliance, academics, public relations and marketing.
Tar Heels Connection
Brown was the leading scorer on Dean Smith’s first Tar Heels team in 1960-61. As a coach he won a national championship at Kansas (1988) and an NBA championship with Philadelphia (2004). He was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
One of Stout’s first realizations that successful coaches are good listeners occurred early in his four years on Brown’s coaching staff.
“I was 24 years old when I first started working for him and he put me on the spot, asking me what I thought of things that he would draw on the board,” he recalls. “I don’t know one millionth of what he does, but there was no ego about taking anyone’s opinion. He’d bring in people that were there to learn from him and he’d turn it around and learn from them.”
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was an assistant coach for Brown when he coached the Philadelphia 76ers in the early 1990s, setting up a memorable experience for his young assistant.
“One of the highlights of my life was when I went with Coach Brown to San Antonio for the NBA Finals (against the Miami Heat),” Stout says. “We go into Coach Popovich’s office and they talk about the game and strategy. I’m thinking ‘what did I do to get here?’ That was such a neat thing.
“Coach Brown is so unique. He eats, sleeps and breathes basketball. And he knows what is going on in every sport whether it’s Premier League Soccer or baseball.”
Seeking an Advantage
This week’s session was the last one as Stout will soon be heading back to Dallas. On a recent Monday they reviewed film of both team’s games. Stout showed Apple an out of bounds play to be used against zones or man-to-man. They also looked at film of the decisive final minute of the title game in March when the Flyers held Mohawk Valley scoreless.
“I’m a North Carolinian and I was indoctrinated into the ways of Dean Smith and Carolina basketball,” Apple says. “And here you have a guy who worked under Roy Williams who was Dean Smith’s right-hand man.
“One of the best things is when I show Sean what we do, he’ll show me how SMU would counter it. Some times I’ll be thinking I’m doing a pretty good job on something and I’ll learn there is another way that could be better. That makes me a better coach.
“I see him take notes about some of the things we do in practice and that makes me feel good that he sees some value in what we do here to take it to a higher level.”
For his part, when Stout watches film of Flyers’ games, he sees a dominant team that averaged 103.6 points per game while allowing 74.7 on the way to a record of 34-2.
“It’s a unique style of play,” he says. “When I saw they were going to play two games in one day for the national championship I knew they were going to be OK because they play a lot of guys. You are going to be in shape when you play for Coach Apple.”
In addition to being productive, Apple has found the brainstorming sessions enjoyable.
“Sean and I have had such a shared history that we sometimes go off on tangents, talking about Pinecrest basketball and how well Coach (Ben) Snyder has done there, and about former teammates,” he says. “We’re very pleased with how well Tramaine Pride (Pinecrest and Sandhills player) is doing in his coaching career at Pfeiffer University.”
Apple was an assistant coach at his alma mater for 13 years before landing his first head coaching job at Western Harnett High School. He has posted over 400 wins as a head coach, including a 232-65 mark with the Flyers. Stout has been an assistant coach now for 10 years.
“At some time I want to move the ball down the field to become a head coach,” he says. “Coach Brown was unbelievable to me and Coach Jankovich is awesome. I love what we do and how we do things. Right now the quality of life is so good.”
Pinecrest High School provided him one of the first of many opportunities to observe what it takes to be a successful coach. He remembers Apple as hard, but fair.
“We had to be on time, acting the right way and doing the right things in the classroom,” he recalls. “Here he has a new team every two years. I don’t think those things have changed since he coached us. It was very similar with Coach Williams. This is how you are going to act and this is how you are going to play.
“I’ve been very lucky to work for some really smart guys and Coach Apple is at the top of that list for the influence he has had on me. He’s so humble. I think it’s a huge part of his success and why people gravitate toward him. He’s won multiple national championships and he wants to learn from me.”
This article was provided by the SCC athletics department.