The very first thing you teach players, that is what sticks in their mind forever. —Former basketball coach Nell Fortner
SALT LAKE CITY — Former U.S. Olympic women's basketball coach Nell Fortner addressed high school basketball coaches from around the state on Saturday morning.
The Utah Women's Basketball Coaches Association met for its annual conference at the Huntsman Center, where Fortner was the keynote speaker. She gave her talk from the basketball court while reviewing specific coaching techniques, and she used 10 student volunteers to show drills she has utilized throughout her successful coaching career.
Fortner played collegiate basketball and volleyball for the University of Texas from 1978-81. She led the basketball team to its first national ranking in women's basketball and a seventh-place finish in the AIAW national tournament, and led the volleyball team to the 1981 AIAW National Championship.
In 1983, Fortner began her coaching career with a three-year stint at a Texas high school before serving as an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin and then Louisiana Tech. She has since been a head coach for Purdue University, USA Basketball, the WNBA's Indiana Fever, and Auburn University.
Fortner coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in 2000 — the year former Taylorsville High and Utah Starzz star Natalie Williams was a part of the team. Williams, now the girls' basketball coach at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper, was in attendance on Saturday and remembered running the drills Fortner was explaining.
"Natalie is nodding her head, she's seen this drill," Fortner said, pointing to Williams in the middle of an explanation. "Natalie is a pretty nice player; I have never seen anyone jump like her."
Along with Williams, coaches from around the Salt Lake Valley — including those representing Brighton, Bingham, Copper Hills, Herriman, Taylorsville and Layton high schools, among others — were taking notes on Fortner's talk. Utah women's basketball coach Anthony Levrets and his coaching staff and team were also on hand to see Fortner before running an open practice for
coaches to stick around and watch.
Fortner began her address to the coaches by giving a handout that included an inspirational definition for being a winner as well as her fundamental coaching guidelines.
"I have used this handout for 30 years," she said. "I put it together to teach myself, to put me in the ballpark of what I wanted my strategy to be."
On the list were five defensive goals — having all five players in defensive position, stopping attacks on the basket, contesting all shots, being in good rebounding position, and stopping the ball from reversing — as well as five offensive goals — good shot selection, good ball-handling skills, moving without the ball, helping teammates get open, and rebounding on offense. The coach reviewed each of the goals as she went through her drills.
Fortner emphasized that basketball should always be fun, fundamentals cannot be drilled enough, and that the first thing a coach teaches is what players remember best.
"The very first thing you teach players, that is what sticks in their mind forever," she said. "And I have seen that at all levels."
The coach also shared that she gives her players a motivational thought every single day.
"Here are two of my favorites: First, if you are going to be some place, be all there. Don't be thinking about history while you are at practice or practice while you are in history. Do what you are doing, and do it well.
"And the second one, at the end of the day, be able to tell yourself, 'Today, I gave all I had, and what I kept, I lost forever' because today is all we have."