A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
They’ve Got The Power
PITTSBURGH — Watching a girls’ grade, middle school or high school basketball game with John Tate is a very unusual experience. He’s no casual fan. As he watches the game, he’s evaluating both the players and coaches and listening to the comments from the parents as well.
“I’m multi-tasking.” Tate says with a smile. “I’m trying to learn something from both coaches, evaluate players and get a feel of what type of families they’re from. Long story short, I’m trying to build a first-class girls basketball program.”
The program he’s speaking of is the Pittsburgh Power Basketball Club. A girls travel program that Tate and friend, Howie Reid, started in April of 2006.
“We had no idea what we were doing and it showed,” says Reid, who serves as the program’s assistant director.
The Power’s first season was a trial by fire. Playing in local tournaments at the 12 & under level with a team of mostly 11-year olds, was a humbling experience. Blowouts were a regular occurrence.
“There was no middle ground. Either we played well and kept it close or we stunk the gym out and lost by 50.”
After that first season, Tate didn’t think there’d be a second one. “I don’t hate losing because it’s a part of life but I do hate being uncompetitive. As we went through that first season, I didn’t think we’d ever be able to get to the next level.” Tate pauses, then adds, “I was wrong.”
In December of 2006, several players and parents called both Tate and Reid inquiring about the start of season 2. In January of 2007, the pair made phone calls and sent e-mails announcing their try-out dates.
“We had between 80 and 100 girls come to our tryouts. But the most surprising thing was that the girls came from all over the area. That’s when Howie and I realized we had something special.”
From one team with eight players, the Power grew to four teams with almost 50 players in its second season and plans to have six teams competing in 2008. Tate attributes the growth of the program to the toughness and moxie that his first team showed. “At our tryouts, parent after parent commented to Howie and I how they’d seen us play the year before and really liked how our kids competed.”
The growth, while a wonderful thing, was unexpected. “In the morning we had team. In the afternoon, we had a program”. Tate and Reid vowed to take the program to the next level. That meant upgrading everything: uniforms, scheduling, and most importantly coaching.
Tate, who starred at Penn Hills and the University of Massachusetts, coached the team in its first season. “I ran the stuff we did at UMass, it’s all I knew because I couldn’t remember what we ran at Penn Hills. I knew we had to improve, so I wanted solid basketball minds involved with the program”.
“I had Corey Gadson (McKeesport) and Heath Bailey (Wlikinsburg) come out and run practices. Then I got on the phone with every basketball person that I new, from Coach Cal (Calipari, University of Memphis), to Darelle Porter, to Bruiser Flint (Drexel University) and picked their brains for ideas and strategies.”
You’d think that speaking with some of the country’s most respected college coaches would be the thing Tate and Reid would point to as the turning point in the Power’s history.
Strangely enough, it’s not. Ask the pair what propelled the program from a neighborhood team to one that’s on the fast track to national notoriety and they both answer the same: Montel Staples.
“Once Montel starting coming around full time, the level of play improved immediately. That’s not a coincidence, just look at his bio. He’s won a WPIAL championship. He’s won coach of the year awards.”
Staples, who was athletic director and head boys’ basketball coach at the now closed Duquesne High School, met Tate while both of their daughters played basketball in West Mifflin. The two became friends and when the organization needed his help, Staples happily agreed.
“I love the opportunity that the Power is providing girls from western Pennsylvania,” said Staples, who coaches the 15 and under team, “I’m excited to be a part of it.”
With a core group of experience players at each level, the Power is poised for a breakthrough in 2008 while its goals remain very basic.
“We want to help our players improve and put them in positions to showcase their talents to college coaches,” Tate said of the program’s goals, “Other than that we stress that the girls have fun.”
As we parted ways, after our second game of the day, I asked Tate how the team that got crushed in its first season did in their second. “We finished fifth,” he replied. “Fifth, where?”, I questioned, readying myself to hear the name of some small, local tournament.
Pausing as he reached his SUV, he laughed and said, “Fifth in the national championships” .
NOTE: For more about the Pittsburgh Power Basketball Club, you can visit their website at www.pittsburghpowerbball.org .