Al Biancalana is aiming to make some cultural changes in his first summer as DeKalb’s boys head basketball coach.
Biancalana, who comes to DeKalb after four years as an assistant at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has made some immediate adjustments to emphasize team basketball, players’ self-esteem, skill development, and program pride.
In his first month as the Barbs’ head coach, Biancalana has decided to move the team from a local summer league to one in Machesney Park, where the Barbs will compete against Rockford-area schools. The quality of competition was at the forefront of his mind.
Off the court, Biancalana wants to instill a strong work ethic in his players.
“I’m a believer that you just have to grind it out and work on something every day to get better,” Biancalana said. “That is something that I would like us to do more of in the future.”
The ultimate goal is to create what Biancalana calls a championship mentality, with the philosophy that the first step toward winning a championship is learning how to become a champion.
Barbs’ senior guard Rudy Lopez has heard Biancalana’s message of a championship level approach and says that it will help the team in the season ahead.
“He tells us every time we do something wrong that we are not responding like champions,” Lopez said. “It has been a big adjustment to someone who has just come in and only been here a month, but I believe he has made an impact and we will be better for it.”
One step Biancalana took to show his players a championship mentality was schedule two days of practice with players from Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.
“Stevenson will enter the year as the top team in the state, and have the best player (Jalen Brunson) in the state,” Biancalana said. “So it was a great learning experience for our guys to see how they approach their work, it was a bench mark of how to go about business at the highest level.”
Since practicing with Stevenson, the Barbs have had a series of workouts during the day in addition to their summer league games which take place at night.
Practice is intense, and at a fast pace.
One drill that Biancalana likes is a shooting drill. There are two lines of players, one must pass the ball to a player either in the corner or at the elbow of the free throw line. When the regular season starts, the team has four minutes to make 75 shots from the different areas. It is a drill that puts game situations into a practice.
“One thing we want to do is make practice much more difficult than games.” Biancalana said. “You’ve got the overload principle, chaos, the pressure of time and having to score, drills where you can have kids talk to each other are very effective, communication is key on the court.”
The improvement has already shown through in the summer program. DeKalb finished second out of 24 teams in the summer league they played in, and under Biancalana they will be looking to carry what they’ve learned over the team when the regular season tips off.