Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Amir Coffey, the state’s top recruit for the 2016 class and get to know his talented basketball family as well.
I wrote a feature about that unique family for today’s Star Tribune, which can be read online here. I wanted to share a few other thoughts and tidbits in this space.
A little more on AMIR:
Although the rising senior has sprouted to 6-7 – with a chance to keep growing – his best asset is probably his passing and ability to see the court, talent Hopkins coach Ken Novak compared to another local, the new Minnesota Timberwolf Tyus Jones.
Sometimes, Amir’s instincts to analyze cause him to get off to a slow scoring start, but he believes that approach helps him in the long run.
“I like getting a feel for the game and a feel for the other team first,” Amir said. “I’ll figure out how they’re playing me – if they’re playing me tight, even they’re letting me catch the ball or denying me. And I’ll just see how the defense is playing, see who’s guarding me, see what their tendencies are and then at a certain point of the game, I’ll just use it against them.”
But Amir isn’t relying solely on his IQ. He currently works out four days a week with Tony Wilson (Optimum Performance basketball training), who trains Amir out of Grace Church in Eden Prairie. He works out on his own on Fridays and often Saturdays. When he’s done, he’ll walk around the lake with his dog, Chance, play paintball or laser tag with friends or brush up on his movie buff side at the theater.
But between the basketball training, weight lifting and helping with Wilson’s basketball camps, Amir is in the gym about seven hours a day.
That time spent, he is hoping, will prove to be the difference as he charges forward in his career.
“Basketball players, they all dream the same dream,” Richard said. “But not many kids are out there trying to make it a reality.”
A little more on sister SYDNEY:
There was a time when little Sydney – now a senior at Marist – hated basketball. The workouts led by her father had become intense. When she stopped being serious in practice on a sixth grade summer team, Richard made her switch squads – away from her best friend, who was on her old team.
“It got super serious out of nowhere, and I was just playing for fun,” said Sydney, who now describes her dad as a “softie” and a “teddy bear.”
With years passed to soften the blow and his daughter now reaping the benefits of basketball, Richard can laugh about that moment.
“She was so mad,” he said. “But [she and her friend] were talking all the time in practice, they wouldn’t even do the drills!”
When she got to high school, the frustration peaked. Sydney tried to quit. But no one quits on Richard Coffey. He had another weapon in his arsenal.
Entranced by the fashion industry, Sydney had already set her sights on New York and a fashion degree. Her dream school was Marist, which just happens to be one of only two Division schools nationwide that have both fashion majors and basketball.
“Well if I’m paying for school, you’re going somewhere in Minnesota,” Richard told her. “The only way you’re going to Marist is if you play basketball.”
She did, after Richard recruited the coaches – not the other way around –finally convincing them to come see his daughter. And almost instantly, the tide began to turn for Sydney. Although her coach, Brian Giorgis, had a policy against playing freshman, Sydney wound up starting for most of her first year. She’s thrived ever since. Now, three years later, she’s mulling a potential overseas contract.
“It’s crazy that I’m even thinking about it because I thought I would be done after college,” said Sydney, who remembers counting down the days until she could stop playing in high school. “I would always tell myself ‘OK, now I just have to get through college and I can be done forever, I never have to look at a basketball again.’ And now I’m at the point where I’m thinking about maybe playing overseas.”
More on sister NIA:
These days, Nia is known as a former McDonald’s All American an All-Big Ten player and a future WNBA prospect.
But 15 years ago, Nia was playing only to avoid being left out.
With Amir and Sydney already engulfed in basketball training, Nia – who ran track when she was younger – would tag along to the gym, sitting in a chair on the sideline or playing in the rocks at the bottom of a rock wall at Lifetime Fitness.
Soon, that got boring. She tried to get involved.
“I didn’t know the rules,” Nia said. “[Sydney and Amir] would be like ‘You can’t do that, that’s traveling.’ They would correct me and of course I was really frustrated.”
Nia described her experiences with basketball as “on and off” until about the fourth or fifth grade. Around that time, she found a group of friends that were also into basketball. The sport had taken hold, at last, on the last Coffey kid.
It turned out she was, um, pretty good. She was faster than most kids her age, taller and more athletic. She could jump high enough to touch the rim, something she started to understand was rare for a girl. Then, in ninth grade, the scholarship offers started to pour in.
“I was always in the top three, so I was always a good player for my age group. I was having fun with my friends. So that’s kind of how it evolved. And then I started growing and getting better. All of the sudden, basketball started to get pretty serious… My freshman year when I got my first offer and my first invitation to USA basketball, then I really understood where basketball might be able to take me.
More on mother, SHEBA:
With three kids that all were trained by their father and inevitably got tired of the relentless workouts at times, Sheba’s motherly instincts were at times challenged.
The night before early morning training sessions, her children would sometime petition to her to veto their schedule.
“They did and honestly as a mom your heart is breaking,” she said. “As a mom you have the empathy, and you feel bad for them.”
But most of the time it didn’t work. Sheba, who would often come along to the gym said she was “99 percent on board with what they were doing” and was fairly obsessed with basketball herself. The family had basketballs strewn across the house and a basketball hoop in the family room.
“I kid you not, eight to ten basketballs on the floor at any given time,” Sheba said. “So no matter which way you go, you’re going to trip over a basketball and start playing with it one way or another.”
With her kids, Sheba saw basketball as a vessel for lessons about work ethic and commitment.
“It’s an absolute blessing the way it happened,” she said. “But I almost want to say it was by design.”
Sheba is currently working on getting her master’s degree in sports management. She is also an achievement advisor for the Anoka-Hennepin school district and an Events and Marketing assistant for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
She is also currently writing a book called Turning Your Dreams Into Reality Today.
More on father, RICHARD:
When Richard started training his kids, he isn’t shy to say, he was something of a drill sergeant. Growing up with two older brothers who would pull him up by his collar and tell him he could leave the basketball court if he wasn’t going to be aggressive, Richard spent three years as a paratrooper before beginning his collegiate career – one marked by intense, tough post play.
“Richard was a very tough, hard-nosed, get-after-it, work-harder guy,” Novak said. “You ask anybody in Minneapolis, when you talk about toughness, you talk about Richard Coffey. That’s a legacy.”
Said Richard: “It worked for me and so that’s the way I started training. And then very quickly, I realized with these kids that’s not the right way. It took me a little while to get that learning curve but I learned it. I was humble enough to accept their lessons and change. I was hard in the beginning. I’m not even going to lie. But I learned. I learned.
One of the things Richard learned were the different ways to approach his children on the court. He developed phrases that he sticks with today. For Nia, who wanted to hear his voice, it was “WARRIOR UP!” two words that were screamed. For Sydney, who never wanted such an outburst, it was a milder phrase: “Take a Chance.”
“I don’t have a phrase for Amir,” Richard says with a smile, because he didn’t want me to say anything. His phrase for me is “Be Quiet.”
Richard, a motivational speaker and co-owner of a janitorial company, is also currently writing a book called Three-for-three: Raising DI Athletes. He’s expecting Amir to make that premise official this fall.
Amir on his relationship with Minnesota coach Richard Pitino: “It’s pretty good. We probably text each other every couple of days. Our relationship has really grown over the years from when I first met him. Anytime I go up [to campus], I can go talk to him or the players. I have a really good relationship with all the guys over there.”
Richard on Amir’s pending college choice: “As a father, would I not love to see my son go to the same school that I went to, where I can get in my car and drive 15 minutes up the street and see him play every home game? Where he can wear the same colors, possibly the same number? What parent wouldn’t love that? I would love that. But at the end of the day, he’s got to go where is best for him. Because there are going to be times that he’s going to be in that school, he’s going to have a bad day in the classroom, there is going to be a time where those coaches are going to be up his butt and he’s going to have a bad day at practice. I don’t want him to pick up the phone and say ‘I only came here because you told me to.’ He needs to be able to look in the mirror and say ‘This is my choice.’”