NBA

Former NBA player Bo Kimble coaches “the system” at Overbrook

Former NBA player Bo Kimble coaches “the system” at Overbrook

Imagine a camera lens panning a basketball court as a coach, who is out of focus, fields a reporter’s questions after the game.

Over the coach’s shoulder, several of his players, minutes after his relentless pressure forced 41 turnovers, can be seen pulling up practice shots and playing one-on-ones, seemingly without fatigue as they wait for their coach’s lead on the team bus.

That was the scene last week after Overbrook High School sent Ben Franklin to the iHearthoops Holiday Invitational in Bristol.

The amount of energy the Panthers expended during the game may have made the extra work seem unfathomable.

Everything should come into focus, however, when the camera pans back and zooms in on the trainer’s face.

Bo Kimble, the North Philadelphia legend who, along with the late Hank Gathers, rose to national prominence as a forward at Loyola Marymount, is Overbrook’s new coach.

“The System,” as it was dubbed by its architect, Paul Westhead, another son of Philadelphia — is being employed by Kimble and the Panthers.

“First of all, I tell everybody I’m proud to be from North Philly,” Kimble said. “Basketball has benefited me all my life. This system changed my life and Hank’s life. Paul almost let the horses out of the stable…so I’m giving our boys that chance. They have extraordinary freedom. The system has to go as fast as you can.”

READ MORE: Damar Hamlin’s ordeal motivates Bo Kimble to continue honoring the memory of Hank Gathers

The first results have been positive.

The Panthers (7-5) had won three straight, including the iHearthoops championship against Central last week. The Kimble boys also beat host Chester on Tuesday before Thursday’s 90-83 loss against Sankofa Freedom Academy in Frankford.

The 1992 NBA lottery pick hopes the system will teach his players what it taught him about the value of hard work and how to succeed as underdogs. He also hopes he can turn his life around once again as a college head coach, a position he says he has applied for more than 100 times at various levels in the past 10 years.

As Kimble explains, the system isn’t complicated.

“We’re programming everybody to roll it every time it’s open,” he said. “Bombs away!”

Expect Tempo to create about 40 more possessions per game.

The equation also seems simple: more shots in addition to creating more turnovers equals more possessions, which in theory means more points than the opponent.

“If we’re running the system right,” Kimble said, “our opponent should be averaging about 25 turnovers per game and we should be getting about 15 offensive rebounds per game because we should be shooting the ball every five seconds … and us” is the catch all track.”

Much more complicated, however, is building the stamina needed to play such an aggressive style.

“I thought it was hell,” senior center Mike James said as a smile crept across his lips. “It felt like hell when we started running.”

“The system isn’t easy,” James added, “but anything that’s good isn’t easy.”

At 6-foot-7 and 200 pounds, James has one of the toughest jobs in the system. During games, he runs from the baseline to the baseline, rebounds and protects the basket. He is also the team’s leading scorer (15 points per game) and rebounder (nine per game), which has drawn the attention of some Division III colleges.

The workload of the games is exactly why Kimble makes practice so grueling.

“The game should be easier than practice,” he said, “that’s why we make it so hard in practice. We have to be the more conditioned team and the more scoring team … and we’re working on both “.

Kimble, 55, and his nephew, Jabbar Kimble, Overbrook’s assistant coach, call the conditioning program “cycles.” It’s a fast break numbered according to Westhead’s attacking structure.

Each player, one through five, must score. The group must make a certain number of baskets in a certain amount of time while transitioning up and down the court at full speed.

It’s as fun as it sounds.

“A lot of running,” junior guard Omar Davis said. “Then a lot more running. Sometimes we spent a whole day of practice until we couldn’t do it anymore”.

There is, however, a method to what may seem like madness. Against Central last week, Overbrook led by one point at halftime.

In the third and fourth quarters, however, Central’s players looked tired, while the Panthers got stronger en route to an 87-68 victory.

“Yes, I thought so [they got tired]” said James, who moved to Overbrook from Virginia last year.

Davis, who played at Dobbins last year, said, “It gets our adrenaline going and gives us more energy when the other team gets tired.”

Central finished with 32 turnovers. In the previous contest, Ben Franklin had 27 turnovers in the first half. The Panthers eventually prevailed, 82-68.

“I call it organized chaos,” said Jabbar Kimble, 45. “We learn to shoot completely tired. [in practice]. In a game, it’s one thing to shoot when you’re 100% fresh. It’s not a different thing to shoot when you’re tired.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Kimble’s coaching job so far is that only two players, James and Davis, have experience playing college minutes.

“Everybody else was a junior or didn’t play at all,” Jabbar Kimble said.

That includes 5-foot-5 junior point guard Nashawn “Pop” Jones.

Jones, who said his nickname refers to his old soul as that of a “grandpa,” scored a game-high 27 points against Franklin. He added five assists and five steals.

Not bad for someone with no experience who suddenly has to drive what could be the fastest car in the Public League.

“I’m used to playing street ball,” Jones said. “This is my first year playing high school basketball. It was really hard to get used to knowing where to pass the ball, knowing where teammates would be, knowing how the five runs down the court, and then knowing my place and where I’m supposed to be.”

Jones grew up playing on the courts near 25th and Master streets, less than a mile from the newest one. Hank Gathers mural near 25th and Diamond streets outside the recreation center named after Gathers.

“We get a lot of the guys that get overlooked,” said Jabbar, who graduated from Overbrook in 1995. “We don’t get all-American guys, so we’re developing our guys to be good players.”

Underdog status seems to resonate with Kimble. He and Gathers went to USC after leading Dobbins Tech to a Pub title in 1985. After a year with the Trojans, the duo transferred to little-known Loyola Marymount, where they played Westhead, a product of West Catholic and St. Joseph’s.

“I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” Kimble said. “Being at Loyola Marymount, a lot of teams didn’t respect the way we played.”

Gathers led the nation in scoring and rebounding as a junior and was previously NBA-bound died at age 23 of heart disease during his senior seasontwo weeks before the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Kimble, who led the nation in scoring as a senior, then scored one of the March most memorable moments in college basketball in the first round of the tournament.

He fired and made his first free throw left-handed in honor of Gathers, who was right-handed but had switched to southpaw to change his struggles at the line.

“A lot of people think you need a Hank Gathers or a Bo Kimble to run this system,” Kimble said. “It’s quite the opposite. If you don’t have [those guys]you want to run this system because it can hide some of your shortcomings.”

Kimble would like the chance to prove what “the system” can still accomplish in college. He points to the success of Westhead, with whom he is still in touch, as proof that it can work. Westhead is the only manager to have won one NBA Championship (1980 Lakers) and a WNBA title (Phoenix Mercury in 2007).

“My dream is to be a Division I college coach or an NBA coach,” Kimble said.

In 2011, Kimble was a unpaid assistant coach at Shoreline Community College in Seattle, where he implemented “the system” and said the team scored about 100 points per game during his two-year tenure.

Since then, he has been trying to land a head coaching job.

Kimble said he has applied more than 100 times to various openings, from Division I and II colleges to junior colleges. One year he got an interview at Jacksonville University, which he said he appreciated.

He also said he applied several times when Loyola Marymount had coaching vacancies.

“There’s a lot of politics in college basketball,” Kimble said. “It’s the old boys’ club. But that doesn’t deter me. The only way it won’t happen is if I give up, which I won’t do.”

He later added, “When I get a chance anywhere in college, I’m going to run that system and it’s going to work.”

He believes college recruiting would be his strength once recruits see the offensive freedom the system offers.

“I don’t care where it is,” Kimble said. “If there’s an opportunity to coach anywhere in Division I, I’d take it right away because it’s all about the travel. When Hank and I went to Loyola Marymount, it wasn’t on the radar at all. We went there for three years and changed the history of college basketball.”

Last year, Kimble volunteered at Dobbins, who is still running the system this season, even though the schools aren’t scheduled to meet.

Kimble said he was humbled to get the job at Overbrook, where he also coaches his son, Ethan, a talented 6-foot-3 sophomore forward who comes off the bench and occasionally starts for the Panthers.

“Coaching is just another vehicle to give back to the community to help these guys be the best student-athletes they can be and have the opportunity to get a free education,” Kimble said. “But the most important thing is to let my experiences help them become the best young people we can put into society.”

His players seem to appreciate the knowledge he has imparted so far.

“It’s a great opportunity to be coached by a retired NBA player,” Jones said. “Everything he teaches us, I listen to because I know it will help me. Not only with basketball, but in life situations. I know it will take me far.”

As David Spencerwho recruited Kimble and Gathers to USC, remains a prominent figure in his life Kimble says will be in his players’ lives for the long haul.

“I ask them to give me two hours of practice and I will dedicate the rest of my life to helping them in any way I can,” he said. “Not just in his time at Overbrook.”



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