Adrian Walters has been at many places in his coaching career. Now an assistant coach at Auburn with coach Terri Williams-Flournoy and the women’s basketball team, Walters’ journey saw stops at USC, Hampton and Towson as a men’s assistant coach. He also was on the sidelines with Williams-Flournoy at Georgetown before she was hired at Auburn.
But it’s his first career coaching gig that sets him apart from many coaches’ journeys in college basketball. His first stop was an assistant, then the head coach, at Gallaudet, a private university in Washington D.C. for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing.
In this week’s edition of the Sunday Q&A, Walters tells the Opelika-Auburn News about how a coach who had never been around deaf players learned to communicate, learned about himself as a coach and of course, how he came to be a part of Coach’s Flo’s staff at Auburn.
SULONEN: How did you meet Coach Flo?
WALTERS: I was at USC coaching at the time and we went to the Black Coaches Association, and she was an assistant at Georgetown. And while we were at the Black Coaches Association meeting, at the end of the season, we met. I was on the men’s side at the time, I knew the assistant coaches at Georgetown and she was an assistant at Georgetown and he introduced me to her. And we remained friends throughout the years, and that’s how it happened.
SULONEN: How was it to learn her system?
WALTERS: It will take everyone that’s new a full year to learn it. It’s really that complex. But easy. And it’s complex because it requires athleticism, effort, energy — constant, relentless energy — and most kids think they are giving that, but she has a different level that’s required. Most coaches would accept an eight effort, an eight energy level. Coach Flo requires a like a 10.5. So, you have to have that. And notice I haven’t said anything about skills yet. Those are the type of things that you need. Because most kids that’s going to play on this level probably have the skill set, but do they have the other things? The effort, the energy that you can take it up another notch, the toughness? That’s what we have to find out. That’s why it takes them so long. Because it’s really easy to learn the defense… it’s how quickly you get there and can you anticipate? It’s unbelievable. It’s an unbelievable system and I’m glad I learned it before coming here because I’m able to help her.
SULONEN: What’s the difference in coaching men’s and women’s basketball?
WALTERS: Seriously, I’m not pulling your leg, there’s not a whole lot of difference. There really isn’t. Now, I would say the biggest difference is the athleticism. But men do some of the same thing women do, women do same things men do, and the athleticism is where you would see the difference. The high-flying dunks or something like that or I’m able to get to that faster… like in the system, I need you to get to that area. Sometimes where a male can get to it faster, some, not all, because there are great female athletes who can get to it and we’ve seen it here at Auburn. Ty Tanner was a beast, Nicole (Tra’Cee Tanner), Katie Frerking, deceptively can get to it. But she anticipates so well.
SULONEN: When you began coaching at Gallaudet did you know sign language? Was that something you knew or was that something you learned, along with learning the ropes of coaching?
WALTERS: I had to learn everything. I never took a sign language class. I had never been inside a class where someone was teaching me sign. I just picked it up. I threw myself into the whole process. I got my Master’s there in Social Work in Deafness and all the classes were deaf, had either an interpreter or the professor was deaf. So I had to do a lot of reading early on. But, I picked it up. There’s something weird about me and languages, I can pick them up, even at my age, I can pick it up. Most languages you have to pick up when you’re younger. But I was able to pick it up and most of it, I always ask, well how did this sign come about, because if you understand the sign it’s a little easier to remember.
SULONEN: Did you ever have a signing snafu?
WALTERS: I did, but I cannot tell you what it was. I thought I was signing pizza. That’s all I’m going to say.
SULONEN: How hard is it to coach when you can’t yell verbal instructions?
WALTERS: That was challenging at first. If you think of Coach Flo at a timeout, the players sit in front of her and she sits with a chalkboard or whatever, and draws up the play and she’s talking, but I haven’t looked at you have I? I did that my first year when I was at Gallaudet and they looked at me like, ‘What the heck did you just say!?’ And I had to figure out how to sign it so I really had to buckle down and learn all the basketball lingo in sign and what that means and put it in such a way that they understood it.
I learned so much about basketball when I was coaching those kids. One of the main things in defense, any coach will tell you, college, high school, the one thing you have to have is communication. Well how am I going to communicate when I can’t talk and they can’t hear? So I had to figure out a way to do that. … All those little intricacies of the game, I had to learn how to figure out a different way to do it. And it helped me when I got to hearing kids because I used that sometimes.
SULONEN: What did you learn the most at Gallaudet?
WALTERS: Patience. Patience. Patience.