Dwight Thorne is just beginning his journey as a basketball coach.
Only four nerve-wracking yet wildly successful games into his role as the leader of Team Colorado, Thorne has come to appreciate some of the subtle psychological nuances necessary to be a successful coach.
Thorne already understood a coach always has to believe in his players. Getting those players to believe in him is a big reason why the Colorado basketball alums are in position to claim a significant jackpot.
Thorne has helped lead a cast of friends and former teammates into the semifinals of The Basketball Tournament, where the former Buffs will face Always a Brave (Bradley alums) in the semifinals on Saturday in New York City (3 p.m. MDT, ESPN). With a win, Team Colorado will have an opportunity to play for TBT's $2 million winner-take-all prize in the championship game on Tuesday.
"As much as you know you have to trust the players, they have to believe in you to execute what you want at the end of close games," said Thorne, a former guard at CU. "They had a lot of respect for me as a friend and teammate. But right now we're really starting to trust each other between myself and the guys playing. They're all pros. They've been playing their hearts out and they've also been listening to me."
Thorne has signed on as the Director of Operations at the University of Denver as part of the new staff assembled there by former CU assistant Rodney Billups. He played for Team Colorado in its one-and-done effort at last year's TBT but wanted to take a shot at leading the team from the bench this year as the coach — a role Team Colorado was lacking a year ago.
So far, Thorne has pushed all the right buttons while leading his former teammates into the TBT semifinals.
"At first I'm not sure if everyone believed in Dwight," said team co-coordinator Trent Beckley. "The first couple of games he probably made a few mistakes, but so did the guys on the floor. Now Dwight has been making some great calls, and I would think there's not one guy on the team that wouldn't say he should be the coach again next year."
While Marcus Hall has shouldered the brunt of the scoring load for Team Colorado — Hall is averaging a team-leading 23.8 points and scored seven of the final 12 points as the former Buffs held off Team Utah in the quarterfinals — Throne nonetheless has overseen an impressive team effort.
Down the stretch against Team Utah, Thorne substituted Levi Knutson's offense with Shannon Sharpe's defense like a seasoned veteran. Team Colorado has featured at least four players scoring in double figures in three of four games, and the club also has had three different leading rebounders.
"We're playing extremely hard and competing at a really, really high level," Thorne said. "Everyone's talent is different, but the level the guys are playing at is very, very high. Another thing we've done really well is with our defensive intensity. It's not always pretty, but we're holding teams to one shot and out."