When LaMonta Stone talks to high school student-athletes about making the transition from prep basketball to college athletics, he knows what he’s talking about. The Ohio State assistant men’s basketball coach not only made the transition himself as a player, but made the jump again several years later as a coach.
A product of Detroit’s River Rouge High School, one of the most successful high school programs in the state of Michigan, Stone returned to his alma mater as the head boys basketball coach from 1994 through 2000. For those six seasons, he guided River Rouge to a 126-24 record and a pair of Class B state championships.
The secret of his success came in how he managed the team on a day-to-day basis.
“I tried to run my high school program as close to that of a college program as I possibly could,” Stone said, noting he regularly took his high school teams to watch practices at Detroit, Michigan and Michigan State. “We went to Ohio State an awful lot, too, and came here to team camps. I tried to put my group of kids on as many college campuses as I could to get them around that environment. I think doing that made my job easier as a high school coach and that’s probably one of the reasons why we had so many of our kids go off to succeed at the collegiate level.”
In fact, on Stone’s 1997-98 state championship squad, 11 of his 12 players went onto play college football or basketball. Among the basketball standouts were Duez Henderson, who played at Iowa, Rodney Hughes, who currently plays at Hampton, and Ohio State’s own Brent Darby, who concluded a successful Buckeye career last season with 1,368 points and 321 assists. One of Darby’s teammates at River Rouge, Chester Taylor, starred at running back for Toledo and now plays with the Baltimore Ravens.
Stone’s method for mentoring his high school teams even helped his own transition to college coaching.
“Because we ran it as a college program, my adjustment once I got to the college level was easier,” Stone said. “Of course there were some things I needed to adjust to, like the travel, which was probably the biggest adjustment. But it was something I had prepared myself for along the way.” Because of his close ties to the prep ranks, Stone is keen to addressing some of the deficiencies he sees in high school players making the jump to collegiate basketball. Two of his main concerns are a lack of physical strength and a lack of fundamentals.
“A lot of high school programs, particularly your inner city programs, don’t have the money to have an adequate weight program to gear their students for the physical nature of collegiate basketball or football,” Stone said. “But more importantly, a lot of programs aren’t teaching the fundamentals of basketball. You have athletes that are coming to places like Ohio State and are able to run and jump and get up and down the floor, but when you break everything down, the fundamentals of the game need to be there and many collegiate players are lacking.”
Stone doesn’t hesitate to offer advice to Ohio State’s freshmen, especially when it comes to finding the best way to make improvements.
“The thing I try to tell our guys, especially the freshmen, is to take advantage of your down time,” Stone said. “For instance, if we have a kid go through a shooting slump for a couple games, maybe it’s just a matter of spending an extra 30 minutes before or after practice just taking shots. Too many athletes say, ‘I’m good. I don’t need to spend the extra time working on my game.'”
With Stone on the Ohio State coaching staff, an extra 30 minutes spent with this Buckeye mentor would be just as beneficial as more time on the court.