Last month, the University of Memphis hired former NBA point guard Penny Hardaway as their new head coach. Hardaway, who averaged 15.2 points, 5.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals over the course of his 14-year NBA career, is taking over at his alma mater after leading Memphis East High School to three-straight state championships. (He was technically an “assistant” for the first two titles, but he did the bulk of the coaching.)
This summer, another former NBA point guard who played 14 seasons in the league, had similar career averages (14.7 points, 5.5 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals) and has also coached his high school team to three-consecutive state championships may be making the jump to the next level as well.
Mike Bibby has spent the past three years as the head coach of Shadow Mountain High School in Arizona, where he’s won the 4A state title each season he’s helmed the team. During Bibby’s three-year tenure as the Matadors’ head coach, the team is 79-8. This year, Shadow Mountain ranked as high as the No. 4 team in the country in USA TODAY Sports’ Super 25 Expert Rankings alongside other national powerhouse teams (including Hardaway’s squad).
Bibby has made it clear that he wants to follow in Hardaway’s footsteps and land an NCAA or NBA job in the coming months.
“I want to go to the college ranks or NBA ranks soon,” Bibby told HoopsHype. “I’d be dealing with guys who are a bit older, but I know what it takes. I feel I’m ready for that. My biggest goal right now is to move up to the next level and hopefully that happens this summer.
“I think I can turn a program around by bringing in talented kids and getting my guys to play hard. I think Penny getting hired in Memphis will open the door for a lot of high school coaches who want to go to that next level. I definitely want to go that route, so hopefully his hiring does create some opportunities for someone like me.”
Bibby started coaching about a decade ago while he was still in the NBA. He led an AAU team of 9-year-olds, including his son Michael Bibby. Bibby continued to coach his son over the years and fell in love with teaching the game of basketball. (Michael would eventually become a three-star recruit, playing last season at the University of South Florida and then transferring to Appalachian State University in August).
In 2013, Bibby decided to join Shadow Mountain’s coaching staff as an assistant under Jerry Connor, who was his high school head coach back in the day. Similar to Hardaway, his role eventually expanded despite his assistant label and he became the team’s head coach in 2014.
“I taught my son and started coaching his teams when he was 9 years old, and I ended up coaching his AAU teams until the kids were 18 years old. Once they got into high school, we had some of the same kids who came to the high school and played for me there,” Bibby explained. “It’s great to see these kids succeed in life and get school paid for at this level. I love coaching kids and watching them improve. I’ve trained everyone from elementary school kids to high school kids to pros out here. We’re doing it all out here. I’m teaching a lot of people the different things that I learned as I was growing up and then throughout my time in the NBA.
“Coaching is my thing. Other people want to commentate and do other things when their playing career ends, but I think I’m good at coaching. I think that’s my niche. Basketball is just in me and I think coaching is my calling. I love teaching kids. I’m still learning to this day and I love passing that information on, letting kids know the right way to play – you know, making the right pass, giving 100 percent on defense, things like that. I love showing people how to play basketball the way the game is supposed to be played.”
Coaching runs in the Bibby family too. Mike’s father, Henry Bibby, played nine seasons in the NBA and then coached at just about every level – from the Continental Basketball Association (where he won two titles) to the NCAA (where he spent nine years as USC’s head coach) to the WNBA (where he briefly served as the head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks) to the NBA (where he has served as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies and Detroit Pistons). Bibby says his father helped him with his transition to coaching and he picks his dad’s brain from time to time.
“We talk and he’ll tell me different things that I need to do,” Bibby said. “Sometimes he’ll come and help with our practices, telling me what he sees. It’s good to have somebody with so much knowledge helping us and sharing what he sees.”
Aside from his father, the coaches whom Bibby suited up for during his playing days had a huge influence on him and how he leads his teams.
“Pete Carril, Rick Adelman and Mike Woodson… I got a lot of my plays and offensive schemes from those guys. Defensively, I got a lot of stuff from my time in Miami under Erik Spoelstra, as far as the rotations we have and how we send everything baseline,” Bibby said. “Going through all the different coaches I played for, I think I gained a lot of knowledge. Anything that I liked from each of my stops, I try to bring them to my team and implement them.”
After succeeding at Shadow Mountain, Bibby wants to take that knowledge to the NCAA level. He won a championship as a college player in 1997, leading Arizona to their first title. He continued to perform at a high level in the NBA, playing in over 1,000 games and making the playoffs in 10 of his 14 seasons in the league. The 39-year-old believes his success will allow him to recruit some of the best players in the country if a college program hires him.
“I know I could recruit kids from all over the country,” Bibby said. “I have kids coming in from out of town, from other cities, to come play for me here [at Shadow Mountain High School]. We’ve had two kids who have been here since they were freshmen, but we had six or seven transfers come in from out of state just to come play here and learn. I’m not allowed to recruit here, but I think when I get to that next level, I’d be a great recruiter. When it comes to former players like Penny Hardaway, Brandon Roy and myself, I think our recruiting would be second to none.”
In addition to being a notable name, getting immediate respect from many players and being able to say he knows exactly what it takes to have a successful NBA career, Bibby believes the brand of basketball that he promotes would help him land talented players from across the country.
“I think my style of basketball is attractive to players because I let guys play,” Bibby said. “If you feel like you can attack, then attack! I want you to be aggressive! I tell guys, ‘If you’re open, take the shot!’ If you are open and pass up a good shot, I’ll take you out of the game. I’ve heard a lot of college coaches say, ‘Oh, that’s not a good shot for that person to take.’ But if you put the time in and you’re putting the work in, there’s no shot that you can’t take. I get mad when guys don’t take shots. You don’t find a lot of coaches who do that. That’s my approach with my high school kids now. If I see you putting the time in before practice, during practice and after practice, you should take the open shot. I have no problem with that. But, make no mistake, if you want to play for me you’re going to play defense and you’re going to play hard on the that end too.”
Right now, Bibby can only open so many doors for his high school players. He has gone out of his way to schedule games against top-tier programs (such as Findlay Prep, Montverde Academy, Sierra Canyon High School and Chino Hills High School) in order to help his players get exposure and face elite competition so they’re prepared for the next level. But now he wants to help players achieve their dream of playing professionally and being financially secure.
“I just want to get these guys ready for the next level; that is what’s most important to me,” Bibby said. “If I’m coaching college players, I can help them prepare for the next level. My main thing would be getting these guys in situations where they can make money doing what they love to do. Everyone’s dream is to play in the NBA, but there’s only a small percentage of players who can make it there. A lot of these kids don’t understand that you can still make good money playing basketball somewhere else, whether it’s in the NBA G-League or overseas. If you’re doing something like that, you can still make a good amount of money and take care of your family without being in the NBA.”
At Shadow Mountain, Bibby has tried his best to run the program like an NBA franchise because he saw firsthand how well that regimen works and he wanted to ensure that his players were extremely prepared entering each game.
“At my high school on game days, we’ll have shootarounds and walkthroughs so it’s kind of like how things are done at the NBA level,” Bibby said. “We come in, get shots up, go over the opponents’ plays and I discuss different ways we’re going to attack the other team. I like for things to be perfect. If it isn’t perfect, we’re going to do it again. I’ve tried to instill that in my high school kids, and a lot of high school teams don’t prepare like that. When you see one of my teams, you can always say that we’re prepared and we’re going to play hard. The shots may not go in sometimes because that happens to everyone on every level, but we will be prepared and we will play hard.”
While preparation is obviously a very important part of the job, Bibby’s favorite aspect of coaching is making in-game adjustments.
“I love seeing things out there on the court and adapting to them quickly,” he said. “Before every game, I explain to my high school players how the game-plan will shift if our initial approach doesn’t work. We go over all that stuff before every game, no matter who it is we play. I love the adjustments.”
Soon, if all goes according to plan, Bibby may be making the adjustment from coaching high school students to grown men.