MOUNT ZION — There's no surefire answer for the age-old question of which brand of basketball is the best.

Answers vary from one side of the spectrum to the other; slow and methodical versus a fast-paced, wide-open, up-and-down style game.

On Sunday at the Mount Zion High School fieldhouse, there was no shortage of coaches making their case.

For the first time, an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association satellite clinic set up shop for the Mount Zion IBCA Clinic powered by Eastbay.

More than 60 coaches from across the state attended to hear the likes of University of Illinois men's basketball assistant coach Geoff Alexander, his father, and Lincoln boys basketball coach, Neil Alexander, and six other college and high school coaches talk about the game.

Each coach introduced a different philosophy about basketball.

“There are just so many different perspectives on the game,” said Mount Zion boys basketball coach Bryon Graven, who was instrumental in organizing the event said. “Clinics are so hard, because when you go and you're young, you don't really realize that you can't get ideas from everybody and take ideas from every single coach back and implement them. You've got to pick and choose. If you can sit there and listen and take in other perspectives, maybe one of your philosophies change or your ideologies on a certain aspect of the game change. I just think the roster of the coaches that we have is geared exactly towards that.”

The roster of coaches who spoke didn't carry any shortage of success.

Lori Kerans, women's coach at Millikin who won a 2005 national championship, Millikin men's coach Mark Scherer, Augustana College coach Grey Giovanine, former University of Illinois men's basketball player Stephen Bardo, who currently works for the Big Ten Network, Eastern Illinois University men's basketball coach Jay Spoonhour and Justin Tatum, coach at Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis and father of former Duke standout and current Boston Celtic Jayson Tatum, each spoke for 50 minutes about the game.

“If you look at the different styles, I mean, Jay Spoonhour, his dad Charlie Spoonhour was basically kind of the savior of Eastern Missouri basketball,” Graven said. “He was at SLU for many years and Southeast Missouri State for many years and kind of restructured the program. You're getting a perspective of basketball for not only where Jay's at now, but he's bringing his dad's influence from Missouri. Then you've got Justin Tatum coming from St. Louis, so there's a different style of basketball. Then you've got Grey Giovanine coming from the suburbs up north and that's a different style of basketball.”

So how did this come together?

The IBCA hosts a state-wide coaches clinic on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, but costs $50 for members of the IBCA.

This year, the coaches who spoke included Illinois men's basketball coach Brad Underwood, Kansas State coach Bruce Weber and Northwestern coach Chris Collins.

Satellite clinics, on the other hand, are free for IBCA member coaches, and are offered in the Chicago suburbs and in tradition-rich Pickneyville.

Coming to central Illinois was a welcome change.

“I haven't (seen anything like this in the area),” Kerans said. “It's a credit to coach Graven, Mount Zion High School and the community for putting it on.

“To showcase central Illinois and the Decatur area is really exciting for us. The slate of speakers they've got, after they get this first one out of the way, which is me, the rest of them are pretty darn good. I think every coach can leave with something.”

Kerans spoke first about how to build culture in programs, from communicating with players to balancing the rigors of the job with the duties of being a parent, sibling, son or daughter or aunt or uncle.

“There is something for everyone here,” Kerans said. “...It's what coaches live for. It's how they spend Sundays that's for sure. To be able to do it now, in late September, and be able to do it here in Mount Zion is just amazing.”

Bardo, who was on the revered Flyin' Illini teams of the late 80's, was on hand to talk about how coaches should truly know why their players are there.

He also brought a wealth of knowledge that spans nationwide thanks to his work on the Big Ten Network and history around the game.

“Stephen Bardo has more basketball intelligence in his pinky finger than I have at this point in my life,” Graven said. “He's probably forgotten more basketball than I've learned yet. His spectrum of basketball is more national than anything else, or at least Big Ten. You're talking Nebraska to Maryland.”

Another interesting basketball mind was Geoff Alexander.

The Lincoln native was recently hired to join Underwood's staff as an assistant coach, but his path and the amount of basketball the coach has taken in is unique.

Alexander played for his dad, Neil, at Lincoln. The Railers run a traditionally slow system.

The same can't be said for what Geoff will see in Underwood's system. It's that dichotomy that makes his view of the game so unique.

“With Geoff, he plays for his dad in that system, and he's going to be talking about Illinois' spread offense,” Graven said. “They could not be further apart on the spectrum. They're so far apart from each other that they can't even see each other.”

Graven hopes to continue the clinic each year while bringing in a diverse group of coaches to speak about the game.

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Sports Writer

Sports writer for the Herald & Review.

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