In this week’s coaching conversation, Christopher Newport head coach John Krikorian shares insights on game philosophy, core principles, and his foundation series.
Krikorian led Christopher Newport to remarkable success, including its first three Final Four appearances and first National Championship in the 2022-2023 season. Krikorian has led the Captains to nine NCAA Tournaments in 12 seasons, including the last seven tournaments. CNU is the only school in the nation to win at least one game in each of the last seven NCAA tourneys, and Krikorian now has a career mark in tournament games of 23-7. His overall record at CNU is 290-65 (.817) through his first dozen years at the helm. He was named the National Coach of the Year by the NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) following his national title in 2023.
Krikorian’s teams at CNU have won at least 18 games per season since he took over, and have advanced to the conference championship game every year for the last nine seasons in the Capital and Coast-To-Coast Athletic Conference.
The National Championship team of 2022-2023 tied the school mark for victories with 30, finishing 30-3, and ending the year on a 15-game winning streak. Krikorian’s coaching resume now includes six seasons as an NCAA Division I assistant and 16 as a Division III head coach. His overall head coaching record is 355-107.
In 1998, Krikorian returned to his passion and accepted the position of graduate assistant basketball coach at West Virginia Wesleyan College. What followed was a steady climb up the ladder of the college coaching ranks.
After one season at West Virginia Wesleyan, “Coach K” made his first stop at the Merchant Marine Academy as an assistant coach under Billy Lange during the 1999-2000 season. After a season there, he returned to his alma mater for two seasons, working as an assistant at Penn under Fran Dunphy. There he would be a part of one of the nation’s biggest turnarounds as the Quakers won 25 games in 2001. Krikorian then accepted an assistant position at another Division I program, Lafayette College in Easton, PA. There he assisted Fran O’Hanlon from 2002-2004. His journey then took him to Annapolis, MD, where he spent two years as an assistant at the United States Naval Academy (2004-2006)…re-uniting with head coach Billy Lange. His time at Navy came to an end when he was named the head coach at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 2006, beginning his head coaching career with an amazing four-year transformation of the Mariners.
“We spend a lot of time really trying to make sure that we assimilate all of the players to feel like they have an equal role within the team and are probably hyper-vigilant about little groups forming that maybe end up being their own dynamic, which may be counter to being there for all the members of the team.”
“We might try to get two guys from different backgrounds together so that different groups within our team can form. We might have point guards become their own little entity and create a little competitive deal with the wing players for shooting percentage or something. But just as much as we can really try to have every individual have the confidence to tell their teammates the truth and to hear the truth.”
“He [a freshman player] felt confident to be able to speak and be heard and to be respected, even though his role was not a prominent one. And to me, that’s the power of having 15 guys who all have engagement, have some empowerment, have investment in the process and can lead. There are so many different ways to lead. I think our job as coaches and the ultimate leader is to empower them to find those opportunities and take them when they can.”
“Anybody can lead. It’s an everyday part of our program.”
“With discipline comes freedom. The discipline for us is on the defensive end of the floor. We’re very detailed about it. We’re very strict about certain things. We have a foundation series. We expect near perfection on the defensive end of the floor in terms of what we are going to do. But then on the offensive end, we don’t.”
“Our practice days, we’re pretty intense. We don’t put a time limit on it. We’re going to go till we get it right, but we’re only going to go three days in a row. Very rarely will we be on the court as a team more than three days in a row. And that would only be if we had a handful of games in a short period of time. But once we get in a rhythm, it’ll be three days and a day off. Might be two days and a day off, but I think that it’s really important for them to actively recover.”
“Our absolute core standards and mantra is ‘tough and together’ and we break every huddle with those two words. It’s every day, it’s in the recruiting pitch, it’s on the wall. It’s everything for us – that mental and physical toughness in sports is number one and we believe in it and we require it. It’s something that has been really successful for our team but also for our players as they move on from here.”
“Toughness and togetherness are the only awards that we have for our team. At the end of the year, every player and every coach gets one vote and they vote for who the toughest player on the team was mentally and physically and they vote for who the best teammate was.”
“We believe toughness and togetherness have nothing to do with ability, nothing to do with talent. It has everything to do with your attitude and your spirit. And that’s the beauty of this game, is that you can impact winning without being the most talented player. I think that the more of that that you have, the more successful you’ll be, at least as a foundation.”
“Our job as coaches and players when we’re scouting is, ‘What is the best thing this team does offensively? How do they want to score and what are we going to do to not let them do that?’ I’m not saying we’re going to win the game, but we’re not going to let them do that.”
“We know what we believe in and what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it . . We’re really not going to waiver, even if it might help us win a game because we need to have this standard of how we do things. This is what we stand for. But then we also have to understand that the best teams are going to use that against us.”
“Our focus has become much more on decision making than any other sort of detail. And it’s really valuable. And what I go and look at and I really value is the assist turnover ratio. I want to look at my five starters . . I know we’ll have a good team if all five have a positive assist turnover ratio.”
John Krikorian Breakdown:
1:00 – National Championship
3:30 – Game Competitive Spirit
6:00 – Cliques and Outliers
10:00 – Empowering Everyone
13:00 – Stereotype of Leadership
18:00 – Risk Tolerance
22:00 – Empowering Players as Leaders
27:08 – Breathing Practices
32:00 – Foundation Series
36:00 – Defensive Philosophy
38:00 – Adjustments on Defense
41:00 – Drop Coverage
43:00 – Offensive Philosophy
45:00 – Spacing Template
John Krikorian Selected Links from the Podcast:
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