Porter Moser doesn’t just talk about building a basketball culture like it’s some abstract concept.
He lives it.
Oklahoma’s new basketball coach said Wednesday during his introductory press conference that culture needs to be part of a program’s actual DNA. It’s not random. It’s not an accident. It’s not pie in the sky, or some sound bite or talking point.
“It can mean different things to different people,” Moser said, “but it’s got to be every day, or it’s not real. It's habits, standards, the way you go about your business every day.”
At Loyola Chicago, Moser integrated something he called “The Culture Wall” so the things he was saying to his players — the things he picked up in a 20-year coaching career, the things that matter in basketball and in life — can be seen and not just heard. Printing an idea or an aphorism or a doctrine into words can have a more lasting effect.
Moser said he picked it up from the late Rick Majerus at Saint Louis, but then took it beyond Majerus’ hardwood colloquialisms.
“The genesis of that wall,” Moser said, “was coach Majerus had all these little terminologies, little coaching phrases — “through to the rim,” “reach for the lights,” “never be three in a row,” “escape the paint,” “pressure the picked-up dribble” — I mean there's a million.”
He said he began writing them all down in a notebook, and players began to grasp them.
“I watched it morph into this amazing way to teach,” Moser said. “It was just simplistic phrases, and all of a sudden the players would start using them. So when I got the job (at Loyola), just through osmosis, I just slapped them all on the wall in the locker room.”
Anyone who ever watched Majerus coach can almost hear his voice echoing through the gym: “Ride the shoulder high,” “fake a pass to make a pass,” “do your job,” “the ball will find you,” “value the ball,” “every rep counts.”
Teaching what the phrases actually mean, and how they can be conveyed to help build a successful culture — in basketball, in relationships, or in a Fortune 500 company — seemed like a natural evolution.
“Like, ‘Well, they're gonna hear me say it a million times,’ ” Moser said. “And then it developed into the accumulation of all these little things: we were successful, and then we went to the Final Four where we did it made of bricks.”
He’ll bring the same mindset to Oklahoma, where a strong culture is already established, but can always become stronger.
Moser told SI recently that culture begins with upperclassmen and is sustained because they pass it down to the younger players. His Final Four seniors, he pointed out, were freshman on the Loyola team that won a CBI championship. This year’s successful run to the Sweet Sixteen was accomplished by seniors who were freshmen on that Final Four team.
Add to that the fact that in Moser’s time at Loyola, a handful of former players returned to the program after their professional playing careers ended — because they valued the culture, Moser said.
“What culture is, it’s habits, it's the way you do things every day,” Moser said. “You know, it's your standards, your habits — but it's got to be every day. So many people can talk about culture. I'm going to be in this little montage — they did a (video) montage of all the coaches that say the word culture at their press conferences and here I go, and I'm gonna be added to it again — but you gotta live it every day. The key to culture is every day.”