Wes Miller and Trina Patterson lead during uncertain year
WES MILLER AND TRINA PATTERSON have adapted their leadership strategies during these unusual times.
“The key is in life, like basketball, you have to be flexible and prepared for the unknown,” said Patterson, head coach of UNCG Women’s Basketball. “During these times, you have to prepare your players somewhat differently in your system and make sure that everyone can contribute to the organization.”
Some of the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic have included plenty of Zoom calls, lots of schedule changes, practicing social distancing, and wearing face coverings, including when they are coaching their student-athletes.
“We’ve had to become more creative in the manner in how we lead.”— Wes Miller
“There’s no one specific thing that speaks to how you lead during this time,” said Miller, who’s entering his ninth year as the men’s head coach. “It’s a multitude of things every day; which is what leadership is anyway. Leadership doesn’t change because the goals are still the same. We’ve had to become more creative in the manner in how we lead – from meeting in smaller groups, finding ways to interact on the court, and sharing team meals. That’s been the challenge.”
Last season, both basketball programs won at least 20 games. Patterson won her second Southern Conference (SoCon) Coach of the Year honor in four years after leading the Spartans to a Division I-era record 23 victories and the SoCon regular-season championship.
The men have won at least 20 games in four consecutive years and compiled 104 victories during that run of excellence, the second most of any North Carolina Division I men’s basketball program in the state.
“A good leader will make the priorities, the priorities.”— Trina Patterson
“A good leader will make the priorities, the priorities,” Patterson said. “Every day when I wake up, I have a discipline of my daily life. I wake up early and I hear the birds chirping. I tend to be disciplined with my meditation. As a leader, you know that there’s going to be some challenges. You have to be able to handle things and attack them. You can’t be afraid. You can’t lead by fear. Having internal and spiritual strength helps.”
These were lessons Patterson learned during her playing career at the University of Virginia under head coach Debbie Ryan and as a member of Tara VanDerveer’s staff at Stanford. Ryan and VanDerveer are members of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Miller’s journey took him to UNC Chapel Hill, led by coaching legend Roy Williams. A member of their 2005 national championship team, Miller says he learned two keys: a relentless work ethic and an emphasis every day on doing the right things.
Miller also believes in overcoming adversity.
“Embracing failure is a key trait of a leader,” he said. “I realize there is going to be failure within everything that we do. That’s just the nature of it. Failure is an= opportunity to learn and grow, especially for our program. The people that succeed the most, fail the most.”
Patterson took her team all the way to the Women’s Basketball Invitational championship game during her first year at UNCG. The next two years, the program faltered. That’s when Patterson developed five core values for her program: gratitude, unity, integrity, servitude, and humility.
“Ultimately, I knew it was time to develop the culture and prioritize what’s important to our program. How am I going to make this last? How can the impact of this program continue to have growth?” They’ve since had a remarkable turnaround.
For the men’s team, Miller knows that being a “growth program,” the next play and moment are the most important ones.
“Leadership has been this continuous growth process for me, and I hope it never stops,” Miller said. “I think the day I stop learning and growing – as far as trying to lead better – should be the day I do something else.”
See more on UNCG Athletics.
By Rob Knox
Composite photography (with pandemic protocols) by Martin W. Kane