Girls' basketball coach Rod Hairston makes adjustment from Eleanor Roosevelt to McNamara

By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2010

McNamara senior forward Ashley Miles knew that Coach Rod Hairston had won five consecutive Maryland 4A girls' basketball titles at Eleanor Roosevelt. Yet when Hairston was named the Mustangs' coach last May, she and her teammates considered their new leader's achievement more intriguing than impressive.

Winning at a public school is one thing, they thought. Winning in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, against superior competition and with few easy games on the schedule, is another.

Five state titles? Five asterisks.

"We're not saying that [the public school leagues] are terrible," said Miles, who as a sophomore helped McNamara win the WCAC title. "But this is a step up for him. We look at it as, yes, that shows his coaching ability, now let's see what he does on the next level. And let's also see what we can do on his level."

Hairston -- who is carrying only one personal recruit on McNamara's varsity, inheriting the rest of his players -- acknowledged the initial wariness in his typical soft rasp after a recent game.

"We felt like we had to come in and prove ourselves all over again," he said. "And we had to come in and implement strategies that worked [at Roosevelt]. That's what we pride ourselves on most, is the ability to make adjustments. It's been a major adjustment."

There is a transition period when any coach, particularly a highly successful one, latches on with a new set of players. But this has not only been a team switch for Hairston. At times, it has felt like a career change, given the differences between coaching at Roosevelt, a public school in Greenbelt, and private McNamara in Forestville, about 14 miles to the south.

Hairston compares his new position to guiding a Division III college program. He chafed at what he considered "outdated" public school rules that did not allow his teams to play more challenging schedules or to routinely travel to prestigious tournaments outside the area.

The McNamara players were leery of Hairston for the same reasons that he wanted to coach at a high-profile private school.

The curiosity now is to see if the methods Hairston's teams used at Roosevelt -- namely, gritty defense that caused opponents to scramble to squeeze off a field goal attempt before the 30-second shot clock expired -- will be as effective in a deep conference, flush with Division I prospects, that does not use a shot clock.

Coaching without a clock

Players at an elite private school program such as McNamara -- the Mustangs were ranked No. 1 in the nation in 2004 -- are serious about basketball, especially given the fact that their families are paying for their schooling. Hairston said he usually whittled his roster to 10 or so at Roosevelt because he wanted to keep only the players wholly invested in the program. He kept 14 at McNamara.

The main challenge so far for the Mustangs -- and for Hairston -- has been adapting defensively. With no shot clock, WCAC teams can run more sets and take their time working for an open look at the basket, which results in fewer possessions.

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