Raptors’ Jack: From fired coach to renowned hoops expert

Toronto Raptors broadcaster Jack Armstrong with Hailey Rose Gattuso.

Toronto Raptors broadcaster Jack Armstrong with Hailey Rose Gattuso.

By Hailey Rose Gattuso   

Jack Armstrong has “the biggest scam going.”

It’s not really a scam, but that’s the word Armstrong uses (jokingly, of course) to describe working for the Toronto Raptors as a sportscaster on TSN and NBA TV Canada.

Armstrong developed an understanding for the game while serving as the head basketball coach at Niagara University from 1989-1998, and is now regarded as the best-known basketball analyst in Canada.

“I go from idiot when I was coach, to expert when people actually think I know what I’m talking about,” Armstrong said. “Now when you’re coaching, everyone thinks that you don’t know a thing that you’re doing.”

Armstrong approaches his analyzation of the game as if he were still coaching it, “but if I were that good of a coach I’d actually be out there doing it rather than sitting and talking about it on television,” he said.

Being exposed to the pressures of coaching taught Armstrong that as a coach “you’re always subject to the second guess.” Advice he frequently shares with coaches is “the best thing to do is to not listen to the noise.”

Armstrong’s extensive involvement in the game has not only given him the ability to talk about things like substitution patterns, match-ups, defensive and offensive strategies, but also the effect of the game on one’s character.

“I think sports not only build character, but they reveal it,” Armstrong said. Whether the characteristics revealed are positive or negative, the important thing is being able to recognize and learn from them.

“The beautiful thing about sports is, you’ve got to react to success, and you’ve got to react to failure. I think they’re both good character tests. They’re both good character builders,” he said.

According to Armstrong, there are two types of athletes. The first type musters up energy, grows, develops and gets better when they make a mistake. The second type gets exposed, lies down, and quits on the job. The more one’s character is tested, the more opportunity one has to improve.

Armstrong’s list of what it takes to be an athlete:

  • Discipline
  • Accountability
  • Commitment to the team
  • Willingness to be coached
  • Willingness to share
  • Willingness to always put the group before your own selfish objectives

“A lot of times companies like to hire athletes because your character is tested…it’s a great teaching tool and the ones that really excel in it are the ones who learn from the successes, but learn more importantly from the failures,” He said.

The former Niagara coach was speaking from experience, as he was 14-42 in his first two years coaching. “My character has been tested a lot as a coach because I lost a lot,” he said almost with a hint of pride. He did not give up after those two years.

“You learn from how people are beating you. You look in the mirror, and you’re honest with yourself.  Sometimes you see things you don’t like,” Armstrong said, “I think that’s a great test in life that when you get knocked down you have a choice you get back up.” Accepting and learning from his failures allowed him to go 14-14 his third year, and then 23-7 his fourth year.

His involvement in professional basketball has not only taught Armstrong valuable lessons in failure, but in success. “People tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear and I think it takes a very strong person to be able to push all of that aside and keep getting better,” he said.

Armstrong gives the examples of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Buffalo Bills’ running back Fred Jackson.

“I look at a guy like Kevin Durant. He is a terrific young player. Why? Because he is a gym rat. He has a love affair with the sport. He keeps working, and he keeps getting better,” Armstrong said.

Durant has won multiple awards including NBA Rookie of the Year, an Olympic gold medal, and NBA Most Valuable Player Award.

“My favorite Buffalo Bill is Fred Jackson. He gives an honest effort every day. Sometimes great, sometimes average, sometimes he comes up a little bit short, but not for lack of preparation, not for lack of effort, not for lack of professionalism,” Armstrong said. “That’s a guy whether you paid him $10, $100,000, a million dollars, you’re getting the same effort from him. I think there are certain guys who have that true sense of professionalism that you need, and that’s what teams look for.”

Hailey Rose Gattuso is a journalism and mass communications major at St. Bonaventure University, where she is also a Division I cross country runner.

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