By Judy Richter, FBC feature writer and interviewer:
After graduating with a degree in biomechanical engineering in 2009, Morgan Clyburn is making good use of both her academic and athletic experiences at Stanford.
The forward/center’s latest venture takes her to Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, where she’s serving as head coach of the girls varsity basketball team. To add an even greater Stanford flavor to her new team’s style, her assistant coaches are two former Cardinal guards, Lindy La Rocque, ’12, and Markisha Coleman, ’07.
There’s a family angle, too. Morgan’s dad, Collins Clyburn, is coaching Menlo-Atherton’s frosh-soph team. He and Morgan’s mom, Rose Mary, live in the Chicago area, but he has temporarily moved to Redwood City to help with the program.
Morgan’s day job finds her at Autonomic Technologies in Menlo Park, where she’s a senior development engineer and a project manager. The privately held company is developing “a miniaturized implantable neurostimulation device to provide rapid relief from the debilitating pain and suffering caused by severe headaches,” its website says.
The 42-employee firm is already selling the device for cluster headaches in Europe and is conducting clinical trials for its use in migraines in Europe, Morgan said in a recent interview.
Morgan got her coaching job thanks in part to parents of four girls she had coached at National Junior Basketball’s Redwood City chapter for two days a week after her graduation. NJB is a youth league for boys and girls in first through 12th grades. The four girls are now sophomores but are on the varsity team, as is one freshman. The team also has two juniors and three seniors.
When the M-A position became available, the parents contacted her, she applied and got the job. Since she lives and works in nearby Menlo Park, just a few minutes from the school, she deemed her new post a case of “the right situation coming together.” She succeeds Pam Wimberly, who had coached at M-A for 41 years.
She then lined up Lindy and Markisha, both of whom had been her teammates, knowing that Lindy wanted to get into coaching and that Markisha had worked with AAU teams. By day, Lindy works in sales and marketing at Host Analytics in Redwood City, while Markisha is a probation officer for Santa Clara County.
Job involves more than just coaching
Morgan has found that being a head coach involves a lot more than strategizing and working with her players. “You forget that you’re running a program,” she said.
She has to contend with practice schedules, a challenge since several sports need to use M-A’s two gyms. Then there are the administrative duties such as finding people to take players to away games and making sure that field trip request forms have been signed – things her Stanford coaches never had to consider. Luckily, “the parents have been great,” she said.
As a coach at the high school level, “you really get to start teaching the little things” instead of basic drills, she said. Still, she has to decide what plays are appropriate to run.
Because of Stanford’s high academic standards, its athletic teams recruit only really smart students. Therefore, players on the women’s basketball team can master its approximately 60 plays, Morgan said.
That’s not the case in high school, so she teaches far fewer plays. She doesn’t want to be too complicated because she doesn’t want her girls to have to worry about how to execute a play. It should be automatic.
Nevertheless, she wants her Stanford experience to carry over with a high-execution offense and the mindset that “we’re smart. We’re going to outthink people.” She wants her players to push harder and work harder than their opponents.
Because she was so busy getting ready for the season, she hadn’t had a chance to get advice from Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, who recommended her for the M-A job. Morgan hoped to have a chance to talk with Tara on Nov. 25. That’s when Morgan led a skills clinic for youngsters before the home game against Long Beach State.
M-A practices started Oct. 29. After two scrimmages (the equivalent of exhibition games) this month, her team started its season Nov. 29 and will continue through Feb. 12. If all goes well, competition could extend into March with tournament play.
“We’ve got good shooters,” Morgan said, so she has high hopes for the season.
Morgan, Markisha lead practice
To get a feel for Morgan’s style, I attended a recent joint practice for her varsity team and her dad’s frosh-soph team. All of the girls took part in warmups, which looked familiar to anyone who has watched the Cardinal routine.
They then divided into their respective teams with Collins and his assistant, Shannon McMorrow, working with the younger girls and Morgan and Markisha working with the varsity players. Lindy wasn’t there because of a conflict in her schedule.
Markisha led the varsity team in various dribbling drills, including some when the girls wore goggles as they dribbled across the court for layups. Morgan explained later that the lower half of the goggles is blocked out, forcing the girls to look up rather than down when they dribble. Girls who missed a layup had to do a pushup.
Next the girls sprinted various distances across the court as Markisha timed then. After a water break, the girls split into two groups to practice plays and to scrimmage against frosh-soph players.
There’s a Stanford flavor to one play, which is called Cardinal. In a nod to Stanford’s cross-bay rival as well as Menlo-Atherton’s nickname, another play is called Bears. Still other plays are named after the coaches’ home states – Texas for Morgan, Nevada for Lindy and California for Markisha.
Markisha coached one varsity side. Because a varsity player was absent that day, Morgan, who had changed into shorts, did double duty as the coach and fifth player on the other side. Even though it was obvious that she didn’t take advantage of her 6’4” height and advanced skills, it was fun to watch her to run the court while passing along advice.
When practice ended, Morgan gathered everyone in a circle to talk about the upcoming scrimmage against Lowell High School of San Francisco. Afterward, a few girls stayed to shoot baskets or talk to the coaches.
Morgan said she encourages the girls to watch college games. Lauren Greif, the Stanford team’s video coordinator, has supplied videos from past Stanford games so that the M-A point guards can watch some elite players in action.
All of the M-A players will have a chance to see elite players in person Dec. 15 when they take a field trip to Maples for Stanford’s game against University of the Pacific.
Morgan undertakes other ventures, too
As if her day job and coaching job weren’t enough, Morgan has two other ventures. She’s president and founder of the Bay Area Basketball Academy in Menlo Park, which “is about creating fundamentally sound basketball players … regardless of age, experience or skill level,” its website says.
Among others, her staff includes Lindy, Lauren and Sebnem Kimyacioglu, ’05, who is playing pro ball in Turkey.
Still another venture is a nonprofit, BABA Global (the name is in flux, she said), which aims to teach life lessons through basketball to women in developing areas. Her colleagues in this effort include Lauren and four Stanford grads: Seb, Grace Mashore, ’12, and Eziamaka Okafor, Shelley Nweke, both ’06.
Because of foot problems, Morgan didn’t play during her senior year at Stanford. However, she worked with Tara during practices and in game preparation, Palo Alto Online reported.
“I was really fortunate to have a lot of positive role models growing up, played under several WNBA players and then actually came to Stanford, which to me was the best of academics and athletics,” she told the San Mateo Daily Journal. “I’ve always had a very high standard of both and hopefully can put that on my girls as well,” she said.