Just Like Father, Just Like Son
UMass men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint has learned a lot about coaching from his father James.
By Matt Abt, The Maroon & White, 12/21/2000
The Maroon & White is a publication of UMass Athletics

He hears it all the time.

"James, your son acts just like you out on the court," everybody tells him. James Flint, the father of UMass head basketball coach "Bruiser" Flint, knows it's true. And he's proud of it.

"Yeah, that's me when I was coaching," says James, to whom Bruiser can attribute his animated coaching style. "A lot of my friends always tell Bruiser `you're acting like your father' when they see him jumping and screaming and hollering on the court. He has that fiery, go-get-em attitude like I have. Everyone tells me that he acts just like I do. I feel good about that."

An environmental graphic designer with a degree in Fine Arts, James played basketball in high school but knew that he would never be the next Dr. J. Nevertheless, he understood the intricacies of the game, and he knew how to teach them. Bruiser likes to say that his dad taught him all he knows.

"He taught me a lot about basketball," said Flint Jr. "My dad used to take me early and we used to practice before all the other guys came in. We would work on ball handling, dribbling and shooting. I was just around basketball all the time."

While in college, James worked at the Sherwood Recreation Center in Philadelphia, where he began as an arts and crafts instructor and eventually became a basketball coach. He worked primarily with 10-12 year olds, and coached a few kids who would eventually make it all the way to the NBA.

Young Bruiser was always hanging around the recreation center, where he was the ball boy and the team manager for many of his father's teams. When he was 10 years old, Bruiser was the ball boy for his father's Pennsylvania All-Star team that played on the Diaper Dandy Tour, the original high school All-American tournament. Watching the best players in the state, he vowed that someday, he too would be a Pennsylvania All-Star. Bruiser was a natural athlete, and developed a work ethic at an early age that allowed him to play beyond his years.

"He'd practice, practice, practice," James said.

When he was just eight years old, Bruiser made a team consisting of 10 and 12 year olds and was given a unique role on the team.

"They used to tell me to stand on one end of the floor," said Bruiser. "And when they would get a rebound they'd throw it to me and we'd get a layup."

The dangers and temptations of Philadelphia city life were widespread, and basketball was a way to keep young Bruiser on the right track. "I lived in a tough neighborhood, with drugs and things like that," said Bruiser. "My father would always say `if you feel good about yourself, you don't have to do those things.' I was very fortunate that my dad always put me around a lot of positive people. He made sure that the people I was involved with when I played basketball were good people."

James also adhered to a strict set of rules on the court.

"My dad was a strict disciplinarian," said Bruiser. "I used to always have to bring him my report card, and if I didn't get good grades he didn't let me play. I always tell him that if he were a coach now, he'd be arrested."

James once coached Bruiser's team to the 12-14 year old national championships in Philadelphia. The team was down at halftime, and James was, according to Bruiser, "yelling and screaming and hollering and cussing."

During halftime, the janitor came into the locker room and said to Bruiser, "Son, if I was you, I wouldn't play for that man."

"Hey, I've got no choice," Bruiser jokingly responded, "because that's my father."

While a stickler for discipline on the hardwood, off the court James was always a favorite with Bruiser's friends.

"My dad was like a father to a lot of my friends," said Bruiser. "He ran a recreation center, so he took care of everybody and he made sure that everybody was into sports. He used to coach a lot of the guys and he took us to all the basketball games when we were little."

Bruiser at St. Joe's.
Photo courtesey: MassLive
Bruiser turned out to be quite a player in high school and beyond. A 1983 graduate of Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia, Bruiser was named first team All-Philadelphia and third team All-State as a senior. He went on to play at St. Joseph's University, where he was a four-year letter winner and earned second-team All-Conference honors during his senior season.

While in college, Bruiser decided that the best way to stay connected with the game he loved was to get into coaching. He got a head start working in Philadelphia's future leagues, which attracted the area's best college-bound players. On one occasion, James couldn't coach his future league team and asked Bruiser to take over in his absence. According to James, the players liked Bruiser so much that they asked him not to come back.

It was obvious that Bruiser had coaching potential, but James let his son make his own career decisions.

"He didn't really bother me about that," said Flint, who began his college coaching career as an assistant at Coppin State before coming to UMass. "In terms of (my coaching career), my dad was sort of hands off. He didn't really say `you should go into coaching' or anything like that. He just wanted me to go to college, get a good education and have options."

Initially, life as a coach had its ups and downs, especially at Coppin State, where Bruiser experienced the struggles of a first-year coach. His dad was always there to help him through the tumultuous times.

"My dad said `hey, if you want to be a coach that's the type of thing you'll have to go through. If you don't, then try something else,'" Bruiser said. "His whole thing was `hey, you got your own career, you have to make your own choices, you do your own thing.'"

Bruiser talks one over with Monty Mack.
Bruiser made the choice to make coaching his "thing," and moved on to UMass after two seasons at Coppin State. Entering this, his fifth season as head coach, Bruiser had led the Minutemen to 72 wins, already making him the fifth-winningest coach in school history.

"He's an excellent coach. He's very perceptive," James said. "I think one of the things about coaching is knowing your players. He does an exceptional job of knowing his players and having a feel for his players. And I think that's just as important as the Xs and Os out there."

James is still involved with youth basketball in Philadelphia; he works with the Sonny Hill College League, and is the League's co-director in the summer. He also runs a basketball program at his local church.

Even with his busy schedule, James attempts to attend every UMass game, home and away. "If I don't go to a game, he'll call me afterward and we'll talk about what went on," says James. "I give him a few inputs every now and then."

If there is one thing his dad taught him that has stuck with Bruiser, it is not "eat your vegetables," or even "pass with two hands."

"My dad always taught me to be proud, to be the best and not to worry about failure," he said. "As long as you get back on your feet, and you work hard at what you do and feel good about what you're doing, things will happen for you."

Said James, "I'm very, very proud of my son. If my son were a trash man, I'd be proud of him. He's an exceptional young man and I must say that I've never had one problem with him. He's always been a good kid and he's everything I could've ever asked for in a son."

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