By Chris Kowalczyk

Issac Vann and Bria Gibson will spend their offseason sharpening their crossovers and honing rebounding skills, but when the 2017-18 season begins, these two VCU Basketball standouts will be armed with more than a silkier jump shot. They’ll have a few additional leadership skills to help guide their teams.
That’s because Vann, who redshirted the 2016-17 season after transferring from Maine, and Gibson, a rising junior, recently participated in the first Atlantic 10 Conference Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C.
One male and one female basketball player from each of the 14 Atlantic 10 schools was selected for the two-day event, which featured keynote speaker Kevin Eastman, a former NBA assistant coach. Eastman also served as an assistant coach at VCU under J.D. Barnett in the 80s. The leadership summit also included speakers from Forward Progress Athletic Consulting and Atlantic 10 Conference Commissioner Bernadette McGlade.
Gibson, who averaged 4.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game for the VCU women’s squad this year, said the summit was a welcome opportunity to look inward.
“One of the big lessons I learned was you can’t help others unless you know a lot about yourself,” she said. “Going into it, I was kind of skeptical because I knew there was going to be a one-on-one session, and I was going to get drilled with questions. But it was moreso about learning your weaknesses and your strengths and knowing that those people on your team are there to fill in those weak spot that you have.”
Both Gibson and Vann noted the contributions of Eastman, who retired from coaching in 2016 following a 30-year coaching career. Eastman won an NBA Championship in 2008 with the Boston Celtics as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers. Long a respected voice in coaching circles, Eastman also runs Elite Training Camp, which bills itself at a workshop “for coaches who want to be great where they are now and prepared for where they’re going next.”
Eastman spoke at length, and Vann and Gibson listened.
“He had some real interesting stuff. I took a lot of notes when he was talking,” Vann said. “One thing that stuck with me was, when he coached with the Celtics, the players made new mistakes, they didn’t keep making the same mistake over and over. If you make mistakes, don’t repeat them. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, either.”
During the summit, student-athletes identified what their leadership style was and learned ways to improve upon them.
There are many leadership styles, Vann and Gibson learned, and one isn’t necessarily better or worse than the others. But each has its positives and its negatives, and recognizing those advantages and flaws was critical.
“I found that I am a relationship-building leader,” Gibson said. “I focus on building the team so we can all get it done together. They said with that leadership style, you can be a bit too empathetic…and I do agree with that sometimes.”
Although it was just two days, Vann and Gibson agree the workshop will be valuable as they continue their basketball careers.
“I think it’ll help a lot,” Gibson, a computer science major, said. “We went over a lot of different strategies to handle different situations, and I can’t say that I’d know to go about it that way. I think a lot of it will translate going into next season because I’m one of the oldest on the team, so I feel like it was a very helpful experience.
“It wasn’t what I expected. It was different. I didn’t really know what to expect. It was cool for us to be the first group to do it,” added Vann.