His number 11 hangs proudly in the rafters of KeyBank Center, right next to the four championship banners he helped the Buffalo Bandits earn during his 24-year playing career. Canadian lacrosse legend John Tavares owns every major record in the history of the NLL, having amassed 815 goals, 934 assists, 1,749 points, and three MVPs over his 306-game career.
Tavares has always been up for new challenges in the game of lacrosse, and as the sport grows, his newest task is teaching traditional field lacrosse players how to play in the box. NLL teams are taking chances on American-born players who have never played indoors but have proven to be talented athletes.
Tavares is one of many in the league sharing the excitement with the rise of USBOXLA’s National Collegiate Box Series, especially the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League in Western New York.
We caught up with the 2018-19 NLL Coach of the Year to get his thoughts on American college lacrosse players forging a new path into the growing NLL.
With the expansion of the NLL season-to-season, how important is it for Americans to become involved in box lacrosse and why?
Tavares: As the NLL continues to expand, it will become more dependent on American-born players. Currently, the NLL features the best Canadian and Native-born players, but not enough of the top American players. I believe a lot of American players choose not to play in the NLL because of their inexperience with box (indoor) lacrosse. If the NLL wants to grow and maintain the highest level of the play, teams must find a way to incorporate more of the best American-born players into the game.
How and why is the National Collegiate Box Series valuable to NLL teams to use as a scouting tool for American-born players?
Tavares: I think the National Collegiate Box Series is a great tool for NLL teams to recruit Americans because it provides an opportunity for scouts to watch them play box lacrosse. It is very difficult for NLL scouts to know which field lacrosse players will translate into good box players without watching them perform in a box lacrosse game.
What are your thoughts on the Bandits and Knighthawks partnering to bring the Upstate Box Lacrosse League to bring the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League to the WNY area?
Tavares: I think the partnership between the Bandits and the Rochester Knighthawks is a great idea because it will bring more awareness to the box lacrosse game across WNY. This program will also provide the opportunity for field players to experience the game of box lacrosse and improve their chances of playing in the NLL.
What do you think the advantages are to field players to play box lacrosse in the summer?
Tavares: There are many advantages for field players to play box lacrosse in the summer. This includes improved stick skills because it is played in a more confined space. It also creates improved shooting accuracy as nets are much smaller with larger goalies, so precision is even more crucial. It will also help field players become more resilient from the physicality of the box game.
As a head coach, what do you look for in players who have a background in field lacrosse, and how do you hope that translates indoors?
Tavares: Offensively, I look for players that can create their own shot and have great vision. On the defensive side, I look for size, quick feet, and good body positioning. Regardless of the position, I look for excellent team players who have a strong work ethic and are highly competitive. I would hope that those exact skills translate to the indoor game.
What has the growth of box lacrosse meant to you as a head coach in the NLL?
Tavares: The future growth of box lacrosse means a lot to me because I have been part of the lacrosse community my entire life. I have seen the sport grow and evolve over the years, and I hope the momentum continues so that it becomes a major professional sport in North America one day.
What advice would you give to college-aged players who may be learning the game of box lacrosse for the first time?
Tavares: My advice to college players who are playing box lacrosse for the first time is to pay close attention to the transition portion of the game as beginners often overlook it. A lot of new offensive box players struggle to know when to run back on defense or when to get off the floor. Reacting quickly and making good decisions when your team loses possession of the ball will help prevent your opponents from creating a lot of good scoring opportunities in transition. My other piece of advice is to have fun and enjoy playing the fastest game on two feet!