What You’ll Do for Your Friends

March 29th, 2015

When I moved to Fresno in 1995 to become part of incoming coach Jerry Tarkanian’s staff, one of the first guys I met was Dave Severns. Dave was a longtime high school coach who, a few years earlier, had come to the conclusion he enjoyed working individually with players to improve their skills more than he did being a head coach. By the time I met him, he’d worked with many of the nation’s best high school and college players at the Nike All-American camps and had been spending a good portion of his summers under the employ of Tim Grover (Michael Jordan’s personal individual trainer).

Early on we discovered our philosophies of basketball and life were closely aligned. (For a closer look at his background, check out the “Categories” column to the right of my blogs and you’ll see his name mentioned in several of them, all the way back to 11/4/08). In addition, I’m close to his three kids as he is with our two boys. He’d occasionally watch Andy play in high school and, when he began a small business (while he was still a high school teacher) of working with young players to improve their skills, Alex was one of his first pupils. Throughout Alex’s career, Dave would often catch his games and, even now, tries to get to at least one of his college games with Cal State Monterey Bay – even though his current job as director of player development for the Los Angeles Clippers keeps him plenty busy during basketball season.

Currently, Dave’s younger daughter, Hailey, is a junior at Clovis North HS and is, quite the thespian. If there’s a play at CNHS, Hailey will not only be a member of the cast, but will have one of the leading roles. Naturally, I want to support her as Dave did with our guys. Last night pushed my loyalty near its limit. Early in the month, he mentioned Hailey was one of the members in the cast of the play The Diary of Anne Frank and the showtimes were evenings on Thursday-Saturday, March 19-21 & 26-28, with a matinee as well each Saturday.

Since we were in Myrtle Beach the first weekend, I told him Jane and I would be attending one of the March 26-28 performances. After we returned from South Carolina, we had to decide which show to attend. At about that time, I realized every one of the shows – including the Saturday matinee (because we’re on west coast time) – coincided with the NCAA tournament games.

A decision had to be made and I picked last night. Jane and I watched the Wisconsin-Arizona game and the first half of Kentucky-Notre Dame. Then, with the game tied at halftime, and one of the greatest upsets of all time hanging in the balance, we had to leave to get to the theater on campus by 7:00. Of course, cell phones are prohibited during performances – and there’s no way I’d try to sneak peeks because, as little as I know about technology, my phone would be the one that would disrupt the performance (with Dave, his wife and her parents all in attendance).

Finally, at the intermission I checked and found out the ‘Cats won by two, with Jerian Grant misfiring on a three at the buzzer to win it. After we personally congratulated Hailey on her well-deserved, superb performance, we left campus and returned home. I scrolled the TV listings and then:

watched the second half of the UK-ND contest, all the while knowing how it as going to end.

Following the (anti-climactic) conclusion, I posted this blog – and headed off to sleep.

Scoring May Be Down But Don’t Think It’s Because the Game Is Too Slow

March 28th, 2015

One of the most discussed topics of this basketball (post)season is speeding up the game/increase scoring. That might sound like two items but, really, if scoring was to increase, no one would give a flip about the pace of the game. It’s just that when anyone brings up additional scoring, the first thing that comes to mind is “speed up the game,” i.e. the 35-second shot clock is entirely too long.

Let’s, for a moment, assume that’s correct. Does that mean that if the shot clock were shortened to, say, 10 seconds that games would be in the 100s? How about 5 seconds? Ludicrous ideas, don’t you think? I recall reading an article in a recent Sports Illustrated (long since given to a friend) in which it stated that, while scoring is down the past ten years or so, there was actually more scoring before the 45-second shot clock was introduced (in 1985). What frightened the rules makers into a shot clock was an embarrassing game in the 1968 ACC tournament between underdog NC State and powerhouse Duke which ended 12-10 because the Wolfpack held the ball to bring the Blue Devils’ big man away from the basket (a move Duke refused to make) and a 1973 contest between heavy favorite Tennessee and visiting Temple which ended 11-6 (because of a similar situation). Other than those outliers (and no more than a handful of others), scoring was quite a bit higher than it is now. As is often the case, fear ruled the decision-making process.

The problem isn’t the length of the clock; it’s the teams’ inability to score – combined with the (extreme) possibility that today’s coaches are better at devising and teaching defense than they are at designing offense that will give players opportunities in which they can get very high percentage shots.

Why is that? Take a look at the differences between defense and offense. Technically speaking, the main goal of every defensive possession is when the opponent doesn’t score. Any coach would be foolish to think an uncontested lay up that doesn’t go in is good defense. Yet, the goal was accomplished.

Conversely, if the team with the ball executes its offense precisely as they practiced, and gets an uncontested lay up which the shooter happens to miss (even if it was missed by the team’s best player), nobody is feeling too good – especially if it was at the buzzer of a game in which the team was down by one.

The point is this. Good defense is made up of proper stances and techniques, all-out effort, communication, rotation and, finally, rebounding. Add in anticipation and it becomes great defense. Good offense is based upon skills, timing, execution, recognition and, in usually more than half of the possessions, also rebounding. The former tactics (excluding anticipation) are much easier than the latter, i.e. on offense players have to be able to do something positive.

If a defender gets beaten backdoor, many outcomes are possible. 1) The passer doesn’t see the move. 2) The passer makes a poor pass that goes out of bounds. 3) The pass is good but the cutter fumbles it away for a turnover. 4) The pass is good, the cutter catches it, but travels. 5) The pass is good but the cutter catches the ball and commits an offensive foul. 6) The pass is good but the shot is missed. Only if everything is done correctly – and the ball goes in the basket – is the team rewarded. Even if the defense fouls, the offense still must make the free throws in order to claim a positive offensive possession.

The opposite occasionally occurs, e.g. good defense combined with bad offense can lead to scores. But the only time that happens is when the ball ricochets off of a defender, say an arm extended in the passing lane, and finds its way into the basket. Obviously, that doesn’t take place nearly as often.

Other reasons scoring is down is the amount of information available to coaches, e.g. more televised games, easier access to opponents’ game video (beyond TV), more statistics (analytics) which coaches can use to thwart offenses and offensive tendencies. This means coaches can take away more scoring opportunities.

Wouldn’t it, then, stand to reason that there are increased opportunities for teams to put points on the board? The answer is yes – with a caveat. As stated previously, offense takes more skill – and the more skilled players aren’t staying in college as long as they once did. This means one of two changes need to be made. The first is to mandate players, aka student-athletes, stay in college longer. Since that idea has been floated and shot down (something about being unconstitutional or against the last CBA of the players association), let’s disregard it. That means the college players must improve their offensive skills (or coaches have to design offenses that are harder to guard than the current ones). Some coaches employ that philosophy, namely Bo Ryan’s “swing” offense and Mark Few’s “flotion.”

If the players are to make marked improvement in their offensive games, either the NCAA needs to alter its rules and give coaching staffs more access to the players (an action flying directly in the face of recent NCAA rule changes) or schools need to be able to use outside help – in the form of independent “player development coaches” – to work with the players during the off season, be it pre, post or summer. The NCAA has shied away from this idea, as it would lead to the dreaded lack of institutional control situation. Additional staff , i.e. non-institutional employees and all the potential problems they bring, is an area of which the NCAA tries to steer clear.

To wrap up the “get more scoring in the game” controversy (since forcing players to stay in school is off the board), either have coaches become more creative or have players improve individual skills. Unless we want the officials to call more fouls on defenders.

But, then, wouldn’t that lengthen the game?

As It Turned Out, Truer Words Were Never Spoken

March 27th, 2015

With so few college basketball games left, it’s only natural that each of them is over-analyzed. Soon enough, we’ll all be going through college hoops withdrawal. Luckily, the NBA season will fulfill our basketball “joneses.” But until that time, all of us will be dissecting every game that remains, especially the ones involving the college squad closest to an NBA club – John Calipari’s University of Kentucky Wildcats.

What has become so difficult for all fans – including the “experts” – is what to make of this year’s version of UK. Will they go 40-0? (Sure looks that way). If they do, will they be considered the best college team of all-time? (If they keep winning by double digits, they’d get my vote). What will it take to beat them? (A perfect game). Who has the best chance? (Not sure but definitely not West Virginia).

The latest challenge for UK was West Virginia, coached by Bob Huggins. Everybody was looking for a possible flaw in the Wildcats’ considerable armor and the fact that Huggs held an 8-2 advantage over Cal in head-to-head match ups made for a juicy morsel for upset theorists. Throw in WVU’s physical style of play and it became a major talking point.

“The Mountaineers won’t back down from UK – or anyone else. They’ll try to physically manhandle them and see how they react to it,” was one talking head’s take on the game earlier yesterday. On his Sirius XM radio show, none other than Mike Krzyzewski had this to say about West Virginia, “They take on the personality of their coach.” Mike meant it as a compliment, although unknown to most fans, Bob Huggins was an academic All-America during his playing days in Morgantown.

At the press conference the day preceding the game, Huggs was asked the question, “Do you feel like your defense can create some tough problems for them?” To say his reply was prophetic was like saying the game was a rout:

“I don’t know. I hope so. It’s going to be a long day if we can’t.”

Basketball Is Briefly Interrupted for . . . a Little Humor

March 26th, 2015

When a career in college basketball starts in 1972, this time of year is always reserved for March Madness, i.e. the NCAA tournament (and, yeah, even the NIT because there are additional practices and the team is faced with “lose and it’s all over.”) Note: The CBI & CIT weren’t yet in existence but I imagine those players and coaches have similar feelings, if for no other reason than they’re competitive.

While I’m not nearly as obsessed with the tournaments as I was during the 30 years I worked in the college game (in 16 of those we continued coaching after the regular season had ended), I have many friends who are still in the business. It is an incredibly intense time for those involved. When I see the stress each of them is going through, I can relate. Basically, it’s what coaches and (nearly all) players live for (some guys are simply putting in time until they sign a contract – which, unfortunately, for many never materializes).

Then, reality sets in and I come to the understanding there are actually other things of importance. Like life, for one. It’s amazing to me that there are so many people who have lives that are not put on hold at this time of the year.

When we first moved to California, we learned something that had never been part of our lives until then. Had never even considered. Everybody has a gardener. Nobody does their own yard work. No mowing, weed eating, pruning, mulching, planting, landscaping. For anyone who knows me, you can fully appreciate what kind of music to my ears this revelation was – even though it does cut into dispensable income.

We’ve had some great ones throughout the years (since 1991) but I believe the guy who fills that role now is my wife’s favorite. She came in laughing yesterday and when I asked what was so funny, she told me a story our “outdoor artist” had told her.

He’s a young guy (at our age, it would be impossible to find a gardener who would qualify as an old guy) with a wonderful skill for maximizing the beauty of our yard. While Jane was talking to him about whatever it was he and his associate were doing, she asked how his family was getting along.

She knew he had a wife and their two sons but was unaware that his wife was pregnant. They recently found out they were going to have a girl. Jane asked how the boys were dealing with it.

“Well, he said, our eight-year-old is fine with it. Actually, he’s looking forward to having a baby sister. With our five-year-old it’s a little different. He told us he was the baby in the family and that was how he wanted it to stay.” The father-to-be then told Jane that his little guy said, “When you and mom bring her over to stay with grandma,

“I’m gonna put her out front and wait for somebody to pick her up.”

Think about how little pressure the guy shooting a 1-and-1, down by a point, with a couple seconds left has compared to our gardener the next time he heads to grandma’s house.

Doesn’t Anybody Know Anything About March Madness?

March 25th, 2015
During a conversation with our financial adviser yesterday, he mentioned that he’d heard me on the radio speaking about the NCAA basketball tournament. While he complimented me on how good I sounded, he said he wondered why I didn’t give out any nuggets he could use when filling out his bracket. I laughed and said that working in Division I basketball for 30 years (and still following with more than just a passing interest) didn’t mean squat when picking which teams would win.
“It’s all about the match ups” is what we hear from the talking heads, yet no one ever mentions that until after a game is played and there was an upset – or a favorite cruising to an easier than expected victory. Is there anything to help a person predict?
Some claim “strength of schedule.” Yet if strength of schedule is such a great indicator, why did Dayton (SOS 113) beat Providence (SOS 5)? And, no, the game was not at UD Arena. Kentucky’s strength of schedule was only 45, The main reason is they didn’t get to play Kentucky – like all their opponents did.
How about RPI? Iowa State’s RPI ranked 9th in the country and Baylor’s ranked 10th, yet both lost – to UAB (132nd) and Georgia State (55th), respectively. Before any startling conclusions are formed, recall each game was decided by one point. Iowa State lost on a couple of free throws with 12 seconds to go while Baylor went down on a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Maybe the truest test is how teams do against elite competition. Kansas won 12 of the 19 games they played against the top 50 teams in the nation (9 out of 14 vs. the top 25). Wichita State split four games against the top 50 (only one win in three contests vs. the top 25). If you don’t know how their head-to-head competition went, why are you wasting time here? Villanova posted records of 5-1 vs. the top 25, 13-1 vs. the top 50. NC State was a mere 3-6 vs. the top 25, 4-8 vs. the top 50. In the “survive-and-advance” part of the tourney, however, the Wolfpack moves on, while ‘Nova heads home.
Athlon Sports’ senior writer David Fox has been in the sports journalism field since 2001. On March 15 (just prior to the announcement of the 68 team field) he posted an article entitled “8 Red-Hot Teams to Watch in Your 2015 NCAA Tournament Bracket.” Of those eight teams, three posted a win before being eliminated, four lost in their first game and one (Vanderbilt) wasn’t selected and lost last night in the quarterfinals of the NIT.
That summary is in no way meant to criticize the work of Fox. It’s just that there has never been a proven method of selecting winners in the NCAA tournament. That’s why those who win office pools are often people who have little interest in college hoops. After the first weekend I knew of a lady who was in first place in her pool, based on her selection of Georgia State winning its opening game. Why did she pick Georgia State? Because she was originally from Atlanta.

That’s why they call it “Madness.” When it comes to filling out tournament brackets, the strategy behind it reminds me of what my Child Psych professor told us in college regarding raising kids:
“There are three theories on how to raise children. Unfortunately, none of them work.”

Words and Phrases that Have Actually Become Part of Our (Basketball) Vocabulary

March 24th, 2015

It’s only been a year but, because this new hoops jargon has hit epidemic proportions, I felt a duty to reprint a blog from last year (which I originally posted, albeit a somewhat edited version, way back in 2009). You should enjoy the humor, as well as recognize the increased widespread use of these words as entertainment.

The game of basketball is relatively simple, i.e. put the ball in the basket and keep your opponent from putting it in his (or hers). Today’s coaches, analysts and talking heads, presumably in an attempt to create more of a mystique about the game (or sound smarter), have expanded the dictionary of basketball terms. Why people feel this is necessary could be due to the popularity of Dick Vitale (“diaper dandy,” “PTPer”) or Clark Kellogg (“stat sheet stuffer,” “squeeze the orange”). Or maybe it started when Hubie Brown, lecturing at a clinic in the South in the late ’70’s, spoke about “sticking the J.” I was actually at that particular clinic, in which Hubie was interrupted by a coach in attendance who asked the question, “What’s a ‘J’?”

It was kind of funny at that time seeing Hubie try to conceal, unsuccessfully, a smirk at the question. Earlier in his career, Hubie’s retort might have been, “How the f… can you coach basketball & not know what a ‘J’ is?” but he’d mellowed somewhat by then. I have to admit the guys in my group felt bad for the coach who asked the question, but felt relieved – although not as relieved as the coach should have been – had Hubie answered with the response we anticipated.

Players in this era have so many terms running through their heads, the only two groups that can be effective are the “thinkers who can play” and the “players who can think (some),” i.e. something along the lines of the NCAA’s sliding scale. To some coaches, namely my late Hall of Fame boss, Jerry Tarkanian, thinking was a detrimental skill when it came to being a basketball player. Tark’s mantra always was, “The more a player thinks, the slower his feet get.” While today’s game is quite similar that of Tark’s day, the “lingo” has certainly changed.

For example, players now “score the ball.” The first time I heard that phrase, an immediate question came to mind. “What the hell else can you score?” I mean, have you ever heard, “Manny is really having a tough time scoring the ball tonight, but he’s been on fire finding the bottom of the net with several pairs of socks, a few rolls of athletic tape and three Gatorade cups he found lying around.” For the more sophisticated announcer, the term has recently morphed into, “score the basketball.” They must think listeners had to pause for a moment to recall exactly which sport they were viewing – and, of course, to ponder their brilliance.

Today’s players are no longer accomplished dribblers. They have great handles. I thought for a minute I might be able to make a comeback as a point guard because my wife keeps telling me I have great handles, but as it turns out anybody can get those – as long as a person has enough discipline to overeat on a daily basis. Another new term is touches, meaning how many times a player gets the ball in scoring position. Coaches now talk about the need to get their best player “touches.” Players, often not the best ones, have been heard to complain they don’t get enough touches. Usually the reason is because, when they do, they don’t score the ball.

In the past, when players used dribbling to score the ball, they were very good at “driving” it. Today, when a player’s strength is driving, the scouting report will tell the team he can really put the ball on the floor or, if a coach wants to show off his knowledge of the absolute latest verbiage, he can really deck it. When I was in college I saw one of my friends “deck it,” but it was right after some guy insulted his girlfriend at a bar. “Deck it” was the phrase used, but “it” was the guy who unwisely opened his mouth about my buddy’s girl. Seemed like my buddy objected to him trying to get too many “touches.”

Also, guys who used to be great shooters are now considered wet. In years past those same shooters were called “silky smooth.” Apparently, silky smooth has been replaced by wet although you’d think a player would rather be smooth, especially of the silky variety, than wet but, with more and more announcers and people in the studio attempting to carve their own niche, it’s become a way to separate one personality from another. It’s certainly easier than actual studying to become more knowledgeable about what they’re covering – for a living.

When a shot goes up, the coach no longer tells players to “rebound” but to board it. Playmakers don’t get “assists” for passes that lead to scores, they drop dimes. The more dimes you have, the more guys want to play with you – especially wet guys. It’s evidently the same story in the inner city, i.e. people want to hang with the guy who has the most dimes, but they’re of a different variety. And when that guy gets his picture taken, there’s a better than even chance it’s going to be both front and side views.

There are those who wonder how anyone understands anyone else. No one is clear when they speak today. That wasn’t the case, however, when Harry Truman was asked why he felt that Dwight Eisenhower was struggling when he switched careers from the army to politics. Harry did his best “Give ‘em hell” answer to a question most politicians would have waxed poetic or sidestepped altogether. Instead, Truman’s response was:

“Dwight Eisenhower wasn’t used to being criticized and he never did get it through his head that’s what politics is all about. He was used to getting his ass kissed.”

Anatomy of the Mountain West – and How One of Its Members Got Shafted

March 23rd, 2015

Maybe it’s been said by others – it probably has but since I usually stay away from newspapers (and any news, sports, weather) when I’m on vacation I didn’t see nor hear it – but the committee who selected the field of 68 made a mistake so obvious, there ought to be an investigation.

There are four of each of the seeds, i.e. four #1s, four #2s, four #3s, etc. with the exception of two seeds – #11 and #16 – of which there are six each. Why? Time for a little history (of March Madness) lesson.

Maybe you are aware of why extra teams were added. I actually lived it. It was in July of 1999. There was a clandestine meeting among half of the schools that made up the Western Athletic Conference (nearly all of them original members). Their thought was the WAC, which at that time was comprised of 16 teams, was entirely too big (or maybe they were just ahead of their time) and the model was causing more problems than it was creating opportunities. Incredible as it may seem, there never was even one “anonymous source” allowing the cat to escape the bag.

At the time I was working at Fresno State, one of the schools left out. Since, legally, it was decided nothing could be done to prevent the break up, the institutions agreed there simply would be two leagues. The universities that left wanted to keep the WAC name since nearly all of them were part of the original conference. The shunned group claimed they, in fact, should retain the name because they weren’t the ones who left. The latter argument won out and the “traitors” (as the side Fresno State was on referred to them) needed to find a name. While the “Mountain West” was agreed upon, the new group faced another problem. A real big problem.

The NCAA tournament, aka “March Madness” was made up of 64 teams. Since the new conference, the Mountain West, had a “history” with the NCAA tourney, it wanted the conference’s automatic bid to The Dance. Yet, the WAC maintained the bid, according to the NCAA, went to the WAC, and there was no way they could be stripped of it. The Mountain West felt the issue could be solved by awarding them an automatic bid to them as well.

Not so fast, my friends, said the power schools (although they didn’t have the formal designation then that they do now, everyone knew who they were). Adding an automatic bid would mean taking an at-large bid away – and who got nearly all of the at-large bids? The power schools. So, an extra automatic bid was added and the field was expanded to 65 (which has since been expanded again to 68 because, call it whatever they wanted, 64 & 65 didn’t feel a part of the tourney). Having four games at the same site would make it feel more like the rest of the tournament.

The site they decided upon, originally, was the University of Dayton because basketball was so popular there and it was relatively easy to get to. Here’s the rub: this year the Flyers were actually in the field. They were given an #11 seed. Since the four “first round” games were two pairs each of the #16 seeds and #11 seeds, it meant Dayton would essentially get a home game. This just didn’t give UD a “competitive advantage” but would put its opponent at a “competitive disadvantage.” Isn’t that the criteria for how referees call fouls?

How much of an advantage? It was the first time a team played at home since 1987. Additionally, UD was 16-0 at home this season and had a 22-game winning streak heading into the game. Their opponent was Boise State, coincidentally, from the Mountain West. For Boise’s fans it would mean a long trip for, win or lose, one game.

The Broncos were ahead most of the game and held a seven-point advantage with 3:43 to go. So, did the home crowd really mean that much? “They were electrifying,” senior guard Jordan Sibert said of the crowd. “I don’t think we would have won that game without them.” Oh yeah, the game ended with a non-call of a Dayton player who may, or may not, have made contact while defending a Boise shooter’s three-point attempt at the buzzer.

The shame of the matter is that it could have been avoided. If the committee thought so highly of Dayton, then make them a #10 seed. If they felt the Flyers had gotten in by the skin of their teeth, make them a #12 seed. If you were to put this logic to a committee member, you’d hear the same old, tired gobbledegook: travel concerns, strength of schedule, strength of non-conference schedule, RPI rating, last ten games, sperm count, yada, yada, yada. It’s the general consensus the committee did an outstanding job this year, of what is, pretty much, a thankless effort. With one glaring exception.

Regarding the Dayton-Bosie State fiasco, only one conclusion can be reached:

“While there can be many reasons why it occurred, there is no excuse for it.”

Apparently, There Are No Days Off for Coaches

March 22nd, 2015

Back from Charleston, SC and the wedding of the son (to his lovely bride) one of my college roommates. Beautiful ceremony, fabulous event, great getting to see so many old friends. That happening was followed by a week in Myrtle Beach. Kind of like the spring break everybody had back in the day, that we missed. So we made up for it this past week – 45 years later. Jane’s younger sister, Susan, joined us from Nashville, as did (for a couple days anyway), Nancy, one of Jane’s former co-workers at TVA – and one of her best friends from Knoxville. The girls shopped and caught up while I watched, non-stop, March Madness.

Lost among the buzzer beaters, earth-shattering upsets and crazy celebrations is the insane life college basketball coaches lead. Come to think of it, maybe all coaches.

Exhibit #1 Where else would a 74-year-old guy who has struggled with relatively severe health issues over the years, go to work with a bad case of bronchitis? A man who, when the television cameras were on him, looked like he should have either been home in bed or in the hospital in bed. Yet, there, on the SMU bench, sat Larry Brown, the man who fit perfectly the prior description.

In the press conference the day before the game, he sounded like a person who should not have been at a podium, apologizing to the assembled media that he’d had a case of hiccups for the past couple days. Like that’s normal. Then, in the condition he was in, to have to sit through a rather poorly played game by his squad, who then made a monumental run to take control of the first round NCAA tournament game (OK, powers-that-be, second round), only to squander it – and lose on, possibly, the worst call in tourney history. Well, nobody in good health should have to experience that ordeal. Making matters worse was hearing officiating guru John Adams trying to justify the call: “It might have hit the rim and bounced in.” Undoubtedly, Adams failed high school physics – and every other class in which common sense needed to be used.

Exhibit #2 Your team, which lost in the conference finals last year and was kept out of the NCAA tournament, made amends by winning the Sun Belt championship a couple weeks ago. Naturally, you were thrilled. Your first reaction, as the horn went off, was to jump – but as you did, you tore your Achilles tendon. Still, you rolled around on the floor, in excruciating pain, hugging your son who had just hit two free throws moments before. That’s exactly what Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter did.

As the NCAA tourney got under way, Hunter was rendered to a, for lack of a better term, one-legged, four-wheeled scooter. How about you, Ron, are you going to call in sick – like Larry Brown should have? In a word – hell, no! It’s March Madness, baby! So he scooted on out to coach the #14 seed GSU Panthers against the #3 seed Baylor Bears.

And wouldn’t you know it, his star son, R.J., knocked down a deep three at the buzzer to vanquish Goliath. Of course Ron wanted to celebrate this crowning achievement. And he does so by falling off of his new means of transportation, admittedly breaking the cast and now has to be re-casted. He said he didn’t know what re-casted meant but he definitely understands what it’s doing to his pain level.

Exhibit #3 In the morning you find out your 84-year-old mom had a heart attack – and didn’t make it. If you didn’t show up for work that day everyone would certainly understand. But you’re Mike Brey and you coach the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, trying to get to the Sweet Sixteen. You count on your guys and they, in turn, count on you.

So, not only do you show up to coach the game but you have enough class (obviously taught to you by your mother) not to mention it to your team – to use it as a motivational tool. Even though you coach at the school that made “Win one for the Gipper” famous.

Then your guys go out and win. Over in-state rival Butler. In overtime. And what does Mike say about it? “It was kind of a tribute to her. It was really a special night.” Can you imagine how heavy his heart must have been during that game? How heavy it must still be?

Why would guys go out, under circumstances that any other employee would take off – maybe even should take off – and put in the day’s work? Although he was talking about the life of an NBA coach, Pat Riley’s comments on coaching sum it up perfectly:

“It’s not a good, healthy life. It’s a LIFE. It’s a very intense, competitive life that’s not really normal.”

Sending Boosters in Every Direction

March 11th, 2015

Younger son Alex’s basketball season is over and that can mean one thing for sure – vacation season begins. Heading to Charleston, SC for the wedding of one of my college roommates; then on to Myrtle Beach for some R&R (which even us retired people need).

The following is a story from my book, Life’s A Joke. If it seems like these never end, they actually do. And . . . that’s when the sequel comes out. That’s right. Life’s STILL A Joke will be making its debut. Fear not; it probably won’t happen until 2016. And it will be an eBook. Now for the story.

One recruiting pitch most basketball coaches have in common is they’ll take their teams to exempt tournaments. These tourneys offer good competition (usually), get some swag for the travel party, add extra games to the schedule and give fans an opportunity to travel to nice destinations and root on their favorite squad – akin to a bowl game for the hoops team.

One year a team I was with went to the Puerto Rico to play in the eight-team Puerto Rican Shootout. One of the main questions that’s asked on any of these type of trips is, “Do you know where there’s a good restaurant?”

Sure enough, one of our boosters asked exactly that to our director of athletics. Naturally wanting to please the donor, he told the guy he had just gone to one and it was terrific. The booster mentioned he had rented a car and asked the AD for directions.

The AD told him, “You get on this highway and take the ‘Salida’ exit. Then you turn right at the bottom of the hill and you’ll see the restaurant right there.”

The only problem with these directions is that Salida in Spanish means “exit.” The sign at every exit on the highway said, “Salida.”

Gracias.

A Golden Goose that Cannot Be Killed

March 10th, 2015

Some people might call the rash of injuries in the NBA this season an aberration. In just the first half of this season alone, there were over 2200 games lost to injuries. Yet, according to the 2/2/15 post by Jeff Stotts of the website In Street Clothes, should these numbers hold true for the second half, “the league is on pace to finish below last season’s record setting total and below the league average over the last nine seasons.”

From a fan’s viewpoint, a great game such as this past Sunday’s Warriors-Clippers battle was made, if not insignificant, certainly far less entertaining, than it would have been had Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford suited up for LA. Don’t get me wrong. The game featured some of the best players in the world and was better than anything else going on in the Bay Area – if hoops is your thing. But it just was a mere shell of what it would have been had both teams been at full strength. The fact that the next time they meet, the injury situation might be reversed doesn’t even things out, just further proves my point.

This season not one NBA fan has gotten to see either Steve Nash nor Paul George, although there’s hope the latter might be returning prior to season’s end. In Nash’s case, no one really expected to see someone with the health problems he’s had to endure throughout his career, and if the Lakers didn’t owe him so much money, he might have retired. Consider this season’s salary a severance pay for a future Hall of Famer. George, some say, got hurt for asking too much of his body, only for a different team than the one that pays him.

Since I’m retired, I felt I ought to devote some of my free time to solving this problem (although no one from the league office, to my knowledge, requested my assistance). Whether or not my solution would have enabled Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, A’mare Stoudemire, Joakim Noah, Ricky Rubio or Blake and Jamal to avoid prolonged time in suits is irrelevant, this is my blogspace and I’ll use it as I see fit.

One thing that’s for certain is that it would definitely not have aided in either Joel Embiid, who was out of commission before the season ever began, nor Jabari Parker, who played only 30% of his rookie year. My proposal is the league shorten the 82 game season. It’s a difficult answer – the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy – but someone needs to notice that, in fact, something is broke. The players. My idea is to lessen the number of poundings an NBA body must take.

Here is where I came up with this concept. I have heard everyone I have known who is close to the NBA scene (and believe me, that number is well over 100) – be they players, head coaches, assistants, trainers, GMs, VPs, or former members of those groups – describe the NBA season using the same word: grind. And what’s being ground are the bodies and minds of the players, who each year get bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled.

The main reason this won’t happen is, naturally, money. When Steve Ballmer shelled out two billion dollars (the absurdity of that price has been repeated so many times, it almost sounds sane), everything escalated – including the demand the league put on the bodies of their golden geese, undoubtedly because the owners realize there are an unlimited number of geese. Should a player play in every game for his team – exhibitions, regular season and playoffs – there is a possibility he would play in 118 contests. 119, if he was an All-Star. That’s 8 exhibitions, 82 regular season and 28 post season (should every playoff series go seven-games).

With the proliferation of pick-and-rolls being used (because they’re the hardest to guard, certainly from a wear-and-tear aspect), the players’ bodies are subject to more and more punishment, leading to an increased number of injuries. And injuries are why so many regular season games lack 1-2 stars from each squad. Therefore, wouldn’t it make for a better product to cut back the number of, certainly exhibitions, but mainly regular season games? Purists will say statistics will be skewed but weren’t they done so with the introduction of the 24-second clock, three-point line – and, even, the change in defensive rules, e.g. no hand checking?

I proposed this idea to a friend who’s currently in the association and his reply was succinct – and probably unanimous as far as those in the NBA are concerned:

“Never happen.”