Archive for the ‘graduation (HS and college)’ Category

Will There Always Be a Place for Gossip in this Country?

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Here’s a quote from yesterday’s paper regarding the Jim Harbaugh hiring: “… two people within the university with knowledge of the negotiations told the (Detroit) Free Press on Monday evening. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because Michigan officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the coaching search.” If these people were “within the university” it probably means they are college educated. Maybe not UM grads but they got a degree from an accredited college somewhere.

Therefore, it’s not like they didn’t understand what “not being authorized to speak” meant because they knew enough to inform the writer they’d only speak if they were allowed to remain anonymous. So the question is, why? Are they rewarded in some way – cash, gifts, favors or just chits to be stored and used at a later date?

Earlier this season, I saw another example of how awfully easy (and fun?) it is to cast aspersions from relative anonymity when I read an article in which an anonymous NBA assistant said Kobe Bryant is more or less washed up, comparing him to a Washington Wizards-era Michael Jordan. Why not just keep that bit of juicy gossip to himself, at least until he was ready to come out publicly and say it? Probably because he’d rather tell his closest friends that the quote was his, getting attaboys from his buddies, while strongly denying it if anyone else attributed the line to him.

When a head coach is fired, usually there are – or had been, if the termination had been brewing – players coming to his defense. The coach-player bond is often as powerful, in some cases, more so, than that of a father and son. The final time the (by then) former coach and his players get to meet is usually an emotional one. Things said at that meeting are meant for the people in that room – and only the people in that room.

Although I have no first hand knowledge of what went on when Bo Pelini met with his former squad of Nebraska Cornhuskers, one of two things had to have happened. Either a disgruntled player (or wannabe player) surreptitiously taped Pelini’s comments or, because the meeting was held at a local high school in Lincoln, someone was tipped off and the room was bugged. Is there any other method the newspaper could have received an audiotape, as was reported?

Well, his detractors (and Pelini had a ton, many created by his brash style) would undoubtedly say, “He shouldn’t have used those words, period. It’s the reason he got fired in the first place.” To that I have two comments. One is simple and ought to be easy to relate to for those middle age and beyond of us: Old habits die hard. The other comment: Is each and every critic so pure of word and action that none of them would mind if any private conversation they had with friends were made public? Even the ones when two people might be slandering discussing a third party each of them know (and consider a friend)? How would anyone like it if that third person was privy to those comments?

I have said to my friends on numerous occasions, while we were having a private conversation, “Aren’t you glad this isn’t being taped? We would be open to some serious repercussions.” With all the snooping people there are, including as it turned out, our own government, is the Thought Police truly a myth?

After a recent game between Cleveland and Miami, LeBron James was shown talking to his close friend, Dwyane Wade, with his jersey over his mouth. Did you think James, who knows the ways of the paparazzi as well as anyone alive, was fearful of spreading germs to his former teammate?

Googling quotes on gossip I saw several profound ones but chose this one to share:

“People are probably not happy with their own lives if they’re so busy discussing yours.”

Why Is It Older People Think They Can Help Others?

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

This isn’t exactly breaking news but Google is a pretty awesome invention. Or discovery. Or creation. Whatever, it’s way above my intelligence level. If ever there was something that can give you answers – quickly – it’s Google. For someone with a relatively decent level of intelligence, when it comes to technology, I’m, let’s just describe it as, well below the curve. Suffice to say, whoever (or whatever) invented Google is quite a bit above that curve. Yet, on occasion, answers can be found elsewhere.

Because I’ve lived through six-and-a-half decades, in nine different states all across the country and have had jobs of influence over the youth of America, passing on information is something that comes naturally to me. More than having the job of teacher or coach, I have always considered myself a student of life and an observer of people.

Maybe due to an early lack of confidence – which some people who know me would scoff at – I was always worried about being good enough. For those who don’t believe that, here’s an example. When I was a senior in high school, I never considered myself exceptionally bright, e.g. my overall GPA was around 2.7 or 2.8 which gave me a class ranking in the upper 25%. Not bad, but not exceptional by any means. I was smarter and a better athlete than some of the guys I hung around with – in math and a couple selected sports. But they were better than I was in other subjects or sports. 

During my sophomore year, I doubled up taking geometry and algebra 2 so I could take calculus my senior year. There were 12 of us in the class (another kid in our graduating class was so smart he’d taken calculus his junior year so he was taking his math class at Rutgers, located a couple miles across the Raritan River). At that time many colleges were requiring single subject SATs as well as the regular morning tests everyone took to gain college admission. Naturally, the kids in our calculus class (and the brainiac at Rutgers) took the single subject Level 1 math test.

When the scores came in, I got a 756 (out of 800). The only people I knew who’d taken that test were the 13 of us. When I got to class and everybody reported their scores, I found out that mine – outstanding by anyone else’s measurement (but which I had no idea) – was the 11th highest, meaning it was the next to the lowest in the entire group. Eight of the others got perfect 800s. Two of them received a perfect 800 on the Level 2 test. That test was on material we hadn’t even covered in class!

There are other stories which contributed to my inferiority complex in areas academic, athletic and social so I was always looking for ways to improve. So it wasn’t at all strange that when I returned to my alma mater, Highland Park (NJ) HS, as a math teacher, football and basketball coach (after I graduated from college in 1970) that I read one of the most influential books of my life, Psychocybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. It wasn’t until I read Dr. Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that a book had as much influence over me as that one I read in 1970.

For a guy who didn’t particularly enjoy reading in high school and college, once I graduated, I began to read quite a bit (probably because it wasn’t required). When I went to Washington State in 1973 and began working for George Raveling (one of the most voracious readers of all time), I was positively influenced to become a lifelong learner. George would always be giving me books – print and audio. In addition, I’d always enjoyed simply studying people. All of those traits have broadened my life.

Quick story (for real). Once, when I was Director of Basketball Operations at Fresno State, we were returning to the mainland on a red-eye after our conference game with the University of Hawaii. I happened to be sitting near the front of the plane. At that time, i.e. prior to the pain pump that’s now implanted in my abdomen, I just couldn’t sleep (sitting up) on planes. So I would read. Around 4:00 am one of our players came up and tapped me on my shoulder. When I looked up, he said, “Jack, turn around.” When I did, I saw that the only light in the entire plane that was on the one above my seat. I knew I was a good deal smarter when I got off that plane than I was prior to boarding it.

Since I was in a role of teaching young guys how to play and, I can’t stress this enough, also how to succeed in life, dispensing knowledge became an obsession. Those who know me well will tell people I’ve never had an aversion to speaking. One person, two people, 1500 people at the Fresno Convention Center (although I got paid for that one) – doesn’t matter. If you’re around me, you’re going to hear something that will make you think or smile. I can’t help it. I enjoy sharing information, stories and powerful quotes.

People I’ve taught, coached, mentored and assisted in one way or another have asked me why it is I seem so comfortable sharing my philosophies, a few of which seem a little off the wall. Believe me, I’m in no way so presumptuous to think I have all the answers. One day, however, I found the answer. It was on a card I saw at a local Hallmark store. It said:

“Just because I give you advice doesn’t mean I know more than you. It just means I’ve done more stupid shit.”

A Classic Example of a “Hog that Got Slaughtered”

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

The following is a blog from May of 2008. After reading it (re-reading for the most loyal of readers), you might just be able to see why coaches weren’t so enthused with their governing organization. The fact the NCAA would lose so much of its clout is something that, 40 years ago, would have been deemed unfathomable. Those of us in the business always thought college athletics (especially football and men’s basketball) were extremely popular but I can’t think of anyone who predicted how much money would be generated. The NCAA must not have believed the old adage: “Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered.” 

The National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) is an absolute necessity. There must be a governing body for intercollegiate athletics. That being said, it can be viewed, not as a necessary evil, but as necessary and evil. My interaction with this colossal organization dates back to 1972 when I took the job of graduate assistant basketball coach at the University of Vermont. Back then, many folks closely associated with the NCAA saw it as pure evil.

There are so many personal stories, even for someone so far on the outside, that my comments will probably be spread over at least a couple blogs. “Back in the day,” as the current terminology goes, the NCAA was, if not the most arrogant organization in the country, certainly one that was annually in the finals for the award. They’d win every case against them (caused by many of their unfair and archaic rules) with the same absurd logic, “The NCAA is a voluntary organization. You choose to become a member and may leave it at any time,” as if there was a major university in the country that was about to hold a press conference and say, “We have an announcement to make; as of today, our institution is applying for membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).”

It was a monopoly in the truest of sense of the word. Through the years, and with a change in leadership, i.e. when “The Great and Powerful” Walter Byers finally retired, it became, if not “a kinder and gentler NCAA” that some people (mainly those at the NCAA) would like the giant to be thought of, but as a group that makes rules and rulings with more compassion and, in some cases, on an individual basis.

However, the worst idea (aka public relations gimmick) someone thought up is that of “graduation rates and APR” (Academic Progress Rate). This is intended to come off as, “Although we have bright, caring and talented student-athletes in nearly all our sports, certain sports, (namely, those that produce all of our revenue), have not emphasized the ’student’ half of the term we use for their participants. This is very disturbing to us (although not nearly as disturbing as if CBS had not signed off on the $6 billion – with a ‘b‘ – contract for the rights to men’s basketball) and we plan to take immediate steps to … get our fans to think we really care that such a small percentage of the individuals representing these sports actually leave school with a degree (which everyone would like to think is the reason these young, unbelievably gifted, physical specimens enroll in college for in the first place).”

The major problem is the paradigm itself. Certainly, a college degree is the ultimate goal of a college student (unless another opportunity to improve the student’s station in life becomes a possibility, e.g. leaving school early (maybe even after only one year) because he can earns millions doing what he always dreamed of doing or someone like Bill Gates who dropped out of college but still managed to carve out a good living for himself and his loved ones – even if his loved ones number in the billions – with a “b”). The cross-section of colleges throughout the nation have very different, and sometimes diametrically opposed missions. A one-size-fits-all policy is simply unjust.

Examples are Stanford, Duke and the Ivies whose mission is to educate the “classes,” as opposed to, among others, state universities whose mission is to educate the “masses.” The former do their weeding out process on the front end whereas a school like one of my former coaching stops, the University of Toledo, has the admirable policy (or did when I was there from 1987-91) of admitting any child, as long as that student had graduated from an accredited high school in the state of Ohio. There is a need and a place for both types of institutions of higher learning, as well as all those in between. To say their APR’s should be calculated the same way is to say wrestling shouldn’t have different weight divisions for its competitors. Too bad if you weigh 106, your next opponent weighs 350, and if you lose, you’re out (probably cold).

Many people feel athletes should graduate at a higher rate. After all, they contend, they’re on scholarship (the ones mainly being discussed in this blog anyway) and have no monetary problems. Plus, they get all that academic assistance, including the advantage of preferential registration, individual and group tutors, access to computer labs, etc. while the “average” students may have to work part-time jobs to make ends meet and eat and study when they can squeeze it in. This is all true, but consider that the athlete is also “working” for that scholarship and the amount and intensity of the time and work they exert in most cases far exceeds any part-time job in the community. Then, there’s additional pressure (which, granted, the athletes can turn in their favor) that student-athletes are forced to handle, such as being placed in gut-wrenching situations, dealing with the media and having to adjust to inconvenient travel schedules.

Title IX is based on the female population at the school. It would be absurd, for example, to require West Point to spend equal amounts of dollars on its male and female athletes. Instead, the law states the number of scholarship athletes has to be within five percent of the student body (it may have changed to three percent, I’ve admittedly been away from the college scene for several years). So, if a school has a student-body enrollment of 55% women, it has to have a minimum of fifty percent of its athletes be female.

That is how graduation rates should be calculated for all universities. The particular sport should be within (use an arbitrary number, say) five percent of the graduation rate of that university. To reward Stanford for graduating 85% of its athletes in a sport when the overall graduation rate on the Farm might be 95% (numbers are arbitrary and not based on research, just used to make a point) is simply, if not morally, wrong – just as its wrong to penalize a school that graduates 67% of its athletes when the school’s overall graduation rates for its student body is 55%. In a fair and just society, the rewards and penalties would be reversed.

But do you really think that, with the presidents who make up the NCAA’s governing board, that something as reasonable as that will ever happen?

The biggest problem with the NCAA was arrogance, mainly derived from power. As Lord Acton said:


“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Young Basketball Players Have Even More People Corrupting Their Thoughts

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Apologize for forgetting to alert readers this blog was shut down between Saturday-Monday as I was watching in our younger son’s games. This will continue to be the case throughout the season, although I will attempt to remind readers before each Friday’s blog.

In today’s world of college basketball, too many kids are disillusioned about what the future will bring, i.e. the NBA life, complete with its wealth – and all that can go with wealth, entirely too much of it unsavory. These youngsters believe (too) much of what they hear. Make no mistake about it, there’s always been a nasty side to college hoops, be it recruiting, point shaving or, as is the topic of this blog, early entry into the NBA draft.

Initially, the NBA established a rule that “a player could not make himself available” for the draft until four years after his high school graduation. Spencer Haywood, who had been out of high school but three years, challenged that rule in 1971, sued the NBA – and won. Subsequently, Moses Malone (1974) and Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby (both in 1975) left high school to go directly into the NBA. No one else attempted that until Kevin Garnett (1995). While many other great players followed suit (Garnett’s kind, not Haywood’s), the NBA had justifiably grave concerns regarding this action as far too many young players were failing not only to make an impact in the league, but merely a roster spot.

The current eligibility rules that started in the 2006 draft are (granted, an oversimplification) that a player must play a year of college ball before being eligible to enter the draft. Now, however, in addition to all the absurd talk kids hear from people in their corner (or so they think), there’s become more and more of a problem with what they can read. And the concern is not just with just anybody’s opinions on the Internet.

In the 1/13/14 issue of Sports Illustrated, writer Chris Mannix has a story on the NBA prospects of UCLA freshman Zach LaVine. He doesn’t mention what a great NBA player he could be after he finishes four years at UCLA – like Lew Alcindor (shortly thereafter Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) or Bill Walton. Mannix is more current, understanding that LaVine won’t be in Westwood beyond this season. His commentary is how young Zach is a “freakishly athletic two guard who could play his way into the lottery next June.” The fact that LaVine is currently the Bruins’ sixth man doesn’t escape Mannix. He parenthetically writes that he’s averaging 12.2 ppg off the bench. A little much, no?

This post isn’t meant to excoriate Chris Mannix, at least not Mannix alone. An NBA scout (possibly two) and a general manager are also quoted (naturally, anonymously, because of NBA rules – or because they don’t want their employees’ ignorance to be known to all). Mannix includes the following line: “Most NBA executives agree: If LaVine declares for the draft, he will be a first round pick.” Most? Either Mannix is playing it a little fast and loose with his adjectives (which I can’t believe his editor would allow) or we’ve finally uncovered the up-to-now hidden reason so many of the NBA players are waaaaaaay overpaid. I know many (not most) NBA scouts – past an present – and the overwhelming majority would never make such comments as are in the story (pages 30-31) – unless they were trying to play a mind game with a rival. A guy who doesn’t even start for his team - and not a top 20 club but one that’s not even projected to finish first or second in its own conference – is a lottery pick?

Are you serious? What, exactly, do you think one Mr. Zach LaVine is thinking after reading that review – that he better hit the books because he wants to make sure he’ll be eligible next year?

Ask any NBA coach, head or assistant, how many one-and-doners know how to play (although the anonymous scout quoted in the article makes mention that LaVine “needs to learn how to play.” This caveat was not made until he’d mentioned the kid’s superlatives and claimed that he’d be picked between 15-20). Nowhere in the article was there a mention by anyone of what a grind an NBA season is or the physical and mental toughness it takes to play in the league. Forget all that. Just ask NBA coaches the basic question of how many of those young guys have any understanding of how to guard on an NBA level. I guarantee you I can tell you that exact number.

It’s zero! Yet writers, scouts, GMs and execs are saying an NCAA team’s sixth man will to be picked somewhere in the draft’s first 14 selections. No wonder coaches get fired. UCLA’s coach Steve Alford must have cringed when he read that – or was told about it because, for that exact reason, many head coaches actually don’t read such stories. This is UCLA. Their influential people ran out Ben Howland (whose record was pretty darn good – except when compared to you-know-who). They’ll read that article and, with the Bruins having suffered altogether too many losses already (that being anything but none), there will be a cry for Alford to be fired. “How can that idiot not be smart enough to start a lottery pick?” will be the exclamation.

Basketball historians, superfans or old coaches like many of us can remember UCLA losing in the semifinals in 1975 to NC State but coming back the following year – John Wooden’s last – to win it all. On that occasion, one Bruin fan approached the legendary coach and said:

“Great win, Coach, this makes up for letting us down last year.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Only now “most” people feel that way.

The “Book” on Coaching Decisions Might Need a Rewrite

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

With 3:28 to go in last night’s Chargers-Colts game, Indianapolis was backed up on their own 18 yard line, 4th and 2, down 16-9.  Jon Gruden, as good as he is at analyzing a game, was silent when the Colts decided to punt.  The kick was a poor one, only 34 yards to the Chargers 48 but even if it was 64 yards, i.e. to their 18, would it really have mattered?

Both play-by-play man Mike Tirico and partner Gruden had shared with the viewing audience that the Colts’ defense was decimated with injuries (some that occurred that evening) with the latter pointing out the mistakes made by the guys from Indy who were forced into action.  Why did the Colts’ coaching staff feel, even with three times out and the 2:00 minute warning left, that their banged up defense could stop San Diego when it mattered?  Was it a macho thing – or one “by-the-book?”

Sure enough, the Chargers got a first down, ran more clock, got into field goal range and shunned Gruden’s worries about having the kick blocked or missing the 51-yarder and giving Andrew Luck such good field position (at his own 34).  The made FG gave San Diego an insurmountable 19-9 lead with a little over a minute to go.

One thing that bothers me greatly – and I have mentioned it time and time again – is second guessing coaches and yet here I am doing it.  Actually, I felt this way while I was watching and have a couple of witnesses in case someone challenges my veracity.  What this blog is about is the way so many coaches – even at the professional level – seem to think during crucial situations.  Last night’s Colts-Chargers game was a classic example of how coaches make decisions based on an archaic strategical book that, often, fails to take into account reality.

Example 1: It was 4th and 2 with 3:28 to go and, while the Colts’ defense had only given up one touchdown and three field goals up to that point, they had to have more confidence in Andrew Luck converting two yards, and continuing their drive, than hoping a tired defense would force a three-and-out.  Even it if was from their own 18.  OK, if they don’t make a first down, it’s a loss but, . . . Andrew Luck, the face of your organization, the man you felt comfortable enough to take over re-signing Peyton Manning (knowing you’d have to let him go if you did), with the game on the line, needing two yards, c’mon man, you’ve got to play to your strength.

Example 2: With 4th and a foot and the running game moving “downhill” most of the night, why take a chance on a field goal – and the bad things Gruden pointed out: a block or a miss, giving good field position to Andrew Luck?  If your “O” line has dominated the game, isn’t that a slap in their collective faces when they’re told “the book” says not to go for it?

I haven’t coached football in over 40 years, yet I watch games more as a coach than a fan (it’s pretty much how I watch all athletic contests).  The coaching decisions – and how the players play the game – interest me more than anything else.

Maybe football coaches should follow the words of the late Steve Jobs – from his commencement speech to Stanford (Andrew Luck could have told them):

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” 

News of Sandusky Retrial Bring Memories of JoePa

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Since some time has passed since the investigation at Penn State, possibly the feelings of hatred and disgust toward Joe Paterno have somewhat lessened.  Toward Jerry Sandusky, no, but toward JoePa, . . . maybe.

From a personal standpoint, I had never met Joe Paterno.  When I was in high school (Highland Park, NJ), the dream school for most Jersey kids was USC.  I mean, every cereal box had contests with the grand prize a trip to Disneyland, or Universal Studios, or Paramount, wherever.  At long as it was in California.  Having lived the past 19 years in Fresno, a word to the wise back east: not everyplace in Cali is LA.  Or SF.  Or SD.

The more realistic goal, however, for the mecca of football for great NJ footballers was, hands down, Penn State.  During my senior year, the head coach of the Nittany Lions was Rip Engle (yeah, I go back a ways).  But his energetic assistant, Joe Paterno, was to be named the following season (1966) to lead Penn State.  Paterno’s reputation as a football mind and a guy who was going to work his players so each would improve and succeed – if not on the field than off it after graduation (there was never talk of a kid going to Happy Valley and not coming away with at least a degree, and usually a good job).

People (naturally, Italians, of which there were no shortage of great ones) would walk to University Park if offered the opportunity to, not only play at Penn State but, more importantly, for JoePa himself.  His style was a throw back – simple uniforms (blue and white), no names on the back, discipline, etc. and, even more than the prospects, the parents loved and would be honored to have Coach Paterno as their son’s leader for the next four years.

Fast forward 40 or so years, with the discovery of the horrific and immoral acts Sandusky had been committing, and who else goes down with the scandal but Joe Paterno.  And, if his actions, or rather lack of them, as reported, are true, he certainly shared heavily in the blame.  As is the case, though, with a good portion of today’s society, people absolutely reveled in piling on the “Joe Paterno is a terrible person bandwagon.”

My point, now that the smoke has cleared, is that, of course, JoePa should have done more.  However, that lack of action, while reprehensible, should not negate all the good and positive acts of Joe Paterno’s legacy.  From the thousands of lives he touched in a good way to the millions of dollars he raised for the university and all the accomplishments in between, not least of all his (yes, I truly think he was the catalyst) changing the school from an agricultural college into a world class institution.  If your stance on Joe Paterno is that you can’t forgive him for what he failed to do in the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case, I sure hope your legacy is greater than “I never allowed a child to be raped during my entire career.

Acting in such a manner, i.e. disregarding the overwhelming amount of true good he accomplished in comparison to the negligible amount of positive effect you can claim would be sinful and a perfect example of the late Stephen Covey’s famous line:

“We judge others by their actions; ourselves by our intentions.”

Finding Messages While Rummaging Through Old Files

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

As I mentioned in this past Sunday’s post, our house guest, Albert Van Troba (see the blog from 8/15/13 also), helped us clean our garage.  He is a whirlwind and before we knew it, space was created and his easel was up holding his current project – with his tables for brushes and paints, as well as another easel with another partially completed soon-to-be masterpiece, at his ready.  (If you think I’m overstating his talents, click on

One of my boxes that had to be moved was full of interesting articles and quotes that could be used for possible future blogs (you don’t think I knock these out without help and/or research, do you?)  As I went through it, I saw several items had become outdated but that others, even though they were from quite a while ago, were stories whose point is as poignant now as it was then.

One, in particular, was a Sports Illustrated story about former Oakland Raiders running back Napoleon McCallum.  Granted, McCallum’s was a different type story in that he attended the United States Naval Academy.  He was drafted with the 108th pick in the 1986 draft and, incredibly, during his rookie season, he was also serving on a Naval helicopter carrier.  The three years that followed saw the NFL play on without him while he fulfilled his Naval obligations.  To miss three years in the prime of a running back’s career is a difficult pill to swallow for a young guy but McCallum understood his situation and no one ever heard him complain – about serving his country.  He returned the NFL for the 1990 season.

In a 1994 Monday Night Football game, however, his career was cut short by a gruesome injury.  An injury in which he nearly lost his leg.  He said it was at that time that reality set in.  Yet, his attitude made everyone proud.

Wouldn’t it be great if every professional football and basketball player could make the same statement that Napoleon McCallum did when his playing career ended?  Let’s keep in mind they all can:

“Luckily, I had the benefit of an education.”

My Tennis Career and Why I Root for Roger Federer

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

Prior to my first two back surgeries, I played tennis quite often.  Mike DePalmer and I got to the University of Tennessee the same year (1980) and we struck up a friendship that continues to this day.  While neither of us could cover a five foot square area now, back then we had some relatively intense matches.  Neither Mike nor I were particularly skilled on the court but one thing about tennis is that you can always find someone who is near enough your level, thereby producing some close, competitive matches.

Mike is an incredible guy of the highest integrity.  Originally from upstate New York, but transplanted to Florida, his coaching career began in basketball in the junior college ranks where he had a ton of immediate success.  His ties to tennis were stronger and one day, he and a friend decided to start a tennis school for aspiring young players.  There were, I believe, six kids who made up the initial “class” – his son, Mike Jr, Jimmy Arias, Aaron Krickstein, Paul Annacone and a couple others whose names currently escape me.  They all lived in Mike’s house.  While his name isn’t as familiar as his friend’s, Mike DePalmer Sr is, nonetheless, in the National Tennis Hall of Fame.

His friend’s name is Nick Bollettieri.

In 1980, when Mike Jr graduated from high school, he signed to play tennis at the University of Arkansas.  Although the tennis coach of the Razorbacks was a close friend, Mike Sr began to have second thoughts.  He’d coached (groomed) his son (the oldest of his and his wife, Vicky’s four children, a girl and two other boys followed) from two or three until the present.  When the UT job opened (in a strange twist, Mike was offered the Vanderbilt tennis coaching position and turned it down, only to have the Commodores offer the job to the Vols’ coach), he took it.  Mike Jr changed his college destination and the DePalmers became Volunteers – along with Paul Annacone the following year.  Note: If the NCAA knew Paul had stayed at Mike’s house when he was young, . . . never mind, the statute of limitations on that infraction is definitely up by now.

In the meantime, friend Nick went on to “expand” their fledgling “academy” which, a few years ago, was bought by IMG.  No juicy story, however, Mike and Nick still remain close.

As far as why I like Roger Federer, well, I had been a fan anyway when, one day, a mother of one of our son’s (Alex’s) classmates said she thought Alex looked like Federer.  Then another parent and another.  One day, Alex told us a story that a group of kids were standing together when a girl in the group told Alex that she thought he looked exactly like this guy she saw.  “Wait right there,” she said as she ran off.  Minutes later, she returned with a magazine and pointed to a picture in it.  “Him,” she said.  The guy in the mag was, sure enough, RF.

I wrote this for a few reasons: 1) Mike DePalmer told me he’d mention me to his friends back in Knoxville if I’d write something nice about him.  Every word I wrote about him is true.  I can only hope he’s pumping me up a little more, y’know, because I don’t have that HOF thing and didn’t have near the success coaching basketball that he did coaching tennis.  Heck, I didn’t have the success coaching basketball that he did coaching basketball!  

2)  Since my competitive juices are now limited to physical therapy, recumbent cycle and sudokus, I wanted to get the word out that, at one time, I was a decent tennis player.  Wish I could say the same about my brief golfing foray.

3) That I have a son who looks like a guy who was #1 in the world – and a nice guy to boot.

4) How much more can be written about the Spurs-Heat series?

After speaking to the wonderful, bright and hard working people of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District yesterday, I needed a reminder that:

“You would do well to remember that the entire population of the universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.”

Turning Pro? Have These Young Kids Gone Crazy?

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Every day the list of those underclassmen who are making themselves eligible for the NBA draft lengthens.  While nearly every person I’ve talked to, listened to or read has said the national championship game between Michigan and Louisville was terrific, nearly all of them thought this year’s March Madness was one of the poorest in terms of exciting, well-played games.  Emphasis on well-played.  Maybe this year was an aberration in terms of all we’ve come to expect from March Madness or maybe the absurd number of early exits has finally caught up with the college game.  If that actually were the case, the deterioration should have happened well before now but there’s no questioning this year’s NCAA tournament was as poorly played as any in memory.

One reason could be that, usually, experience makes offenses and defenses work better.  Those teams who are composed mainly of seniors, some fifth and sixth year seniors or guys who are as old as 24 or 25, are more mature, understand the intricacies better and have greater chemistry than a group of freshmen who just got thrown together and have played a total of thirty or so games, barring injuries.  How, then, a cynic or a fan might ask, could Kentucky have won the national championship a couple years ago?

Simple.  John Calipari is a master at leading and motivating a young group, getting them all to buy into his philosophy.  However, here is a life lesson that needs to be learned and never forgotten: Above all else, talent wins out.  He recruited them, motivated them and coached them.  Had Nerlens Noel not suffered a seasoning ending injury, we might have seen those results for a second straight season.  Can one man mean that much to a team?  For that answer watch the Lakers from here on out.  Especially if they make the playoffs.  Can anyone even fathom how good Kentucky would have been, forget this year’s incoming class, if the team that won it all – relatively easily – had all returned to UK for another run?  And another?  I started my college coaching career in 1972.  That was what UCLA did.  Beat everybody to death and recruited to fill the spots left by graduation.  Simple formula that worked for quite a while.

Undoubtedly, the early entry rule changed the player’s thought process but what really flipped the college game was the color green.  The talk of giving a college kid a stipend is nice – for the good players who are planning on going to school for four years anyway.  Does anybody really think a stipend is going to change a kid’s mind when he’s looking at the possibility of a six or seven figure contract?  If he can’t make the right decision there, maybe he’s not smart enough to be in college.

Louisville’s Russ Smith has declared for the draft even though most who make up mock drafts have him going mid- to late-second round, meaning no guaranteed money.  You think he’d change his mind if the NCAA passed a $300/month stipend?  $400?  $500?  Maybe, as the old joke goes, “he loves college but hates class.”  What compounds the problem is the timing of when to leave.  OK, most guys are going to go as soon as they can.  There are others, though, who realize they need some more seasoning and another year (or more) under their current “professor” would make them a much better and more ready prospect.  And that’s where the timing dilemma comes in.

Take, for example, this year.  I don’t pretend to know even one foreign prospect.  I leave that up to my man Franny Frascilla who can tell you all of them.  As far as the college players who comprise this year’s crop, there’s not one who doesn’t have “holes” in his game?  The consensus number one pick is Nerlens Noel who’s intercollegiate career was limited to 24 games.  Even if a team is comfortable with the brief showing of his considerable skills, there has to be a concern regarding the injury.  One, did it heal properly and two, is he injury-prone, e.g. Grant Hill, Darko Milicic or the two guys no one can ever forget – Greg Oden and Sam Bowie?

The rest?  In no particular order (since different mock drafts have them in different order), the guys who are consensus top picks are: Ben McLemore, Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Anthony Bennett, Trey Burke, Shabazz Muhammed, Cody Zeller, Alex Len.  Let’s not forget Isaiah Austin.  He hits home because he played with my younger son, Alex, back in the 5th grade AAU days.  What makes it particularly difficult when I evaluate him is that he looks exactly the same as he did when he was ten!  From the long, lanky arms and legs to the same goggles, it’s like watching him through a magnifying glass.  There is little doubt he’s going to be a great one just as there’s little doubt he’s not NBA-ready.  Ready to start banging his slender body with the 25-30 year old men who’ve been in the league for several years, taking advantage of all the professional strength trainers and facilities.  I’m sure Baylor’s facilities are first-class, but if they were placed side by side, I’m certain the state-of-the-art NBA equipment is far superior.  Plus, the NBA isn’t limited as to how much time – or when – coaches can work with players, as do NCAA-affiliated institutions.

Having watched each of the above guys, some on multiple occasions, my belief is none of these guys are NBA-ready.  Yet they’re going to get picked high.  Why?  Because, if they all stayed in college and worked on their skills, strength and stamina . . . here is what the draft would look like: Mason Plumlee, CJ McCollum, Mike Muscala, Jeff Withey, Erick Green, Nate Wolters, Jackie Carmichael, Solomon Hill, Michael Snaer, Brandon Paul, Eric Murphy, Pierre Jackson, Richard Howell, Isaiah Canaan, Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams and a whole lot of Franny’s guys from overseas.  And unless Fran has uncovered some real gems, many of those names listed would be lottery picks.  Each of those players are good prospects, but if the thought of your favorite team using a lottery pick on any of them gives you a warm a feeling, check your pants leg because you might have just . . .

There is another reason guys leave school early and this one you won’t find anywhere but right here.  My firm belief is that the real reason people go to college is not to get an education.  The real reason is:

“These kids go to college to improve their station in life, and with what the NBA is paying – even if their careers are short-lived – it is a considerable improvement of their station in life.”

Sometimes a Dad Just Has to Brag

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Unless you’re a person like George Washington, Thomas Edison, Ludwig van Beethoven or someone else who’s given something to the world that will never be forgotten, your legacy is your kids.  Chances are you did your own thing for a while (longer for some of us than others) and then decided to settle down and do what your parents had been bugging you about.  Which included having kids.

I fit into that category, but was one of those who started settling down late.  I waited to get married until I was almost 39.  My wife, Jane, and I had two boys.  We never really thought about what we’d do when they grew up because we got so used to having them around.  Andy was the first to leave, attending UC-Irvine and graduating with a BA in four years.  As if that wasn’t amazing enough, he immediately found employment, albeit as a salesman whose job description contained a good deal of cold calling.  This meant walking past “No Soliciting” signs on many occasions and getting cursed out often by owners (once, in front of the guy’s five-year-old son).

The greatest aspect of that gig, though, turned out to be its training – which helped Andy with his current job as Sales Executive at a company named Booker which sells software, mainly to spas, health clubs, etc.  Keep in mind, what I know about technology can be put on the head of a pin – with a little room left over.  But the fact that I have a 24-year-old who’s living on his own (in Orange County), has a good paying job (with benefits and commissions), is debt-free (we followed wise advice and started early but he’s been smart too) absolutely thrills me no end.  He’s active in his fraternity (SAE), loves golf (which I wish I’d taken up earlier) and is living the dream.

Alex came along five years later and early on, it was evident that he had exceptional hand/eye coordination.  My last coaching job was at the high school level so understand I’m aware that parents think highly of their kids’ athletic prowess.  Alex, however, does have the numbers – and the awards – to back up my beliefs.  He finished his high school career as the all-time leading scorer in the history of, not only his high school (Buchanan) but the entire Clovis Unified School District.  For that matter, he scored more than anybody who ever played in the Fresno Unified School District.  He finished as the sixth leading scorer in the history of the San Joaquin Valley.

Many thought he’d wind up at a Division I institution – including several scouts and professional coaches – but, while he had some D-I interest, at none of those schools did he feel comfortable.  He played very well during an April evaluation period and was contacted immediately by Cal State Monterey Bay.  An official visit followed that next weekend and he found a match.  His play this year was good enough (he averaged 13.4 ppg) for him to be named Freshman of the Year in the conference (he finished 6th in the league in total points scored) and, just yesterday, received notification that he was named to the Division II Bulletin All-Freshman team, the only player from the West region to be so named. He is the first Monterey Bay player to receive that distinction.

I know all of this sounds like I might throw out my shoulder patting myself on the back so hard, but as Satchel Paige once said:

“It ain’t braggin’ if you kin do it.”