Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

Is Nothing Sacred?

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Is it me or do more athletes than ever before seem to be blessed? Following so many athletics contests, the winner, when interviewed, injects into the conversation that he is “blessed.” It’s the same with athletes who are on talk shows. Maybe it’s because only the successful ones are asked to be on the air. I mean, when was the last time you heard the question, “Well, the last time you won, Tim Tebow was still playing football. Do you think you’ll win again before he returns to the gridiron?”

The reason I bring this topic up is because a few of my friends and I were discussing today’s athlete and one of the other guys in our group brought up exactly what I’d been thinking. I knew I wasn’t the only person who had this feeling. This began a lively discussion.

Someday, after a buzzer-beating upset loss that knocks his team out of a tournament and ends his career, we all agreed we were waiting for an emotionally distraught player to look into the camera and say, “I don’t know why we got beat tonight. We worked so hard. We were the better team. Now, my college career is over because of some lucky half-court shot. Maybe I’m just cursed!”

As we laughed about it, a story came to mind (yes, that happens to be in my book, Life’s A Joke). During the 2001 National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Convention (held in conjunction with the Final Four), I heard, firsthand, of something that occurred one evening that, if it wasn’t so pitiful, might actually be funny.

In addition to the booths advertising sporting goods, the clinics and the meetings, there are other groups that get together. One of those is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), an organization that has been affiliated with the NABC for longer than I can remember. I believe it was on Sunday night, between the semi-finals and final game that the FCA held their season-ending dinner. A close friend of mine attended the event with his wife. I saw him shortly after it ended. He was incensed.

Following the social part of the evening, the participants were requested to take their seats at their respective tables. As the invocation was about to be given, whoever was at the head table said, “Let us pray,” at which time everyone closed their eyes and bowed their heads in prayer. When the prayer concluded, my buddy’s wife turned to him and said:

“My purse was just stolen!”

There’s Nothing Like a Great College Basketball Game

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

Last night basketball fans were treated to a couple of thrilling comeback victories – at Georgia (by Kentucky) and at Kansas (vs West Virginia). If you had a bad month at work, after witnessing these games, all would have made your world right (unless you happen to be a UGa or WVU fan).

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has to be just sick over his club losing this one (although they stole one from the Jayhawks, 62-61, in Morgantown last month) because his guys were playing great, in total control in the first half, despite playing without starter Juwan Staten (knee). Then, although no one wishes an injury on a youngster, it certainly didn’t lessen the Mountaineers’ chances of winning when KU’s Perry Ellis went down – not to return – after banging his knee with a teammate’s.

While I coached for 30 years at nine Division I universities, I’ve never seen, nor even been to, Phog Allen Fieldhouse. However, when the cameras pan the gym, and a viewer sees each seat empty – because every Jayhawk fan is standing, clapping, cheering, imploring their team on to victory (which is usually the outcome) – I get the feeling that actually being there much be quite the unique experience. Call it Phog magic or whatever you want but, somehow, some way, Kansas came out on top last night.

Meanwhile, over in Athens, the Georgia Bulldogs were playing a near perfect game, attempting to do what no other Kentucky opponent has been able to do this season – knock the Wildcats from the ranks of the unbeaten. Tied at halftime, the Bulldogs opened up a nine-point lead with nine minutes to go and were still up six with five-and-a-half minutes to go.

Right about that time, the biggest “up-and-down” possession(s) of the game occurred (the first one by Georgia, which was either a shot that was blocked or a turnover – it was tough to tell which, both at the time it happened and after seeing the replay). The Wildcats, with just two quick passes and a dribble, had Aaron Harrison on the free throw line, attempting to complete an “and-1.” He missed but Willie Cauley-Stein looped around from his side, his “defender” getting screened by the two players on the other side of the lane, rebounded the missed FT and dunked, cutting the lead to two. Afterward, it was apparent UK was going to be 30-0 (even though Georgia still had the lead).

Unlike Allen Fieldhouse, I have been to Georgia’s hoops facility, many times, although it wasn’t called Stegeman Coliseum back then (during the 1980s when I was an assistant at Tennessee). The crowd was absolutely raucous (but not 100% because Bill Belichick was in attendance) but still no match for the crowd at “The Phog” – mainly due to lack of practice. The crowds I recall at Georgia were seldom, if ever, at full capacity – and that was during the Dominque Wilkins era. I imagine the reverse is true for Kansas and Georgia when the subject is football.

To understand exactly what the ‘Cats are up against, please allow me to share a story. Some time back in the ’80s, I remember running into UK’s then-assistant, Leonard Hamilton (now the head coach at Florida State) at a summer recruiting event. We started talking about the toughest arenas to try to get a win. When Leonard said he felt Stokely Athletics Center (UT’s home court, since demolished) was the toughest place to play in the nation, I was stunned. With more and more games being televised, they had played everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, we sold out (12,700 fans) every game, but there was nothing for our fans that was even close to a game against the Wildcats (including in-state rival Vanderbilt). For the record, I was at UT for seven years. In those seven seasons, Kentucky beat us every time we played at Rupp Arena, including one year when we were up 10 with just a little over a minute to go. On the flip side, though, we beat them six out of seven, their only win coming when they were up one, with about 15 seconds to go, our ball. We came out of the huddle, following our time out, only to see the Wildcats in a 2-3 zone. We hadn’t prepared our guys for zone and one of our guards lost his composure and turned it over.

Poor coaching? Poor scouting? Before you come down too hard on our staff, take this fact into consideration. It was the only possession of zone that UK coach Eddie Sutton – as staunch a Hank Iba (“Thou shalt not play any defense but man-to-man”) disciple as there ever was – played the entire season (I never checked but it might have been the first time Eddie had ever played zone in his coaching career). In the post game press conference, Eddie actually apologized to “Mr. Iba.”

One year UK beat us by over 20 at Rupp (our largest margin of defeat all season), while later that season, we beat them by 17 (their biggest loss). After thinking for a moment, I realized why Leonard made his claim and I told him why he felt the way he did about Stokely:

“Leonard, the only time you see it is for the Kentucky game.”

Marshawn Lynch Is an Easy Target

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

All kinds of people are having the times of their lives with the press conference – in Turkey – in which Marshawn Lynch was asked about that fateful play (if you don’t know which play, log on to another site because nothing that follows will be of interest to you). Sportswriters, sportscasters, talking heads, callers to talk shows, schmucks like me with a blog (and how many zillions of those are there) – everybody is taking turns at who can be the wittiest (if that’s their schtick) or cruel (if that floats their boat). My take is somewhat different.

Lynch was in Turkey with fellow NFL pros DeAngelo Hall and Gary Barnidge promoting an international camp called American Football Without Barriers — a non-profit organization that supports the growth of American football in countries such as China, Brazil and Turkey. Once the dialogue about the AFWB concluded, naturally, the questioner asked Lynch what everyone has wanted to hear, i.e. what were his thoughts about “the play?” To say Lynch rambled would be akin to saying he is a pretty good running back.

When I began thinking about his roller coaster answer, something occurred to me. What was he supposed to say? Let’s try one of those role playing scenarios. You, the reader, be Marshawn Lynch. Not Marshawn Lynch, the guy answering the question (that’s too easy), but the real Marshawn Lynch – the one who has to return to the United States and answer continual questions from the media here. The guy who has to report to Seahawks training camp (or elsewhere – or nowhere if he so chooses) and continue getting on with his life.

First, let’s take a trip back in time – right after you, Marshawn, had just run the ball inside the one-yard line. How much of a lock did it look like the Seahawks were to score once they had second-and- goal from that close? Honestly, I mean honestly, how many people felt the Seahawks weren’t going to be (back-to-back) Super Bowl champions? I’m sure there were a number of people who actually thought the Patriots would win the game at that point and I’m also sure that number was, or hovering around, zero!

Then, Russell Wilson did not hand the ball to you but rather, threw a pass – which, we all know now – didn’t work out so well for Seattle. OK, given that moment in time – and all that has happened since – how would you answer the question, Marshawn? Would you say, as many have, that it was the single worst call in the history of football (if not all of team sports)? Remember, you still have the rest of your life to live. That certainly wouldn’t be a prudent answer if you plan to return to the Hawks, or even if you decide to play elsewhere (assuming elsewhere is on this planet). Even if your immediate future is outside of the sport, what benefit – other than satisfying your own ego (if, in fact, you do genuinely feel that way) – does that response have? Does it change anything, such as the game’s outcome?

And, to think, that is the easiest of queries. Have you considered your reply to the rumor that the Seahawks really wanted Wilson to be MVP? Can’t just lower your shoulder and bulldoze that one, can you? OK, our little game of role playing is over. Mainly, it was just to prove a point – that it ain’t so easy being Beast Mode, no matter what your opinion of him. Considering that Marshwan Lynch doesn’t have a reputation for kickin’ it with the fourth estate, I’d offer up that he handled himself about as well as anyone could have.

Circumstances being what they were – and still are, albeit now not nearly the emotional time it was directly after the game – Lynch, for all intents and purposes, handled the situation, if not in a sophisticated manner, certainly in a unique way. With all the possible comebacks he could have employed, an argument could be made that his rambling (paraphrased) response of – yeah, I was expecting the ball, but that’s life, and it’s a team game, so I had no problem with the play calling, but I would have been the MVP, so what went into that call I don’t know, maybe it was good because even though it cost us the Super Bowl, I have full confidence in my teammates, yet would I love to have the ball? Yes, I would have.

For a guy who could (probably should) have gone apoplectic after his team blew the freakin’ Super Bowl, I say kudos to him for not blasting everyone and everything in sight. After all, how many chances does a player get to win a Super Bowl – and in their case – win back-to-back Super Bowls? For a guy whose character has been questioned, I say he’s conducted himself as what can only be termed the truest definition of a team player.

Plus, there couldn’t have been a better closing line than the one he gave:

“But the game is over, and I am in Turkey.”

 

The Benefits of Yoga Are Unsurpassed

Friday, February 27th, 2015

Final basketball weekend for the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters. This blog will return on Tuesday, March 3.

When I was growing up, there were only three sports a true athlete played: football, basketball and baseball. If you were extremely talented in an event or two – and dominated it/them – track & field was an acceptable alternative. As long as you played at least one of the Big Three.

My, how times have changed. When the topic of raising kids comes up, nearly every father I know – who was even just an adequate high school athlete – makes the same statement. “The way to go is tennis and golf. You can play those the rest of your life.” And, now, we can add another – if not “sport” than “athletic activity” – that is not only for kids, but for people of all ages.

Although yoga has been around for thousands of years (evidence of yoga postures were found on artifacts that date back to 3000 B.C.), it has been continually increasing in popularity in the United States for the past 20 or so years (I imagine I’ll be hearing from serious yoga students who will claim it’s closer to 40 years – if not longer). One reason for “yoga-mania” is, while golf and tennis are often referred to as “lifetime” sports, yoga is an activity that is prescribed by doctors to actually increase quality of life.

As loyal readers will already know, since 1987 I’ve suffered through nine back surgeries (including four laminectomies – in order: C5-6, L4-5, C4-5, T10-11). I’ve had other surgeries as well but won’t bore you with those (as if, right)? Since 2005 I’ve been making several trips each year to the Stanford Pain Management Clinic. At the outset, all I wanted to know was, “OK, what do I have to do to relieve the horrible pain I’m in?” I didn’t care if I had to get in the gym for six hours a day and go through grueling exercises with physical therapists, I’d do it because I promised myself one thing – I refused to learn to live with pain.

It was during one of these visits, I had an epiphany. Not all promises can be kept. The name of the place I was in was the Stanford Pain Management Clinic, not the Stanford Pain Relief Clinic. The reason for the drugs and implants was to make the pain tolerable, not to make it disappear. When that reality sunk in, it was time for Plan B.

One of the doctors at Stanford told me I should take up yoga. She cautioned me that I didn’t want to wind up like the elderly folks we see who are hunched over, either from their shoulders or their backs. Believe it or not, I told her, I already had been going to yoga classes. She told me under no uncertain terms was I ever to stop.

Actually, I had started to go to a yoga studio a friend had recommended because my body was so inflexible. I was struggling through yoga classes when I was working on the basketball staff at Fresno State (around 2000). Then the T10-11 surgery happened (2002). It was by far the worst and most dangerous I’d had (my doctor told me the surgery kept me from being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life). However, nearly every muscle and joint from my mid-back down to my feet experienced excruciating pain. A regimen of pills were prescribed but the side effects were as frightening as the pain was severe.

Naturally, my yoga practice was put on hold. After a few weeks of physical therapy, I returned to the studio. My yoga instructor (the wonderful Katie Flinn, owner of COIL Yoga in downtown Fresno – OK, a shameless plug, yet one she doesn’t know I’m including, nor does her studio need,) looked at me with her sympathetic eyes and asked where I’d been, fairly certain of the answer (she had known of my previous back history). When I told her the gruesome details, she discussed the benefits of one-on-one sessions and I’ve been doing them ever since (with pre-tax dollars – and a prescription from the Stanford doc for therapeutic yoga – I was able to write off many of the sessions). That worked until I retired, but by then, there was no way I was giving up my yoga practice.

Initially, I saw Katie once a week and could only do stretches and restorative yoga. With the pain I was in, I, basically, had to start over, re-learning how to breathe properly – the essence of yoga. I’m still once a week with her individually but now I’ve graduated to “flow” sequences that she gives me – and try to do them at least five days a week at home or on the road. There are certain misrepresentations beginning yoga students need to overcome, especially if you’ve been an athlete.

One is there’s no competition in yoga. Put an athlete in a yoga class and he’s (I can only speak from a male point of view) looking around to see if he’s performing any better than the others. Is anyone looking at him? Forget it. Your yoga is about you, your breath and your body. An area in which yoga is similar to weight training is that you can see actual results. My hamstrings were so tight, I could barely get halfway down my shins when I’d try to touch my toes. I’m delighted to say that gap is no longer. That, alone, is an illustration that, as we say in New Jersey, “dis stuff woiks.”

Eddie George was the first athlete to extol the benefits of yoga (at least the first one to pose on the cover of a book). Today, there isn’t a strength coach in high school, college or on the professional level that doesn’t include yoga in the workout regimen. In the recent copy of Extraordinary Health magazine there is a story – with pictures – of 6’5″, 310 pound tackle, Branden Albert of the Miami Dolphins performing his yoga practice and in this week’s issue of SI, mention is made of how yoga, among other exercises, has made Gonzaga baller supreme, Kyle Wiltjer, into a first round pick.

For once, there is something that we all can agree on (and when was the last time that ever happened)?

“Yoga is for everyone.”

 

Stupid Remarks for Your Reading Pleasure

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

No doubt everyone, at some time, has heard people say flat out, dumb remarks (probably uttered a few, too). Over the past few weeks, I was either directly involved with, or was privy to, via telecasts, a few pretty foolish responses – so I began writing them down. Here they are, as well as some I recall from the past.

Exhibit A: Play-by-play man: “UW went 14:23 without a basket, yet at the half, the score is tied.”

Color commentator: “Usually when that happens, you’re down by double digits. Or worse.”

Really? What’s worse than double digits? Triple digits? Can you imagine that coach’s halftime speech? “OK, guys, I realize we’re behind by 103 – but let’s not panic. Just get back in the game one basket at a time.” Yeah, and if the game lasts a few days, maybe we can climb right back into this thing.

Exhibit B: Everybody knows how enthusiastic Dick Vitale is when he broadcasts a game. In a recent telecast at the University if Virginia (against another ACC team I don’t recall – I can’t believe I forgot to write down who it was but what Dick said just had me rolling).

After a steal, fast break dunk and subsequent time out by the opponent’s coach, the home crowd was on their feet, going ballistic. As we all are well aware, Dick has a difficult time controlling his comments. “Oh, baby, they love their Virginia Cavaliers here in Charlottesville!” Dickie V was screaming.

Unlike many color commentators who let the crowd noise entertain the viewers, Dick’s passion for the game – and for his own voice – takes over. Spontaneously, he yelled, “They love their Cavs; they love their Hoes.” True fans knew he meant “Hoos” – short for “Wahoos,” another UVA mascot, not “Hoes,” slang for . . . if you don’t know, I’ll let you maintain your innocence.

If you heard the game, Vitale did come back (whether he heard it in his ear from his producer or caught it himself) and said, “They love their Hoos,” but, by that time, the damage had already been done.

Exhibit C: This one was a little more personal. After one of our son Alex’s games, my wife, Jane, and I went to dinner. On game day, we usually have a little something to eat around noon or so and, because we don’t want to be rushed, we wait until the game’s over before having dinner. This can lead to rather late meals (often after 10:00 pm) and, especially if the team’s lost, my patience might be somewhat thinner than following a victory (or if we’d eaten at an hour most Americans eat).

Because I love soup, I order it at nearly every meal (unless the only choices are cream of asparagus, pea or something spicy). As I believe most people do, I like the soup before my main course. On this night the waitress brought out our dinners before the tomato bisque (my favorite).

“Excuse me, but I wanted my soup before the chicken,” I said to the waitress, as she placed the plate of chicken marsala over pasta in front of me.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Let me check,” was her reply and she rushed off. A couple minutes went by before she came back and reassuringly told me, “They’re rushing it out now.” (Oh well, then, I guess that problem has been solved).

Exhibits D&E: These next two seem to be spoken at least once a season.

In that same UW game from above, the color commentator had made a point about something that happened numerous times. When it occurred again, he exclaimed, “Just to reiterate again, . . . ” (and again and again and . . .).

The other was in a UCLA game done by the team of Dave Pasch and Bill Walton. After an exciting move made by the Bruins’ Kevon Looney, Pasch said, “Looney has a tremendous future ahead of him.” (As opposed to a tremendous future behind him?)

Pasch gets a mulligan on this one because you, too, might lose your mind if you were forced to sit next to and listen to the endless psychobabble of Bill Walton for an entire hoops season.

It’s been said:

“The only difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits.”

Should Fans Stop Rushing the Court?

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

After witnessing the irresponsible scene in Manhattan following Kansas State’s upset of intrastate rival Kansas – yet before the wild (but) civil display the Maryland fans exhibited when they knocked off Wisconsin – talk radio was absolutely buzzing on the issue of storming the court. Mark “Chicken Little” Packer led the charge, condemning the actions of the Wildcats’ students (assuming they were students). He claimed rushing the court should be outlawed in arenas and that there is no place for that in college basketball. For the record, surprisingly, his partner, former Vermont coach and, for my money, the best basketball talk show guy there is, Tom Brennen, concurred with him. With all the years in college hoops Tom put in, I can’t believe he’d be anti fans storming the court. All I can say is he was caught up with the picture of K-State fans not allowing KU’s team and coaches off the floor peacefully. Their anger at the situation certainly was justified. The problem was they painted what happened with too broad a brush.

What precipitated the outrage was the fact that several of the Jayhawk players were bumped (intentionally or not) by Wildcat fans as they rushed onto the court. True, there always is that jackass factor, i.e. the loudmouth who’s been razzing an opponent (who may or may not be showboating) and, in the aftermath of the game (in all likelihood due to either the “strength in numbers” or “liquid courage” theories), the fan comes face-to-face-back with the opponent who’s been torching his beloved team, so, hey . . . why not take a (cheap) shot? Things like that (or getting a beer poured on a player’s head as he goes into the locker room) have been known to happen. I’ve witnessed the latter up close.

KU coach Bill Self, who is an expert on court stormings since his teams have always been Top 10 (or better) caliber and, as such, are targets for lesser programs who, on infrequent occasions, manage to beat them. As an aside: I was at one of those when I was on the staff at Fresno State and we beat Bill’s Tulsa team in the finals of the WAC Tournament (which just so happened to be hosted by Fresno that year), giving us the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. At that time, Tulsa had lost four games, three of them to us – the first one by a single point at Tulsa, the next by two on a buzzer-beater in Fresno and the third in the conference tourney final by three (a late three-pointer accounting for the game’s final points). After the last nail-biter (in which their team and staff got off the floor completely unscathed), our coach, Jerry Tarkanian, went into their locker room and told Bill’s team how much he admired them and wished he could get his guys to play as hard as they did. Bill Self has retold that story on several occasions.

As far as the Kansas State game, Self had this to say, “It’s fine if you want to celebrate when you beat us, that’s your business. That’s fine. But at least it shouldn’t put anybody at risk from a safety standpoint. Somebody is going to hit a player, the player is going to retaliate, you’re going to have lawsuits—it’s not right.” Storm the court, he’s saying, just do it responsibly and, for goodness sakes, the school needs to have protective measures in place!

There is little doubt that what happened two nights ago was a complete bungling by the security people at Bramlage Coliseum. It’s not like the game ended on a miracle half court shot, with the home team behind at the time (the final score was 70-63). Why there weren’t more security – and why they weren’t in better position for the possibility of an upset – boggles the mind. K-State is having a less than their typical success from a wins and losses standpoint. Kansas came into Manhattan firmly planted in the Top 10. And it was Kansas vs. Kansas State for cryin’ out loud! How many warning signs did they need? The bottom line is that things got a little too rambunctious at K-State and it never should have escalated to those heights.

K-State AD John Currie, for whom Packer has tremendous respect, having interviewed him “a gazillion times,” apologized to Kansas for what occurred. He covered for his security people but you can rest assured, they got more than an earful from him behind closed doors. By the way, Packer admitted that, as a student at Clemson, he was part of a court storming. He stated when they got out there, it was like “what do we do now?” He referred to him and his friends as idiots and his advice to college kids was not to do as he did. Easy to say now. Packer’s actions at Clemson were what college kids do. His advice now is what adults do. Why don’t kids listen to their elders when they are so much older and wiser? Because they’re kids – and college students do stupid things. Then, we hope, they mature – as we did (at least most of us).

Dan Graca, also of Sirius XM, cleverly played the ESPN card. He blamed them – and every television station that played and re-played the incident, for continually showing such raucous behavior – as if the kids who storm the floor are doing it to get on TV – as opposed to displaying unbridled emotion at their school having done what no one but their own gave they a chance to do. Somehow, if Graca were offered a job doing TV, I imagine he’d be able to justify moving over to the evil side – of more money, visibility and fame.

Look, of course there needs to better security than the travesty that took place at Kansas State. The safety of the visiting players, coaches and traveling party on the floor must be first and foremost in the minds of the security team. It’s not that difficult. First of all, is there a possibility of a court storming? Examples: Is the home team a big underdog or the visiting team a massive favorite? Is the visiting team #1 or (as in the case two nights ago, a big rival)? Is there something special at stake – a milestone victory, a spot in the NCAA Tournament? Finally, and the one that’s the hardest to predict, is there a possibility of a game-winning shot that will evoke that much emotion by the crowd?

To say storming the court should be outlawed is like saying no fan of a visiting team should wear that team’s gear to the game (hasn’t that caused problems in the past – in professional stadiums). But we can’t – and shouldn’t – live our lives in fear. Then, in the words of Mark Packer, “the idiots” win. Implement stronger security measures, install more cameras, but don’t think fans are going to cheer and scream and go crazy – especially when they hear from their head coach (as so, so many of them do after big wins and championships), “Thanks to the greatest fans in the world!” – and then, after a major upset or huge win, expect them to orderly file out of the building.

The people we’re discussing are passionate, emotional kids. A caller to one of the shows made the statement that we never see storming the court at professional games. This is not the pros. The players are their friends, guys they see in class, maybe fellow athletes or fraternity brothers. Possibly, some recent grads are in the stands cheering for their alma mater, hoping to see something they were deprived of during their undergrad years.

It’s simple. As Bear Bryant said:

“Win with dignity; lose with class.”

Sam Hinkie Is Asking the Sixers’ Fans to Be Something They’re Not

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

The Philadelphia 76ers GM and President of Basketball Ops Sam Hinkie is all about potential. His decision to embrace losing in order to build not only a winning team but a contender, is a novel approach but one, given the 76ers recent history, that had merit. Yet, his intense secrecy means everybody has to have blind faith in his plan, something tough to do when he won’t tell anyone what, exactly, that plan is. Especially in Philadelphia. As David Aldridge wrote after Hinkie was hired, “Philly sports fans are knowledgeable and passionate, if occasionally obdurate and often loud.”

Hinkie’s background couldn’t be much more impressive. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Oklahoma and was named one of the top 60 undergraduates in the country by USA Today. He then earned an MBA from Stanford, during which time he worked part-time with the Houston Rockets. With those credentials he’s obviously smart but, when it comes to building a team in the NBA, is he smarter than everybody else? A better question might be, does he think he’s smarter than everybody else? For someone whose hoops career ended after high school, he’s going head-to-head with other executives who have MBAs from the NBA – guys who might not understand advanced basketball analytics but, at season’s end, get sized for rings.

USA Today‘s Jason Wolf wrote, “(Hinkie)’s more concerned with the future than with the present, with what ought to have happened rather than what does, an approach that doesn’t always sit well with the masses.” When the Sixers bought the former Utah Flash NBA D-League franchise and moved it to Delaware, Hinkie was quoted as saying, “You can better manage the development of your own players that you have down there. You can better scout the D-League overall – more coaches, more training staffs, more scouts. And because, honestly, you can experiment down there. You can try things that are good for your coaches, good for your players – (things) you would never do at the Wells Fargo Center, because the stakes are too high.” Aren’t the stakes pretty high with what they’re doing – at the Wells Fargo Center – over a year and a half later?

When Hinkie began his experiment, the NBA’s former deputy commissioner, Russ Granik, testified to The New York Times, “I don’t understand this strategy at all.” Fans, sportswriters, talking heads, even players spoke of tanking. Michael Carter-Williams, Philly’s starting point guard (and soon to become Rookie-of-the-Year, albeit of an extremely weak rookie crop), addressed the question of players tanking. He put the issue to rest – or at least should have – when he sensibly said, “Grown men are going to purposely mail it in for a 1-in-4 shot at drafting somebody who might someday take their job? Nope.

A succinct point of view was pointed out by writer Pablo Torre who stated, “NBA title contention, for all its elusiveness, is depressingly simple. You need stars.” With all the cap space the Sixers will have, chasing that superstar, or superstars, is what this stage of the Sixers rebuild is about. “When we have a set of players that can carry us deep (we will focus on winning), Hinkie exclaimed. “That’s the only way. That’s the only way to get to where we’re going,”

When further asked about that strategy, the GM/Pres said, “I think our fans do the same thing that we do here. They look at our set of players and they think about ‘How good is he? How much better will he get? How about the next guy? How good could he be?’ Then they turn on their television and they look at college basketball and they think about that guy, and how good will he be?”

“I don’t think there’s any other way to look at it other than that,” Hinkie concluded.

For all his bravado regarding analytics, what’s frightening is that Hinkie might not be as confident as he comes off. With the results they’ve thus far posted since he took over, what’s more frightening is that he is.

Neil Armstrong, someone who was wise to avoid overconfidence, said:

“Well, I think we tried very hard not to be overconfident, because when you get overconfident, that’s when something snaps up and bites you.”

NFL Careers Begin – and End – Here

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Hoops in Monterey this weekend. This blog will return on Tuesday, Feb. 24.

It’s that time of the year when college football players head to the “meat market,” aka the NFL Scouting Combine. Most of the players put in work to present themselves in as positive a light as possible. As always, there are a few kids who think shortcuts are the way to go or that their agent will take care of their future. This line of thought usually comes from prior discussions between the athlete and the agent.

The combine consists of a number of drills, performed under the watchful eyes of executives, coaches, scouts and doctors from all 32 NFL teams. The essence of the combine is that it’s basically an intense, four-day job interview in advance of the NFL Draft. The drills used to test the athletes’ skills are the 40 yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, three cone drill and the shuttle run. The most absurd part of the combine is that while nearly everything in football has to do with contact, because of fear of injury (winning large law suits are also a means of setting up someone for life financially), in none of the drills is contact allowed.

Really, how often does a football player run 40 yards, unimpeded? Has there ever been a definitive study done which correlates sack leaders with how many times the player can bench press 225 pounds? I’m so old that I remember teams putting a player with the best vertical underneath the goalpost to attempt to leap and block long field goals but kickers have become so good, seldom does a kick barely make it over the crossbar. Roster spots are too valuable to give out for a guy who can jump 11 1/2 feet to block a 70 yard field goal attempt but can do little else. What the other drills show is often of minor use when it comes to actually being able to play the game effectively.

First and foremost, did someone in the organization see the kid play – live – which, if the right person is at the game, still remains the best way to evaluate a prospect? With all the sophisticated video available – and with future success, not to mention continued employment, on the line – fans can rest assured their favorite club knows about all there is to know about a player when they select him – except for how his skills translate to the professional game. And what kind of heart he has, e.g. how does he react to adversity (and, for that matter, prosperity), can he be counted on in pressure situations, how competitive is he?

Why such scrutiny? From where I sit, i.e. firmly planted in any of my rocking chairs or, better yet, in my glider (my back, and mind, feel much better when I’m moving), the purpose the combine serves is more of a vetting process than it is a means of deciding whom to select. Since teams can’t see their future picks do really anything that resembles a football game, what can be learned? Examples: 1) How seriously did the player take the workout (which will impact his life as much as anything since birth)? Was he in “beast mode” form or had he let himself get out of shape? 2) If a well-known player has some negative baggage, how did he respond to questions about his previous indiscretions? If he was from a lesser known school, did he do everything he possibly could have to overcome what he couldn’t control so as to impress potential future employers? 3) Was he coached regarding the interviews he had to go through? When I was an assistant at Tennessee, we did mock interviews to make our (basketball) guys aware of how many times they said, “Uh” and “ya know” because they were constantly in front of television cameras and microphones. That was in the 80s – imagine what’s available to kids today? There should be nothing to cause a player grief (other than maybe nerves for some).

This could very well be the most stressful situation a kid could be put in. Teams need to be at their best when it comes to evaluating what they see a player do, as well as what they don’t see what he ought to be doing. I would love to see the Packers’ notes on Brandon Bostick’s combine results, including the interview to see if there was anything that would lead someone to think that, maybe, in a pressure situation, . . . nah. Too much to expect.

With so much information available today, a player would be foolish not to take advantage of everything and anything (legal) that will increase his chances to play a game he loves – and get paid to do it. The reason for doing just that is in the line spoken by someone who would know – businessman, investor, philanthropist, author, columnist, and motivational speaker - Farrah Gray:

“Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.”

A Final Tribute for Tark that Places Him in Some Exclusive Company

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Jerry Tarkanian’s final coaching job was at Fresno State and, while he had a majority of supporters in the Central Valley, he also had some vocal critics. One, in particular, was a professor who wrote a letter and had it published by the local newspaper. It’s believed to be the only time that professor had any of his work published. Or at least the first time any of it was read. To my knowledge – and I was with him in Fresno from the beginning until the end – none of Jerry’s critics ever took the time to actually meet him.

Pat Hill took over a football program that had struggled for a while, both on the field and in the classroom. He brought in a new philosophy, scheduling any team in the country – even if it meant playing them on the road with no return game. His assistant (and right hand man), John Baxter, implemented his brainchild, The Academic Game Plan, a rigorous program that taught kids how to have academic success, including but not limited to: how act in class (show up on time, sit in the front two rows, sit up, stay awake and pay attention) and how to study (first and foremost how to take notes). The team’s record, GPA and graduation rates all improved.

Pat also had his critics, especially after league rival, Boise State, attained greater national success, using a system different than Fresno State did. Many Fresno State fans were unaware that their football program had a much better reputation nationally than it did locally. Pat’s biggest mistake was a problem few coaches ever face – he stayed too long. After 15 years, he was shown the door.

On the question of having a better image outside the area than in it, Pat’s successor, Tim DeRuyter, agrees. Be it in the paper or the barber shop, on the radio or social media, several local fans have criticized the new head coach regarding, among other complaints, not recruiting almost exclusively in California, specifically the San Joaquin Valley (ironically, like Pat Hill used to do). DeRuyter coached at Texas A&M prior to making the move to Fresno. Quite logically, he has leaned on the numerous contacts he made with high school coaches in that fertile recruiting state. Because of those relationships, next year’s Bulldogs’ roster will include some players from Texas. Not nearly as many players as hail from California, but a more diversified make up than his predecessor. When questioned about bringing in out-of-area prospects, DeRuyter remarked that one reason was the national perception of the program is so much more positive than it is in and around Fresno.

Last night, following the UNLV-Boise State basketball game, a tribute was paid to the guy many knew as Tark. For only the eighth time in history, casinos along the Las Vegas Strip turned off their non-essential lights in appreciation of the life of, and contributions made by, an individual. A darkened Strip has honored the legacies of Las Vegas entertainers Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, George Burns and Frank Sinatra after their deaths, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. This tribute was also held after the deaths of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan (in addition, lights were dimmed following the 9/11 attacks).

A valuable lesson several people from Fresno can learn is a line, quite similar to that from Joni Mitchell’s song, Big Yellow Taxi:

“You don’t know what you got ’til (he’s) gone.”

How to Spend (Nearly) a Fortnight with Relatives

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

As the lead to my last blog stated, my two sisters-in-law, both from Nashville (where all three of the Anderson girls were born and raised) visited us. They decided to fly into San Jose because 1) Southwest Airlines doesn’t fly into Fresno and 2) they were flying on Thursday and that’s the closest airport to Monterey, where younger son, Alex, was playing Friday and Saturday.

Since I’ve flown hundreds of times and had to coordinate schedules, I took matters into my hands and set our itinerary. Unfortunately, while we were making the two-and-a-half (or so) hour drive from Fresno to San Jose, Jane received a text from her older sister, Peggy. She and sister Susan (the “baby” of the three) had landed in Phoenix. Great flight. However, it seemed as though there was a minor problem, something about needing to fix a part. Obviously, a part that helped the plane fly. Safely.

The delay was going to be an hour. Or so. As it turned out, it was more like “or so.” Once Jane and I got to San Jose, we found a nice hotel with clean rest rooms and a comfortable lobby in which we could read, relax and plug in our cell phones. For the next four hours!

Peggy sent a text that the airlines had given up on fixing the part and were trying to locate another one, allegedly, a new and unbroken one. Another hour passed and a decision was made that it would be easier to find a new plane than it would a new part. Change of planes meant change of gate but, finally, Peggy and Susan, and the new plane, landed.

We left the hotel and pulled into short term parking. When we entered baggage claim, there they were (one thing about the San Jose airport is that it is infinitely easier to locate passengers than its San Francisco counterpart is). There were hugs around, then a little anxiety waiting for the bags (changing planes occasionally causes bags to wind up elsewhere). Since we were leaving for Monterey as soon as those bags were in the car (no snide remarks, please, I get along swimmingly with my only two sisters-in-law), it was a major relief to see the luggage appear.

Off we went for Monterey and what turned out to be a later dinner than we’d planned. In fact, since Jane likes to get to the games early, i.e. about halftime of the women’s game (which precedes every conference tilt), we generally don’t eat dinner until 10:00pm. This is no problem for me as my body clock runs on East Asian time but, for a couple of ladies who live on Central time (and whose bodies aren’t used to eating at midnight), there was quite an adjustment. No complaints by anyone, however, we were just glad to check into the hotel in Monterey which was to be our headquarters for three nights.

Alex’s guys split a pair of games (losing in overtime), yet that was secondary to his aunts’ delight in seeing him play, checking out the campus, seeing his apartment, meeting his girlfriend and having dinner with a delightful couple Jane and I often eat with following home games. Naturally, there were brief tours of Carmel, Cannery Row and downtown Monterey before departing for Fresno on Sunday.

There was plenty of room at our house so everybody could do whatever it was that pleased them, meaning the ladies got to talk (a lot), shop (a little) and eat (well) – the last part with me. Meanwhile I got to sleep in (my favorite retirement luxury), watch TV, ride the exercise bike and practice my yoga (Jane and Susan even made it to a couple of classes at COIL Yoga, one each taught by Katie and Diane, two of the greatest yoginis this side of India).

Friday we were ready to leave the ‘No (for good as far as they were concerned – for this trip anyway), as Cal State Monterey Bay’s next two games were in Los Angeles. On Friday night a couple of my best friends from our college days (which, since that part of my life began in 1966, means we’ve known each other nearly 50 years) came over to support the son they never had (they have two brilliant daughters, each with a couple sons of their own). Words alone can’t express how wonderful it is getting together with friends you’ve known your entire adult life. Our guys won in OT and Alex crept closer to 1,000 points for his career.

Saturday night, older son, Andy, and a couple of his UC-Irvine fraternity brothers (soon-to-be-lawyers) made an appearance. Andy sells software and IT (whatever all that is – loyal readers know that technology is not in my wheelhouse) for the health care industry for a company named Kareo (headquarters in Irvine) and, in his words, is crushing it. Since he’s in sales, there are days he tempers his remarks but, so far, he’s riding the sales roller coaster and definitely surviving, if not thriving.

At the end of the half, one of those “this can only happen in a movie” events took place. Alex, who had six points at that juncture, had the ball in his hands, working for the last shot of the half. My cell phone rang and I noticed the call was from my cousin who lives in New Jersey. Since it was nearing midnight Eastern time, I pretty much guessed what the call was about.

“My dad died a little while ago,” I heard him say – just as Alex floated a short jumper over one of Cal State LA’s big guys. It hit nothing but the bottom of the net as the horn went off. Heading into the game, Alex was seven points away from 1,000 so that bucket put him over. I mentioned this to my cousin and he said, “Assist HHCPA.” My uncle, Herman Harris, was a CPA and from my high school days on, I always referred to him as “HHCPA.” We reminisced a little about his life (he was 88) and, before ending our conversation, I said to him, “You know, Bill, one of these days you were going to be making this call.”

He was in complete agreement and remarked, “While it is a sad day, he had a long, happy and successful life.” HHCPA was one of the brightest (NYU graduate), most selfless, giving, caring people I have ever met. Anyone who ever dealt with him felt exactly the same way.

Alex’s buzzer beater had cut LA’s lead to one and, although the Otters fell further behind, clutch plays on both ends gave them a victory. Aunts Peggy and Sue witnessed three out of four wins. The team hoped their new good luck charms would stay. None of us knew how close to the truth that statement wound up.

Sunday was reserved for Andy Boy. We moved headquarters to Orange County (Andy lives a half block from the ocean in Newport Beach). He gave the women a tour of UCI’s campus, complete with tidbits that were mostly humorous (now that he’s graduated); we dined at a terrific fish place on the water (fish tacos around, plus adult beverages for everyone but the driver); he showed them his apartment (assuring them they didn’t need to have a tetanus shot before entering) and we went by both his previous and current places of employment.

Then it was back to the hotel and our suites (not rooms, thank you very much), to rest up for dinner. Peggy, who didn’t invent the computer but could have if she’d been asked to do so, had been staying on top of all situations of interest. One, in particular, happened to be the weather back home in Nashville. Snow – a lot of it – had been predicted but now they were talking about ice and sleet. Resourceful as they were, the girls had a Monday flight out of John Wayne airport in Orange County. Had was the operative word, as they were informed that, not only were they not going to be able to catch their flight the next day, they couldn’t get out of OC – and back to Nashville – until Wednesday!

Jane and I had to get back to Fresno (a five-hour drive with no traffic – which never occurs, unless, as I did in my USC days, we’d leave at 1 or 2 am) so we said our goodbyes. I reminded them that being “stuck” in a place where it was 78 degrees and sunny, as opposed to sleet, ice and wind chill hovering around zero wasn’t all that much of an inconvenience and that they would surely survive nicely.

We got home – stopped in the San Fernando Valley to see some friends from our SC days and finally made it back by about 9:00pm. As the (modified) saying goes:

“All’s well that . . . ends.”

And by now, it finally should have for Peggy and Susan.