Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

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

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As It Turned Out, Truer Words Were Never Spoken

Friday, March 27th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basketball Is Briefly Interrupted for . . . a Little Humor

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently, There Are No Days Off for Coaches

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Golden Goose that Cannot Be Killed

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Never happen.”


Assembling the 1984 Olympic Team – and Who Would Play

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

First and foremost, a shout out to one of this year’s inductees into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, George Raveling. A couple years ago, George was inducted to the College HOF in Kansas City as a contributor (the same honor that’s being bestowed upon him in September), as well as winning, earlier that same year, the John Bunn Leadership Award at the Springfield HOF induction ceremonies (I was humbled when asked to write his one page tribute for the Hall’s program, which was sold at the TV show and online).

The following is an excerpt of a conversation I had with George. One of the topics we discussed was about his experiences as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic team in 1984. Team USA’s head coach was Bob Knight who, at that time, was the head coach at Indiana University. Player selection proved extremely difficult (in fact, four future NBA Hall of Fame players were cut from the squad –  Joe Dumars, Karl Malone, John Stockton and, as has been mentioned numerous times, Charles Barkley, who just happened to lead those Olympic Trials in the main three categories: points, rebounds and assists).

An aside: As the van that took the last players cut was headed to the Indy airport, Dumars tells the story of the four of them, plus A.C. Green and Terry Porter driving away and Stockton saying, “Wow! Are you serious? I’d like to take the six guys right here and play whoever they keep on that team.” He did have a point. Although Knight cut those guys, he explained he would help them as much as he could as far as speaking to NBA people about them, as nice a send off as one could hope for – after getting their dreams crushed.

Back to our story. According to Rav, Knight knew exactly the type of team he wanted in terms of offensive and defensive philosophy. In addition, he placed tremendous value in having great team chemistry. Even though the Russians weren’t playing (their way of retaliating for our Olympic teams boycotting the 1980 Games in Moscow), there was enormous pressure to “win the Gold.”

It was Knight’s philosophy that, although there would be 12 players on the squad, that he was only going to use a core group of eight – and he wanted to make that point perfectly clear. Maybe it was because he knew how some parents can be, maybe there was another reason. In any case Rav told of how the Olympic head coach was going to meet, in person, with the parents of each of the “bottom four” (Jon Koncak, Joe Kleine, Jeff Turner and, I believe, Vern Fleming – although I’m not certain about him) so everyone would be on the same page.

George recalled the trip to Turner’s home. He said Knight got to the point and spelled out to the parents and Turner that they should be proud of Jeff making the team. However, he went on to say that he would not be in the rotation. Basically, it’s like saying, “Congrats, your kid made the club . . . but he ain’t gonna play.” What gave George a minor shock was Knight’s closing line:

“And this is the last time we’ll ever speak.”

When Highly Successful People in One Area of Life Get Involved in Another

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

Occasionally, someone will say something that jogs my memory. Because of the strange way my mind works, it’s usually about a humorous experience that occurred anywhere from earlier that day, all the way back to my childhood. In fact, that’s how I wrote my book, Life’s A Joke. After deciding to write it, I went home and began jotting down notes from every funny story I could remember. When I was finished, I had . . . eleven.

I was stunned. There had to be more than eleven! What I started to do was carry around an index card and anytime somebody would say something that rattled my brain, I would put a few key words on the card and when I returned home, would add the day’s “haul” to the original list. Two and a half years later, I had 265 stories and my book became a reality. That was in 2001 and I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me if I planned on doing another. The answer is yes but this time around, it might be an eBook.

While listening to all the bracketology talk that pervades the TV and radio airwaves, I was reminded of another story. The talking heads were discussing strength of schedule. What flashed in my brain was the following tale.

At Fresno State one of my duties was to schedule all of our non-conference games (the conference office would schedule the games within the league). One part of our schedule that was terrific for our team, but hell on me, was the December tournament we hosted. Great for us because it meant two home games without having to return them; difficult for me because 1) I had to schedule three teams (one of which we wouldn’t even end up playing) for only two games, 2) even when I could find interested teams, nobody wanted to open with us (their thinking was, “Give us a neutral site game we have a chance to win and if we don’t, at least we can beat up on the patsy you played the first night”) and 3) we had much less money to offer the participants than the “big-time” schools did.

The title sponsorship changed hands after a couple years. A local builder, whose owner was enormously wealthy, took over that role. He had been a football player at USC and had built a thriving business in Fresno (this was at the time of the housing boom). He also was a guy who felt “no” was an unacceptable answer, so when I first met with his PR guy, I sensed we’d be butting heads. And that feeling proved to be right on the money.

After I explained how I went about filling in the field, his representative’s body language alone told me I would have to revamp my philosophy. This led to a second meeting – which the boss attended. One thing I’d learned early in life (since I had recently turned 50, the lesson was cemented in pretty good) was that money talks, so when you have less of it, sit back and listen. Since this man’s company was footing the bill for the tourney, it behooved me to give the floor to him anyway. Footnote: As I found out later, due to the fact the previous sponsor had been a beer distributorship, the athletics department was forced to find another – as a good will gesture (and rightfully so with the problems our players, and college kids in general, had with alcohol) – and that the deal for the new sponsor was heavily weighted in his favor.

Back to the meting. This guy told me, in no uncertain terms, that the fields we had in previous seasons were a joke and any tournament with his company’s name on it was going to be first class. Getting all four games to be televised would be no problem because of his, and his PR guy’s, contacts. With more and more games being televised, this wasn’t nearly as big a bargaining chip as he wanted me to believe. Especially when he told me which teams I was to have complete the field.

Naturally, he guaranteed that he could deliver the Men of Troy (which I found out later was not exactly the case). For the other two teams, he wanted “big-time schools,” not like the previous ones who had made up the field. The first two names he tossed out were . . . Kentucky and North Carolina. We were at lunch and I recall being so thankful that I wasn’t drinking anything at that precise moment because his message definitely would have caused whatever was in my glass to expel through my nose. While he said that any teams “like them” would suffice, his message was loud and clear. Our encountered ended with him telling me not to be concerned with money, he would take care of that.

Rather than attempt a rebuttal (even though he was commenting on my expertise, not his), I simply took the notes I made, thanked him for lunch and said I’d get right on it. I drove directly to the basketball office and called C.M. Newton, the AD at Kentucky. He and I had known each other from the days I was an assistant coach at Tennessee and he was the head coach at our in-state rival, Vanderbilt. Luckily (it was about 4:30 pm his time), he was still in the office. When I told him of my “showdown,” we both had a good laugh. He certainly understood boosters like the one I described. After all, Kentucky has a ton of them and Vanderbilt and Alabama (where he’d been the head coach prior to Vandy) each had their share.

I asked him if he would do me a huge favor, and after hearing it, he just said I could write the letter, send it to him and he (of course, with editing power) would put it on UK letterhead and sign it. Here’s what the contents of that letter were: 1) they hosted their own UKIT (Univ. of Ky Invitational Tournament, a tourney we played in when I was a grad assistant at Washington State – and was truly big-time), plus their rivalry games with Louisville and Indiana, as well as the guarantee games, i.e. at Lexington with no return) that all coaches wanted (to pump up their record), so he couldn’t see how it would be possible for them to come, 2) I was asking his Wildcats to give up two of their non-conference games where they sold out 23,500 seat Rupp Arena at an average ticket price of $25, totaling $1.175 millionnot including parking, concessions and souvenirs (he knew such a guarantee would be impossible) and 3) for this, UK would receive no return games in future years, 4) his coach would have to sign off on playing UNC (because he knew we would choose SC as our opening opponent – I mean, two reasons teams hosted tournaments were because they expected that many wins out of it) and 5) because of their prestige, nearly all of their games were on TV anyway (there weren’t the proliferation of televised games at that time as there are now).

When the letter arrived, I showed it to the PR man (the head honcho saw no further need to attend any meetings). I have to admit, he showed no signs of shock when he read it (which had to take every ounce of restraint he could muster) but when he met my gaze, it was understood ramping down expectations would be necessary. I tried to explain that most schools his boss thought would jump at the chance to play in the Central Valley (during foggy season) had the same issues UK had, albeit with smaller numbers.

This was how I developed my philosophy of boosters:

“People who would become completely indignant if you tried to tell them how to do their jobs have absolutely no qualms about telling you how to do yours”


When Will This OVERsensitivity Abate?

Friday, March 6th, 2015

First of all, I fully admit I come from a different era. My sons remind me quite often. Actually, it’s more like it’s obvious when I was born by the questions I ask them. Yesterday, it was panic time when my wife and I tried to stream a game from her iPad onto our 55″ television, using Apple TV that he gave us about a year and a half ago. We called in a frenzy and he talked us through it.

While I am well behind the times regarding anything technological, I understand how important the advances in that area are. Naturally, progress is mandatory in order for people to advance the quality of living, although the not talking to people, i.e. texting, emailing, instagramming, snapchatting in lieu of actual conversation, does freak me out quite a bit. I just can’t believe that not having dialogue with other human voices throughout a workday (or worse, a day away from work) makes us a better society.

How we speak to one another has come under fire. Everyone (at least every coach) can remember the Mike Rice situation at Rutgers. It was horrifying to see how degrading and humiliating those videos were. There wasn’t, nor could there have been justification for such harsh actions and words.

That said, when Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings was caught on camera saying to one of his players that he was going to kill him – and dropping an F-bomb in the “threat,” it became national news. Let’s start with the “going to kill you” part. How many times have you been so mad at someone (perhaps one of your children), you said, “I’m going to kill you!” to him/her? Were you really planning on killing that person? Now, let’s deal with the F-bomb.

For the first 24 years of my life, I lived in New Jersey. I played three sports in high school and one in college. While I can’t come up with the exact number of coaches I had (including assistants), the number had to be upwards of 20. There might have been one or two who didn’t curse (although I can’t recall any) but, right or wrong, it was a way of life. The joke used to be, “I’m from New Jersey where we’re bilingual. We speak English and profanity.”

Just because there’s a movement to be politically correct, don’t think someone who grew up with profanity to be able to immediately wipe it from their vocabularies. (If we looked, I imagine we could find something everyone says or does that offends someone). Should that type of language be verboten in the military? If you say yes, maybe you can start a cult of your own and move elsewhere, preferably to a different planet. If you think that people in that line of training, who may be called to put their lives in danger, should be allowed to slip up every now and then, consider some may get into coaching when they leave the military. Which happens to be the case with the all-time winningest coach in college hoops. Several years ago, a student from the school newspaper was granted access to practice. He lambasted Mike Krzyzewski for the language he used. It seems he was the only one in the gym who was offended. Everyone else listened more to the “other words” and all have felt they became better people because of it. Not sure who that student reporter influenced.

In yesterday’s paper I saw an article in which the New York Mets captain David Wright apologized to pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard for scolding him for eating lunch in the clubhouse during an intrasquad game. The reason for the apology? Wright did it within earshot of the media. How could what Noah Syndergaard did be reported in any other way than acting like a horse’s ass unprofessionally? In today’s world, if Wright hadn’t said anything, the media would have called his leadership skills as a captain into question.

How you look at people has changed, too. I was alerted, via the Internet, to a YouTube video of Kenny Smith giving “the once over” look to Carrie Keagan at the NBA Fashion Show. She is sitting on the table where Smith is seated and says, “Meet Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors” and he begins looking up at her, until his eyes scan downward. I checked it out. His eyes were moving during the “Golden State” part – maybe one second. Check for yourself. And he gets criticized for that? She ought to be flattered! Heck, she probably is!

It’s others who find such stares as those of a morally bankrupt individual. One comment called him a “pig.” For looking at a girl. Are we that PC that guys can’t check out pretty women who, by the way, know what they look like – and do their best to look that way.

As H. Jackson Browne, Jr. said:

“Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others.”

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!”