Archive for the ‘customer service’ 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?

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

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Sending Boosters in Every Direction

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gracias.

A Golden Goose that Cannot Be Killed

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.”

 

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”

 

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.”

The Alpha and the Omega of Championship Coaches

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

This past Saturday Dean Smith passed away. During his final years, poor health denied both he and his adoring public of the relationship each desired. He’s been fondly remembered by nearly everyone, inside and out, of college basketball, including this site (see yesterday’s blog).

Now the news is another basketball coaching icon, Jerry Tarkanian, is near the end. Jerry, also, has been in failing health for some time. Last April he was hospitalized for, what at the time was believed to be a stroke. Whether it was a stroke, heart attack or pneumonia, the setback took its toll on the 84-year old championship coach, husband, father of four and grandfather of 10. As with others who experience such a shock to their system, his life was never the same. Gone was the outgoing, fun-loving guy who constantly needed to be around people.

Seldom, if ever, has anyone possessed the number one people skill as well as Jerry Tarkanian: the ability to make people feel important. I recall the day I saw him sitting in his office, listening to someone who was standing, out of my sight, diagramming plays at the white board on his office wall. When the guy left, I asked Jerry who he was. He told me that he had simply walked in (our secretary was on her break), knocked on his door (which was open) and introduced himself.

In classic Tark fashion, he couldn’t remember the guy’s name. They began talking and when Tark’s new best friend mentioned he, too, was a basketball coach, Jerry asked him what he did against a 1-2-2 zone. That’s what led to the scene I had witnessed.

Later on, I found out from the person this guy was actually there to see that, when he saw the basketball office door open, he walked in. Then, he noticed Jerry’s door was open and felt he’d take a chance on meeting his coaching idol. Who then, naturally, requested the mini-clinic, because he thought he might learn something. In no way was he putting this guy on.

Three weeks ago I visited the last of my bosses from a 30-year college coaching career. Jerry couldn’t walk, talk, had a feeding tube in his stomach and he was on oxygen. Yet, when his son, Danny, his daughter, Jodi, and I stated telling stories from our Fresno State days, a glimmer in his eye appeared and a smile began to curl up the corners of his mouth. It was sad that his health had deteriorated so badly but rewarding (although not surprising) to see that he was still battling – because one of his defining traits is he hated losing.

Dean Smith won 879 Division I games, with a .776 winning percentage. Jerry Tarkanian won 784, with a .795 percentage. Each respected the other’s ability to get his players to compete to their maximum potential. Dean’s University of North Carolina guys, for the most part, were clean cut, McDonald’s All-Americans. Jerry’s, for the most part (independent of which school he was coaching), were kids who needed a second (and, occasionally, an additional) chance and the only McDonald’s they knew had arches. Yet, these two giants of college coaching put up such gaudy numbers because they were innovators who cared deeply about the young guys they coached. In addition, there was a shared loyalty that existed between coach and player.

Since Coach Smith’s passing, people who didn’t realize all he’d accomplished regarding civil rights have been educated of his courageous actions – while doing it in the South at a time it wasn’t very popular. What just as many people aren’t aware of is Tark’s stand during the 1968 Olympic Trials. The story shows there is a connection between Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian and their views against racial prejudice.

It was 1968 and the Olympic Trials consisted of three NCAA all-star teams, one NCAA college all-star team, and separate all-star squads representing the AAU, NJCAA, NAIA, and U.S. Armed Forces. Jerry coached the junior college (NJCAA) all-stars, selected in large part because he had previously won four straight California junior college championships. It was a round robin event, won by Tark’s JC guys.

At the press conference which followed the championship game, a reporter asked Jerry if he was making a statement by starting five black players, a first for any team competing in the Trials. Jerry gave a response that people who know truly him only can laugh and shake their heads:

“I did?”