Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Why a Senior Dominated Team Might Have the Edge Over One-and-Dones at Tourney Time

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Fans are fascinated with “one-and-done” college basketball players because they’re more like rock stars than traditional college student-athletes. It’s kind of like pros - or recording artists or actors - hanging out on campus. Yet at NCAA tourney time, you might want to go with teams composed mainly of veterans - the kind who find a way to advance. Really? At tourney time hasn’t talent been - and won’t it always be - the most sought after commodity?

“Yes,” in terms of needing someone to make a play, e.g. scoring at crunch time or erasing a potential bucket but “No” when the situation comes down to the popular “Who wants it more?” That this is true, isn’t so much an indictment on the one-and-done fellow but the feeling of team togetherness displayed by guys who’ve spent four, maybe five, years on campus, mingling and getting to know the “regular” student. Guys who are recognized by the “eggheads” - the ones who have no idea the player is an athlete, but knows him because he might have been a lab partner with the cat.

When the game is on the line, in a tight situation, e.g. down a deuce with seconds to go, some (but, naturally, not all) one-and-dones are fully engaged in doing what’s necessary to win. Players who’ve been around the program for three, four and sometimes five years consciously - or sub-consciously - reflect on what the school has meant to them, how they want to come through for their coaches, professors and fellow classmates (including the eggheads) and, for the seniors the thought that this might be the last time I ever put this uniform on.

I’m not discounting the one-and-done’s commitment to the program but the older guys just have more invested than the player who got to campus 7-8 months ago. There’s more of that feeling of, “I came here a boy; I’m leaving a man” and “These people are my family.” When that thought surfaces, these young men seem to be able to dig a little deeper. Their careers are ending - and they don’t want them to end just yet. Independent of how much fun, how connected the one-and-done feels toward the student body (really, how closely connected can a person get in less than a year?), there’s still that realization in his mind of “I wonder where I’ll be drafted?”

No matter how intense a desire there is for the one year star, knowing there’s a professional career in the near future. Not so for the true senior. While he may have been on scholarship for his entire time on campus, his future is usually unknown - leading him to lace ‘em up a little tighter so he can put that future on hold for another game or two. Or more.

Although talent usually wins out, a 100% commitment often rules in a team game. As Jean-Paul Sartre said:

“Commitment is an act, not a word.”  

Being a Consistent Winner Over a Long Period of Time Doesn’t Necessarily Meet Fans’ Expectations

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

On 7/2/12 I expressed my strong feelings in a blog entitled “Is It Necessary to Place Shortcomings on the Great Ones?” It had to do with fans not being able to appreciate individual excellence in the field of sports unless the person or his team “won it all” (limiting, for now, fans’ comments to men - a word of caution to women: WATCH OUT, you’re next - it’s just that women’s sports haven’t been around as long). Nothing short of a championship is accepted to stave off criticism. What follows is a reprint of that post - as well as additional commentary (in italics and bold) in an effort to update it.

LeBron James finally (after all, he’s already 27 - he’s currently 29) put to rest that, although he was a great player, he couldn’t win a championship. Like they’re easy to come by. It’s always been that way. In fact, just last week I was at lunch with a few NBA fans when one of them (a guy I barely knew) actually said Wilt Chamberlain was a loser because, “sure he had stats, but he won ‘only’ two NBA titles.” Much to his dismay I asked him how many titles he had won, “I mean, counting all of them - Little League, summer hoop camps, even spelling bees.” He was somewhat taken aback. Hey, here’s somebody he’d met a time or two questioning his learned opinion. He kind of raised up, looked me straight in the eye and said, as only that kind of fan can, “More than Wilt!”

Now NBA followers are placing the “good stats/great player but can’t win a championship” mantle on Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudamire, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard just like they did to Charles Barkley, Pete Maravich, John Stockton & Karl Malone. Let’s examine the last two. They came in second in back-to-back years, yet are any of the people criticizing them - including sportswriters and talking heads on TV and radio (including satellite) - considered #2 in their respective (not to be confused with “respected”) fields? Forget back-to-back, even for just one ratings period.

Some of those guys got close but it just wasn’t to be. Maybe they played in the wrong era; maybe they didn’t quite have the right mix of teammates, e.g. not enough talent or chemistry. I’m showing my age when I say I remember a couple National League MVP awards going to Ernie Banks - even though his Chicago Cubs finished last!

For some reason we feel this moniker needs to be, if not presented formally, at least discussed - in every sport. From national television to local watering holes. I coached in the college basketball world for 30 years and when I started in 1970 a similar label was thrown around in our business. As a young guy in the field one of the veteran coaches I was in awe of was Dean Smith. It used to shock me when I would hear the “Greatest Coach Who Has Never Won a Title” attributed to him.  Freshman Michael Jordan’s jumper took care of that nonsense but shortly thereafter the crown was passed to Mike Krzyzewski.

It is almost a badge of honor for coaches. In order to qualify for the unenviable title, a coach needed to take a team to the Final Four - on more than one occasion and come up short. For most coaches reaching the Final Four is considered capturing the Holy Grail. After Mike won in 1991, he bequeathed the “honor” to Rick Pitino. The line on Rick was, “Sure, Rick can take a team the the mountaintop; he just can’t them to the Promised Land.” In 1996 his Kentucky Wildcats won it all. Still, the debate raged on.

It almost seemed mandatory for fans and media to have a coach whose feet they could hold to the fire. It must have made them feel good at that time because there were two contestants. And as fate would have it, their teams squared off in the 2003 championship game. In a show of empathy, while shaking hands after the game, the winner, Jim Boeheim said to the runner-up, Roy Williams, “Don’t worry;  you’ll get one” after Syracuse beat Kansas. It was similar to the exchange Bob Knight had with Boeheim after his Hoosiers beat the ‘Cuse in ‘87. And, of course, ‘ol Roy did just that. Twice.

I won’t tell you who had the wrath of the nation up until last year. You probably can figure it out. Hint: he no longer has to deal with the problem (John Calipari). My comment to these critics: There’s only ONE of these championships per year! Each season - at most - one coach who’s never won one before can win it that year.

Sports is definitely the most highly scrutinized business - possibly because there are fans and we love to argue. Now that cyberstat - or whatever they’re called -  guys have entered the world, it doesn’t seem like there will be any stone unturned. If only Wall Street could have such a fan base - although it might be a little too late for that.

Still, people revel in the misery of others even though it doesn’t make the critical person’s life any better. Or put another way:

“Although someone may come up short in their endeavors, it doesn’t make you better at any of yours.”

Coaches’ Salaries - and Expections - Are Going Through the Roof

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Doctor’s appointment and a series of  tests - plus our “roommate” (Albert Van Troba) is having surgery so Jane and I become “caretakers.” For all he’s done for us, it’s the least we can do. Since I don’t know how much time I’ll have, this blog will be suspended until Friday.

For today, I return to a blog I posted 11/27/07 (with no changes even though coaches’ salaries are higher than reported in the blog). If anyone thinks this isn’t just as true today as it was so many years ago, all I can say is you’re either misinformed or you’re a coach’s agent.

Anyone who knows me or who’s read this blog is aware of my 30-year career (none of which as a head coach) in intercollegiate basketball. It started in 1972 as a graduate assistant at the University of Vermont and ended in 2002 as Director of Basketball Operations at Fresno State with seven other Division I stops along the way.

I witnessed many monumental changes - from allowing freshmen to play on the varsity to the introduction of the shot clock and three point line. In addition, when I started there were the unlimited number of scholarships that schools could offer and the rule (or lack of one) which made it legal for coaches to recruit off-campus (including grad assistants) every day of the year! This included how many times you were allowed to visit with a prospective student-athlete face-to-face, how many times you could watch him play or practice or call/see his parents or coach. There was a story about an assistant coach from the University of New Mexico renting an apartment in Petersburg, VA for the entire season to recruit Moses Malone (far and away the most dominant high school player I’ve ever personally seen - including MJ & LeBron). Prospects could take an unlimited number of trips to campuses - some kids were gone every weekend, e.g. we had Moses visit Washington State. Imagine a 7-footer traveling cross-country to Pullman, WA. We asked him where else he’d gone and he just exhaled, trying to recall. I think he’d said he’d gone to Maryland the week prior to our visit (where he eventually committed, before deciding to go pro out of high school and sign with the Utah Stars of the ABA). “How about the week before that?” He thought for a while and finally said, “I can’t remember.” There was money well-spent.

Speaking of money, well-spent or otherwise, brings me to the topic at hand. When I got to UVM in ‘72, our head coach, Peter Salzberg, was making $12,500. I was a graduate assistant getting $1,000, plus tuition. That was the extent of our coaching staff. $13, 500 in salaries for the entire coaching staff. Today, guys get twice that for clothing allowances! At the end of the year, Vermont felt Peter had done a good job and rewarded him with a raise - all the way to $12,800.

I left and went to the big-time - the Pac-8 (the Arizona schools had not yet joined the league) and Washington State (once again as a grad assistant) for $1,550, plus $2,000 for summer camp. As far as a percentage increase, I’ve never topped the UVM-WSU move. No exaggeration, there were weeks - and it was not unusual- where I worked 100 hours - and loved it! That’s what all of us got into coaching for in the first place - following a career choice that we were thoroughly immersed in. Even still, WSU got a pretty good return for their buck. George Raveling, the head coach at WSU, took the job there in 1972 for $32,000.

Even when I became a full-time assistant at the University of Tennessee in 1980, many head coaches were making around $75,000. If and when there were too many losses compared to wins, it wasn’t uncommon for an athletics director to bring in the head coach and say something to the effect, “Look, things aren’t working out. You know Mr. (Hot Shot Car Dealer), one of our big boosters. He told me he’ll give you a job as a manager of one of his dealerships and pay you the same as you’re making here. We can say you’ve decided to go into the business world and it will be best for all of us.”

Today, I don’t have the actual figures, but I can safely say there are dozens of coaches making more than $500,000 and some making upwards of $3 mil. I don’t care how moral a person you are, when you get used to that kind of lifestyle (not to mention your wife and kids feeling pretty comfortable with it), it’s impossible not to skew your beliefs on issues that prior to this windfall, you’d never consider dealing with in the manner you currently are (and feel compelled to). Not being in those shoes, it’s easy to be critical, but there are several people I’d like to think I have more than a casual acquaintance with, who have changed their philosophy from the days I first knew them. Some I’ve discussed this with, others I’ve observed. I’ve seen them take actions that I’m certain they would have never have (or not take actions they would have) had not the obscene amounts of money been involved, blurring their vision.

I’ve discussed my concern that the biggest problem in college basketball today is coaches being paid too much money with Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (Jim and I were on the staff at the University of Oregon in 1975-76, he as a full-time assistant, me as a grad assistant and he is one of the most Christian men, of unquestioned integrity, there is today). He agreed it’s a serious issue, one of great concern. But with the last contract between CBS and the NCAA for the rights to college basketball (including, naturally, March Madness) going for, I believe, $2.6 billion, it’s simply something that’s spiraled out of anyone’s control. It would be a foolish business decision (and don’t anyone try to tell me college basketball isn’t a business) to turn down that kind of money and what it does for the NCAA as an overall organization, but there are evils that are attached to the price tag.

The current situation being as it is, coaches have a tough time (and while I can’t empathize, I sure can sympathize) following the adage:

“It is more important to do what is right than what is personally beneficial.”

Why Conference Post Season Tournaments Should Include All Members

Monday, March 10th, 2014

A week ago Saturday my wife, Jane, and I were in the Bay Area watching our younger son, Alex, play basketball for Cal State Monterey Bay. They lost that night to San Francisco State. They had beaten Sonoma State the night before. Independent of the outcome of either game, the Otters were destined to finish eighth in their Division II conference, the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA), up four spots from last year. San Francisco State, however, had to win in order to finish sixth. Lose, and they would have come in seventh.

It doesn’t sound like much, finishing sixth and having to play the third place team (Chico State), or seventh and drawing the number two seed (Cal Poly Pomona) in the conference tournament. However, it did mean so much because of what happened at the conference meeting last spring. Last year the format for the conference tournament was the top eight teams in the league played in a post season tourney - an incredible experience for the players. I’d been part of several and the kids (and coaches) really think it’s neat - the schools getting together, mingling in a social atmosphere until game time and facing off in another version of “one-and-done.”

The reason SF State had so much to play for was because during last spring’s meeting, there was vote to further shrink the tournament (there are 12 teams in the CCAA) from eight schools to six. According to a source of mine (not the coaches from Monterey), the vote was 7-4 in favor of six teams (one school didn’t show up to the meeting). The new format was the top two teams would get byes to the semifinal round, with 3 vs. 6 and 4vs. 5. So, for SF State, the Monterey Bay game meant, “win and we’re in, lose and the season’s over. When I heard the result of the tournament voting, I told anybody who would listen that it was going to backfire.

My experiences with post season conferences and “bye” situations is that the team with the bye plays a team that has just played a game (and gotten those inevitable butterflies out of their system) - and has won it - so they’re feeling pretty good about themselves. The higher seeded team hasn’t played in about a week and, unless they’re far superior, can come out somewhat rusty, causing them to play below their usual standards. In the case of the CCAA, if “chalk” held in that preliminary round, #1 would be playing #4 and #2 would be matched against #3. Now, really, how much difference do you think there is between #s 2 & 3? Usually, #1 vs. #8 and #2 vs. #7 would serve as “tune up” games for the big dogs. And, if they got upset, maybe they learned a valuable lesson, i.e. don’t overlook an opponent.

Monterey had beaten two of the top three teams - both contests on the road - and lost to number one (Cal State San Bernardino) by two on a shot with 1.4 seconds to go, so they might not have been pushovers but they (and seventh seed UCSD) certainly should have been included in the field. Their critics will say they lost four games to the bottom four schools, including getting swept by the last place team, so they themselves were actually the reason they weren’t included. Both sides have merit - which is why a conference should include all its teams in post season play. I’ve often wondered how leagues (and I’ve been part of Division I conferences who didn’t allow every team to participate) can say, “You’re good enough to be in our league, but not good enough to play in our tournament.”

Sure, there’s some extra expense but it’s chump change to an entire conference budget. It would mean one extra tournament day, one extra day of rooms for the teams (save money, put three players in a room - the kids don’t care), additional referees, score and time keepers, gifts and some other ancillary costs. On the flip side, there would be additional tickets sold as well as parking and concessions income. I realize not every team gets the payout the SEC does but it’s not like leagues need to promote car washes or bake sales. If money is that tight, maybe extracurriculars should be eliminated. There still are schools that don’t have sports teams - and students still attend. Focus on the academic side if athletics is that much of a burden..

Well, I don’t claim to be a prophet but, sure enough, #3 beat #6 and #4 beat #5 and then, wouldn’t you know it, both first night winners pulled upsets the next evening, meaning it was a #3 vs. #4 final, with #4 Stanislaus State winning it all. So, as far as those who changed the CCAA tournament rule, your message can be gleaned from the old Rolling Stones song (in paraphrased form):

“You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you deserve.”

Why Not Start Bracketology at the Start of the Season?

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

When your livelihood revolves around college hoops - as mine did for the majority of my adult life - getting into the NCAA basketball tournament (at least when the NCAA began allowing more than one team per conference into its post season affair) is all-consuming. In today’s world, that certainly is the case for Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s resident bracketologist.

Each year the selection process is more exciting than the last. The toughest job is now Lunardi’s. It’s of his own doing since the little fella correctly predicted a perfect 68 out of 68 teams that were included in the tourney last post season. Others have also made this claim, but “Joey Brackets” accomplished the feat before the committee announced the field. Fans absolutely obsess as ESPN nightly posts his “Last 4 In/Last 4 Out” list. Arguments rage; names are called. Possibly the greatest strategy used to win an argument - putting down the other side - takes center stage at this time of year. Heck, politicians are constantly using it and if it works for them (I can’t think of too many who are in their current jobs who haven’t - or haven’t had their campaign people do it for them), why shouldn’t sports fans?

What people overlook, possibly because getting into the Big Dance is so exciting, is that it serves no purpose to discuss who’s going to be into the tournament now - much less what seed teams will be getting - because the regular season (including conference tournaments) isn’t over yet! What does it actually mean if a team is in Lunardi’s “Last 4 In?” Nothing!  One of the talking heads at the self-proclaimed world-wide sports leader, in an attempt to explain (justify?) Lunardi’s 4 in/4 out list, said, “If the NCAA tournament were to start tomorrow, . . . ”

Oh, now we get it - like in case of a nuclear attack, or a group like the Mayans predicting the world is going to come to an end in three weeks. Naturally, the NCAA would declare that in light of such news, it would be holding the championships beginning tomorrow. At least then we’d know which teams would make up the field. This is only fair because, then, the NIT could let those not invited know which schools would be hosting and which would be going on the road.

If so much time is going to be allotted for such tomfoolery as which teams are in now - and what seeds schools can expect to receive - why not give the shows some credibility? Let’s begin a push to, indeed, have the tournament field be selected by Joe Lunardi? Hey, he went 68-68 last year without having to resort to the luxury hotels and food (don’t think for a minute that the committee members are bunking at the Dew Drop Inn and eating off the dollar menu). That idea would leave a good deal of money to start the fund that would be necessary in case O’Bannon wins.

Seriously, since this nonsense began, there was a week or two of regular season match-ups remaining, plus conference tournaments. Has there ever been a year in which there haven’t been upsets? If a school that’s a “Last 4 In” loses in the first round of post season conference play, do you think they’d have any case to have their name heard on Selection Sunday? Assuming each of the other seven teams didn’t also lose? One unintended result might be to arm the AD of that school to declare they were “going in another direction” as far as the basketball coaching position. “I mean, we were one of the last four in before that first round exit,” the AD could justify.

Really, if we’re going to run this charade so early, why not do it at the beginning of the season? Kentucky would be “on that top line, possibly an overall #1 seed.” Then, fans could watch the ‘Cats free fall as loss after loss piled up. Wichita State would have started out as a dark horse, based on their run last season and teams like Villanova and Texas would be the talk of college hoops. Oh yeah, all of that is happening now anyway (excluding Texas’ loss last night in Lubbock).

What the NCAA basketball tournament has come down to is what we’ve known for a long time:

“Too much of a good thing is never enough.”

Five Years Later, the Heartache, Heartbreak and (Temporary) Jubilation Are Identical

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

What follows is a post from March of 2009, yet one which I feel is as apropos to this season as it is to any year - certainly those past and, barring anything unforeseen, future campaigns as well. Judge for yourself.

You see tears from coaches at press conferences following close losses or games that end a season.  After wins, there are also tears, but these are of joy.  Occasionally, you’ll witness identical behavior from the team’s supporters in the stands.  The major difference is seen a few hours later.  Fans get over it and get on with their lives.  Coaches can’t.

Please refer to my 3/7/08 blog regarding the life of an assistant when it comes to what I consider as close the ultimate work ethic as can be displayed by anyone in any walk of life.  When all a person does is work and then, after all that work, the result is a failure (which is, after all, what a loss is - no matter how well a team may have played), it can be a completely helpless and devastating feeling.  Somehow, the next day (sometimes even minutes after that “failure”), it’s time to get back up, dust yourself off and start producing again because if you don’t, the fear is the losing will continue until that dreaded, and ultimate, loss - the pink slip.

However, it’s been my experience observing coaches for the past five decades (and being one for three and a half of those), that the ones who work - really work - have their efforts recognized which will mean they will always resurface somewhere to continue working in the crazy profession they love (one which quite often doesn’t love them back).  But even then, the result is that although the coach may get to stay in the business, it’s at a pretty steep price, especially if he is married and has children.

So while the relief of continued employment exists (and in today’s economy, that’s a true blessing not to be taken for granted), there still remain the hassles (usually) of relocating, finding a job or getting a transfer for the spouse, packing and physically moving the family, selling and buying a house and finding a good school district (relatively close to work for both husband and wife, yet in an affordable - in the case of a USC, in an affordable and safe  - area).

The flip side is the wins and the highs they bring.  In this case, the fans may celebrate deep into the night, but eventually it’s back to whatever their daily grind is.  Sure there’s no rest for the weary coach, but the spring in his step and feeling he has about himself after a big win (sometimes after any win) make all of the time he puts in well worth all the effort and agony.

Even though there’s so much risk in the world of athletics - and the “ROI” or return on investment can be so unfair, i.e. the longer hours and harder work don’t guarantee anything (in terms of team or individual success), there are still so many people willing to take that risk.  There’s an invisible, but all too real, waiting list of hundreds, if not thousands, of coaches in and out of the profession (all of whom think they can do your job better than you’re doing it), biding their time, ready to pounce on a vacated position as soon as an opening occurs.

Yet, with all this pressure, combined with the insecurity the job brings, those in the profession show up every day, preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.  And what’s incomprehensible - but true - is that, as tenuous as a college coach’s life is, nearly every one I’ve ever known will agree with the statement the greatest broadcaster ever (having spent my childhood in New Jersey in the 1950’s, I’ll admit to a great deal of prejudice on this one), Vin Scully, is said to have coined:

“Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”

Why We See So Many Cinderellas in March Madness

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

A couple years ago, John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats won the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship with, as a basketball fanatic I know called them, “a bunch of one-and-dones.” My friend was upset because he felt that “one-and-done” would be the new blueprint for big-time success. It looked as though he was right on, especially this year when Coach Cal brought in what many called the best recruiting class in history. Yet, it hasn’t turned out that way, not only in the case of Kentucky but on the flip side with teams like Wichita State, San Diego State, Creighton, St. Louis and SMU.

Guys like my (somewhat psycho) associate must be reveling in Kentucky’s misery this season. The ‘Cats have found meshing as a unit difficult and basketball analysts have attributed it to, among other reasons, youth and selfishness (see yesterday’s blog). However, maybe there’s another way to look at the problem, i.e. maybe it’s not a problem at all because at this time of the year, a majority of the country’s fans seem to enjoy pulling for the Cinderella teams.

Why is it there have not only been an abundance of Cinderellas recently, but so many of them have realized such an incredible level of success? #9 seed Wichita State, #11 seed VCU and Butler twice (as a #5 once, #8 once) have made it to the Final Four (or better) since 2010. As a former coach, I would never minimize the value of coaching prowess and preparation but something that cannot be ignored is that the Cinderellas have something else going for them. It might just be the X factor come tourney time. While they can’t always overcome the pure talent that the bigger name schools have the ability to lure, maturity and experience, e.g. juniors and seniors (and the leadership they bring), often can mean the difference between advancing and, having been in that situation several times in my career . . . crying because that’s the reaction the losing team has when the reality of “the season’s over” sets in. There really is no tomorrow - especially for the seniors, most of whom have sacrificed quite a bit for the name on the front of that jersey.

Veteran players have played in so many more games than superstar freshmen (a zillion summer league games, no matter if they’re for championships, carry no weight come March Madness) that they understand what their coaches want from them and have the instincts to better react to situations (whether they’ve been there in earlier years or, simply, watched the guys - role models, if you will - they sat behind perform, waiting their chance).

So, as you enjoy this year’s NCAA basketball tournament, remember the old proverb (not meant to imply anything, just using original verbiage):

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” 

UK and the Lakers Share a Problem

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

The Kentucky Wildcats were the preseason #1 pick in all of college basketball but have fallen on hard times, most recently losing to a very average (maybe even poor) South Carolina squad, a game in which UK’s head coach John Calipari was ejected after disagreeing with a referee’s call (but, possibly, more due to the building frustration Cal’s had attempting to teach his young guys).

Also in the preseason polls - NBA variety - the prognosticators picked the Los Angeles Lakers to not make the playoffs. When Kobe Bryant heard that news, he called it nonsense. What made the situation difficult for the Lakers was that Kobe started the season on the bench. And remained there for quite a while. He finally got on the court, only to suffer another injury that sent him back to the pine. Without the Black Mamba, however, the “other team” in LA, which is what the Lakers have become (and we’re not talking about the Dodgers), just couldn’t keep pace with all the solid clubs in the west. Had they been located in the east, they might have been able to salvage the season but even the worst geography student knows on which side of the country LA is located.

The NBA season is a long, physical grind. When a team is going badly, as are the Lakers, selfishness often takes over. One factor that can make it even worse is when players are in the last year of their contracts, i.e. in their “contract year.” Lakers’ coach Mike D’Antoni, who has to be experiencing one of the most dreadful years of his life (except on the 1st & 15th on each month), said last week that one reason the Lakers are playing so poorly is that so many of their guys are in their contract year.

Wonder if that’s Kentucky’s problem as well since the college equivalent of contract year is the “one and done.”

Although Oscar Wilde (probably) didn’t know the first thing about hoops, he hit the above issues squarely on the head when he said:

“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” 

Seth Davis Ought to Be Ashamed of Himself

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Leaving for the Bay Area and another basketball weekend. This blog will resume on Tuesday, March 4th.

As a means of explanation about this blog. It is not at all personal. Here are some facts: 1) I was a graduate assistant at Washington State from 1973-75, John Wooden’s last two years as coach at UCLA but I never asked him for a reference letter nor for help obtaining a job, 2) I was an assistant at USC from 1991-95 and each time we played the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion, I would stop by his seat to introduce myself (to which he’d say, “No need to introduce yourself, Jack, I know who you are,”) which he did to so many people because of his brilliant memory, 3) while I’ve long been an admirer of his, I, as did a vast majority of the college coaches, knew of Sam Gilbert and the violations at UCLA and a good deal of the other “incriminating information” Seth Davis writes about in his book and 4) I have never met Davis, nor do I have “a bone to pick” with him. 12 ½ years ago I wrote a book of funny (and true) stories. In every case but one, if the story was embarrassing to the person in question, I left out their name. That, however, did not prompt me to pen this blog.    

People write books for a variety of reasons. Money and fame are two. A good cause, a tribute, something to say, a cathartic experience, demand from the public, the list goes on and on. Although I admit I haven’t read Seth Davis’ tome on the late (and don’t think it would have been published until “the late” was the operative term) John Wooden, I’ve read enough excerpts and listened to multiple interviews to understand his motivation. Here’s a hint: you need not go any further than the first two reasons listed above. 

Usually people with fame and money can’t have enough of either. So they look for ways to obtain more of both. For a journalist, writing a book is always an option. Davis’ book idea was born, according to the author, when Ben Howland (who had been hired at UCLA) invited him to have breakfast with Howland and the Bruins’ legend. They wound up at Wooden’s apartment following the meal, Howland eventually left and – two hours later – Seth had a new BFF. As long as the second “F” didn’t last too long. 

After hearing the “Hang Time Podcast (Episode 144) Featuring’s Seth Davis – posted by Sekou Smith,” one thought became apparent – at least it did to me – and that is if ever there was someone with a hidden agenda, Seth Davis is that person. He majored in political science at Duke. He would have made a sensational politician. “A good journalist smells a better story,” he told the podcast listeners. He knew Wooden was not just “a sweet old guy reading poetry.” When asked why he wrote the book, Davis claimed Wooden had been known as a two dimensional character. “I wanted to write about that third dimension,” he told Melissa Parker of Smashing Interviews Magazine. “(This) is not to say the book is a ‘takedown’ by any stretch,” he continued. “It most certainly is not because I found him to be genuinely admirable.

“I also believe that sometimes where most likeable and sympathetic characters are flawed is when they are showing their flaws. It also revealed the flaws of the world around him, the world he lived in, the world that changed and the world that he helped to change, so I approached this as a journalist and as a historian. That’s something that really hadn’t been done with respect to John Wooden in about 40 years.” Well, wasn’t that big of Seth - to approach this as a journalist and a historian, as opposed to someone just looking to “take him down,” write a book and make some money? And become even more famous. To David Woods of the Indianapolis Star, he said, “It was a ‘deep dig.’ I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned.” Of course not, under every stone is . . . dirt

The Seth Davis political campaign slogan (“I’ll stand for whatever the people will fall for”) continued in his Hang Time Podcast with Smith. “When the flaws and rough edges become exposed, people become more likeable and sympathetic,” he said. To borrow a line from Saturday Night Live, “Really, Seth? REALLY? Could it be possible for someone to be more liked than John Wooden? Why don’t you just come out and say, “I met with John Wooden when he was close to death (our last conversation was 10 months before he died) and, from all my years in college basketball, I had heard that many coaches knew UCLA’s program wasn’t exactly what Wooden led people to believe. So, I figured, why not have several meetings with him (so as to establish credibility), then interview those who could give me something negative, so after he dies, I can come out with a book that has all the nasty stuff in there. But since most people adore the guy, it will have to contain a great deal of praise. It will sell, however, because it has what every book needs to succeed: a hook.” And my hook is the reason so many people read biographies – the aforementioned dirt.

Another quote from the author: “I wanted to tell a story that had never been told.” One such anecdote deals with UCLA players Lucius Allen and Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in which Allen and Alcindor discuss transferring to Michigan State (because they weren’t getting enough money to live on and MSU was going to “take care of them.”) In subsequent years, Jabbar claims it was just “talk - teenage angst.” Davis says Allen was one of the first people he interviewed, well before he even had a contract. Gee, I wonder if all Allen had to say expedited that contract? It would certainly aid in bursting the bubble of a guy the public adored - because of the great things he’d accomplished.  The “positive” information in this book has been told on several occasions; it’s the negative events that are revealed that make people want to buy it. “Shockingly enough, he was not perfect. Shockingly enough, he was not a saint,” Davis said. “Of course, people criticize all the great ones.” Yet, the public didn’t know - until Seth felt compelled to expose the coach, warts and all. Let’s face it, Davis didn’t exactly uncover another Bernie Madoff, someone his investors loved - until they found out he was nothing but a crook and a scumbag. Since Wooden was neither, was the reason, as Seth claims, to show that he was human? Didn’t we already know that?

That initial meeting with Wooden led to others. After one of them, Davis told of Wooden retreating to another room to come back with 8″x11″ cardboard with the poem “A Little Fellow Follows Me” that he personalized to Davis’ two sons. At any time during those additional interviews, do you think he ever mentioned that he planned to write a book about the coach – one which was going to expose his shortcomings - as well as improprieties with his program? Of course not. The talks would have immediately ceased, meaning the book would turn into a “takedown,” not fitting the image Seth Davis wants for himself. Although he’s never mentioned whom he does want to model his life after, it’s highly doubtful Skip Bayless is the answer.

Is it a coincidence the book wasn’t published until after the coach died? “Once Wooden passed, I think people sort of felt like they could talk a little more,” remarked the author. Wow, how fortunate for you! Davis’ defenders will point out the work was written “fairly,” that he does say “John Wooden is the best coach in the history of American sports.” If that’s the case, why is it that every excerpt that has come out has included either Sam Gilbert and breaking NCAA rules, or Wooden riding referees and opposing players, or his not being a father figure. i.e. all things scandalous? Davis’ answer to the question of whether Wooden knew what was going on with Gilbert as far as his dealings with the players was, “kind of.” If he actually was planning on “digging deep,” why not dig a little further? It’s a rhetorical question. Everyone knows that line of questioning also would have ended all further conversations.   

When asked on the podcast what he planned on doing now that this gargantuan task had ended, the author exclaimed, “I’m going to walk the earth a little bit on this, and enjoy it, and try to sell a few of these things.” Although Davis claims it isn’t a takedown, was it really necessary? Sure, it might put Coach Wooden’s life in perspective, but who ever asked that his life be put in perspective? Another reference Davis made in an interview was that Coach Wooden was shy and didn’t like confrontations, yet his wife, Nell, was the complete opposite. Anybody who was critical of the coach, well, that would end the friendship. I guess that would mean, if she was still alive when Seth Davis’ book came out, her reaction might be:

“I have two words for you, Mr. Davis. One is profane, the other is pronoun.”

Pity (or Not) the (Not So) Poor NBA Player at the Trade Deadline

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Headed to a hoops weekend in Monterey. This blog shall return on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

For NBA players - the superstars (excluding a precious few), stars, starters, second unit guys or those who fill out rosters) - the NBA trade deadline is, independent of how much or little swag one projects, a time for high anxiety. Especially if the team plane, fully loaded and headed for the next game, is idling (or whatever it’s called when a plane’s engine is on, you’re on board but it’s not going anywhere). The reason: club officials, on phones, seeing if moves can be made to make the team better (or unload a contract in order to clear cap space). Hey, there’s no reason to transport former players - let their new organizations come and get them. While fans might think players look at the situation as a chance to get moved to a better franchise or one in which they have more use for “my game,” moving in the middle of a season has to bring out the stress in people. It would be an interesting study to take the blood pressure of those guys who have been rumored to be moving. Then, check it after the plane takes off - with or without them. Probably wouldn’t be that interesting a study to the players involved, so scrap the idea for now.

Sure, there’s a possibility of switching from a team destined for the lottery to a contender but the reverse could also be the case. Or how about the guy who’s involved in a “creating cap space” situation and is looking at, maybe, reporting and getting assigned to the D League. Or worse. What is lost in the thoughts of those not intimately connected with the players in limbo is the fact that many have families, including kids, some of school age. How does his family deal with, “Guess what? I just got traded.” Since the season is still going on, it’s up to the wife to 1) start looking to sell the house, 2) buy another, 3) in a good school district and 4) all the other elements of uprooting.

Hang on now, the average fan says, the guy in question is making north of a half a million - sometimes waaaaay north. Plus, isn’t that what an the agent is for? So all the wife (or the one who intends/hopes to become the wife) has to do is call family and friends to let them know - even though there’s no way she can break the news before it hits the local TV and cable stations (certainly not before the Internet reports it). There’s the decision as to whether to let the kids finish the school year before moving, and all that has to be considered. Like that of getting traded again or, even released - maybe before the end of the season or at season’s end. And if neither happens, what kind of contract has the agent negotiated - or will the agent be able to get done?

Several factors have to be taken into consideration, not the least of all the money. Definitely not the least of all. When, or if, you ever think of the plight of such an NBA player, consider this:

“Two things money can’t buy are happiness and poverty.”