Archive for the ‘Jerry Tarkanian’ Category

A Rather Harrowing Introduction for All Concerned

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

After I wrote my book, Life’s A Joke, I’ve had several people ask me when I was planning on coming out with another. The plans for a sequel, Life’s A Joke 2.0, has been in the works for a while and, since I am retired, there should be no excuse to not get it done. The piece that follows will be one of the hundreds of stories in it.

Following my emergency thoracic back surgery (T 10-11 for those readers who are unfamiliar with my past), I began my high school teaching and coaching career (making it full circle since high school math teacher and coach was my first job after graduating college). This time, however, my entrance was a little more dramatic – by walking into new teacher orientation meetings with the help of a cane. The shock the people saw was nothing to what I was about to experience.

At the first orientation meeting for new teachers, we were instructed to document everything, that ours (the Clovis Unified School District) was a litigious group of parents. Make sure there’s a paper trail – just in case. This mantra was repeated at all three sessions. I looked around at the others, all but one who were 20-30 years younger than I was, and saw all of them diligently taking notes.

In addition to my job of director of basketball operations at Fresno State (which had ended with the retirement of Jerry Tarkanian), I had gained membership in the National Speakers Association (NSA). One of the main topics I would speak about was team building – about how every relationship is built on trust. Companies hired me, at a considerable rate, and my message was that trust is the most vital, unifying factor in any workplace. Without it, well, just listen to what Stephen Covey (one of the most respected speakers and authors at that time) had to say. “When you have a no-trust culture, you live in memo haven.” While I would custom-make each one of my speeches, I used that line in every one of them. Now, I was working for an organization whose philosophy was diametrically opposed to this belief. Not exactly a banner start.

After hearing this same message for the third time, I felt compelled to, at least, present a different view. I raised my hand and said (probably not endearing myself to my new employer), “I’m a Clovis Unified parent and I haven’t ever thought of suing anybody. Do you mean that there is an extremely small group of litigious parents – and that we should be frightened by them because they might sue?”

Then, I concluded my remarks with this strategic plan:

“Wouldn’t a wiser strategy be to hire better lawyers?”

My Return to the Links – Maybe

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Early in my career, there was an unwritten rule that if a young basketball coach harbored any hope of moving up in the profession, playing golf was taboo. While it was unwritten, it was not unspoken. Both Abe Lemons and Jerry Tarkanian used to say, when asked about their hiring philosophy, “I never hire any coach who owns an RV or golf clubs.”  In fact, of all the head coaches I worked for throughout my 30-year career (10), only two could be considered golf enthusiasts – and four of them didn’t play at all.

The first time I actually played golf was at a media event in the late ’70s. I “competed” in couple more of those outings but, as far as playing a sport, I enjoyed tennis a good deal more. It was a better workout, didn’t take as long and was a whole lot less expensive. Plus, I had more skill with a racquet in my hand than a club. It wasn’t until early in my stint at Fresno State – ironically, working for Tark – when I was properly introduced to golf.

The athletics department had the annual Xmas party and the format was everybody donated something – so everybody won. Kinda like Little League. When my name was picked, wouldn’t you know it, my prize was a free lesson with golf coach Mike Watney, coach/uncle to PGA pro Nick Watney and a member of the Golf Hall of Fame. Mike and I shared a mutual respect for each other (me for him for obvious reasons, and him for me . . . because he told me so). He approached me after the luncheon and asked when we could get together. As I tossed the piece of paper with the “one free golf lesson” written on it in a trash can, I joked that if I was to take up golf, the worst golfer in the world would move up one notch. “No, c’mon, meet me outside my office” (where there was an open field) “and I’ll give you a couple pointers.”

By that time in his career, Jerry had relaxed his “no golf for coaches” rule. There were so many Fresno State tournaments in which boosters played, our AD, who was an avid golfer, wanted coaches to participate and mingle. While Jerry never swung a club, his son, Danny, a marvelous athlete, would represent the basketball department. I set a date with Mike and he had me swing a 7-iron. I gripped it like I would a baseball bat (a sport I was familiar with, had played in high school and loved). After a couple serious slices, Mike diagnosed (one of) my major problem(s). “Try turning your grip so the ‘V’ between your left thumb and index finger points, instead of toward your left shoulder, as it is now, toward your right shoulder. Same with the right hand. Point that ‘V’ to your right shoulder as well.”

I’m nothing if not coachable, so I followed his instructions and – how about that – the ball started straightening out. Not bombs, mind you, but at least shots I’d be easily able to find. Our beat writer happened to be there (at that time, he and I were extremely good friends) and even he, a total non-athlete, was impressed. That made two of us. Mike claims he was never in doubt. Kind of him to say.

Since there were so many others in the department who played and because the weather was always good, I began playing once the season ended. I admit I was hit by the bug and couldn’t wait to get on a course. In addition, one of my surgeries had resulted in nerve damage in my feet, causing neuropathy, a condition in which the feet tingle – like the feeling you get when your foot falls asleep – so my tennis days were long gone.

After a few more surgeries, playing golf became impossible as well. I still loved the game – I mean, you’re playing with friends (the guys I played with weren’t bettors, so it remained a fun game), in a beautiful setting with green grass, sand, water, shrubbery and trees (I’ve spent more time in them than is recommended), in great weather (otherwise, I waited until it improved), riding in carts and, once in a while (more often for me than I was supposed to), you hit the ball. As a golfer, you play against the course. Even though I knew I’d never come remotely close to beating it, it’s the 120 yard 9-iron that I holed out for the only eagle of my life, or the sinking of a left-to-right 30-foot putt that would bring me back – even though my scores might have been in triple figures. I have missed playing tennis and golf (if I were a jogger, I’d miss that too). Now, yoga (no one will ever confuse me with Eddie George but my flexibility has improved) and 30-60 minutes on a recumbent bike have been the totality of my athletic accomplishments.

Maybe because I have learned to live with pain, maybe because I just have to give it another try, I’m thinking about playing golf again. I haven’t reserved a room at the hospital – and hope I don’t need to – but a person can do sudokus (there has never been one I couldn’t complete) only so long. Joni Mitchell was right:

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”


Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson Has Impressive Rookie Season

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Heading to Stanford to check in with my pain management doctor, then on to LA to visit friends. This blog will return Friday, June 5.

18 players who did not get drafted last year played in at least one game during the 2014-15 NBA season. Talk about fulfilling a dream. I’m sure every one of those guys had, at the very least, hoped to have been drafted. Only 60 guys get picked. If you’re not one of them, what’s your next step?

Although I don’t know for certain, I’d guess each one must have had an agent. That is when the agent makes his money, however little it is. Find the client a job overseas (obviously, as lucrative as possible – and there are some high paying jobs across the seas), try to get him signed as a free agent, get him a spot on some team’s summer league squad, try to place him in the D-League.  Keep his dream alive.

A lot of it depends on the client. How badly does he want to play? Is he willing to relocate – maybe to somewhere they don’t speak English? What’s his ultimate goal – the NBA, to make as much money as he can, or is he the adventurous type who wants to see as much of the world while he’s young (on somebody else’s dime)?

Googling “Fresno State players in the NBA” the results show that the school has placed, to date, 21 players in the NBA, although a Fresno State release claims as many as 30 (for the record, Tark had 10 of the 21, not including one kid who transferred from FSU and eventually made it to the league). The Bulldogs’ latest entry is Tyler Johnson, a youngster who wasn’t very highly recruited and whose freshman year saw him average just over four points for a 14-17 club. He improved every year and during his senior campaign he averaged nearly 16ppg and scored at least 20 points in a game on 13 different occasions throughout his career.

Johnson was one of those 18 who went undrafted but earned a spot on the Miami Heat’s summer league squad. Signed by the Heat in early August, only to be released in late October, he hooked on with a Development League team in Sioux Falls, SD. His play must have caught the eye of someone in the Heat organization because, in mid-January, he got what every D-League player dream of: a ten-day contract.

10-day contracts can lead to something – or they can simply tease a player. Some guys see action, others never even get to play during the 10 days. Most, then, get released – usually heartbroken. Johnson’s 10-day stats? One game, two minutes, two points (FTs). The release part happened to Tyler Johnson, but not the heartbroken. He returned to his D-League outfit, more determined to make it than ever. He had seen actual NBA basketball up close and knew he could hang. A couple weeks later, he signed another 10-day, and did well enough to merit another. Only the rule from the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement is, “After the second 10-day contract, the team can only retain the player by signing him for the remainder of the season.” Johnson had done enough to merit another contract, this one for the remainder of the 2014-15 season. His salary was prorated for the remainder of the season but, still, he had made the NBA!

Although that’s not the way Tyler looked at it. He had not yet made anything (even though the contract he signed was for two years – for over a million per year. He was determined, more than ever, to earn every last dollar. By NBA standards, a million dollars a year isn’t earth-shaking. Not even a minor tremor. To put it in perspective, though, guess what the valedictorian of Fresno State’s graduating class makes? While my research, or nosiness, doesn’t extend that far, suffice to say #1’s salary is less than Johnson’s. Besides, Tyler had additional plans.

What might have play into his hands was that the Heat, a proud franchise with multiple championships in the recent past, were struggling just to make the playoffs. The buzz that used to fill the arena was not nearly what it had been when The Big Three were going to the NBA Finals on a yearly basis or when D-Wade and Shaq put up a banner. Some guys just “play it out” at that time, while others might be banged up from a long season and at far less than 100%. Why go all-out, man, you’re a millionaire?

No matter for Tyler. Bring it on. This was his dream – right there in the palm of his hands and he was going to, just as he did in every game he’d ever played, “leave it all on the floor.” Hustle plays, coming up with 50-50 balls, anything to show he belonged, he did it. The month of March was good to him as he first scored a career high 26 points, on 10-of-13 shooting, in a win over Phoenix and, five days later, he played 44 minutes, scoring 24 points, with six rebounds and six assists in an OT victory against Sacramento.

What many players don’t realize, especially at the end of the season when a lot of guys have already made vacation plans, is it’s not only your front office you’re trying to impress. You’re auditioning for your opponent as well. With today’s technology and staffs full of video people, every game is an audition for every team in the league. The way players are moved around today, Tyler Johnson’s performance for the Heat upped his stock so that somewhere, somebody will want him on their roster.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on his evaluation of Johnson’s career to date: “. . . over the course of the years, undrafted players on average, there’s less then five a year that actually make it and have a role . . . (now the question is) can you sustain it.”

All-out hustle is not a new concept. Arguably the greatest baseball player of all-time, Joe DiMaggio, when asked why he always gave maximum effort, replied:

“There might be somebody coming to the game today who’s never seen me play – and I don’t want to disappoint him.”

The Bulls Need to Fire Somebody But They Picked the Wrong Guy

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Full disclosure: At the turn of the century, I was attending a self-improvement clinic (that I helped originate in the mid 1980s), I happened to be sitting next to Tom Thibodeau who was there because he was Jeff Van Gundy’s assistant with the New York Knicks. Jeff had been coming to the clinic since he was a graduate assistant with Rick Pitino at Providence. Due to the proximity (and the fact we went for two days, ordering food in to make the most efficient use of our time, Thibs and I chatted it up quite a bit. At the time I was working at Fresno State for Jerry Tarkanian who had hired Thibs during his short stay as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. We are by no means “boys” but we did get to rekindle our friendship when I saw him at Hall of Fame ceremonies a couple years ago when Tark got inducted. I am definitely biased.

Let’s set the stage: 1993 NBA Finals, Game 6 in Phoenix, Bulls up on the Suns 3-2 in games but down 98-96 with time running out, John Paxson makes a (wide open) three-pointer with 3 seconds to go, allowing the Bulls to win their third straight NBA Championship and second three-peat in the ’90s.

Question #1: What is the shelf life of that shot in terms of Paxson’s golden boy status?

Question #2 Does Gar Forman have incriminating pictures of Jerry Reinsdorf?

In a game of “stare down,” the Bulls blinked first. Their intention was to either get compensation for their coach (with whom they haven’t spoken to for several months) or, because they badmouthed him so bad, no team was willing to give up a draft pick for a guy they knew was going to be fired anyway, let Thibodeau twist in the wind until all the open jobs were filled and, then, fire him. Even though, if he were to be hired by another team, there would be “offset” money, meaning whatever dough he was getting paid by his new employer, was money they could subtract from the considerable (uh, $9 million) they owed him. If that second option sounds childish, . . . you ain’t heard nothing yet.

Bulls’ management talks of the “culture” but I wonder if that culture wouldn’t be in Portland if . . . well, everybody knows about the 1984 NBA draft. What people, especially Jerry Reinsdorf, need to do is get into “today.” Chicago is a destination city for a coach – in terms of the market, fan base and good place to raise a family (at least everybody would learn how to survive those nasty winters). It’s just that it hasn’t been a destination job since . . . Phil left. Not only do Frick & Frack (Paxson & Forman, take your pick as to which is which) fire coaches, every time time they do, it’s nasty to the point of ugly.

Scott Skiles has a good name in coaching circles and might be back in the league as a head man next season. They pink-slipped him. Did he deserve to go? Hey, it’s the NBA – you get fired for not making the playoffs, making the playoffs but losing earlier than the front office thinks you should, not to mention,with everybody owning a camera, one slip up in your personal life (although that last one might be overlooked if you won it all).

Vinny Del Negro got the Clippers job and won 56 games in his final year (including 17 straight). Yet, F&F, allegedly, got rid of Del Negro because he played Joakim Noah more minutes than he was allowed – by F&F. They consulted with the doctors and asked how many minutes Noah should play. The only reason Del Negro played him more is because the game went overtime. It’s a Catch 22 – don’t play him and lose (do that enough and you’re canned) or play him to try to win and piss off the two guys who are power hungry.

How bad are they? They placed time limits on player this year and were upset that Thibodeau played guys too much. What is this pee wee hoops – everybody gets to start at least once and all the players get to play at least once each quarter? Hire your guy and let him coach. Apparently, in both cases, Reinsdorf overruled whichever coach F&F wanted. So they would leak information to undermine the coach (and the franchise). In the Del Negro case, Paxson threw a temper tantrum and began kicking the desk (does someone need a time out, Johnny?) There have been rumors that Paxson likes adult beverages . . . more than is healthy and that they may affect his behavior. Whether or not that’s true may or may not be discovered.

Steve DelVecchio’s story went as far to say, “The relationship between Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls front office is not functional…If the Bulls tried to screw Thibodeau in a childish manner, they’d also be taking themselves out of the running for any candidates that the New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets are considering.” That’s called “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” What’s come out is that Thibs is difficult to get along with. Yet, when asked how, it always comes back to F&F telling him they want the  team coached. Hey. hire a guy and let him work. You don;t like the results, then fire him. When Mark Jackson had that success with Golden State but couldn’t get along with the higher ups, they let him go. And look what happened. Maybe that plan works. It did for the Warriors. It hasn’t for the Bulls.

ESPN’s Marc Stein tweeted, “More and more you hear Thibs’ admirers around NBA say they fear Bulls (were) determined to let all three open jobs get filled and then let Thibs go.” Would they consider that a “win?” Beyond childish.

It sems as tough F&F have near autonomous power. They were overrules by Reinsdorf, who’s known as the biggest White Sox fan in the stadium and among the biggest fans of the Bulls. Regarding Thibs’ hiring, Joe Cowley, of the Chicago Sun Times wrote, “The Chicago Bulls’ front office reportedly attempted to have Tom Thibodeau hire an offensive-minded assistant coach. The coach pushed to Thibodeau was Doug Collins,. . . (whom they) nearly hired as a head coach again in 2008.” If only. Then, they there was their win-win. If the Bulls won, Doug could snatch the credit; if they lost, they could fire Thibs and hire Doug. Apparently, owner Reinsdorf wanted Vinny Del Negro. So, is this how it works – Pax and Gar don’t get to pick the coach but they can fire him? Because he doesn’t coach the team and use the players the way they think he should?

Now they want Fred Hoiberg, who’s done a great job at Iowa State but has zero NBA experience and is coming off open heart surgery. Do they want him that badly? Even if the rumor is Hoiberg wants to coach in the NBA, didn’t they already hire a Iowa State coach (Tim Floyd) whose claim to fame is . . . he hired Gar Forman?

Sportswriter Darrell Horowitz wrote a scathing article, ripping Thibs. He was pretty much the Lone Ranger within his profession. Wonder what his relationship to F&F is? He wrote things an insider would know (assuming what he wrote is fact. What Thibs has going for him is the president (of the United States, not the Bulls – which happens to be Reinsdorf’s son – he probably nailed the interview) came out in support of him. Darell Horowitz (and F&F) are against him. And got Reinsdorf to belittle Thibs. Until then, people felt Jerry was a Thibs’ supporter – and probably was.

A claim can be made that every one of the Bulls’ championships begin and end with Michael Jordan. While MJ didn’t win those titles all by himself, the Bulls never won one without him. They three-peated, he left and they three-peated when he came back. None without him. Case closed.

Once again, to end the Bulls’ dysfunction, the answer is to have John Paxson and Gar Forman coach the damn team. Then maybe they’d fire themselves and let adults take over. After all, as Jeff Van Gundy said (in support of his man, Thibs):

“These are the same two guys who drafted Tyrus Thomas ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge.”


One Component of a Title Fight that Is Guaranteed to Be Present

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

With the Mayweather-Pacquiao  fight being the sport’s biggest since . . . who can even remember, I rummaged through the “Jack’s Blogs” archives because of a story the late Jerry Tarkanian shared with his UNLV teams. The following (edited) blog was posted nearly six years ago but the story to his team is one that I’m reminded of every time there’s any monumental event.

Exactly how big is tonight’s fight? While he was being interviewed after the Clippers staved off elimination by beating the Spurs, Chris Paul mentioned it, saying the Clippers win gave fans something to watch in addition to the big fight Saturday night (tonight). When someone else’s sporting event is so colossal that the emotional leader of a team heading into a Game 7 references it directly after his club won a game to keep their season alive, that event cannot be overstated. What follows is an edited version of what Tark told his guys about preparation and focus for a big game.

Following last night’s Jerry Tarkanian Show (we just completed our fourth season of the radio show as host and star – I’ll let the reader figure who’s the host and who’s the star), Jerry and I talked about competition. Naturally, the NBA Playoffs was one of the major topics of conversation. My blog the previous night had been about how people close to Kobe Bryant spoke of the laser-like focus that he displayed in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic – and of how Kobe intends on maintaining that focus until his personal goal of bringing another NBA World Championship to the City of Angels is accomplished.

Jerry told me of the stories he said he used to tell the UNLV players – of how he’d let them know when there was a big-time boxing championship match in Vegas and how they should watch the fighters as they entered the ring. His point was for them to watch the fighters’ “entourage” first (you know, their posses, troupes, whatever they’re called who walk into the arena with him) as the fighter entered the arena and began walking to the ring. These hangers-on would be yelling, semi-dancing, gesticulating, attempting to lather up the crowd for their man. Jerry’s advice to his UNLV players (since many of them had seen the boxers around town) was to “check out the faces of the boxers.”

His description of this phenomenon was that, during the mayhem going on as each fighter moved toward his respective corner, if you just zeroed your attention in on the boxers themselves, you saw guys, hoods of their robes up, acting as blinders against peripheral vision, staring straight ahead, thinking of nothing other than the impending fight.

In my book, Life’s A Joke, I related a story which made people realize how much total focus is also a part of a coach’s preparation (a great coach, not the one who’s going to use any tube time he can get as a recruiting tool – or as an interview for another job). The story was about a Bulldog booster club lunch meeting and concerned one of the Fresno State players.

Each week during the season, the booster club at Fresno State would hold a luncheon in which head coach Jerry Tarkanian would speak about the games we’d just completed, and give a brief scouting report on the ones coming up.  Then, the luncheon would end with a brief Q&A period for him.  One question to Jerry was how he felt about the armband one of the players was wearing.

Tark said, “What armband?”

The guy said, “You know, the black armband that he wears.”

“He does?” Tark asked.

To which the booster incredulously replied, “I can’t believe you haven’t noticed that he wears a black armband on his bicep.”

Jerry looked at the guy and simply said, “You know, I was married to Lois for 34 years before I knew what color her eyes were.”

I can guarantee you he knew how many turnovers the kid had.

One of the coaches whom Jerry greatly admires (and, if you’ll ask this gentleman about Tark, he’ll claim the feeling is mutual) is none other than the great John Wooden. One of the reasons Tark was so successful is because he also subscribed to the same philosophy of Coach Wooden:

“You can’t do anything about yesterday and the only way to improve tomorrow is by what you do right now.”

The NBA Could Learn from the NCAA

Friday, May 1st, 2015

When I broke into intercollegiate athletics at the University of Vermont in 1972, the NCAA was one of the most powerful and feared organizations in the nation. Right up there with the Teamsters. Walter Byers was the executive director of the NCAA but his title within athletics circles was referred to as “The Czar.”

If there was one common thread among the participating institutions it was, “No one can withstand an NCAA investigation. They were always going to find something. There was no such thing as major or minor violations. The rulebook was so vaguely written that the standard line among coaches was, “The NCAA doesn’t penalize you for those violations they can prove (and with so many rules, everybody breaks one, often without knowledge). The probation they place on the school is for violations they’re sure you committed but couldn’t prove.

The NCAA had sympathy from some people and media because their investigators didn’t have subpoena power. The governing body even had coaches and athletics administrators who felt bad for them because, at that time, there were some incredibly rogue programs, playing fast and loose with the rules but always seeming to be able to stay a step or two ahead.

As most fans are now aware, Jerry Tarkanian initially got into hot water with the NCAA when he was asked to write a column for the Long Beach Press-Telegram. He wrote what everybody felt – about how corrupt an organization the NCAA was, how it used selective enforcement and concluded the piece with the famous line, “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it’s going to give Cleveland State two more years’ probation.”

Whether it got so frustrating for the people who headed up the compliance division when they saw how difficult it was to actually prove a case, or those same people “saw the light” and realized the methods their own investigators were using were less than kosher, a change was made that drastically changed the NCAA. The head of compliance and, later, one of his chief lieutenants, left the NCAA to represent schools which were being investigated by the parent organization, in NCAA parlance, they went over to the dark side. Since then, their won-loss record has flipped and their bank account balances have skyrocketed.

When the higher profile colleges (those that make money off of football and basketball) decided they had enough bullying from the NCAA, mainly allowing smaller institutions to vote on monetary issues to “keep a level playing field” (meaning pass no legislation the majority of schools couldn’t afford), they revolted. What was formed was the Power Five conferences who now can, for all intents and purposes, govern themselves. Thus, the “great and powerful Oz” (NCAA) had fallen, due mostly to its own ego and arrogance.

There is another major sports group which might just be following that same path of destruction. Namely, the NBA. The NBA is judge, jury and executioner for anything related to professional basketball in this country (as well as its Toronto affiliate). It levies fines on its franchises’ employees whenever infractions are committed. The amounts of the fines, which would be devastating to individual families, are seldom questioned due to the outrageous salaries made by players and coaches. In addition, the fines, especially those that seem unwarranted, are alleged to be paid by the ball club (whose owners’ net worths dwarf their employees). These exorbitant tariffs are excused because they go into a charity fund and donated to worthy causes.

There was no more flagrant example than the fine assessed Los Angeles Clippers’ head coach, Doc Rivers following some erroneous calls in Game 5 of the Clips-San Antonio Spurs playoff series.

“I don’t complain much,” Doc said. “I thought we got some really tough calls tonight, some brutal calls. The travel on Blake” (which video replay showed was in no way a travel), “the goaltend on Matt, which wasn’t a goaltend” (after viewing the replay, just as obvious a blown call as the travel call on Griffin). “You think about the playoffs, and they’re single-possession games. Those possessions, those were crucial. J.J.’s foul that got him out, J.J. didn’t touch anyone” (ditto). “It’s not why we lost, but those were big plays for us.”

The coach prefaced his remarks by saying he doesn’t complain much (certainly meaning post-game because make no mistake about it, there is no NBA coach who doesn’t complain during the game – if for no other reason than to keep up with his counterpart). Rivers didn’t go on a rampage or attack the referees, just referenced three calls as “brutal” – and then, named them. After making those comments, he admitted they weren’t the cause for the loss (with so many other plays that could have been made but weren’t, or shouldn’t have been attempted but were, there’s never a call, or two, or three that wins or loses a game). Doc concluded by saying that those calls were “big.” There shouldn’t be anyone, including the employees in the NBA office, who disagrees with that observation.

For that, the NBA fined Rivers $25,000. Shades of the old NCAA. We’re the boss; don’t question our authority. On TNT’s post game show, Charles Barkley, apparently speaking for the “common man” (with his bankroll, he no longer qualifies) made the comment that “$25,000 is a lot of money!” Not in NBA circles.

But keep going NBA and soon you, too, might have your wings clipped (as has the NCAA). As George Santayana said:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

What You’ll Do for Your Friends

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

When I moved to Fresno in 1995 to become part of incoming coach Jerry Tarkanian’s staff, one of the first guys I met was Dave Severns. Dave was a longtime high school coach who, a few years earlier, had come to the conclusion he enjoyed working individually with players to improve their skills more than he did being a head coach. By the time I met him, he’d worked with many of the nation’s best high school and college players at the Nike All-American camps and had been spending a good portion of his summers under the employ of Tim Grover (Michael Jordan’s personal individual trainer).

Early on we discovered our philosophies of basketball and life were closely aligned. (For a closer look at his background, check out the “Categories” column to the right of my blogs and you’ll see his name mentioned in several of them, all the way back to 11/4/08). In addition, I’m close to his three kids as he is with our two boys. He’d occasionally watch Andy play in high school and, when he began a small business (while he was still a high school teacher) of working with young players to improve their skills, Alex was one of his first pupils. Throughout Alex’s career, Dave would often catch his games and, even now, tries to get to at least one of his college games with Cal State Monterey Bay – even though his current job as director of player development for the Los Angeles Clippers keeps him plenty busy during basketball season.

Currently, Dave’s younger daughter, Hailey, is a junior at Clovis North HS and is, quite the thespian. If there’s a play at CNHS, Hailey will not only be a member of the cast, but will have one of the leading roles. Naturally, I want to support her as Dave did with our guys. Last night pushed my loyalty near its limit. Early in the month, he mentioned Hailey was one of the members in the cast of the play The Diary of Anne Frank and the showtimes were evenings on Thursday-Saturday, March 19-21 & 26-28, with a matinee as well each Saturday.

Since we were in Myrtle Beach the first weekend, I told him Jane and I would be attending one of the March 26-28 performances. After we returned from South Carolina, we had to decide which show to attend. At about that time, I realized every one of the shows – including the Saturday matinee (because we’re on west coast time) – coincided with the NCAA tournament games.

A decision had to be made and I picked last night. Jane and I watched the Wisconsin-Arizona game and the first half of Kentucky-Notre Dame. Then, with the game tied at halftime, and one of the greatest upsets of all time hanging in the balance, we had to leave to get to the theater on campus by 7:00. Of course, cell phones are prohibited during performances – and there’s no way I’d try to sneak peeks because, as little as I know about technology, my phone would be the one that would disrupt the performance (with Dave, his wife and her parents all in attendance).

Finally, at the intermission I checked and found out the ‘Cats won by two, with Jerian Grant misfiring on a three at the buzzer to win it. After we personally congratulated Hailey on her well-deserved, superb performance, we left campus and returned home. I scrolled the TV listings and then:

watched the second half of the UK-ND contest, all the while knowing how it as going to end.

Following the (anti-climactic) conclusion, I posted this blog – and headed off to sleep.

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.”

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.”

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

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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