Archive for the ‘humor’ Category

The More We Learn About Jackie Robinson, the More We Admire Him

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

My back pain has reached a level I haven’t experienced in quite a while. Because of that, I didn’t leave the house – and wasn’t sure I’d be able to post something today. Then I watched the first part of Ken Burns’ four-hour documentary on Jackie Robinson. What came to mind was a blog I’d done nearly eight years ago. It is being reprinted here with some alterations – with (my) permission. However, a trip to the doctor in a few hours will most likely shut me down for a couple of days, so expect the next post on Friday, April 15 (a day that does not evoke such wonderful memories for many).

If you were a kid growing up in New Jersey in the early ’50s, you rooted for one of three teams – the New York Yankees, the New York Giants or, my favorite, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although my father was a die-hard Yankees fan, he was a good enough sport (and good enough dad) to take me to Ebbets Field, home of my beloved Bums (my father always claimed I was brain washed by my mother’s side of the family, all of whom hailed from Brooklyn).

The first time we ever went to Ebbets Field, I was four years old. My father was a toll collector for the New Jersey Turnpike and my mother was a secretary, so disposable income at our house wasn’t exactly plentiful. Yet, somehow, my father scraped the money together for a couple of train tickets (by far the most economical means to get to the city) and two game tickets. We were watching the game from the nosebleed section (which was totally fine with me – hey, I was at a Dodger game!) To be perfectly honest, Ebbets Field was such a bandbox, any seat was a good one – unless you got stuck behind a pole.

I can remember many of the fans in our section being black and one guy, when he saw me, asked, “Hey, lil’ fella, who ya rootin’ fuh?” Now, one thing you’re going to get from a four-year-old kid is an honest answer (lying doesn’t become part of a youngster’s makeup until a few years later). I looked up, wide-eyed, and said, “The Dodgers!” This was shortly after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier and the country was still divided on the race issue (we’ve made progress since but it’s hard to believe that at this time in America . . . well, that’s another subject for another time). “Hey, get this kid a Coke – and a hot dog. Get his old man a beer.” We were subjected to the royal treatment.

I didn’t know why, but I figured out I must have given the right answer. We might have gotten chauffered back to Jersey if they would have asked who my favorite player was because Jackie Robinson was my childhood idol. All I saw was a guy who could hit, field, run bases, was strong and handled himself with so much class and dignity. I’m pretty sure I had no idea what class and dignity were at that point in my life, but I knew I wanted to be just like Jackie.

Don’t get me wrong: Erskine, Newk, Labine, Black, Spooner, Campy, Hodges, Gilliam, PeeWee, Cox, Amoros, the Duke, Furillo, all had their baseball cards on my bedroom wall, but it was Jackie’s that was front and center. Naturally, being a Jewish kid, Sandy Koufax soon jumped to the head of the class but not until years later. These Dodgers were the guys who won the first ever World Championship for the Dodgers in ’55 (a few years after this game). I can still remember the ground ball to PeeWee Reese who threw to Gil Hodges for the final out in Johnny Podres’ 2-0 shutout of the hated Yankees in Game 7 that begat a roar from my house (the neighborhood boys on either side of our house as well as the twins across the street were all Yankee fans. I’d finally gotten my chance to gloat.

The following year (my birthday is in June), my aunt, a good athlete and pretty big fan in her own right, mailed a birthday card with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the club requesting all the guys sign it for her eight-year-old nephew who “lived and died” with the Dodgers. They did. I can say in all honesty that opening that card and seeing all those signatures was, without a doubt, the major highlight in my life to that point. It remains ensconced in the top 10 to this very day – which says how much it meant to me and how I’ve lived less than wildly memorable existence. Somehow in the 20+ relocations I’ve made through the years, that card vanished – which easily places it in my top 10 regrets of all-time.

At that time, as I mentioned, I completely idolized Jackie Robinson – for his superior talent, the way he carried himself and because he was the best player on my favorite team. As I read about his life, I found out about how remarkable an athlete (football, basketball, tennis and track, in addition to baseball) he was, how intelligent he was and how courageous he was. He’d attended UCLA and starred in numerous sports there. Further research into his life explained his ultra-competitive and resolute nature. What had impressed me most was that Branch Rickey, the president and general manager of the Dodgers recruited him to be the first player to break the color barrier, not merely because of any of those traits listed above, but more so because he knew Jackie had the mental makeup to withstand all that was about to be leveled at him and, rather than physically fight back, retaliate by thoroughly defeating his opponents in the best way he could to make a point for all of mankind and especially, for his people. The documentary reveals how difficult that was, independent of his demeanor.

When I became a teenager and Jackie’s career was on the downhill side, his exit was the classiest move of all. The Dodgers traded him to the Giants, and rather than play for the bitter rivals, he retired. He walked away and never looked back. In my mind, he remains to this day without a peer.

If ever a line was appropriate for one person, Maxwell Anderson’s quote defines the legacy of Jackie Robinson:

“There are some men who lift the age they inhabit, till all men walk on higher ground in that lifetime.” 

Is Jordan Spieth Now at a Crossroads?

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Jordan Spieth was a household name in every household that includes someone with even a minimal interest in golf. Maybe others, too, especially if they like Under Armour apparel. After yesterday, he made Danny Willett famous.

Entering the day, Spieth had a precarious, but comfortable, lead in The Masters, mostly because he handled the elements, i.e. wind, better than his fellow competitors. Or at least didn’t let it affect his game as much as it did the others. With the weather returning to more favorable conditions, it seemed that the number one golfer in the world was about to become only the fourth player in history to win back-to-back Masters championships.

The front nine went as planned for Spieth who looked like he was cruising to victory. Then, bad things happened. A couple of bogies, followed by, what the commentators referred to as an “epic collapse” turned gold into tie for silver. At one point on the Sunday’s back nine, Spieth had a five-shot lead on Willett, yet wound up three strokes back. When asked to explain what happened, everyone associated with the sport, amateur to professional, gave some version the following response: “That’s golf.”

The hero in the story (heroine before we became such a PC country) has to be Willett’s wife whose due date was Sunday, April 10 – as in yesterday, the Sunday of The Masters. She agreed to a C-section on March 30 so her husband – and new dad – could play in the tourney across the pond without having to worry if and when the blessed event was to take place. Has there ever been a nicer present given to someone than what Jordan Spieth gift-wrapped for the Willett’s?

Following what Spieth did yesterday, his career can go one of two ways: the collapse can break him mentally, causing him to become another good, but vulnerable, golfer, e.g. Dustin Johnson, David Duval or does he take an unthinkable, avoidable loss and return to the same greatness he displayed prior to Sunday at the Masters? I don’t know Jordan Spieth nor have I ever met him but here’s my two cents worth:

“Bet on the latter.”

(Lack of) Excitement Ruled Yesterday’s Sports on TV

Sunday, April 10th, 2016

Yesterday’s date was 4/9/16. Don’t worry about committing it to memory as, although a few thrilling events took place, there was nothing to get excited about quite yet.

The Masters, arguably the nation’s favorite golf tournament, is going on right now. During yesterday’s third round, the winds were so nasty that the tourney’s final pairing, consisting of two of the top four players on the PGA Tour (maybe two of the top two players) put up scores of 73 (Jordan Spieth) and 77 (Rory McIlroy). The former dropped three strokes on his final two holes, yet still remained atop the leader board at -3. The latter dropped as well. Out of contention. Only four golfers are in the red numbers.

What is so enjoyable about golf for television viewers is that the scenery is absolutely beautiful, the environment is close to sterile and, while many of the participants are young guys in terrific physical condition (like Spieth and McIlroy), an average guy, e.g. somebody who’s a few (or more) pounds overweight, not in such great cardio shape and, even older than we’re accustomed seeing in professional sports (like over 40!) can not only compete but, actually, win it.

Yesterday’s winds were so blustery, it was like they narrowed the clown’s mouth and sped up the windmill at your kids’ local favorite course. What makes golf less fair than other sports is that conditions aren’t the same for everyone. In golf the course itself doesn’t make for a level playing field. Fans want to see great players play great – or maybe even face severe adversity. But not because of the wind. Watching yesterday’s round left golf enthusiasts unfulfilled. I mean, who roots for the wind?

Switch over to baseball and one of sports’ greatest rivalries ever – Dodgers vs. Giants – were wrapping up a three-game series. They used to play in ballparks much closer to each other (those of you born before 1950 understand exactly what I’m saying). The Giants won the first two games of the series but the Dodgers rallied and won yesterday, 3-2 in 10 innings. That leaves both teams at identical 4-2 marks – with only 156 games to go. It might be an incredibly intense rivalry but try to hold some energy in reserve when the pennant race starts to get tight. Like six months from now.

Lastly, we have a sport – and a building – that’s coming to a close, we turn our attention to basketball. The Sacramento Kings (who will not be participating in the NBA Playoffs) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (who most definitely are) squared off against each other in what was the final game in Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento (the new Golden 1 Center will be the crown jewel of the west coast).

Naturally, the home crowd wanted the last game in the old gymnasium to be a victory, although sitting at home watching, the crowd didn’t sound exactly deafening. The lottery-bound Kings did what they could to give away the game, up seven with 26 seconds to go. A Thunder three-pointer cut it to four, one of two free throws after OKC was forced to foul put the home team up five, but they gave up another open three within five seconds. Another foul, another 1-2 at the line made it a three-point game with 11 seconds remaining.

Among basketball coaches, the debate rages on about whether, and when, to foul if a team is up three. The Kings decided to do so but Russell Westbrook, realizing what Sac’s strategy was, heaved a wild three-pointer as (or, possibly, just after) he was fouled. The NBA continuous action rule being what it is, the referees awarded Westbrook three free throws with seven seconds left in the game. Of course, he made them all and it looked as though the Kings’ fans were going to get some bonus Sleep Train Arena hoops. However, Rudy Gay drove, got fouled with but one tick on the clock, knocked down the FTs (it was he who’d shot the previous four, making half) and everybody went home happy. At least as happy as fans can be whose team isn’t invited to play in the post season.

For those who remember the old Honeymooners television show, i.e. people who used to root for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, the Cramdens lived in a one-bedroom apartment that was, to put it kindly, sparsely furnished. Ralph (played by Jackie Gleason) was a dreamer and always had a get-rich-quick idea brewing. With the Kings’ situation as it currently exists, if significant changes aren’t made in the off-season, moving into a brand new, “most connected” arena in the world (it will boast internet connections 17,000 times faster than average home) will be akin to what Ralph would say when waiting for his ship to come in:

“Wait until you see what this furniture looks like in a Park Avenue apartment.”

 

 

Jazz Fans Should Feel Shortchanged – for a Couple Reasons

Saturday, April 9th, 2016

As the (entirely too) long NBA regular season comes to an end, fans who attend games now get to witness what others, who only made it to contests at the beginning of the season, were deprived of. The early season fans shouldn’t feel too cheated, though, as the slight they are denied is watching reserves – sometimes for both teams – many of whom play in garbage time only early on, get the significant minutes they so yearn for.

For season ticket holders who attend every game (what is that, a dozen people?), this doesn’t apply because those folks obviously have quite a bit of money – and even more time. For those you who will only go to a game if you can score comp ducats, you have no complaint – because if you’re a freeloader, you take what you can get, when you can get it.

However, for all other fans (Warriors supporters excepted), is it fair to charge full price when second (or lower) teamers play most of the game? If the Utah Jazz is your favorite team, you might have two complaints. With only three or four games to go, not only are most of the playoff spots are taken but some of the first round match ups are known. The overwhelming odds are Utah is in the playoffs but, since they will play either the Warriors or the Spurs, the same odds apply to a first round elimination.

In last night’s game against the Clippers, they started their regulars starters so nobody in the Vivint Smart Home Arena could complain the home club was resting their main men. On the flip side, the Clippers took a different route, deciding to not only give the night off to their starters (and then some), but to allow them to stay home with their families (although Austin Rivers didn’t get to spend time with his dad who chose to go to work instead). In addition to young Rivers, there was no CP3, Blake, DJ, JJ (you know how good guys are when people know which guys you’re referring to without even using their full names). Occasional starter Wes Johnson put the number of Clips unavailable at six for the game in Salt Lake City.

How upset would you be if you paid to see how close to 100% Griffin is after his basketball injury, self-afflicted injury and suspension? Or if you wanted to see CP-DJ pick and roll lobs? Or if you’re a lover of pure jump shots – or a Duke hater? Well, for those of you who were upset at last night’s game and the skeleton crew the Clippers had the nerve to put on the floor, how do you feel about your hometown guys losing to such a depleted outfit? And making you stay an extra five minutes to not get the job done?

This just goes to show the old saying is still the case:

“Don’t complain about how bad things are; they can always get worse.”

 

 

Tyler Summitt’s Story Is Tragic

Friday, April 8th, 2016

For the period 1980-87 I was an assistant men’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. Back then it was the only school where it was necessary to mention be which hoops program you were part of. Since then UConn might be also fall under that category, although their men’s squad has several championships to their name so the difference in success between the two isn’t as vast a gap.

Pat Summitt was in her heyday, actually just at the beginning of the peak of her career (1987 was her first championship team), but few coaches I’ve worked with were as cooperative as Pat. Our staffs were quite close. It wouldn’t be unusual for me to get a call mid-week from Pat, alerting me to the fact it was a big recruiting weekend for them and wondering if our two groups could tailgate together? I’d  respond that since the weekend was just as important for us, a joint tailgate would be a terrific idea. A UT football weekend is a major selling point – an event - to a prospect – in any sport.

As far as practice times, it was simple. From October 15 (the first official day of practice), the Lady Vols had the 12:30-3:00 slot. Our time was 3:30-6:30. Occasionally, they’d be having a bad practice, the kind a head coach feels the need to continue. Never once in the seven years I worked there was Pat’s team on the floor one second after 3:30. In such a situation, she might summon a manager and tell her to find another gym for the ladies to continue but she respected the parameters set up prior to the season. On the other hand, none of our guys would ever consider wandering down at 3:20 or so to shoot on a side basket, lest they be stricken with the infamous “Pat stare.” It was a mutual respect.

I recall once we’d lost a very winnable game on the road and our head coach, Don DeVoe, was incensed. Following the game, he called for a practice the next day, Sunday, usually an off day for the team. As we were walking up the hallway to the main court, we could hear balls bouncing. “Damn,” Don said. “I forgot to check with Pat; I bet they have the gym.” Sure enough, when we got to the floor (in the old Stokely Athletics Center – the new state-of-the-art Thompson-Boling Arena was still a couple years away from being built) and there are Pat and her troops.

The first thing Pat said was, “Tough one yesterday, Don.”

Don responded. “Yeah, Pat, I totally forgot to check the schedule when I called for practice today.”

Pat simply said, “I completely understand. We’ve all had those games.” She called over one of her managers and told her to find another gym on campus – or close by – then instructed her team they’d be practicing there. The move was totally unnecessary but was done to save face for the men’s program.

Pat Summitt was the ultimate team player. Most, if not all, of the readers of this blogspace are aware of the fact that Pat was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Friends have told me that, although, she “has her days,” the disease is definitely progressing. If ever a negative could become a positive, it would be if Pat’s condition makes it unable for her to understand the gravity of the situation her only child, Tyler, faces.

Pat is closer to Tyler than anyone in the world. He was a fixture in the Lady Vols’ program from the time he was an infant. It wasn’t surprising he became a coach (having been a walk-on with Bruce Pearl’s men’s team before deciding to coach on the distaff side). After a couple years as an assistant at Marquette, Tyler was selected to coach the one-time powerhouse Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters, a program that had since fallen on hard times. He was all of 24 – two years older than his mother was when she was named the head coach at Tennessee (after the head coach abruptly quit).

His mom’s top assistant, Micki DeMoss, came out of retirement to give Tyler needed coaching and recruiting wisdom. While Tyler, who had married his high school sweetheart, learned so much from his mother, apparently he picked up a trait from his father as well. The Summitts divorced after 27 years of marriage. Those who knew the story attributed it to Pat’s husband’s wandering eye.

The latest news flash is that Tyler Summitt, having just completed his second season as head coach at La Tech, has resigned because of an affair with one of his players. The young girl is reportedly pregnant. Independent of the effort parents try to make on their children, temptations abound. Far be it from me to pass judgment on anyone, however, in this case, Tyler Summitt seems to have fallen prey to the late Robin Williams’ philosophy:

“God gave man two heads but only enough blood for one to work at a time.”

If this situation weren’t so sad, it might be funny.

Are the Warriors That Good or Facing Impending Doom?

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Last night the Golden State Warriors were up a couple after shooting miserably and displaying little concern for the ball. As the second half began, fans in Utah thought – maybe? The Jazz had missed some shots that weren’t particularly difficult so there might have been an upset brewing after all.

Utah jumped out and seemed to be in total control of the game – mainly because Golden State just couldn’t knock down shots and turned the ball over (19 assists, 18 TOs).  Finally, Gordon Hayward made a big shot and, although they missed some free throws (OK, a major understatement, they went 4-14 from the line in the fourth quarter), wouldn’t you know it, the Jazz were up three with Golden State down to what was the last time they’d touch the ball in regulation.

Klay Thompson missed a tying three-pointer and the game was . . . wait, an offensive rebound by Shaun Livingston. Any coach will tell you the best opportunity for threes is off of offensive rebounds – especially when it’s thrown back out to a great shooter – who’s just missed. Thompson knocked down the second chance and, after an abortive final possession by the Jazz, the game went into overtime.

Never give a monster another breath. Golden State won easily in OT and now has 68 wins. Utah basically gave away a winnable game and, if they don’t make the playoffs, will look back on last night’s “gift.” Once again, the Dubs snatched victory from nearly certain defeat. Are they the most clutch team ever? Or are they playing with fire, with the possibility of getting torched?

What, you might ask, was going through Steve Kerr’s mind after last night’s contest? While I’m not privy to Kerr’s innermost thoughts, it wouldn’t surprise me if, after every game, he came to the identical conclusion:

“Man, am I glad I didn’t take that Knicks job.”

While Computers Are Vital, There Does Exist a Downside

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Nothing is better than communication with friends, especially when you’re 67 and you’ve lived in nine states. That’s the main reason I have a Facebook page. As any loyal reader of this space knows, my technological skills are on about the same level as my knowledge of the psychology of snails. In all honesty, before the turn of the century, both were about equal.

The worst of my 10, yes ten, back surgeries came in June, 2002. Luckily, I was referred to the Stanford Pain Management Center, three hours from our home in Fresno. I was beginning to restart my high school teaching and coaching career (which I’d left 30 years prior) and was told I had to take additional courses to update my credential. A couple of them were, naturally, computer classes. The teacher kept referring to the “hard drive.” Possibly because I had a quizzical look, he asked me if I knew what a hard drive was. Although I was fairly certain my answer was wrong, it was the only one I could offer.

“When I have to make that six-hour round trip to Stanford,” was my reply. It might have not have been correct answer but it was definitely a correct answer.

Since then, probably out of necessity because our two sons were 13 and 8 at that time, I’ve upgraded my technologically-related skills to emailing, texting, Facebook and, of course, blogging (I still maintain the best form of communication is a face-to-face conversation, a phone call coming in second – and everything else a distant third. Next up in the seemingly never-ending methods of impersonal methods of connecting people was twitter.

A friend set up a twitter account and my first (and last) tweet was informing the twitter world that another individual was invading their habitat. A couple days later, my friend told me I had over 30 followers – which was somewhat frightening because I had no idea where I was going. Even now, from time to time, I’ll receive notice that another poor soul is following me.

Two items ended my twitter career. One was when our younger son mentioned something to me and I asked him if he saw it on twitter. He said, “No, instagram.” That was it. Whoever these computer geniuses were, who were taking over the world of communication as I knew it, were inventing things faster than I could learn them. So, that was the end of my twitter career. Oh yeah, the other reason was much easier to understand. Can you imagine limiting me to 140 characters?

Answering machines for land lines were helpful but not nearly so much as personal cell phones. The advent of email and texting hurt those from my generation – at least those of us who weren’t keen on improving – by learning a new (computer) language. There’s no doubt I should have jumped in with both feet when computers were, obviously, the way of the future. But while I admit to that major error, I still miss phone calls from friends.

I have become relatively proficient in sending and receiving emails and texts – even the “junk” ones because I’ve learned to just delete them. What is alarming is the number of scams occurring online. Our neighborhood has a “Nextdoor” email – which I’ve heard is gaining popularity throughout the nation. We live in an area that was built around a man-made lake. There are about 25 subdivisions around the lake. An email was sent to people in our, and nearby, neighborhoods requesting the owners and tenants to join. It serves as a means of alerting people to what’s going on – good and bad – where we live.

People let their neighbors know of lost dogs and cats, what’s going on at he clubhouse and ask for recommendations for plumbers, roofers, housekeepers, etc. If you’ve joined, you also get more disturbing texts, e.g. strangers lurking near the local elementary schools, suspicious looking cars and people who might be casing homes and, most recently, people who steal outgoing mail left in individual mailboxes for the carrier to pick up the following day when he delivers that day’s mail. Apparently, these low lifes are trying to get bank account numbers and other personal information.

As if that isn’t the only disturbing invasion of privacy, now there are “cyber thieves” (a term I hadn’t come across until recently) who are hacking into our computers. Yesterday I got three texts from friends (who don’t know each other) almost simultaneously, with the dreaded message, “Did your email account get hacked?” Of course the answer was yes. It had happened to me in the past and I’d sent the same message to others regarding their emails. I’ve also been a victim of identity theft but, because I check most of my accounts on a daily basis, caught it immediately and experienced only minor aggravation.

Obviously, I’m old school but I still have to ask the question, “What is wrong with these people?” If they’re smart enough to figure out how to do something so nefarious, why not put that knowledge to use and do something good? Now I’m not naive enough to think everybody wants to do good. There’s that segment of the population who enjoys “getting over” on people. High level espionage is one thing. That has been going on since well before the invention of computers but many of these new jerks are only inconveniencing us. For those sorry folks I’d just like to know what the end game is. Maybe we could amuse them in some other way that satisfies their inner (nasty) self.

I imagine there have always been scammers but more and more have appeared since the computer came along. What’s sad is a feeling I get from time to time – which I fully comprehend is dangerous:

“Makes me yearn for the good ol’ days.”

 

When Players and Coaches Dread Post Game Pressers

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

For those people who have never been part of a college basketball team that competed in the NCAA Tournament, whether as a player, coach, manager, trainer or any of a number of new positions that have been created, you’ll never know the feeling of exhilaration, ending in complete despair (for all but one team). March Madness is the ultimate of such an experience.

When a team wins its conference tournament, and with it, an automatic bid to the Big Dance, the euphoria begins. The next step is during Selection Sunday – those squads finding out which opponent they’re about to face as well as when and where. There are other teams that are certain to get their ticket punched, most of which play in the power conferences. However, there are always teams who have to sweat it out, i.e. those who are “on the bubble.”

Once the field is set, every team prepares for its next opponent. Independent of how much of an underdog it might be, every team feels it can win (even the #16 seeds who visualize their club being the first #16 to beat a #1). Some teams get hit with reality sooner than others, as the score gets out of control early and their deficit increases. However, every year there are some games that come down to a final winning shot – at the buzzer (or was it just after the buzzer)? Now that there is instant replay used, the drama is greater – for the viewer. For the participants, it’s nothing short of excruciating.

Possibly, the only thing worse than losing in such a shocking manner is the post game press conference. While there are media members who ask questions designed to explore certain strategies, intended to enhance the viewers’ appreciation for the game, there always seem to be other scribes who feel it necessary to ask probing questions that will elicit an emotional response from a young man who just lost.

What the people who pose those questions fail to realize (or, worse, who understand exactly what they’re doing) is the magnitude of the situation. Unless someone has poured his heart and soul into an event, he will never endure anything quite like it – with the possible exception of the death of a loved one. No one
connected with the program thinks the journey is going to end – no matter the odds. (On an even more somber note, imagine how crushing it is for the overwhelming favorite who loses). Then, often in an instant, it’s over. Done.

The season, the dreams, the goals and, in many cases, the career. The finality of it is devastating. Then, there are (usually three) players who are requested by the media to show up and face the cameras for the post game press conference – way before the magnitude of it has had time to sink in. (Of course, the head coach must attend, too). Questions directed to high profile players whose teams were just eliminated as to whether they’ll be returning to school the following year. Regarding a controversial call, asking what they (players or coach) thought of the referee’s decision (knowing it’s a trap question but hoping for “headline” response). Posing a question to a coach about the possibility of taking another job. Or, as the nation saw, asking a player from Baylor – which had just been upset by Yale – how the Bulldogs managed to outrebound his ball club (for the record, more fans than not thought the answer was spot on, considering all that was going through his head at the time).

Every guy who’s interviewed thought, before the game, his team was going to win – and advance. You know the first round losers had packed for a second game. Even those double-digit underdogs who, deep down, felt it was an insurmountable task, clung to the hope of a major upset – the kind the tourney witnesses every year, if for no other reason than how hard they worked. Then, when it’s finally over, your feelings are – and there’s no better word to describe it – numb.

On a personal note, I’ve been on staffs of teams who won highly improbable games in dramatic fashion – and lost some in the same manner. In the 1992 NCAA Tournament our USC team was a #2 seed in the Midwest which resulted in a relatively easy first round victory. We watched as the game preceding our next challenge resulted in a major upset. What this meant was if we could get by a #7 seed, we were confident we’d be one game away from the Final Four.

One of our guards hit a shot with 3.2 seconds left, putting us up by two. After the ball was kicked out of bounds across from their bench – with 8/10ths of a second left – we denied the inbounds pass so well the referee was on the verge of calling a five-second violation. At the last moment their freshman forward popped out, caught the ball and without looking at the basket (his post game description of it), threw in a three-pointer. The first three-pointer of his career!

So, when I see these post game press conferences and some of the questions that are occasionally asked, one emotion goes through my mind:

“Empathy”

Jubilation vs. Frustration

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

A weekend of March Madness puts this blog space on the back burner. See you on Tuesday, March 22 when we return.

Two late games, both decided by last second shots – one that counted, one that (barely) didn’t – illustrated to fans how harrowing the game of basketball can be. Four teams waited all day – and a good part of the night – to play in the NCAA Tournament, knowing that if they came out on the short end, not only would the game be over, but their season. What was more frightening was, for seniors, the end of their careers as well.

Texas vs. Northern Iowa and St. Joseph’s vs. Cincinnati were as compelling NCAA Tournament games as any that were scheduled for Day 2 of this year’s March Madness. UT is led by Shaka Smart, arguably the most coveted coach over the past 3-5 years. Since they do everything bigger in Texas, most notably coaching contracts (his for at least $21.7 million over the next seven years), the Longhorns won the battle for the services of the coach noted for his frenetic style of play and ability to gain players’ trust, leading to the most important factor in winning: buy in.

The opposing head coach was Ben Jacobson, someone who would have been a hot commodity in the profession except for the fact he signed a 10-year contract in 2010 at $450K per, only to have UNI tear it up five years later for another 10-year deal – at double the salary (affording him and his family a very comfortable living). The battle of millionaire coaches was so exciting coaching contracts were never mentioned. Texas jumped out early, only to see UNI go on a scoring spree to take an 8-point halftime lead.

So it was UT’s turn to put on a spurt. Immediately after halftime, they reclaimed the lead, only to see the game go back and forth in the final moments. A free throw gave the Panthers a two-point advantage until the Longhorns answered with a short jumper with a couple seconds remaining. Texas gave token pressure, UNI did not call a time out and everybody settled in for overtime. Even after they inbounded to Paul Jesperson, there was no thought of the game doing anything but continuing for at least another five minutes. Of course none of the Longhorns wanted to foul him, so when he took a crossover dribble, he had an open look at the basket – from just beyond midcourt. The shot went in.

Was it lucky? Steph Curry provides such highlights on, seemingly, a weekly basis and tells us he actually practices such shots – and has video evidence to prove his claim. Unless Jesperson called “glass,” luck had to play a major role in it. Watching the video of Northern Iowa and Texas players, could only be described as “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

The ending of the UT-UNI contest had nothing on the St. Joseph’s-Cincinnati game as far as excruciating excitement goes. St. Joe’s (as a Jewish kid growing up, I remember asking my Catholic friend if it was blasphemous to call a saint by his nickname) hit a shot to put them ahead, only to see Cincinnati score at the buzzer. Or was it after the buzzer?

Try to imagine your season continuing or ending being based on a video review by the referees. Whichever way it turns out, it’s anticlimactic. In this case, the ball was above the cylinder before the horn sounded (the basis for the rule of whether a ball is goaltended or offensively interfered with). Unfortunately, the rule for whether or not a shot is good is, “has the ball left the shooter’s hand(s) before the horn?” The ball was clearly in the UC’s player’s hands when the horn sounded (and red light around the backboard lit up). But only by the minutest of smidges.

In my 35-year coaching career, I can recall similar game situations, both good and bad. Although they seem to balance out:

“The losses sting way more than the wins feel good.”

Especially at tournament time.

Players Just Need to Understand Their Roles

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Briefly checked the Clippers-Rockets game last night. Would have stayed longer but there were some comedies on ABC that I like. That, and the game was so bad. There are people who say the NBA isn’t worth watching because the players coast until the playoffs. Houston’s performance last night did nothing to dispel that notion.

Dwight Howard, who had a monster game against the Clippers in Los Angeles, showed signs of sulking early when the game plan didn’t feature him. The Clips’ DeAndre Jordan thoroughly outplayed Howard, if for no other reason, than he was thoroughly engaged in the game. I’m not sure why, but Howard’s performance reminded me of a conversation I had with one of our guys at Fresno State.

We had a really talented team, one which would play in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, five of the guys would become NBA players. Our power forward, Larry Abney, was a real workhorse, defending and rebounding at a high level. Larry was appreciated by everyone in Fresno – coaches, players, administrators, fellow students and fans. In one game (actually a loss to SMU in Fresno), Larry had 35 rebounds, the most in a college game since 1960.

One day Larry came up to me and said, “Jack, we have plays for Melvin (Ely, our center). We have plays for Courtney (Alexander, our #2 guard). We have plays for Chris (Herren, our point guard). We have plays for Terrance (Roberson, our small forward).

“I know I’m not the offensive player those guys are,” he continued, “but, I mean, can’t we have one play for me?”

Obviously, Larry was a proud guy and even though he didn’t have anywhere near the talent of Dwight Howard, he would never consider giving anything less than a maximum effort every game. Or every practice. But I also knew Jerry (Tarkanian, who didn’t like “plays”) would never run one for Larry. As hard as he worked, though, Larry deserved an answer.

I said to him, “Larry, we shoot 43% as a team.

“57% of the plays are run for you.”

He and I still joke about that conversation – and he’ll admit he got the point.