Archive for the ‘Coaching’ Category

(Source) — A former Los Altos High School student and baseball player is suing the school district and his former coach for hundreds of thousands of dollars because the coach repeatedly benched him. According to the suit, the school’s head varsity baseball coach, Gabriel Lopez, repeatedly refused to let 17-year-old Robbie Lopez, no relation, play throughout his senior year. The suit claims this constituted a pattern of “harassment and bullying.” The teenager and his parents are seeking $150,000 or more, according to the suit.

Sigh. And so it continues. If this is bullying, do you know how many of my former players could sue me? I’ll give you the answer – hundreds. Good God, man. Newsflash, Robbie Lopez – it’s your coach’s job to bench you if you’re not playing well. Hell, using this logic every kid on the bench could sue his coach. That’s just dumb, man.

PS- In the future every coach will be required to play every player an exact even number of minutes. Then nobody will get their feelings hurt. Awesome.

So I guess the Texas State football team went through some media training the other day, where they were taught some important core values. This is great because, you know, a lot of kids aren’t taught the basics of life at home. Ladies and gentlemen, here are those core values:

Sweet God almighty that pains me to read it. Seriously, we have to tell college kids that these are core values? What, did they forget “no killing”? Honestly, it amazes me that we have to explain to men between the ages of 18-22 that these behaviors aren’t acceptable. Hell, I coach kids from 14-17 and I don’t have to point this out to them. I mean, are there actually guys sitting there that are saying to themselves, “Ah, be honest, don’t hit women, no drugs, stealing or weapons. Now there’s a good idea.”

The mind reels, man.

A girls softball team from Virginia paid a steep price for a lesson about social media: After a victory, think twice about gloating over your opponent on their home turf — especially if the chosen method of gloating is posting a photo on social media of six teammates flipping the bird under the caption, “watch out host.”

The 12-to-14-year-olds who make up the Atlee junior league softball team from Mechanicsville, Va., were disqualified Saturday from the nationally televised championship game at the Junior League World Series in Kirkland, Wash., after one team member posted that photo on her Snapchat account before their game Friday. The team apologized Saturday, even asking for an investigation into the game, but it was too late to repair the damage the image had caused.

Little League spokesman Kevin Fountain called the post “inappropriate” in a statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, explaining that it violated the league’s “policies regarding unsportsmanlike conduct.”

The disqualification didn’t sit well with the Atlee team manager, Scott Currie, who found out about the photo Friday evening after the team’s 1-0 win. Currie immediately reprimanded the players who were involved, before demanding they delete the post and apologize in person to their rivals.
“It’s a travesty for these girls,” Currie told the Times-Dispatch on Saturday. “Yes, they screwed up, but I don’t think the punishment fit the crime.”

Yes, I have an opinion on this “controversy”, and it’s pretty straightforward – I agree with the decision to disqualify this team 100%. I’ve spoken at length about my feelings on running up the score and showing bad sportsmanship, and nothing has changed although it seems I’m becoming more and more in the minority.

If you research this story online, you’ll find that a lot of people upset about it, especially because the entire team was disqualified when only six girls were in the photo. Newsflash: In sports, you are a TEAM. Many times, when even one players makes a mistake, everybody pays for it.

And in its own way, that’s a beautiful thing. It’s a life lesson, something to use forever and hopefully pass on to your own children one day. Don’t simply think about yourself, think about your friends, your family, your team.

Hell, do you now what one of the worst punishments I can hand out as a coach is? It’s when one player makes a mistake, and I make him stand there and watch everybody else run. Is that fair? Perhaps not, but neither is life.

Oh, and again, it just might help you remember that your actions can affect everyone around you.

As anyone who’s ever played for me will tell you, I believe what these girls did was a bush league move. It was classless and wrong. And I don’t care what the other team was doing during the game to possibly provoke them either, that’s irrelevant. So is how many hours they put in or how hard they worked to get there. They threw all that away with one ignorant decision.

And hey, Coach Currie, you shouldn’t be upset. This was largely your fault. Coaching is much more than teaching how to hit, field, tackle or shoot free throws. It’s teaching what’s right and what’s wrong.

Had you done your job your team would’ve known better, and by defending them you’ve made the problem worse.

Coach, listen up. Back when I was in high school I was playing in a basketball game. I’d committed a dumb foul and followed it up by receiving a technical foul. That night after the game I went to my Uncle Myrl’s house, a man I had great respect for, to visit my cousins. As I walked by him in the kitchen where he was sitting reading  the newspaper, we had the following conversation:

“Dave, you know what’s worse than making an ass of yourself?”

“Uh, no.”

“Making an ass out of yourself twice.”

Still true today, coach.

 

Getting Over Losing

Posted: April 25, 2017 in Coaching, Opinion, Sports
Tags:

We had a tough loss in our state district tournament a couple months ago, and the other day somebody asked me how long it takes to get over a loss like that. The answer?

Never. You never get over it. Not really.

Ask any coach or player in any sport and they’ll say the same thing, if they’re a true competitor. I remember the very first year I coached, and it was Junior High basketball. We lost a tough game early on, as as I looked back at the team from the front of the bus most of them were quietly chatting, smiling and having casual conversations. However, there were a couple who were sitting by themselves, a serious look on their faces, just staring out the bus windows.

Guess which two players ended up being the best high school players? You guessed it.

Nearly every kid I’ve ever coached has loved to win, but the best players I ever coached hated to lose. There’s a big difference.

I coached in a very successful program early in my coaching career, and we lost in the regional final game. One of our players missed a shot at the buzzer to win the game, and it haunts him to this day. He told me it still crosses his mind more than anyone would imagine.

Back in 1993 I had one of the best teams in Ohio, and at one point we were ranked #2 in the state. We lost a key player a little over halfway through the season, were never quite the same, and ended up losing our very first game of the tournament. It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, but although it happened over two decades ago I still think about it probably once a week, just going over in my head what I could have done differently.

Trust me, coaches and players are much harder on themselves than any fan could ever be.

That game we lost back in early March? I’ll never watch the game film. Too painful. Same for that game 24-years ago. Won’t watch it, can’t watch it.

Listen, I know some people won’t understand, they’ll say it’s just a game, not life and death, and they’re right. As I’ve said before, ultimately coaching and playing sports is about relationships and not wins and losses.

But that doesn’t make losing any easier. In fact, being close to your players makes it harder.

Losing? We learn to live with it, but we never, ever get over it.

The basketball season before this one we went out to play in a big tournament in Morgantown, West Virginia. Our game was against Morgantown High School, whose enrollment of 1,700 was over 6-times larger than ours at Paint Valley. However, since the Bearcats aren’t the backing down types, we’d accepted the challenge and headed out there for the game. It was a great all-around experience for our kids, spending a couple days out of town, staying in a hotel and eating at nice restaurants, all paid for by the tourney organizers.

The game itself was a pretty good one, but in the end the eventual 2016 West Virginia State Champions wore us down and won by 20-points or so. The score, however, isn’t the point of this story. It’s something that happened in the last few minutes of the game . . .

We had a freshman on the bench that day who didn’t play much varsity, and it happened to be his birthday. As the clock wound down, I walked to the end of the bench where he sat. The following conversation then ensued:

“PJ, I’m putting you into the game now. You’re going to make a 3-pointer on your birthday.”

“OK, coach.”

Except he just sat there.

“PJ, go into the game.”

At that point it hit him that he was in fact entering the game to compete against the best D1 high school basketball team in West Virginia, so he stood up and ran to the scorer’s table.

He then checks into the game and we run a couple plays for him, trying to get him that big birthday 3-pointer. Of course, our bench knows what’s up so they’re standing up on each shot, disappointed when each one bounces off the rim.

Of course, our fans have caught onto what we’re trying to do so they’re into it as well, rising up with each of PJ’s high arching rainbows, only to let out a loud, “Awww . . .” when the shots wouldn’t connect.

And then an interesting and somewhat confusing thing happened – the other team and its fans started cheering for PJ too.

What the heck?

Now, PJ is a cool, likeable kid and all, but the other team and their fans didn’t know that. They had no idea it was his birthday. Why the hell were they cheering so loudly for him?

Anyway, on his last chance PJ launches one of his patented high-arching threes, and of course he drains it. Our crowd goes wild, their crowd goes wild, our bench goes crazy, their bench is waving towels, and PJ gets hugs from both teams. I also recall a kid in the Morgantown student section stepping out to give him a high-five.

Still, it seemed odd and didn’t really add up, and after both teams shook hands (PJ got a lot of hugs and head rubs), I brought it up in the locker room. That’s when PJ cleared it all up for me:

“Uh, coach, I’m pretty sure the other team thought I was a special needs kid or something.”

Ahhhhh. That explained a lot. PJ, being a skinny little freshman who everyone was clearly rooting for, was mistaken for one of those kids you see on YouTube videos or the news that get put into a game for their one big chance at glory. They thought he was, you know, mentally disabled or something. To them it was a heartwarming story of a young man who got his big chance and came through in the clutch, and not the simple story of a coach trying to get a freshman player a 3-pointer on his birthday.

In retrospect, hilarious. Those fans in Morgantown are probably still talking about it.

Bottom line, that shot is etched in the memories of all who attended, that high-arching rainbow that drained through the net as an entire gymnasium erupted, the shot that will be known forevermore as . . . The Morgantown Drainbow.

‘Twas special night indeed.

Note: Please save the messages ripping me for making fun of special needs students. I am not. Nor am I making fun of PJ. It was his birthday and the whole thing was completely misread. Hence, it’s funny. In addition, if you know PJ it’s twice as funny. 

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Tasty?

This is a rarity, but I’m going to use real names and places in this story. Why? Because I’m pretty sure all involved will just laugh about it. Read on . . .

It was early in my coaching career and I was coaching junior high basketball at Greenfield Middle School. We had a really good team, and we had a big game coming up against Circleville, who was also really good.

When I got to the school for the game that evening, though, I got some bad news – our best player was sick.

Yep, Marcus was our best player and MVP of our team, and he was sick as a dog. When I walked into our locker room he was doubled over, pale, and clearly not well. I mean, the kid could barely walk.

Uh-oh. This was bad. Really bad. I mean, we were good, but no way could we win without Marcus. I walked up to him and asked him if he could make it, and at that point he reached behind him and grabbed a jar of Vicks VapoRub from his locker. Then he said, “This will fix me up, coach. Don’t worry about it.

Ah, OK. A little Vicks VapoRub on the chest was always good for what ailed ya, right? Hey, if Marcus thought it would work we’d be good to go!

Oh, it was probably 10-minutes later when another player, Jeremy, came running up to me with a look of horror in his eyes.

Coach, he ate it! HE ATE IT!

Wait. What?

He ate it? Ate what? Certainly not the Vicks VapoRub. I mean, it said, “NOT TO BE TAKEN INTERNALLY” right on the lid there.

I had to find out though, so I went to the man himself.

“Uh, Marcus, you didn’t eat that did you?” 

“Sure, Coach. My family eats it all the time. It’ll clean me out. I’ll be fine. Give it a few minutes.”

At that point I saw it, on the bench beside him, the empty jar of Vicks VapoRub, just sitting there empty and clean as a whistle.

Oh, for the love of God. He ate it.

Bottom line? As I coached from the sideline waiting for him to die, Marcus played a great game and led us to victory. Guess he was cleaned out.

Who knew that Vicks VapoRub was such a miracle cure?

Note: I actually researched this and found that it was not uncommon for people to eat Vicks VapoRub back in the day. Still not recommended though.

Yep. This guy.

So Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh took a shot at Ohio State yesterday, tweeting out this photo with the words “Unairbrushed evidence has been uncovered that confirms Woody’s love & strong feelings for the University of Michigan.”

As you might imagine, this set off a firestorm in Buckeye Land. First off, Woody wore that abomination on his head for a reason. He was at a charity event and a man told him he’d donate $50 if Woody would put it on. Woody then responded that he’d do it for $100. Hence the photo.

 As for Harbaugh, it was fans of Michigan State, Michigan’s other blood rival, that responded with a vengeance. The following photos were soon tweeted with the caption: “Unairbrushed evidence has been uncovered that confirms Jim’s love & strong feelings for MSU.”

  

That’s good stuff right there.

Full disclosure: I kind of like Jim Harbaugh. He seems like he’d be a cool guy to hang out with, plus he makes the rivalry a hell of a lot more fun than Brady Freakin’ Hoke.

When I first began coaching over 30-years ago everything was different, and coaching-1I’m not talking about the kids I coached.

I’m talking about me.

Everything was sort of black and white for me then, and there has since been a lot more grays. How did that happen? Experience, I guess.

I’ve always loved kids, ever since the first day I set foot in a classroom. Not once did I regret the profession I chose. But teaching and coaching, although similar in a lot of ways, can also be very different. Students are there because the have to be, players are there largely because they want to be.

You have to encourage kids in both the classroom and on the basketball court, and you have to push them as well. However, coaching takes place in a much more public forum.

In the beginning, I’m sure part of the reason I coached was ego driven. It was a way to replace my playing days, a way to compete in front of a crowd. There was that initial thrill of working the sidelines as the fans cheered for your team.

Over time, that changes.

I learned the game from a lot of old school, in-your-face style coaches, great men like Rick VanMatre at Greenfield McClain, Gary Williams at the University of Maryland and Bob Huggins at the University of Cincinnati and now West Virginia. By the way, I just checked and those three have a combined record of 1942 – 872, a winning percentage of .693. That’s nearly 7 of every 10 games they coached. Pretty damn good. I’m not nearly the coach any of those guys are, not by a long shot, but I’ve sure learned a lot from all of them.

You know one of the most important things I’ve learned in my 30+ years of coaching? It’s that kids can handle anything if they know you care about them. Seems simple but it’s true. If they know you love them they don’t take the criticism personally. They know you’re trying to help them.

Quick note – People aren’t completely rational when their relatives are involved, and they shouldn’t be. You can’t take it personally when mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles criticize you. Love is blind, man, and it’s OK.

And as a young coach, if you feel like you’re going through a bad time or being criticized unjustly, go talk to another coach. They’ll top your story every time. We’ve all been there, buddy. Many times. It’s all a part of the game, and it’s all a part of coaching.

I’ve seen guys who thought they wanted to coach start and not last more than a few years, mainly because of the pressures that come with the job.

Of the 33-years I’ve coached, I’ve only just completed my 12th as a high school basketball coach. I’ve spent time as a coach at the Junior High, JV, Little League, and AAU levels. I’ve also spent a zillion hours as a college camp coach and scout, and I’ve been the international coach of a team from the Caribbean on the beautiful island called Montserrat.

And as coaching has brought me to all these places, to college campuses and incredibly exotic locations like the one in the Caribbean, I’ve also seen the game save lives. I’ve seen basketball take kids from the inner-city to the bright lights, and I’ve seen it literally give young players a reason to live.

That’s not an exaggeration, believe me. I can tell you stories.

Being allowed to coach is a gift, one of the greatest you can be given. And you know why? Because as great as all the wins are (and I’ve been on both sides, believe me), that’s not what ultimately makes it all worthwhile.

Ultimately, it’s about relationships.

It’s about developing relationships with your players, because that’s what lasts. Sure, you remember the big wins, the upsets where you won a big game you weren’t supposed to win. You remember those trips to The Convo, the ultimate goal for teams from our area. But what is lasting, what is important, is the relationships. In comparison, the victories don’t mean so much.

Not really.

I’ve loved every player I’ve ever coached, and I hope they know that. How could I not after everything I put them through? How could I not after they stuck with me through it all, through the tough practices, through the blood and sweat and tears, through all the wins and the losses?

Think about it. What would bring you more satisfaction and fulfillment, winning a District Championship or having a former player ask you to be the Godfather to his son?

No contest, man. And it’s not even close.

crowd

Not from that night, but pretty damn close.

Back in 1991 I was in my second year coaching varsity basketball. We had a really good team and we were playing another really good team from another league. Due to what occurred that night I’ll try and leave our opponent’s name out of the story. However, if you were there that night you’ll never forget what went down . . .

Like I said, we were a very good team that year, as we had been the year prior. We were about to play a team we’d beaten the year before, but they’d improved and really, really wanted to avenge that loss.

How badly? We had no idea.

Oblivious to what was waiting for us, we prepared for the game like any other. Game day arrived and we made the bus trip over the hills, into the next county and into our opponent’s gym.

Upon walking in though, we knew something was different. Although the reserve game was just getting started, the place was packed. In those days a full gym wasn’t that surprising though.

However, the emotionally charged atmosphere that hit us as we walked inside was an eye-opener.

As the home crowd stood and booed lustily, we looked around and there were signs everywhere. Some were of the generic variety, some decidedly not.

The gym we were in was pretty small, with maybe 15-18 rows one one side and a set of bleachers on the stage. On a related note, the crowd was decidedly 95% anti-Bearcats. We had a faction of small, but mighty and boisterous, fans in one corner of that stage.

It was then, as we were walking into the gym and towards our locker rooms, that I noticed a sign. Here’s what it read:

“WELCOME TO THE NASTY PLACE”

Uh . . . oh. Where had I heard that before? And then it hit me. After we’d beaten this team the year before, one of my quotes in the paper was this:

“I was glad to get out of there with a win. That’s a nasty place to play.”

I’ll swear to the day I die I never meant that comment as an insult to our opponent’s small gym. What I meant was that it was a tough place to win because they always had hard-nosed, well-coached teams with loud, loyal crowds. That’s what I’d meant by nasty.

Really, that’s what I meant.

At this point, however? Too late for explanations. I’d insulted their gym, their team, their school, and apparently their entire community, which incidentally was there en masse that night.

We went down to our locker room, which was at the bottom of some stairs under the bleachers. As we dressed we could hear the roar of the crowd, even during the reserve game.

The place was electric.

Eventually we took the floor, of course to loud boos and taunting from the crowd.

As the game progressed, the atmosphere only became more intense. The score was close throughout, which only ratcheted up the intensity. Objects were thrown from the crowd, usually at me, which to my recollection included pennies, candy (my managers loved that), and anything else folks could get their hands on.

At one point the game was stopped and an administrator made an announcement, something along these lines:

“Listen, no matter what the other coach said about our school, please try and stop throwing things at him.”

I swear it was something like that. Probably not the best choice of words, because they only amped the crowd up more.

And man, if you’d have heard some of the things being yelled at me from behind our bench your jaw would have hit the floor.

Anyway, as we entered the last quarter we were in trouble. We trailed a very talented team whose crowd wanted a win very badly. With around 5:00 remaining, we were down by 10-points.

But then, thanks to a timeout followed by a furious full court press, we made a run. Did I mention we had three of the best little defensive guards in the league in Todd Shoemaker, Casey McFadden, and Roman Diekan? All three were 5-10 and they would get after you defensively.

Not only that, they feared nobody. Not even hundreds of angry fans giving them Holy Hell from the bleachers. Shoot, it made my guys play harder.

Bottom line, we held our opponents scoreless the last 5:00 of the game, and eventually forced overtime. It was on.

As we readied for the overtime tip, the din of the crowd was deafening. But the real fun was about to commence.

The Bearcats got the tip, and it was then we made the decision to hold the ball.

Yep, you read that right. We decided hold the ball and go for the last shot.

Hey, we had three of the best guards, defenders and ballhandlers in the Scioto Valley Conference, we were playing in a hostile (to put it mildly) environment, so why not hold it and go for the win?

And that’s exactly what we did.

Todd, Roman and Casey dribbled and passed their way through the overtime, running a weave out front as our opponents tried desperately to regain possession of the basketball.

Wasn’t happening, man. And as you can imagine, this only amped up the tension higher with the crowd, if that were possible.

We burned the clock in that spread offense until there were about 5-seconds left, when Todd Shoemaker rifled a no-look, bullet pass from the top of the key to 6′-5″ sophomore (and future 1st Team All-Ohioan) Craig Kerns under the basket. Kerns was immediately fouled on the wide-open layup, giving him two free throws with 1-second remaining in the tied game.

It was then we called a timeout, and I told Craig to make the first shot (I had no doubt he would) and miss the second, giving the other team no time to get the rebound and call their own timeout and attempt a last second prayer of a play.

As Craig was lining up for the first shot, I saw Todd walk up from beyond the 3-point line and whisper something to him. He actually had his hands cupped over his mouth as he whispered in Craig’s ear. In retrospect I should have known something was up. Alas, in the heat of the moment I did not.

So, Craig made the first to put us up 1 and missed the second as directed. An opposing player grabbed the rebound threw up a desperation shot that missed, and we’d pulled off the big comeback win under very difficult circumstances.

One of the incredible final stats was that we held a very good team, including the last quarter and overtime, to zero points over the last 9-minutes of the game.

As I started to go over to shake hands with the opposing coach, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. As I turned to look, I saw Todd and Craig running towards the opposite wall. Then I saw them rip a particularly offensive sign off the wall.

Uh-oh. So that’s what they’d been talking about.

I can’t say it was the best decision they’d ever made, but they’d also been suffering through some pretty intense verbal abuse the entire game. Did I condone it? No. Did I understand it? Yes I did.

At that point, well, all hell broke loose.

People poured onto the floor and fights seemed to be breaking out everywhere.

My assistant coaches, Daron Myers and Pete Hollon among them, were fending off people trying to get at me, and at one point formed a circle around me as we attempted to get our team to the locker room.

I remember that Craig’s father Brad, our film guy, forgo the ladder that led to his little crow’s nest where he’d been filming and basically jumped down to join the fray.

Finally, we made it downstairs to the locker room. Once there, we could hear people at the top of the steps yelling nasty things down to us. A group of our parents actually stood guard at the top of the stairs. I told my players to sit tight, that we’d have to wait this out until things calmed down. Soon after that, a local policeman came to tell us the same thing, that they were calling in some more enforcement to clear the gym.

My players didn’t even change into their street clothes. They just sat there waiting to be told what to do next.

Over an hour later the gym was eventually cleared, but a lot of people were still waiting for us in the parking lot. Soon, a plan was hatched. Our bus left the lot it was parked in and was brought around to the other side of the school. With a large group of our fans forming a tunnel, we snuck out through a side door and boarded our bus.

What happened next seems surreal even today. After we were all seated, the Sheriff of the county we were playing in got on the bus, stood at the front, and said this:

“You fellas better keep  your heads down until you get out of _______ County.”

Yep. That actually happened. I have witnesses.

On a related note, do you know how you can tell you have loyal assistant coaches? When, after hearing what the local sheriff just said, you have this discussion with one of them:

Coach Myers: “Coach, switch places with me.”

Me: “Why?

Coach Myers: “You’d better get away from the window. They’ll be aiming for you.”

That’s loyalty, folks.

As we pulled out we were escorted, front and back, by several cars and trucks from Paint Valley. Behind our fans, in the back, followed a lot of cars that were not from Ross County. When we crossed into Ross County, those cars turned around and went back from whence they came.

You may not be surprised to learn that I got several phone calls the next day, most from angry fans threatening to beat my ass but with a few death threats thrown in for fun as well.

Good times, huh?

Our twice yearly regular season games with that opponent were cancelled for the foreseeable future, although the very next year we happened to draw them in the sectional tournament. Again, they couldn’t beat us.

Thank God it was on a neutral court.

Note: Folks from the school and opponent in question will most certainly have a different perspective regarding what happened that night, and they are certainly welcome to chime in if they feel the need.

 

Politically correct he is not.

mike_leach_coach

————-

Listen, as a basketball coach I always listen to suggestions. Always. The day you think you know it all is the1 day you start regressing. Just as in life, you can never stop learning and trying to better yourself. That said, it doesn’t mean I take all advice to heart. People almost always have good intentions, even the former or current coaches who take one of my players aside and start giving them advice that is contrary to what I want taught. You see, there are several philosophies to coaching basketball, and many of them are right. There is no one, exact way to do it, but as long as you get your kids to believe your philosophy you’re good to go. For this reason you don’t want other people’s ideas being forced into their impressionable brains.

Make sense?

Anyway, over the years I’ve received a lot of advice from well-meaning people that, quite frankly, didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. Here are a few of my favorites:

Years ago I coached a team that, shall we say, weren’t the best shooters in the world. Our scores were usually low because we wanted to be patient and look for a good shot. We won a lot, but the scores were usually 48-41, 45-37 or 50-35 ( actual scores, I looked ’em up). I think we had a record of 9-2 or something about halfway through the season when an elderly gentleman moseyed up to me after a game with this gem:

“Coach, I think those boys need some shootin’ practice.”

Ah! Brilliant! I hadn’t thought of that! All I could do was smile and nod my head in agreement.

Sigh.

Another time I had a team that was having trouble getting the ball up the floor against pressure. At one point a guy comes up to me before a game and makes this suggestion:

“Coach, I’ve heard that some teams run a pressbreaker against presses. Why don’t you try that?”

Great idea! I didn’t have the heart to tell him that most coaches put their pressbreakers in the first week of the season, it’s just that we were so bad at ours that it was unrecognizable.

I think I may have mentioned this before, but once a kid’s father suggested that my players were too wound up before games and that I should find a way to make them more relaxed. My response?

“Let me ask you a question. Let’s say somebody calls you on the phone and says they’re on the way over to your house to beat your ass. Do you put on some relaxing music and have a glass of wine? You do not. I want my players wound up.”

Radical idea, I know.

Here’s a pretty good one. Once a mother walked up to me after a game with this pearl of wisdom:

“Coach, my advice to you would be to quit playing favorites.”

Parents, I have a confession to make. It’s true. Coaches do play favorites. They favor players who give the team the best chance to win, who have great attitudes, who work hard every day, who embrace their role (regardless of what that role is) and who support the program and believe in what we’re trying to do.

But as I said, a good coach will listen to any and all advice, it’s then up to him or her as to what to act on and what to ignore. Some of the best advice I ever received came from one of the first men I ever coached for, and it was beautiful in it’s simplicity:

“Keep your thumb on the mouse.”

Huh? Keep your thumb on the what? Never expected that one, did you? What does that mean, you ask? It means that no matter what happens, you keep coaching. Correct every mistake or it will be repeated. Every single one. There will be times when you become frustrated and want to let things go, but you just can’t. So you imagine you’re holding your thumb on a mouse. If you let up for one second, the mouse is gone. For good.

Now there’s some good advice.

At least for one day in 1992.

Back in the early 90’s I was coaching at Paint Valley and we had a really good team, four starters standing 6′-5″ who could all shoot from anywhere on the floor. I had seven guys who could dunk, which would be impressive for a high school team even today.

Anyway, I used to take my teams out to the University of Maryland for Gary Willliam’s Basketball Camp. It’s a long story but I used to be the Commissioner of the camps out there for Gary from 1989 to 2002.

The kids who attended Maryland Camp came from the Washington DC area, as well as Baltimore, Philly, New York City and schools all along the east coast. To say my Southern Ohio boys were out of their element was a bit of an understatement. Still, my guys hung out with the city boys, stayed in the dorms with them, and more than held their own on the basketball court. To me it was a win-win all-around. You know, expanding cultural horizons and all that. Not to mention it made my guys better playing against such good competition.

Which brings me to a story that Gary Williams, legendary former coach at Maryland, still tells to this day. Remember that it was 1992, and “trash talking” was in its early stages. Understand that trash talking hardly ever led to violence on the court, it was just a part of the game for players from the playgrounds of the inner-cities. My team, however, was not used to it. It hadn’t made its way to our neck of the woods yet.

With this in mind, my Ohio boys had been in a particularly intense contest with a team from DC, which we happened to have won. Afterwards, in a corridor outside the Cole Field House floor, words were exchanged between an opposing player and one of my guys. After the other player challenged my player with some unkind words, a punch was thrown.

Somebody got throttled, and he wasn’t from Ross County.

Gary Williams, the aforementioned Maryland coach, happened to be in the corridor and jumped between my player and the other guy who was, well, on the hallway floor. At that point, as Gary will tell you, the following conversation took place:

Coach Williams: “What are you doing, man? Why did you punch him?”

My guy: “Coach, where I come from we only talk like that for a minute. Then we start to hit.”

Gary thought that was the greatest thing he’d ever heard, and he could hardly wait to tell me about it.

And believe me, at the time no truer words had ever been spoken.

Trash talking has since become commonplace, but back in ’92? Not so much.

I sort of miss those days.

Originally published on October 24th, 2012.

It was the Fall of the 1992-93 season, and I’d been coaching at Paint Valley for 3-years. It was at the end of an Open Gym, and myself and a few of my returning players were standing around talking about the upcoming season. At one point one of them asked me when Paint Valley last won a league championship, and I told them it was 1965, 28-years prior.

Somebody, I can’t remember who, said we were going to win a championship again in 1993. Everyone agreed, and then for some reason we decided that we were going to tape a coin on the top of one of the backboards to give us luck.

At that point I reached into my pocket to look for a coin, and it turned out there was only one in there. I pulled it out and found myself looking at a dime.

A 1965 dime.

From the last year Paint Valley won a league title.

I showed the guys, and everyone was stunned. What were the odds?

We then got a ladder from the custodian’s room and taped the ’65 dime to the top of the backboard, figuring that the Basketball Gods were with us.

And they were, because a few months later we cut down the nets at an away game at Piketon, securing Paint Valley’s first Scioto Valley Conference Championship since 1965.

At our banquet that year my senior players gave me a few gifts, but the most special was that 1965 dime enclosed in a little case. I still have it, and sometimes I still wonder how it found its way into my pocket that day back in the fall of 1992.

Think about it. A coach and a few of his senior players were standing around in 1992 talking about the last year they’d won a title. That year was 1965. Then they decided to put a lucky coin on the top of the backboard. The coach reaches in his pocket, where only one coin can be found, and that coin was a 1965 dime. And I swear I didn’t plan the whole thing.

Amazing, really.

thedime

The Dime.

 

 

Not Rat.

Not Rat.

The other day I remembered a pretty funny story that occurred years ago during my first stint as coach of the Bearcats. It happened on the way home after a particularly tough loss. As my current and former players will tell you, after a loss I like the bus to be quiet. You know, nobody should be all happy and talkative after a loss, right? Just sit there and think about where we went wrong and try and figure out how to get it fixed.

On this particular night I had a manager that apparently didn’t get the memo because he wouldn’t shut up. I shall call this manager Rat, and although his real nickname was something else entirely.

I change the name because I’m not sure if he could still sue me. You’ll know why in a minute, so settle down. All three of my managers were 6th graders by the way, but back to the story. It’ll get funny in a minute. Hopefully.

So anyway, Rat wouldn’t shut up. The bus is completely dark and I can’t see anything, but I can hear Rat yapping away about 6 or 7 rows behind me. I turn and sort of whisper/yell:

“Rat! Be quiet!”

Dead silence for about 5-minutes, but then he starts in again . . .

“Rat! Be . . . QUIET!”

Silence for about 10-minutes. Then I hear him again, this time with some giggling mixed in.

Uh-oh.

I then decide it’s time to pay Rat a personal visit. An intervention if you will. I work my way back down the bus aisle until I get to Rat. I know when I get to him because he still babbling away about something. At that point I attempted to give him a little backhanded slap to the chest to get his attention. I know that sounds sort of, uh, inappropriate, but I didn’t intend to hit him hard. Seriously, just a little tap was all I intended.

The problem is that it was dark, Rat was leaning forward, and his face was where his chest was supposed to be. End result? I backhanded Rat smack-dab in the kisser. Just throttled the kid right in the face. Hard. I immediately told him I was sorry, that I didn’t mean to belt him in the face, and then I sort of scurried back to my seat.

At that point my mind immediately started racing. Did anyone know what just happened? Did I leave a mark on Rat? Would Rat rat me out? Was this my last bus ride as a coach? Then I leaned over to my assistant and the following conversation commenced:

Me: “I just slapped Rat.”

Assistant, half asleep: “Cool. Wait. Huh?”

Me: “I just slapped Rat. Right in the face.”

Assistant: “You slapped Rat?”

Me: “I slapped Rat!”

Assistant: “Hard?”

Me: “Walloped him. He might be bleeding from the mouth, nose or both. Dead serious.”

Assistant: “On purpose?”

Me: “Well, no, but I’m not sure that will hold up in a court of law.”

Assistant: “Well, he’s awfully quiet back there now. Maybe he’s fine. Maybe he’s cool with it. I’m sure he knows it was an accident.”

By that point the bus was REALLY quiet, as you might imagine.

And then it began.

It started as a low moan and sort of turned into a plaintive wail. Rat was becoming unglued. Unhinged. Rat was bawling, blubbering, and breaking down like he’d been punched by Mike Tyson in his prime. Which is actually sort of what had just happened.

Good God.

I was done. How to explain this? Just no way to do it and make it sound O.K. Why? Because anyway you spin it I’d just slapped a 6th grader in the face. With that in mind I decided to just go back and apologize to Rat again, explain what happened to his parents if they asked, and hope for the best.

I never knew what happened when Rat went home that night. Did he keep mum to save me? Did he tell Mom and Pops and they were just cool enough not to say anything? Maybe Rat told them and they didn’t believe him? Who knows, but the bottom line is I never heard a word about it from anyone again.

Another lesson learned though. Never attempt to slap a kid in the dark without taking a flashlight with you.

You know I’m kidding, right?

Right?

Note: That’s not an actual photo of Rat’s nose after the incident. I left no marks or bruises. Seriously. Rat was fine. Well, physically anyway. Mentally he was probably scarred for life.

Note II: Before I get a comment from some idiot saying “Well, if that was MY kid blah-blah-blah . . .” just know that I’d never hit a kid intentionally. You know, unless they really deserved it.

1Before I begin, understand that I’ve been heavily involved in high school sports for over 30-years. My opinions are based on my experiences and the changes I have witnessed taking place over that period of time.

Listen, I hope I’m wrong. I really do. I don’t want to be right on this one. I know a lot of you won’t be able to fathom this happening, but hear me out.  And no, I haven’t taken too many shots upside the head with a basketball. I hope. Again, I pray I’m wrong.

But I don’t think I am.

I grew up in a small southern Ohio town and attended a small school that graduated 80 students in my senior class. Friday nights during the fall were designated for football. That’s simply where you went that evening, to THE GAME. Everything revolved around that. In the winter it was basketball, and in the fall baseball. We had volleyball, track and other sports as well, but the point is that in small communities across our country high school sporting events have always been the focal point and gathering place for communities, both small and large, for a long time.

And man, I hate to see that go. But going it is.

Let me repeat, I hate to say it but I sincerely believe that high school sports as we know them will be virtually extinct within 15-20 years, and that makes me really sad. Before you dismiss me as an ignoramus, let me explain myself . . .

Over the past several years there has been a gradual decrease in interest among students in sports at their home schools and an increase in AAU or Club Sports. Here, in my opinion, is why:

  • In AAU, anyone can play. God forbid someone get cut and maybe, you know, learn a life lesson or something. If you’re not good enough for one team, daddy can start up a team himself! Hey, Uncle Milton started on his 8th grade team, he can coach us! And if your AAU team is getting hammered, just get into an easier tournament or league. The days of parents being happy to have their child simply make the team are long gone. Everyone has to be a starter! AAU solves this little problem for them.
  • Rules placed on HS coaches. High school coaches have strict guidelines they must follow. They have a restricted number of contact days, have to follow scholastic eligibility rules, little things like that. Coaches, at least in Ohio, have to pay for a CPR course, a Fundamentals of Coaching class, a Pupil Activity/Sports Medicine class, and football coaches have to complete a Return to Play/Concussion course. It’s probably only a matter of time until other sport coaches are included in Return to Play requirement. End result? Coaches who are teachers have all but disappeared, and high school coaches in general are becoming harder to find.  In the past, coaches were supposed to be teachers. Do you think the local bricklayer (parent of one of the kids of course) coaching your son cares if he goes to Physics class? Maybe, maybe not. Could be as long as his players are eligible the coach is happy. As a former AD, I appreciate the volunteer coaches as much as anybody, but care as they might they simply cannot have the same impact as a coach who is at the school all day, every day, keeping tabs on his/her kids.
  • The internet/video games. Duh. The days of playing outside until the street lights come on are long gone, folks. Active kids, unfortunately, are a dying breed. If you’re not active you’re not gonna be up for wind sprints, now are ya?
  • Fewer and fewer students attend games. Recent study showed that less than 10% attend athletic events, so revenues from sports are in decline as a result. Money talks, folks.
  • Pay to Play. Many schools are going to pay to play these days because of the money concerns I just mentioned. How many parents want to pay for their kid not to play when he can play on an AAU team and get playing time? Sure, there are costs involved to play AAU as well but at least you’re guaranteed time on the court/field.
  • Administrators will love it. Any administrator will tell you a large percentage of their problems stem from sports – playing time, complaints about coaches, etc. Cheerleading has been known to cause a problem or twelve as well. In addition, liability concerns will be gone. And wait! What about all the transportation (busing) to athletic events and the problems that come with them? Poof. Gone with the mists of time. Administrators can simply rent the gym to the local AAU team(s) and go home for an early cocktail.

In addition, think about small schools – in the future, will they survive? If they don’t, consolidation will do further harm to high school sports. Bigger schools, less opportunity and less chance to make the team. Enter AAU/Club Sports.

Folks, in Europe club sports have taken over. There are virtually no high school sports over there. England has HS sports but it’s been overtaken by club sports as well. I believe that we’ll follow suit, and in fact have already begun the process. USA high schools will inevitably turn to intramurals. I realize that football is a different animal, but the ball is rolling and AAU football (if football is still being played in 20-years with all the injury concerns) is around the corner.

I taught Physical Education for 6-years and believe it or not, games of competition are now strongly discouraged. Instead, dance and aerobic based activities are being stressed. That eliminates winners and losers, but more importantly hurt feelings.

With no high school sports and the pressure to play basketball, football, baseball and other competitive sports, Physical Education classes can turn their attention to diet, exercise, and health education. And you know what? The majority of today’s parents will like it.

Listen, I don’t necessarily disagree with everything that is happening, but I certainly disagree with taking healthy competition out of our schools. That’s just wrong and will ultimately hurt, rather than help, America’s youth.

People have often made the comment to me that, “Boy, kids sure have changed.” I don’t believe that for a second. Kids haven’t changed, parenting has changed. Big difference.

That said, the writing’s on the wall. Unless there’s a major shift in our way of thinking or there’s a cultural U-turn somewhere in the near future, high school sports are coming to an end. It won’t be tomorrow or even 5-years from now, but it’s coming.

And that’s a damn shame.

Originally published in the Fall of 2012 on several websites.

So I have a guest speaker come in the night before our Sectional Championship game to 1speak to my players. It was a former player of mine who had been a part of a few of my Sectional Championship teams in the past, and he gave an inspirational talk about what it meant to win the sectional, cut down the nets, and advance to the district tournament at The Convocation Center. “The Convo” is the mecca for high school basketball players in southern Ohio and he was explaining to them how special it was to play there.

As part of his talk, he brought with him a piece of one of the nets that we’d cut down back then. As he spoke of winning the championship game and cutting down the nets, he held up the piece of net and told my players this:

“This is your ticket to The Convo.”

All in all it was an inspirational talk and really got our kids fired up. Plus, it turns out we won the game and will get to play in The Convo. We did indeed cut down the nets, and everybody got a small piece as a souvenir.

Then, as we were walking off the gym floor, this happened . . .

One of our freshmen players walked over holding up his piece of net and asked the following question:

“So, do we just give this to the guy at the door when we get there?”

Sigh. And yes, he was serious.

Freshmen. Thank God they grow up.

Years ago I had a player on my team named Robbie. Robbie came from a very poor 1family, and when I say poor I mean really, really poor. I had to go to his house once and his room literally had no floor. It was just packed down dirt. I’m being dead serious here. His family of five lived in a tiny house and he shared this room with a younger brother and sister.

I tell you this only to illustrate what kind of background from which Robbie came, and for no other reason. Trust me when I say it’s pertinent to this story.

The season was starting and it was time to buy team shoes. I’ve always required my players from 7th grade and up to wear identical shoes. I’ve always felt that everybody being uniform in their appearance helped foster team unity and develop a cohesiveness within our program. You know, one guy wearing a pair of $260.00 Nikes and another wearing a pair of $55.00 Asics was just a bad deal all-around. Plus, damn it, it looks better. To  this day it bothers me to see teams wearing a variety of different brands and colors of shoes.

That particular year the shoes we were buying cost $78.00. You’ll understand why I remember the exact price shortly. Anyway, I told the team about the shoes and when the shoe guy would be coming in for the fittings. As I have every year, I explained to the kids that if there was anyone having trouble paying to let me know and we’d work something out.

The next day it came as no surprise when Robbie showed up at the door to the teacher’s lounge looking for me. He told me that he didn’t have the money but if I bought the shoes he’d promise to pay me back. Without hesitation I said sure, that he could pay me back in installments, whatever was easiest. I knew Robbie. He was a good kid. I wasn’t worried about it.

When I walked back into the lounge, one of the teachers (I’ll call her Mrs. Frazier) asked what Robbie had wanted. I explained, and she was incredulous:

“Well, there’s $78.00 you’ll never get back.”

Listen, I knew this particular teacher was cynical about kids, bitched about teaching on a daily basis, and hated her job. But this really pissed me off. I basically told her she was wrong and she shouldn’t pass judgment on kids so quickly. She just shook her head and laughed at my naivety.

After that day, about once or twice a week, I’d get the same question from Mrs. Frazier:

“Get your money back yet? Nope? Didn’t think so.” 

This was always followed by a smirk and a dismissive laugh. She couldn’t believe what a dumbass I’d been.

Trust me, this got old, especially since it was a couple months after basketball season and I still hadn’t seen any money from Robbie. Then one day there was a knock at the door of  the teacher’s lounge, and again it was Robbie. He was standing there with a shoebox, which he handed to me.

“It’s all there, coach.”

I didn’t doubt it for a second.

After giving Robbie a hug I carried the box back into the lounge and opened it. The inside was full of just about every denomination possible under a $20.00 bill, including lots of pennies and nickels. It was obvious this money had been saved with pocket change, over time.

You know what I did? I counted out every penny, nickel, dime, quarter, one dollar bill and five dollar bill, and I counted it out loudly, right in front of you-know-who.

As expected, it came to $78.00, right on the dot.

But that wasn’t all that was in the box. At the bottom there was an envelope addressed to me. I opened it up and inside was a little card that read simply:

Coach Shoe,

Thanks for believing in me.

Robbie

I put the top back on the box, got up, and walked out of the lounge. And as I left, Mrs. Frazier never said a word.

That night, I went to Robbie’s house and gave the money back. His family needed it way more than I did, and more importantly he’d learned a valuable lesson in responsibility, honesty and integrity.

Me? I’d learned another valuable lesson about trust and faith.

A lesson that had apparently gone right over Mrs. Frazier’s head.

Not My Finest Moment

Posted: July 25, 2015 in Coaching, Kids, Sports
Tags:

Nope, not at all. 1

I could have written this story a long time ago, but perhaps I blocked it from my memory. Maybe I didn’t want to admit to it. Maybe I just wanted it to go away. For whatever reason, I kept it to myself.

Who am I kidding? I felt so bad about it I didn’t want to bring it up. As you’ll soon see, it doesn’t exactly paint me in a positive light.

Still, in the spirit of cleansing my soul, I shall tell it.

It was back in my early years of coaching, back when I was way tougher on kids than I am now. Yes, believe it or not that guy you see on the sidelines is a much mellower version of his former self.

That said, in the early days when somebody showed up late there was hell to pay, no questions asked. There was virtually no acceptable excuse for tardiness barring a death in the family.

Until one day something happened that caused me, from that point on, to always ask before lighting into somebody.

It was at an evening practice when one of my players (let’s call him Mark) showed up for a 7:00 pm practice at 7:12 pm. As he walked into the gym, the rest of the team grew quiet, knowing what was coming. I met him at the door, ripping into him about dedication, discipline, sacrifice, respect for your coach and teammates, and the oncoming global economic collapse.  OK, maybe not that last part, but you get the point. Trust me when I say I was spitting and yelling and generally becoming unglued. It was the night before a game for God’s sake! Had he no soul?

All the while, Mark just stood there looking me in the eye, patiently waiting for his crazy-ass coach to finish, which I finally did. I then told him he had 30-seconds to explain himself, and damn it, it had better be good.

His reply is burned into my memory:

“My house burned down.”

Wow. Not only had he explained himself in 27-seconds less than the 30 I’d given him, he’d made it to practice only 12-minutes late after his house had burned down.

And yes, I felt like the biggest jackass on the planet, which incidentally may have been 100% accurate at the time.

After regrouping and asking if his family was OK, I apologized and gave him a hug, which he reciprocated even though I’m 99% sure he’d have rather punched me in the pie-hole and walked out.

Oh, and I insisted that he go home and be with his family. Good for me? Maybe a little? No?

So, lesson learned? Always give the accused a chance to explain themselves before assuming guilt.

Always.

The year was 1996.

It was a year earlier when I’d first met my friends on the wonderful, tropical

MontserratTeamPhoto96

The National Team, 1996.

paradise that is Montserrat. I’d never heard of the place before then, but after one 10-day visit I was in love with the island and its people. The incredible story of my first visit can be found in the story I wrote entitled Basketball, an Island and a Volcano: My Journey to the Caribbean. It was a story that sounded almost too amazing to believe, but it was a year later when something almost equally unbelievable happened.

I’d trained the national team for those 10-days in ’95, and because it went so well the team decided to enter a tournament in the USA the following summer. It was in Boston, and I was asked to coach them. I really had no idea what kind of tournament it was, who was in it, nothing. Well, when I got there all that changed.

The tournament turned out to be The Bob Cousy Tournament, and the Celtic legend was to be there. It was to feature 32-teams from all over the world, include a huge downtown parade, and was to be attended by college coaches Jim Thompson of Georgetown and Dean Smith of North Carolina, former NBA players John Havlicek, Tommy Heinsohn and Dave Cowens, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

In other words, it was a pretty big deal. And when I saw the teams entered I was a little worried that we were in over our heads.

Way over.

After the aforementioned parade (where we got a lot of weird looks from the crowd as we marched with our Montserrat flag – “hey, where the hell is monster rat?”) we got our tourney draw. We were to open up against South Africa.

Now, I don’t want to stereotype a country, but remember that this was only 6-years after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, which was essentially a system of discrimination on grounds of race. Whites were supreme. So, let’s just say my team was treated rather poorly by the South African team and its coach. They looked down their noses at us and treated us with total disrespect. I met their coach and he was completely befuddled as to why I’d be interested in coaching a bunch of athletes from the Caribbean. It was beyond his comprehension. Then he and I got into a little fracas the day before we were to play. We were supposed to practice after them, and they thought they could cut into our time. India was supposed to go after us, so I knew we had to get on the court. I asked him to leave, and he ignored me.

Finally, we simply walked onto one end of the court and started a layup drill. He didn’t like that much, and we ended up meeting at midcourt for a little nose-to-nose screamfest. There may have been a chest-bump by me as well, but that’s neither here nor there. Long story short we had to be broken up by some tournament officials.

But, my players knew I had their back. We would not be pushed around. As a matter of fact, we would be the ones doing the pushing.

At our game the next day, played in the 3600 seat Hart Recreation Center on the Holy Cross University campus, the South Africans showed up in matching traveling suits, shoulder bags and shoes.

We had nothing that matched except some practice jerseys with the word “Undertakers” across the front, which our team had inexplicably chosen to name themselves for the tournament.

During warmups, the South Africans laughed at us and generally acted as if we didn’t belong on the same court with them.

They were wrong.

As I recall, the smiles began to fade as 9 of my 12 players tomahawk dunked during our layup drill, then disappeared completely as we jumped out to a 17-3 lead.

That Montserrat team was proud. Nobody was going to laugh at them and get away with it. Nobody.

The final score was 90-75, and the South African players and coaches walked out without shaking our hands after the game.

Guess they had a plane to catch.

Christopher Bright led us with a monster game of 42-points and 19 rebounds, and Marlon Evans added 22 points.

We were in the Sweet 16.

Next up was India, which at a population of over 1-billion was slightly larger than Montserrat’s population of, oh, 5000 or so. Turns out population was as important as pretty traveling outfits and shoulder bags because India got their asses kicked too, 89-77. Bright was again unstoppable with 41-points and 18 boards, while Evans kicked in 27 points this time.

We’d just beaten a team from a country that was roughly 200,000 times bigger than us. What the hell was happening?

We were in the Elite 8.

MontserratTeam96

Photo taken at a party in Boston during the tournament.

It was then that the press got a hold of the story. Seems they were interested in how this team from a tiny island in the Caribbean, coached by a white dude from southern Ohio, was winning games in the Bob Cousy Tournament. I remember doing an interview with National Public Radio and the interviewer just shook his head throughout the whole discussion. For some reason people couldn’t get their brains around the whole story.

Bottom line we were in the Elite 8, one game from the Final Four.

Up next? Poland.

My friends, Poland’s team included seven players from their Olympic team. Seven.

When we walked into the arena it was packed. Seems we’d developed a cult following around Boston, and they were quite vocal. Nearly everyone was pulling for the team from the little island with the volcano.

We’d seen Poland earlier in the tournament, and they looked exactly like you’d expect a team from Poland to look – big, brawny, hairy, and mean. They’d basically beat up their two previous opponents, intimidating them as they rolled towards the Final Four.

Problem was, my Montserratians weren’t easily intimidated.

Poland’s style was slow, methodical, and they liked to beat the ball inside to their post players. We were the exact opposite – fast and wide-open. And although we smiled a lot, we could be as mean as anybody when we had to. The game was back and forth throughout and we trailed 57-50 with 5:00 to go. However, a furious full-court press caused some

049

Myself and Edmond Ogorro, Summer 2013.

turnovers, we tied it with a 3-pointer with 2:00 left, and we won 70-65. My man Edmond Ogorro was all over the boards in this one, dominating Poland’s big men to the tune of 25 rebounds. Trust me, they feared him. I’m guessing his name is still mentioned in hushed tones in some parts of the Polish countryside.

So, Final Four, and delirium. Nobody could believe it. A team from a small Caribbean island that was still reeling from a volcanic eruption had waltzed into Boston and beaten South Africa, India and Poland. Of 32-teams from all over the world, Montserrat was one of only four that remained.

Turns out guys with dreadlocks and accents like Bob Marley could play a little ball after all, and the world was finding that out.

Our Final Four opponent was a formidable one, however. Yep, we were playing a little outfit from a country called The United States of America. In fact, it was a team comprised of US college All-Americans, and they were a little too much for us. OK, full disclosure, they were a lot too much for us. They hammered us in the semi-final, but only after we battled them to a stand-off through 2 1/2 quarters before running out of gas.

The final score was 120-81.

OK, so we lost that semi-final game. But I’ll guaranteed you this –  not one person who watched the 1996 Bob Cousy Tournament will ever forget the team that nobody had ever heard of, the team that beat three teams they weren’t supposed to beat, the team that made the Final Four, the team that shocked the tournament.

The team that South Africa, India and Poland will never, ever forget.

The team from the British West Indies.

The team from the Island of Montserrat.

Note: If you’re wondering how I remember the details of this story, I have newspaper articles from Boston newspapers as well as the scorebook from the tournament.

Quick story, and I swear this actually happened.1

One year during basketball conditioning I had the guys out running a mile on the track at Paint Valley.  Suddenly one of my players, Shane, slowed down as he passed me and this conversation followed:

Shane: “Coach, I think I may have swallowed a bug or something.”

Me: “Seriously? Well, your stomach acids will kill it. Don’t worry about it.”

See, I’m good that way. I’m practically a doctor when it comes to this sort of stuff. Anyway . . .

Shane, worriedly: “Uh . . . OK.”

He then proceeds to run around the track again, but about halfway around he suddenly turns and sprints straight across the football field towards me.

Shane: “Coach! Something’s in there! I can feel it buzzing around in my stomach! I CAN FEEL IT MAN!!”

Me: “Are you positive? Because I don’t really . . . “

It was then that my boy Shane upchucked his lunch. Just spewed all over the track. As I jumped back to avoid getting my shoes splattered, one of my assistants spoke up, pointed, and said this:

“Coach. Look.”

And there, in the puddle of Shane’s vomit, was  . . . something. And it was moving.

As we watched, there crawling to safety was the fattest bumblebee we’d ever seen.  It walked clear of the mess, shook itself off, and looked up for a few seconds as if to say this:

Screw you guys. It’ll take more than a little gastric acid to kill me.”

And then it buzzed off.

The whole incident gave me a cool little story to tell, but imagine what Mr. Bumblebee said when he got home that night.

“You guys aren’t gonna believe this, but . . .”

(MSN) It’s not uncommon for parents to butt in when it comes to their kids, playing time and sports. But few have taken it as far as Ervin Mears Jr., a New Jersey dad who filed a lawsuit seeking $40 million, as well as two varsity letters and championship jackets, after his 16-year-old son was booted from his school’s track team, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. According to the suit — which names the coach, athletic director and principal at Sterling Regional High School in Camden County, as well as the superintendent and school board — Mawusimensah Mears was “subjected to bullying and harassment” when he was kicked off the track team May 6. In the suit, Ervin Mears claims Mawusimensah “comes from a family of track winners” and was an “undefeated champ” in the 200-, 400-, and 800-meter runs as an eighth grader. However, in ninth grade, Ervin Mears and Sterling’s track coach reportedly disagreed over which races Mawusimensah, now a sophomore, should run. Afterward, Ervin Mears said, his son was barred from competing in meets. “If he doesn’t qualify, then the clock will say he’s not fast enough,” Mears told the Inquirer. “Let him get some exposure. … Participation in extracurricular activities is a right.” The school told Mears that unexcused absences from practice were the official reason for his son’s dismissal from the team, according to the Inquirer. Mears said that the absences were due to a leg injury and a death in the family. “I felt, in a way, disrespected,” Mawusimensah Mears said. “At practice, I work hard and I try to be the best athlete I can be, but at meet time, I didn’t get the respect that I thought I deserved.”

Hey Irvin Mears Jr., Listen up. I have three things to say to you:

  1. No parent has ever been more wrong with your statement that “participation in extracurricular activities is a right.” Participating in an extracurricular activity is a privilege, not a right. Hence the “extra” at the beginning.
  2. Success in junior high does not necessarily equate to success in high school. The reverse is also true. Kids mature at different speeds, some are almost fully grown in 8th grade, others are just starting. In addition, if a kid is not successful in junior high I dearly hope he doesn’t have a parent like you who blames everything on the coach, takes no personal responsibility and quits, thus never reaching his full potential.
  3. And Mawusimensah Mears, respect is earned, not handed to you because you think you deserved it. Quit leaning on daddy and grow up.

Just another example of a parent jumping in to save his kid when he could have used this whole thing as a learning experience. Good grief.

The internet is ablaze with outraged indignation because former NFL player Seth Joyner, now a youth league coach, berated his team on the sidelines the other day. Listen, I know I’m an old school kind of guy but for the life of me I can’t see anything wrong with this. Was he giving them hell? Yes. Was it warranted? Probably. For the love if God, have we become so thin-skinned that a coach can’t even raise his voice anymore? Am I wrong here? Is this that bad? I’d love your opinion.

So I was regaling some students at school today about my football coaching back in the day. Yes, I imagesITVFYEG9used to coach football and did so for 4-years. Junior High, in fact. Went undefeated one year, not to brag or anything, which was pretty good since I had no idea what I was doing.

Anyway, it brought to mind some stories, and the first involved a lesson I learned about listening to your players.

The particular year this one took place our team wasn’t very good, and I had a kid named Duke on the squad. Duke was a big, strong ol’ country boy and he wasn’t the brightest kid, if you know what I mean. He sort of reminded me of Paul Revere’s ride, if you will. You know, a little light in the belfry.

Being the football genius that I was it never occurred to me to put Duke on defense, so I put him at fullback, figuring he could just bulldoze his way down the field. Well, this didn’t really work but I was too dense to think of other uses for him. Duke, however, had other ideas.

During practice one day Duke walked up to me and the following conversation ensued:

Duke: “Coach, can I tell you somethin’?”

Me: “Sure Duke. What’s up?”

Duke: “Coach, I don’t wanna be that guy with the ball. I think I’d be gooder hittin’ that guy what got the ball.”

It took me a few seconds to interpret what he was saying but I soon I realized he wanted to play defense. Since I had nothing to lose, I stuck him in at middle linebacker.

On the very first play he burst through the line, grabbed our quarterback by the back of the neck, and whirly-birded him about 7-yards behind the line of scrimmage. On the play after that he ran over an offensive tackle, hit the running back as he was receiving the hand-off, and smashed him so hard that when the kid got up he was looking at me through his helmet’s ear-hole. On the next play Duke waylaid two blockers, couldn’t figure out if the quarterback or running back had the ball, so he tackled them both at once.

At that point we took him out before he killed somebody, but he’d proven his point. He was “gooder hittin’ that guy what got the ball.”

Another time I had a kid named Tommy who, although tough as nails, wasn’t the smartest kid on the team either. Once he was playing center and we had the ball on the 1-foot line. We’d planned to run a quarterback sneak right over Tommy’s right shoulder. The opposing defense was sort of spread out so we were pretty sure we’d called the right play. That is, until we jogged up to the line of scrimmage and got into our stances. At that point Tommy looked back over his shoulder at our quarterback and said rather loudly, “You know which way you’re goin’?”

Of course the entire defense loaded up in the middle and stopped us cold. Thanks Tommy.

Another year I had a kid named Tyler who was, well, a little effeminate. Great kid, but his reasons for playing were, shall we say, questionable. While most players looked forward to the first game, Tyler was looking forward to the day we passed out uniforms. He simply couldn’t wait. When the day finally arrived, Tyler walked in to the locker room, saw what we were doing, and yelled this:

“Fellas! FELLAS! We’re getting our costumes! We’re getting our COSTUMES!”

On a related note, Tyler finally found his calling in the school’s Drama Department.

So yeah, football. While I had fun, it wasn’t exactly my thing. Like Tyler however, I found my calling, it just happened to be coaching basketball.

And trust me, I have a million stories about that sport I haven’t gotten around to telling.

You know, as a coach I always tell my players to respect their parents and listen to what they’re basketball_24703752_stdbeing told at home. Sometimes, though, that can actually be bad advice . . .

Years ago I had a player on my team that had played for another coach the year before. That coach had let this player do things on the court that I wasn’t comfortable with him doing, so it was quite a change for him (incidentally, you could have said that about the entire team). For instance, he’d been allowed to shoot 3-pointers even though he wasn’t very good at it. I don’t know, I have this thing about only letting players take shots that they can, you know, make.

In addition, he’d been a starter the year before but I was bringing him off the bench.

Anyway, the kid adapted pretty well, his father not so much.  He couldn’t understand why some players were allowed to do certain things and others weren’t, especially his son. A meeting was set up and dad was pretty ticked off. He wasn’t being real mature and at one point sort of screamed this at me:

“Why the hell won’t you let my boy shoot 3-pointers? He’s wide open out there!”

At this point I’d had enough, so I leaned back in my chair and said this:

“Well, you realize why he’s wide open, right? The other teams want him to shoot.”

Well, that didn’t go over so well and things sort of went downhill from there. He then accused me of playing favorites, which I readily agreed with. After all, it’s a coach’s job to pick his favorites and play them the most, right? And his favorites always happen to be the players who work the hardest, listen, let themselves be coached, and do what’s asked of them to help the team succeed.

Anyway, he left in a huff and slammed the door on the way out, grumbling that he was going to tell his kid to quit. The next night we had a game and my expectations regarding the kid hadn’t changed, of course. He showed up and we won the game, but I was told the father stormed out during the third quarter.

Afterwards, after everyone had left the gym I was sitting in my office by myself calling in the game stats to the local paper. It was around 11:00pm and there was a knock at my door. I opened it, and there stood the player in question. I thought, “Well, here we go. He’s here to turn in his uniform and quit.”

Instead, this happened. He asked to sit down, and after he did he looked at me and said this:

Coach, I want you to know something. My dad loves me. When he watches us play I’m the only thing he sees. He has no idea what we’re trying to accomplish. Well, I do. And I have no problem with what you’re asking of me because all I want to do is win. Whatever it takes, I’ll do it.”

This, from a 17-year old kid. Pretty insightful, don’t you think? And he believed this even though he was hearing a dissenting opinion every single night in his home. He could have easily listened, made excuses, blamed me, and quit.

But he didn’t.

And you know what? By the end of the season he’d become a damn good player and was starting.

So yes, in this rare case, I’m glad he didn’t listen to his father.

logoSo I have a kid on my team who is affectionately known as T-Bag.

Don’t ask.

Anyway, we arrive at West Virginia Team Camp on Friday, we get registered at camp, and then I go and get all the guys checked into their hotel rooms. About an hour later my hotel phone rings, and I pick up.

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