My First Coaching Job – This Team Is My Responsibility

Excuse me, coach.

In talking to various coaches in my basketball travels, I sometimes mention that I may want to get into coaching at some point and the advice that comes back is: Start now…Get some experience…At any level.

So, when I received a call this spring from a friend of mine, Paul Graci, who runs our local outdoor basketball summer league (DASH)http://dashbasketball.com/basketball/, I was open-minded. He explained to me that there was a team in the 3rd and 4th grade division that was without a coach because the original guy had pulled out the day before the first practice. Knowing that I aspire to be a basketball coach at some point in my future, he asked if I wanted to coach these little guys and I replied with a resounding “Yes.”
The day of our first game I was thinking that it was going to be easy. But as I arrived at the court I found myself feeling nervous. I wanted to be as good of a coach as possible regardless of what level of basketball it was. I was especially nervous about giving my kids equal playing time. I didn’t want any crazy, wacked out youth sports-loving parents getting mad at me or anything. I found myself worrying about everything. I was even worried about whether or not my players were going to like me. And I like to think I’m a pretty likeable guy, so that’s not usually a concern of mine . This day, it was my main concern.
Before I knew it, the opening tip of my first game as coach of my own team was upon me. I chose five random kids whom I had never even met before to start the game. Then, I kind of just drew a blank on any basketball expertise that I’ve developed over the years, so I just let them play for the most part. I was more concerned about getting everyone their minutes than I was about actually coaching my kids to a win.
As the game progressed, to my surprise, I didn’t have to do much coaching. My team was one of the best group of 3rd and 4th graders in the league. There wasn’t one kid on the team who couldn’t really play. They were all about as athletic as 3rd and 4th graders could possibly be.
Once I settled in a little bit, I felt more comfortable coaching the kids and managing the game. We were losing at halftime despite the advantage we had in talent, so I took it upon myself to make a few masterful adjustments and, of course, as a result of my Krzyzewski-like maneuvers, we came back from our five- point deficit and ended up winning the game by 15.
I began to realize that I really lucked out with these guys. Not only are they great players but they’re hilarious, too. At one point during that opening game I was standing next to one of my players and I heard him say “Excuse me” right behind me. So I turned and responded, expecting a question or something of the sort, but he answered, “Oh, no. I didn’t have anything to say. I just farted and my parents always told me to say excuse me.” I laughed at that one for pretty much the remainder of the game.
They’re all such great kids and they ended up liking me a lot. Some even came to see me play in the senior boys competition. It may be that their fondness had something to do with the snacks I brought for them to glom at the end of every game, but I’d like to believe not.
My mom bought the snacks, my friend Richie was an able assistant and, thanks to those eight and nine year-old boys, it has been one of the great experiences I’ve had over the course of my basketball career.
Hope to see them again next summer.

Center of the Basketball Universe

Center of the Basketball Universe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I would like to think I have a certain amount of basketball expertise that most others do not possess. I pride myself on it actually. I don’t always know what I’m talking about regarding most things but when it comes to discussing college basketball, I’m about as knowledgeable as it gets. But when it comes to March Madness, every opinion I’ve formed, every observation I’ve made and everything I’ve come to know over the previous few months, means nothing; this year especially.

My friends had been debating with me about different teams and different match-ups the day after the brackets came out and listening to some of the things they were saying actually comforted me because it really showed how young and naive they were. I thought I was a lock to win my pool or at least be in the top 5 or 10 out of 45. So I started talking some trash to try to get my friends going a little bit. Actually now that I think about it, I was talking a lot of trash. I’m a bit of a trash talker on and off the court to be completely honest.

So, now it’s a couple of weeks later, and I’m looking at the bracket I printed out originally that I had been marking for my correct and incorrect picks. A circle signified a correct pick, while a slash marked an incorrect one. That paper is not a bracket any more, it’s become a poster for a slasher movie. I have slipped to near last place in my pool. Last year, I had Wichita State going to the Final Four because I knew they had what they needed but they couldn’t get it done for me. Now this year, after they lost the seniors who I thought would take them deep last year, they decide they want to upset everybody and ruin my bracket. Then after some convincing from ESPN, I reluctantly chose Georgetown to make it into my Final Four but nope, Florida Gulf Coast had other plans. And then, finally, the team I had going all the way, and in dominant fashion, was Indiana. I was so confident in this pick. I felt like the Hoosiers not only put the most talent on the floor, but also had the role players and the bench to go with it. But that Syracuse zone wore on them. It was bittersweet for me being that I am a Syracuse fan but I could feel the money – and a little bit of my pride – just slipping away as the clock ticked down to zero at the end of that game.

This year was undoubtedly one of the most ridiculous seasons of college basketball I have ever had the pleasure of watching. My bracket has never been so inaccurate and ugly. And now I have to endure the jokes and trash talk from those “young and naïve” kids who are, in fact, the top 5 in the pool. My own sister, who is old and naïve, is doing better than I am, and she just picked the teams who had the “prettiest colors.” It is madness, but I would expect nothing less from my favorite event of the year.
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Last year, my first-ever blog detailed my adventure with a prospective homeowner at the Habitat For Humanity building site in Coatesville, PA. Below is follow-up to that blog, one of my favorites. (https://gottaluvthegame.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/game-vs-humanity/)

I was photo 2rudely awakened one Saturday morning — after a night of basketball and video games at a friend’s house — to the annoying sound of my cell phone. I don’t remember if it was my Mom or Dad on the phone. I was tired, dazed and confusbut I remember them saying I needed to come home right away to go to a dedication ceremony at the Habitat for Humanity work site in Coatesville, PA. That’s the place where I contributed to the building of a house last March.

It was pretty much just a big thank you from the people who now own and are living in the houses that are finally finished. I saw the house I was working on last year and it had gone from just a foundation with a few walls to a beautiful, completed home. After all of the thanks given to everyone involved and a beautiful prayer by the father of one of the owners who is a minister, they turned over the keys to the new homeowners. A couple of the new residents cried during their thank you and I know my Mom got a little choked up, too. (She’s like that.)

During the ceremony, I spotted my old friend from that day in March, Lawrence Beckett. He’s the one who left to go to the Chester vs. Coatesville basketball game without me! Not that he was obligated to take me. He didn’t even know how much my heart ached to go with him because if he had, I know now he would have taken me. (He’s like that.)

He didn’t even know my name back then. I’m still a little sour about the whole thing, but after the ceremony now I really do get the importance of following through on your commitments and the need to help one another. It was great to see Lawrence so happy. I talked to him for a while about that game and I found out that Coatesville’s point guard, Andre Boggs, is his nephew. Boggs is also a hot shot running back for the Coatesville football team in addition to being a key player for the basketball team so he’s a great source of pride for the Beckett family.

It was great to see Lawrence again and I promised him I’d stop by once in a while to see if he needed any help around the house. (My Mom loved that one, since I don’t do much at home.) But it was good to know that something I did could bring so much joy to other people. It really helps you realize that even the littlest things can make a big impact.

Afterwards my parents and I went to the same Coatesville diner we visited in March for some breakfast. We were there for about an hour, relaxing and feeling good about life when I got a call from my boss at Foot Locker telling me I was 30 minutes late for work. Yikes.

Image  —  Posted: March 18, 2013 in Sports

Sorry for the lapse in posting to this blog. In September we lost my grandmother, Kathleen Graham, who everybody called “Mimi,” after a long, hard battle against cancer and I just couldn’t sit down and write for a while.

She lived with us since I was three, but I don’t remember a time when she didn’t live with us and she was truly my “other mother.” Mimi talked often about her days growing up in Manhattan and how she was the star of her CYO basketball team at St. Cecilia’s. Those were the days when girls only played half the court with the guards on the defensive side, the forwards on the offensive side and one rover who could cross the mid-court line. She said that even back in those days, CYO stood for “Crush Your Opponent” and remembered that the toughest and most physical game she ever played was against a bunch of girls studying to be nuns! My dad thinks  one or two of them might have taught him somewhere along the line.

God bless you, Mimi. I know you’re always with me on the basketball court.

Image  —  Posted: March 17, 2013 in Sports

Helpless on the Sidelines

Posted: September 25, 2012 in Sports

I got a chance to coach my first game in our summer rec league last month and now have true sympathy for game coaches at every level.  I understand why I’ve heard my coaches talk about how they would love to be able to “put that jersey back on” when we aren’t playing well.

After breaking my right wrist in a high school summer league game a couple of weeks earlier, I found myself on the sidelines as a spectator, which, needless to say, sucked. Our coach (my Dad, by the way) asked if I wanted to take over on the bench.  I said sure. I love DASH (Downingtown Area Summer Hoops), our regional outdoor, under-the-lights league.   And, it had to be less boring than watching, right?

I was still drilling and working on my game, but I couldn’t get any live competition. I figured the closest I’d get to playing is coaching, so why not? I took on full responsibility for The Green Machine, a group of mostly inexperienced (but fun-loving), white kids who were not going to be dunking in the pre-game layup lines.

MESSAGE TO ALL OF MY COACHES OVER THE YEARS:

•           Sorry I didn’t box out more

•           Sorry I didn’t hustle back on defense every single time

•           Sorry I didn’t realize how helpless you must have felt when things weren’t going great on the court

At the beginning of the game, I tried to share some of my basketball expertise with the guys by shaping up a relevant game plan highlighting boxing out, getting back on defense, and creating holes in the zone by making the defense work.  Everyone seemed to understand what I was saying in the huddle. It wasn’t until the game started that I realized that nods in the huddle don’t always translate into execution on the court.

I don’t think we got one rebound in the first seven minutes of the game. Granted, we were outmatched height-wise, especially by a 6-6 athlete who DID dunk during layup lines.    Still, I still don’t think any team should go seven minutes without a rebound! I was obviously aggravated, but I didn’t want to be “that guy” who takes coaching too seriously.  So, I composed myself and tried to put my basketball advice into simpler terms. We started playing pretty well for the rest of the first half, finishing down only six points at the half.

Then , it got a little out of hand when our opponents’ best player – who I’ve played against in  high school and  AAU – dunked three times in a row (once in traffic), giving his team the momentum. He must’ve scored 12 points in the first couple of minutes of the third quarter. Right away, we were in a huge hole and I could tell the guys just wanted to have some fun because this first-round playoff game was clearly going to be our season finale.  Given the situation, I just sat back and let them play transition ball while making sure that everyone got their minutes. I had some fun myself, begging  the refs, who were long-time family friends,  for phantom calls that no coach would ever get.

We ended up losing by about 30 but everyone had a good time and I had a great and memorable learning experience.

And that’s what basketball is all about, right?

That’s me in the middle with Shane Battier and Steve Kerr in the clubhouse at Edgewood Tahoe last month. Photo credit: Jeff Bayer

A couple of weeks back, I was lucky enough to go to the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe.  Thanks to my new blog…and a family connection :)… I was able to get a media credential, that got me into the Edgewood Tahoe clubhouse to the interview room where Shane Battier and Steve Kerr took questions from the press.

They talked about all things basketball, but the hot topic was the Olympic “Dream Teams” controversy and how the game has changed over the past couple of decades.

Since Steve and Shane are a pretty authoritative pair and the Olympics are in the news, thought I’d post some of their comments.  Thanks to ASAP Sports for the transcription.

Q. The Dream Team is in the news right now.  Some comments back and forth between Kobe and Michael and Barkley.  Shane, you obviously have a couple teammates on this year’s team.  But what are your thoughts about that ’92 versus 2012 matchup?

SHANE BATTIER:  It would be heck of a game.  I’m partial to the ’92 team.  For my money it’s the greatest team ever assembled. Every last one of those guys is in The Hall of Fame, first bout Hall of Famer, I don’t think you’ll ever see a collection of talent that’s as deep and as good as ’92.

Q.  And what would LeBron say now if he heard you saying that?

SHANE BATTIER:  He has a saying.  He would say:  “That’s out!” (laughs).

I think our USA team is the best team in the world.  Spain’s really, really good.  Argentina … this is their last hurrah.  It’s going to be a really competitive Olympics.  I’m excited to watch it.

Q.  Steve, with the analysis hat on, how do you look at it?

STEVE KERR:  Well, it’s so hard to compare eras.  The game is different now.  Back then, big players were more prominent.  Now it’s become a smaller game.  So you look at the roster this year.  There’s basically one big guy on the team with Tyson Chandler.  Back then I think they had, what, three seven-footers, dominant ones, with Ewing and David Robinson.  So who knows.  You throw it in a simulator and who knows what comes out.

But I’m partial to the ’92 team.  I think it’s the greatest team ever assembled.  You look at the weapons on that team, the fire power with Jordan and Pippen and Barkley, in particular. Pretty tough to beat.  So I’ll go with ’92.

Q. This question’s for both of you.  How do you compare today’s NBA player to the athleticism of the players when you first broke into the league?

SHANE BATTIER:  I just finished my 11th year in the league.  The league has definitely changed philosophy and what’s successful.

I think there’s much more of a premium on speed nowadays and versatility.  But you look back at the old Laker teams, the ’80s, that was a really versatile team with Worthy and Magic and Byron Scott.  But I think you see a lot more teams going to a spread offense with a 4 man that can really shoot the ball, versus in 2001, when I came into the league, it was much more post oriented.

Q.  Is there one lost art in the NBA now as compared to maybe when, Shane, when you first started playing and, Steve, when you were playing, was there one thing when you watch the game, you say they don’t do this anymore?

STEVE KERR:  I don’t know if there’s a lost art, but I think the way the game has changed the most there’s less passing, there’s more dribbling. I think the guys coming in are so talented with the ball that it’s become a point guard dominated league.  You look around.  So many great ones with Rose and Westbrook, Paul and Deron Williams and Nash.

So most teams start the offense with a high pick and roll.  If you watch Classic Sports, you watch 30 years ago, 20 years ago, there’s more ball movement at the initial part of the attack. And so I think that part of the game has slipped away a little bit from the younger generation.  It’s just kind of the way the game has played.

SHANE BATTIER:  I think there are fewer guys you can throw the ball to on the block and say go to work.  When I was a rookie, you had to be a legit 6’8″, 6’9″ 240 to be a power forward.

And centers were legitimate seven footers.  Now you can get away with a 6’6″ power forward who may or may not have a post game.  So there’s just less horses in the game to throw the ball and say go to work.

Q.  We understand that Kobe had a comment about the commissioner proposing the 23 and under only aged players should be in the Olympics as far as on the American team.  And I think Kobe commented that was a really stupid idea.  Your reaction.

SHANE BATTIER:  I understand where the commissioner’s coming from.  His job is to make the best league in the world, the NBA, run as smoothly as possible. It’s tough when your most highly prized assets are out there risking their day job in the Olympics.  So from a business standpoint, I understand where the commissioner’s coming from.

From a player standpoint, the Olympics are the greatest.  And every kid dreams about representing their country and doing what the Dream Team did and winning a gold medal. So I understand where Kobe’s coming from.  So if there was ever a time when two arguments made sense – I wouldn’t use the word “stupid” – but I could see where both people are coming from.

Q.  Steve?

STEVE KERR:  If Kobe, heaven forbid, gets a season-ending injury in London, the Lakers are still paying him that $28 million or whatever.  So he’s not the one at risk.  It’s the team.

That’s why Commissioner Stern is trying to put some protection in there for the teams.  It’s been a big issue for the owners the last several years.  Mark Cuban has been pretty outspoken about paying the big salary to a guy in the summer who is really out there and putting himself at risk.  So I kind of like the idea, and maybe if somebody like Kobe wanted to play, maybe give him a waiver as long as he signs off on some kind of a contractual agreement.  I don’t know.  Maybe there’s a way around it.  But the commissioner’s job is not to help U.S.A. basketball as much as it is to protect his owners.

Q.  As far as what the fans want to see?

STEVE KERR:  I think the fans like seeing the current format.  In China, LeBron and Wade and Kobe, they were a huge hit.  And I think that will be the same thing in London. So from a fan standpoint it’s probably better the way it is right now.

Back in June, I went down to Washington, DC to take part in the Big Shots organization’s first ever summer basketball camp. Big Shots is known for their high quality, ultra-competitive AAU tournaments held throughout the country. I played in a Big Shots tournament in King of Prussia, PA, and by high quality I mean high quality. I’m talking about alumni like NBA players John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and collegiate players the likes of Meyers Leonard (Illinois), Quincy Miller (Baylor), Jahii Carson (Arizona State), and Nick Johnson (Arizona), to name a few.

Big Shots was founded 12 years ago by former Virginia Tech standout and Cal-Poly head coach Jeff Schneider. Now they’re launching Big Shots Camps and brought in Greg White, former West Virginia High School Player of the Year, standout point guard at Marshall University and longtime University of Charleston head coach, to run the camps. Overall, my camp experience was great. It was a three-day overnight camp at Catholic University (good food, by the way) but in that short time it offered much more than I’ve experienced at any other camp.

In addition to hard-playing games, drills and scrimmages, one of the unique offerings was “Crazy Handles,” a 6:30 a.m. class focusing strictly on ball handling drills taught by Coach White, also known as “The Wizard,” because he can do some amazing things with a basketball. I thought I’d be the only kid there, especially since the previous night’s scrimmages ended at almost 11 p.m., but more than two-thirds of the campers were there and we learned a lot.

Surprisingly, there was a lot of emphasis on providing us with college recruiting information, something I’d never received at any other camp. (More on that in a future blog.)

As for the competition at the camp, I have to admit I was impressed. Most of the players there were going into their senior year but some were fifth year seniors, or high school graduates trying to get a few more scholarship offers. The way I saw it, out of about 100 players in the high school age group there were probably 10 legitimate Division I players. Kids who weren’t legitimate D I players were close to it and could probably go to a low-major program. There were a lot of D II guys as well. I could be completely off base either way, though. There could have been more DI prospects or there could have been less, all I’m saying is that there were a lot of great players there.

The camp recently posted evaluations of all players at the camp. Several who scored over 80 as mid- to high-major prospects were incoming senior Langston Burnett (6’4” Forward, Massenutten High, Beltsville, MD); rising junior Jon Elmore (6’3” Combo Guard, Christ School, Charleston, WV) and three freshmen, Gary Jefferson (6’2” Point Guard, Spalding High, Baltimore, MD), Jeremy Steadman (6’6” Combo Guard, Christ Chapel Academy, Woodbridge, VA) and Charles Williams (6’ Shooting Guard, Evangel Christian, Chester, VA).

The evaluations had to be extremely helpful to all the players with honest opinions designed to outline strengths as well as things to work on. As an incoming junior whose season was cut short last year by a two-month benching because of mono, I was pleased with my evaluation. Their analysis called me “a facilitator who can run a team very well and brings great chemistry to a team…He needs to take the open shot…has a 3.5 GPA and is a college-bound student.”

After seeing some of the players at the camp and reading my review, I realize that I have some work to do to get to the next level and I’m determined to do that. Aside from getting dunked on 3 or 4 times I had a lot of fun and I definitely plan on going again next year.

***More to come on Big Shots Camp in my next blog ***

Would love to know what you think…open the comment box by clicking on the title or thought bubble above.

Chester’s Rondae Jefferson in action this past season. (Time Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

Before the 2011-12 high school basketball season in the Philadelphia region even started, my dad and I promised ourselves we would go see Chester High School, the dynamite, nationally-ranked program that won the 2011 Pennsylvania AAAA championships, play at least once.As things go, of course, we never got the chance during the regular season, but when the playoff schedule broke there was a Saturday afternoon game set for nearby Norristown pitting Chester against another Philly-area powerhouse, Coatesville, in an early-round state tournament game.

Problem was that we had committed to volunteer at a Habitat For Humanity building site – in Coatesville – that day. I was horrified. How could we possibly miss this huge game? Couldn’t we volunteer another day? Why did we have to go THAT Saturday?

I begged and pleaded, tortured my brain into coming up with logical reasons to reschedule that my father would accept. I knew my mom was an easy mark, as usual, but the old man was a different story. He’s always about following through on commitments. I agree, but this was Chester vs. Coatesville!

I totally get that Habitat For Humanity is a very cool non-profit and one of the awesome things about it is the chance to interact with the actual prospective homeowners…but this was Chester vs. Coatesville. In the end, Mom caved, Dad didn’t and I resigned myself to missing the game and catching Chester later in the playoffs.

 What happened next, though,  was a little bit tough for me to take.

We arrived at the building site at 8 AM on a cold March morning ready, if not raring, to go. We started the day sweeping out garages, off-loading materials from a delivery truck and painting. As morning turned into afternoon while we were priming baseboard, the start time for the game was just a few hours away and I asked my Dad if we could get the foreman to dismiss us early.  I knew the answer would be no, but I kept asking because maybe if I annoyed him enough he might just give in and we could leave. It was a long-shot, but definitely worth the try.

Earlier in the day, we met the man whose house we were working on.  Can’t remember his name now, but he was a thin African-American guy who was in constant motion on the grounds, taking time to tell us about him and his wife, their jobs and how hard they had worked to not only get the money together to qualify for the mortgage but also to put in the man-hours necessary to close on the wonderfully inexpensive Habitat For Humanity house.

Cool guy.  Inspiring story.  Made us feel good about our time spent that winter Saturday.  As early afternoon moved toward mid-afternoon, I noticed our friend spending more time than usual around his truck in a manner that made me think he might be preparing to leave the site –probably to pick up more supplies, right?

Forget that…the guy was leaving! Heading to Norristown for the Coatesville-Chester game! I could hear him proclaiming to everyone within earshot, “Nobody in their right mind would miss this game!”

Whaaaaaaaat??? I’m here killing myself all day to help build this guy’s house and my Dad won’t let me ask to leave early to see the game? Who in this group is not in their right mind?  

I’ve been here for six hours without a break helping to build this dude’s house and HE’S going to the Chester-Coatesville game?  I’m painting this guy’s walls and he gets to see Rondae Jefferson (Chester’s Division I prospect) play. I’m moving cinder blocks among other heavy, possibly dangerous things, and he thinks he can just up and leave for the one game I’ve wanted to see since the beginning of the season? 

As he starts his truck, I’m picking up empty coffee cups and soda cans around this guy’s driveway, suppressing the urge to run over and beg him to take me…but I knew my parents would never let me go. They’d go on and on about commitments and responsibility and helping your fellow man.  The heck with that! They’re just not thinking straight.

As he drove off, I thought I would lose my mind. I mean I wasn’t really having the best day up to that point anyway, but this was just wrong on so many fronts. My parents tried to make up for it by taking me to a quick, late lunch at the best diner in Coatesville. Of course, the game was the main topic of conversation around the diner with everyone confident Coatesville would win a close one. I could barely eat – something rare for me.  I was so upset listening to these people go on and on about this game I was missing, the one everyone was predicting would be a game to remember!

Well, after all that, I ended up not missing much. The Chester Clippers blew out Coatesville by 45. I’m sure it was a good effort by Coatesville, but Chester is Chester and the Clippers eventually breezed through the state tournament, ultimately winning their second straight AAAA title.

I’m sure that my Habitat For Humanity friend enjoyed Chester vs. Coatesville……And, by now, he should be in the house, one that I played a small role in building.  I’ll be driving by someday soon to make sure that driveway area is still nice and neat and, if he’s outside mowing the lawn, I’ll have to stop and ask him how good Rondae Jefferson really is.  

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 Would luv to know what you think…open the comment box by clicking on the title or thought bubble above.