Archive for the ‘College Basketball’ Category

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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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.