Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Basketball Diaries: Chapter Four.

[Editor's Note: This blog has an ulterior motive and that motive is The AverageBro Challenge™. Watch me walk the talk firsthand as I coach a team of 6th graders this Winter in our newest series, The Basketball Diaries. If you need a refresher, backtrack and read prior chapters.]


Well, practice is tomorrow, and honestly, with everything going on this week, I haven't thought about the team since Sunday's game. I think this is good.

After last week's edition of TBD, a commenter told me that if I consider myself more of a positive influence on these kids' lives than a basketball coach, then I shouldn't gauge their progress on wins and losses. This actually made a lot of sense, and I am taking it to heart.

My main goal is getting these guys disciplined, having them respect authority, push themselves to the limit, work well with others, and not give up when things get hard. My goal isn't teaching them how to defend the pick and roll. 10 years from now, the former will matter far more than the latter, cause lets face it, none of these kids likely has a future in hoops. But they all will have futures that entail academic achievement, continued education, career growth, long term relationships, and family building. The intangible lessons we're trying to convey will matter far more than a flex offense. So, I'll keep my eyes on the prize from now on.

That said, I am going to run them into the ground tomorrow night at practice.

Friday (Post-Practice)

Funny things happen when you change your perspective on a situation, rather than waiting for the situation itself to change. Earlier this week, I decided to just go with the flow and stop focusing so much on wins and losses. As long as these guys are listening, focusing more, and showing discipline, the record is secondary. After all, my real goal is making these kids better people, not better players.

So, anyway, you guys know Pedro quit last week, leaving us with only 8 players. You can add players up until Week 3 (this Sunday), so last week I told the parents and kids to invite a friend to fill out the roster. Well, tonight at practice, we get not one, but two new players, both of whom are coachable and, here's the kicker... are actually pretty good players. It's like Christmas in January. Sure, De'Andre gave me some more headaches tonight, even tossing a basketball (absentmindedly and without malice, but still intentionally) at an assistant coach. Needless to say, he ran. A lot. But the other kids focused well, and allowed me to install a watered down variation of the Princeton offense.

The offense is very basic, but it borrows some fundamentals from Pete Carril's legendary sets that involve the wings moving and rotating the ball in a triangular motion, while the bigs constantly switch sides in the lane. The whole point is to keep the ball moving and the defense on its toes, then read situations quickly and make pass/shoot/drive decisions on the fly. If you can't make a play, simply dribble the ball back up top and reset the offense. It sounds complicated, but it really isn't. We'll add additional wrinkles like give and go's, dribble handoffs, and backdoor cuts as we go along.

While it took awhile to work out the kinks, we had an extra 30 minutes of practice tonight and the kids finally seemed to get it. We'll see what happens Sunday, but I feel good about things thus far.

Now that we're four chapters in, and the roster is set, I suppose it makes sense to introduce the kids.
Mark (F/C) - Four eyed, and lacking in even the basic fundamentals, but very coachable and plays hard at all times. His tenacity makes up for his lack of size and skill. He's the kind of player every coach needs.

Effi (C) - Our sluggish, new-to-hoops Ethiopian big man. Assertiveness is an issue, as seems to often be the case with kids of this (and Somali) culture. He's very coachable, yet reserved and shy. If he doesn't call for the ball (and he doesn't) he'll never get it. But surprisingly, when he gets it, it's an automatic deuce because he has an uncannily soft touch around the basket. If we can toughen him up, we might be onto something. Either way, more assertiveness is going to take him lots of places in life.

De'Andre (G/F) - The best untapped talent on the team, and also the biggest headache. Impossible to keep focused, which is directly tied to this ADD issues. If it's properly medicated, he'll listen. If not, expect lots of running in practice.

Lucas (PG) - Our point guard and the only white guy on the team. The most talented, polished player on the team. Volatile, but listens and always plays hard. The team's leader on-court and off.

Colby (SG) - A jitterbug guard who has never met a shot he couldn't pass up and even fewer that he could actually make. Wouldn't pass if you tossed him a grenade. If we can get him to take smarter shots, he could easily be our leading scorer because of his speed and aggressiveness. But as is, he's just a selfish jacker who doesn't care if we win or lose so long as he gets his shots off.

Jose (C) - Just joined the team. Tall and gangly. Not incredibly skilled, but very persistent and coachable. Good rebounder. Will push Effi for playing time. Apparently a nightmare to teachers in school where's he's been suspended for yelling sexist comments, but I've seen no such issues thus far.

Juan (SG) - Meek and mild, yet sharpshooting guard. Cultural and language issues make getting him to understand instruction difficult at times, but needs to be more assertive. Easily our purest shooter, but too unselfish to demand the ball.

Carlos (G/F) - Poorly conditioned and easily winded, but reasonably tough swingman. Hard to gauge talent level since he's always tired. Suffers defensively and in transition.

Chase (F) - Completely devoid of any ballhandling skills, and always antsy with the basketball. Tries hard, but just isn't well coordinated. Coachable, but will occasionally slip an under-the-breath insult at coaches when frustrated.

Paul (F) - Just joined the team. Very skilled and coachable. Has the ability and poise to be the best player on the team. One problem: His Dad knows the game and has good input. But he gives so much advice during practice that he disrupts the drills. We'll need to iron out this kink before it becomes a distraction.
So, those are your 2009 Panthers. We'll see what happens when the whole squad hits the court together Sunday.

Sunday (Postgame)

Another week, another loss. This time, we lost 24-11 to a team we should have beaten. We lead after one, trailed by one at the half, and I could smell blood in the water. Too bad the other team was the sharks and my guys were merely chum.

We spent over 90 minutes the other night practicing the Princeton offense. It took the kids less than 9 seconds to completely forget everything we'd worked on and turn the ball over for an easy score by the opposition. Why did I even bother? Why do I even bother?

In the 3rd quarter, I put my second team in versus the other squad's "1st team". Bear in mind, their "1st team" did jack squat in the first quarter vs my starters. The idea was to save the starters until the 4th quarter. By then, I figured we'd be either ahead or only slightly behind and our best players would close the deal. No such luck.

The kids turned the ball over and failed to get back on offense, ceding easy layups and essentially sealing our fate just moments into the second half. The rest of the game was a mere formality.

I'm officially at a loss for solutions now. We've tried being nice. We've tried being patient. We've tried super discipline. We're tried running them into the ground. We've tried to simplify the offense. We've tried to simplify the defense. We've tried questioning their heart and pride.

The only thing we've yet to try is the ole "My Mom Is Sick" story. CJames, feel free to tell the fine folks of AverageNation™ all about this. I don't have the energy to do so.

Outside of wondering if I'm cut out to coach a set of kids who simply won't listen, I'm beginning to wonder if this experiment in live blogging might also be scaring away those I'm begging to take on The AverageBro Challenge™. After all, if I'm the guy who's supposed to be telling you how great it is working with kids, but I want to lock my own team in a custodian's closet, what sorta example am I setting for ya'll?

Either way, I'm officially in "playing for next year" mode. As in, I'll recieve a new set of 4th graders next year. I hope the luck of the draw gives me some kids with talent, discipline, and drive. Because the Panthers, well, they just have none of that stuff.

0-8 is lookin' real possible, which is just turrible. Think about it. The kids could not practice at all and not be coached at all and go 0-8. Any set of random kids could show up at the gym every Sunday and go 0-8.

Losing sucks. Sorry.

Season Record: 0 Wins - 3 Losses

Next Opponent: Team Jackson

Question: Am I "keepin' it too real" with this series and possibly scaring off folks who might otherwise Take The AverageBro Challenge™? Got any fresh ideas on how to turn this thing around? You ever gone winless in anything?

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