Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Basketball Diaries : Chapter Eight.

[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.]

Sunday (Postgame)

Well, we finally got the monkey off our backs. That's right folks, The Panthers finally won a game!!!

Officially devoid of new ideas, my assistant ANewP and I decided to keep Friday's practice light. Instead of killing the kids with more reps of the offense that was never gonna work, we just focused on tightening up the defense and scrimmaged the rest of the time. After more than 20 practices, if the kids didn't have it yet, they'd never get it.

So when we showed up to today's game, I didn't bother putting too much thought into preparation or the typical pregame speech. I simply told the guys that they knew what to do by now, and to just go out and do it. I also told them to abandon the Princeton offense and just wing it. As long as they played solid defense, I'd be happy with whatever the end result was.

Oddly, we were 2 kids short today. Our most athletic, yet erratic kid, De'Andre, was out of town for a family function. Paul, son of Junie The Tyrant, wasn't anywhere to be seen at tipoff. This meant two of our arguably most talented, if not necessarily productive, players were missing. We'd have to make due with hustle and smart play from the 8 kids who did show. If there was a silver lining, it was that we could freely substitute, as our dearth of players meant we could disregard the standard "play 2 full quarters" rule.

As we lined up, I had a good feeling that we had a chance to win. Our opponents, like most of the teams in our league, were a bunch of rich, snotty, inner-burbs trust fund babies. But unlike the other opponents, these kids had no height, and as we assembled for tip-off, were visibly intimidated by my team of burb-ghetto Benetton ad rejects.

We raced out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first quarter, but the warning signs were there. We were playing hard, and smart, but could not buy a basket. Our big man, Jose, literally had dozens of second and third looks as he cleaned the offensive glass, but could not convert the easiest of putbacks. Had he put a fraction of those shots in the basket, the game would have been over. As-was, we lead 14-10 at intermission, our first halftime advantage all season long.

As the kids swilled Gatorade and caught their breaths, I repeatedly told them to not let up. We could play better, but so could the opposing team, which meant the game was still very much in question. They needed to maintain intensity or else.

And what happens when the second half starts? The other team scores a couple of easy baskets to tighten the game back up. I called a timeout and implored the kids to get tougher. And then, something clicked. The boys finally realized they had an intimidation factor.

The next thing you know, my kids were hacking like Bill Laimbeer! They were grabbing at loose balls, tying up picked-up dribbles, and clobbering players to short-circuit fastbreak layups. And on no fewer than 5 occasions, play had to be stopped as some kid from the opposing team laid out, sprawling on the court as tears flowed like water. My boys had finally "gotten ghetto". I cried a little bit inside.

Just to clear things up, I didn't tell the boys to play dirty, only to not keep giving up easy baskets. The tactic worked, as we shut the Rockets down, the jumpers started falling, and we walked away with a hard fought 23-16 win.

I wish I could see this as validation that everything we'd been doing finally worked. That the kids finally saw the value of playing as a unit rather than individuals. That the secrets of winning basketball were finally unlocked. But none of that's really true. Reality is, we beat the crap out of a horrible team that we had no business evar losing to.

And reality is, that's what winning is all about.

Season Record: 1 Win - 6 Losses

Next (and final) Opponent: Team Proctor

Question: Was this hard-fought win evidence that everything AB and ANewP have done finally sunk in, or merely a predictable victory over an even worse team? Does winning truly cure all ails, or merely lull one into a false sense of security?

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