Reflecting on the 2018 Greyhounds

It’s always a bittersweet time of year when the Greyhounds’ season comes to a close.  This year, it may be a bit more bittersweet.  There are a lot of folks from this team who have been very important to me, and who I’ve really enjoyed watching through Upward.

The first guy I’m going to mention is Spencer Irvin.  He’s been on of the foundational pieces of the last two teams.  He’s fun to watch, and he’s fun to coach.

The second guy I’m going to mention is Jonah Wittenberger.  He’s been with the last two teams as well.  What really struck me about Jonah is how much he grew in confidence this past season.

But now, I get to the four guys who started with me as 2015 BruinsJeremy Anderson, Justin Slade, Ryan Slade, and C. J. McGuire.

Jeremy was our scoring punch with the Bruins, and he’s brought much of that mentality to the Greyhounds.  I felt he was going to break out at some point;  he’s got that kind of offensive potential.  It was fun having him back.

The Slade Brothers and C. J. have been with me the past two years.

Ryan Slade is one of my go-to guys when I need defense and ball pressure.  He’s kind of stuck playing the same position as Spencer and Luke, and as a result, he doesn’t get as much time as he deserves.  But I love what Ryan brings to the team.  I make fun of him for not having clean hands (for committing fouls), but then again, my hands were never that clean, either.

Justin Slade had an incredible set of games, earning him two game balls.  Justin grabbed the lion’s share of minutes at the point guard spot.  Justin is tough as nails, and he leaves every ounce of energy on the floor.

And then there’s C. J.  Of all the players, C. J. is my guy.  He does the unappreciated stuff.  He knows the plays and the sets and understands the purpose behind the plays.  He’s always blocking someone out, or setting a pick, or doing all the things that don’t get appreciated except by coaches.  I’m so proud of how far C. J. has come since those early days as Bruins.  I can’t take all the credit;  he had Candace Seeve and Aaron Mutnick in 4th grade, Coach Steve Sachs in fifth grade, and had a good run with Taylor Sirois this past season.  But I claim C. J. as my guy.  It was him who I had the most fun coaching this past season.  And he was once again selected as the best sportsman.

It’s hard letting players go;  it really is.  Some of them, especially, are very important to us as coaches.  But it’s part of the process.

One of those guys who has been so important for such a long time is Patrick Smith.  Patrick recently moved to Texas, where he will be working at Bell Helicopter – a division of Textron Inc.  I’m going to miss Patrick;  he has been a great friend.

And soon begins the Upward season – and this year, without main league director Bill Sparkes, who tragically passed away a few weeks ago.  The Greyounds will be contributing to Bill’s memorial fund based on how many points we scored in the Show-Me State Games.

The results of the games weren’t too much to our liking;  we lost the four games we played, although we did receive a forfeit from one team.  I still have stat totaling and film analysis to do, but for now, I’m just going to think on some guys who’ve been very important to me.

And there is light for the future as well.  Next year’s team figures to return Temi Ogungbade, Landon Tarwater, Addo Meiners, and Luke Sachs.  That’s a good group.  In addition, most of my 2017 Wildcats will be eligible, plus, Taysir Yalaoui will be a third grader.  Exciting times!


Time flies

Well, folks, time certainly has flown by this year, and I’ve not had a lot to say – which is amazing for several reasons.

The biggest reason is the wonderful success this year’s Greyhound team had at the Show-Me State Games. For the first time in the Greyhounds’ history, we won two games at the Show-Me State Games – the first non-forfeit wins we’ve ever had. And the guys from this year were amazing.

Upward Basketball is about to get started up again at Memorial Baptist, and Greyhound players are all over the place in terms of the top rankings! Very proud of my guys. And let’s not forget you Wildcats, either! Very proud of how well you guys have scored this year.

Hoping all is well with all of you, and wishing everyone out there the best.

Love of the Sport

I’m very excited that we’re starting to get responses for the 2017 Greyhounds.  Mason Chandler and Sam Clubb have committed to returning, and we’re getting responses from players who have only played against us;  even one from a player who has never played FOR or AGAINST us.  And that tells me that our love for the sport of basketball is what’s doing the talking.

The love of the sport is so important.  When you love the sport, that love can bleed over to teammates.  And that sort of love is contagious.

I’m also excited that I’m about to go on vacation aboard Anthem Of The Seas.  What does this have to do with basketball?  Well, on my first trip on Anthem of the Seas, during the maiden Atlantic crossing, I happened to win the 3-point shoot-out, and my team won the 3-on-3 tournament.  I’m hoping for a repeat.

For those of you who are unaware, my shooting has been affected by another degenerated disc in my neck, which hurt the strength and mobility of my left hand.  I’m starting to come back – thanks to the good folks at PEAK Sport and Spine, where I did my re-hab, and also to my wonderful teammates and friends who play basketball at the Tribune.  A special shout-out to original Greyhound Patrick Smith, who also happens to have done something with EVERY Greyhound team, and who the Smith Trophy is named for.  Patrick is working to help me get back the strength and the shot I’ve lost.

Also, for those of you who are unaware, I have presumably played my last competitive basketball game, with Team Carfax.  Lots of great teammates over the years – including three Greyhound connections:  Patrick Smith, Mason Chandler, and former Greyhound Assistant Coach Jacob Rogers.  Also, at what figures to be my last game, I was blessed to have former and current Greyhounds Sam Clubb and Lindale Baker on hand.  With the injuries racking up, plus my weight plus my age making me slower and slower, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to keep playing.  I’ve had a great career as a player, and this season was in a few ways, my best.  So, perhaps, next year will feature a Greyhound Legacy team in the City League – with me on the sidelines as a coach.

Love of the sport leads to love of others when you do it right.  And that’s what Greyhound Basketball is all about.

First Practice completed

We completed our first practice on this past Saturday.  10 of our 12 players were there, including new addition, forward Ian Meyer.  Assistant Coach Sam Clubb was not there, as he is returning from a family vacaction, but he texted us, and had his introduction pre-recorded for us.  However, former Greyhound Shelomi Miner was at practice, and helped us out.

We first covered the team rule about injuries;  all injuries are to be reported, with no exceptions.  They are to be reported to ALL COACHES plus the player’s parents.  We did some basic stretching, and we then started learning the Motion framework, which serves as the starting point for our man-to-man offense.

As always, some players took better to the motion system than others did.  Among the better at the beginning were Lindale Baker, Keylan Horn, Kolin Easterling, Cody Koebel, Lemuel Miner, Connor Parrish.  As always, the problems that seemed to occur were the typical ones:  outside players not cutting immediately after passing, big men getting confused as to which direction they go on the inner rotation, or worse yet, not moving.

Afterwards, we did our player introductions.  Kolin kicked it off, and as we went around, bits and pieces started to get funny.  We were doing a better job of joking around and having fun during the intros that we’ve ever done.

We did some motion work against real defense, and before we knew it, it was time for free throws and suicides.  Only one player – Connor Parrish – made his free-throw goal, winning the first week for the skill players.

Of course, I turned 50 this past week, and by Greyhound tradition, each player and coach got to take me one-on-one, to make sure I haven’t lost a step and can still play.  Well, the players this year fared better than they have in the past;  Keylan Horn absolutely burned me.

We finished up with some scrimmage.  As a whole, I felt we had forgotten too much of our positioning and flow of motion at the scrimmage.  I have to give props to two people who were talking with each other and trying to keep the principles in place going:  Lindale Baker and Kolin Easterling.  They kept it together, and started getting offense late with feeds to Cody Koebel.  While Connor Parrish and Keylan Horn were trying to pull the team together, it tended to break down a bit more.  However, Keylan’s pushing the ball and Connor’s shooting kept their team in the game.

My review of the practice:  A good, solid start.

Mason Chandler’s pick for best practice:  Lindale Baker

My pick for best practice:  Kolin Easterling

The 2015 Line Award Winner

Okay, I’ve finally gotten done crunching last year’s statistics; minutes played was the last one for me to do, and I had a bit of trouble with this one. However, I’m now done, which means it’s time to announce the Line Award winner.

For those of you who don’t know, the Line Award is named after the Line brothers, Ethan Line, who was the first honorable mention for the award, and Travis Line, who was the winner of the first two awards. It is the person with the top +/- ratio PER MINUTE. In other words, how much better are we than the opponent with you on the court.

First, an honorable mention: Brendan Royer. Brendan isn’t eligible for the actual award, because we only play players who are third or fourth graders in very limited minutes. However, being effective in those minutes is awesome, and I’m very proud to see Brendan join the honorable mention list for this award.

The 2015 Line Award goes to Cody Koebel.

Cody won one of the closest battles in Line Award history, narrowly edging Tosin Ogungbade and Connor Parrish. Cody won the award by playing major minutes for the team, while being an effective scorer and a solid defender. In fact, Cody was the youngest player in the game during the closest game in Greyhound history – and folks, get ready to celebrate, because he’s coming back this year! In fact, the top four guys are all back this year! High expectations this year, guys, and a big congratulations to Cody.

Greyhound 2016 Invitations are out!

Earlier today, Greyhound 2016 invitations went out.  We’re gearing up for the 2016 Show-Me State Games.

Our initial invitee lists includes 8 potential returning Greyhounds.  Five of these are offered guaranteed spots:  Kolin Easterling, Connor Parrish, Lemuel Miner, Tosin Ogungbade, and Cody Koebel.  Cody has already accepted the invitation, and claimed his 35 jersey.  Also, return invitations were extended to Brendan Royer, Asa Holcomb, and Alex Hook.

We have a few of invitations issued to players who have played for me in Upward, as well;  invitations were issued to Isaiah Larkins and Lindale Baker, who along with Asa, Alex, and Cody were part of my 2014 Tarheels.  Invitations were also extended to Max Sachs, who played for my 2015 Bruins along with Asa, and Robert Lee, who was a 2013 Cyclone along with Cody.

There were also invitations issued to brothers of former Greyhounds;  in addition to Brandon, Lemuel, Tosin and Alex, invitations went out to Josh Candrl, Lane Diggs, and Cooper Rhoades.  Also, former Bruin Jeremy Anderson‘s older brother, Zach Anderson, was invited.

The final 7 invitations went to players who’ve got no experience with me as a coach:  Landon Block, Justin Goolsby, Keylan Horn, Bryce Irvin, A.J. Jones, Craig McGowan, and Zane Meyer.  Landon, who is playing for another team, declined his invitation in a very sportsman-like note from his parents;  we wish Landon all the best with his team.

Mason Chandler and Sam Clubb return as my assistant coaches this year.

We have secured gym space at The Armory for five of the six scheduled practices.  The practices we’ve scheduled run from 9:00 AM to 12:00 noon, on Saturday, June 4, Saturday, June 18, Saturday June 25, Saturday, July 9, and Saturday, July 16.  We have not confirmed the location for the practice scheduled for June 11 as of yet.

A main page will be added to update you as to the upcoming year’s roster.

The first Cavalier win!

The 2016 Cavaliers are my Upward Basketball team for the season. It’s been a rough stretch for my guys.  We’ve struggled with rebounding problems, turnovers, and incredible defensive lapses.  And then there’s the plain old bad luck.  But over the past two weeks, the season has turned around.

Much of the turnaround can be attributed to the improved play of Micah McArthur.  Micah is probably our most talented player, so when I talk about “improvement,” I’m really talking about his efficiency and his defense.  Micah has really bought into the scheme of getting all of the players involved, and this has turned him into a devastatingly efficient player.  He was always solid, but now, it’s stunningly efficient.

The play of Micah is the biggest factor in getting a second player going, and that player is Taysir Yalaoui.  Now, everyone should realize that Taysir is my best friend’s son, and he’s the reason I’m coaching in Boys 1st/2nd.  Taysir is a kindergartner, and this is his first step into actual organized basketball.  Up until the past two weeks, Taysir had taken only one shot.  Now, for those of you who know Taysir, you know that the one thing he can do in basketball is shoot.  Well, thanks to Micah getting him going, Taysir scored four points on 6 shots last week.  With him getting to shoot, he’s now more involved, and is playing much better defense, getting some steals and recoveries.  Well, this week, Taysir scored four points again, this time on three shots.  Two of those points came on a steal and breakaway lay-up in the final period;  those two points tied the game.

It’s a big change coaching in Boys 1st/2nd from the older leagues.  I tend to talk as if the guys all understand the language of basketball, which, of course, they don’t.  Plus, we’re not good offensively at the things I most want to do – which is implement player and ball movement and a passing game.  It has definitely been a stretch outside of my comfort zone.  However, as we’ve gotten better at doing some of the things, our results have looked better and better on the court.  The last two games have definitely been the high point of our season so far.  And, as is typical of my teams, it was the back end of the bench that won us this last game.

The Upward leadership is starting to plan for next season, and there may be more news coming in that regard. I’ll probably talk more about that in my next entry.

SEVENTH? Really?

ESPN has been doing a countdown of greatest players in basketball history. While I knew they’d eventually draw my complete disrespect, I couldn’t believe how early they did it.

Somehow, for what must surely be considered an extreme bias toward recent happenings over history, Bill Russell, my absolute argument as #1, is ranked # 7. He is ranked 7 behind the following players, in an as-of-yet unreleased order: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and LeBron James.

A man with 11 rings is finishing behind folks who have, respectively, 6, 6, 2, 5, 3, and 2. In other words, take JUST RUSSELL, and you have to select Kareem and Jordan together to exceed his ring total. In fact, if you were to take Chamberlain, Bird, and LeBron together, you’d be four championships short of Russell.

So let’s think this over. Russell won 11 of the 13 championships he competed for. LeBron has already lost in the Finals four different times (Cavs in 2015 and 2007, Heat in 2011 and 2014), whereas Russell only lost one Finals and one non-appearance.  LeBron has lost as many championships to #8, Tim Duncan, as Russell EVER LOST.

Bird’s presence on the list ahead of Russell is obscene, given that each of the men played for the same franchise. Bird delivered three titles. Russell did that in his first four years.

Did Bill Russell hit 3 pointers? No. Did he score 100 points in a game? No. Did he win dunk contests, and shape marketing for the NBA? No. No, he just won basketball games.

Except that that’s understating what Russell was. He set the stage for the modern NBA. In the days before civil rights, he was proving to be the standard by which all other players were measured. He opened the door for African-American coaches – being the first African-American professional basketball coach, and being the first African-American professional basketball coach to win a title, and did that as a player-coach. LeBron was whining recently about wanting to play for a coach who had actually played in the NBA; he should realize that Russell is a big part of the reason for that.

Russell wasn’t a media darling. Well, neither was Abdul-Jabbar, who I have number 2 on my list.

So – in honor of Russell’s finishing 7th on the list, I’d like to announce my selections for top networks that know more basketball. Coming in at #7 is ESPN.

Coming in at 1 through 6 – in an as-of-yet unspecified order – are TNT, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and the general populace of the Internet.

There is a reason the NBA Finals MVP trophy is the Bill Russell trophy.  Not the Michael Jordan trophy.  Not the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trophy.  And DEFINITELY not the LeBron James trophy.

Note to ESPN: Winning COUNTS. And if winning counts, EVEN DOWN TO HOW HE DID IT, Russell – like in all but two years – wins.

Playing Angry

I was watching tonight’s match-up of the Golden State Warriors at the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Golden State was coming off of a bad loss;  Cleveland was coming off of some strong wins.  Cleveland was pretty much embarrassed off the court.  Cleveland called timeout less that two minutes into the game, already down 10-2 at the time.

Cleveland needed to make a statement in this game.  They needed to come out and prove that they could play with Golden State, given that these two are the favorites to repeat last year’s NBA Finals.  Instead, Golden State came out, was very loose, and played like they were the ones that needed to make the statement.

I’m reminded of the worst game I ever coached – my 2008 Heat versus the 2008 Knicks in the re-match that year.  We were coming off of a huge win, and feeling really good about ourselves.  We were expecting to play well against the opponent.  We had superior scoring, superior rebounding, and superior passing, and we were confident.

We came out flat.  Just plain flat.  We looked awful, and we were down at the half.  We had our strong line-ups coming out, and I wanted us focused and intense.  I opened fire with both barrels in the half-time talk.

You could tell that we weren’t the same team that left the court at halftime.  You could tell it from the looks on our faces coming out.  9 players coming out with upset, angry looks on our faces.  And one player – Josh Wade – who was absolutely happy to be there, playing, and no one – no coach, no fan, no older brother – who he was getting matched up against – was going to take away the joy of playing the game from him.

Three players had good games in the second half.  The first was Austin Renwick.  That’s because of all my players, Austin was the one who was most in touch with his emotions.  He knew what being angry meant, and he knew that when he was angry, he had to focus, to not let it interfere with him doing what he needed to do.

The second was Eric Abele, who the Greyhound Trophy for Hardest Worker is named after.  He played great because Eric was always focused on doing exactly what our game plan called for;  Eric was the model of consistency who never drifted off game-plan.  He came out, focused as always.

The third, was, of course, Josh Wade.  He was out there to have fun, and was going to bring everything he could.  I’ve never had any player outwork Josh Wade.  (Having Josh and Eric on the same team was amazing because of the level of hard work they both put in.)  But Josh wasn’t playing “angry.”  He was already aggressive, and already intense, and already hard-working.  He didn’t need to be “angry.”  We nicknamed him “The King of Pain,” because of how often he ended up on the floor diving and fighting for the basketball.

The rest of my team didn’t play anything like the players I had.  That’s because to those guys, “angry” was an alien concept.  They weren’t “angry” players.  Instead of fixing the focus and sloppiness and flatness problems we had, with my poor coaching, especially at halftime, I just added a new one to the load.

Needless to say, we didn’t win.

I’ve seen lately several teams trying to play “angry” rather than playing “re-focused.”  For some players – folks like Austin, or players like me – playing “angry” helps us re-focus and puts us back in aggressive, commanding mode.  But I’m growing to believe that many – if not most – players don’t work that way.  Team Carfax doesn’t play well “angry.”  The 2008 Heat didn’t play well “angry.”  And there are tons of players and friends who don’t play well “angry.”

Cleveland, tonight, should have come out focused, knowing how important of a game it was.  They came out absolutely sloppy defensively.  Cleveland, tonight, should have come out with a strong game plan.  They came out absolutely flat and confused.

And when they saw the FUN Golden State was having at their expense, THEY GOT MAD.  And sure enough, that was it for them.  They completely became unraveled.  Cheap shot fouls and scuffles.  A couple of players – players who knew how to play mad – looked okay.  But others were pretty much gone.

Part of it is the style that Cleveland plays against Golden State.  Part of it was the fact that they play so many games, that every once in a while, players are going to come out flat.  But part of it is coaching, and part of it is a mental weakness.

I’m not saying Cleveland CAN’T beat Golden State.  But I am saying that there is a significant problem that Golden State has exposed in Cleveland.  Part of it comes from the isolation-type style that Cleveland tries to play, and part of it comes from poor coaching, but more than anything, I think Golden State has exposed the fact that Cleveland don’t have the emotional control and focus to, as a team, enforce their will upon an opponent.  Pull at the strings hard enough, and Cleveland will turn on each other and unravel.  This is something that I think Cleveland needs to fix.

How did my Heat respond?  Quite well, actually.  In our next practice, we let go of the anger, and got re-focused, and came out and did some incredible things in our next game, against the Bulls.  In fact, in the fourth period of that game, we started and ended the period with long bomb inbound passes from Patrick Smith to Tate Cooper and to Eric Abele, respectively, with Tate, Eric, and Austin hustling back behind all the defenders.

Focus and playing aggressively are not the same thing as anger.  Anger allows us to come unglued, and turn that anger in all different directions – most of which do not produce good outcomes.  Some players understand how to channel anger in productive ways, but more often than not, it takes away from FUN.

Cleveland doesn’t look like they know how to have fun playing basketball.  That’s what concerns me the most about that team.


Sportsmanship Matters

I agonized over a decision this evening.  I have a bad cold, and even took a day away from work to try to get over it.  Those of you who know me know that I have a great deal of trouble breathing in cold weather, especially after playing basketball.  And the Carfax team is very important to me, especially considering the friends I have on the team.  But I decided against playing.

What wasn’t up for debate was whether or not I’d be at the game.  I was.  In uniform.  And ready to play *IF* it came to that.  I have great teammates, and they didn’t need me;  they picked up for me when my health let them down.  I didn’t face criticism, but support.  That’s what REAL teams do.  You see, sportsmanship starts at home.

The last three years have been the three best years the Carfax team has ever had.  We have better chemistry than ever.  We like each other more, and we respect each other.  I’m not going to pretend that we’re as good of sportsmen as we need to be, but we’re better than we’ve ever been about respecting our teammates.

How fitting it was this weekend in watching NFL football that we got to see the failure of POOR sportsmanship.  I watched a significant part of the Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati game – notably, the end of that game.  Cincinnati took poor sportsmanship to its ultimate conclusion – a loss.  And it didn’t take an entire team to get to that, either.  When it comes to sportsmanship, one rotten apple *DOES* spoil the barrel.

We have a saying on the teams I coach:  “Sportsmanship puts REAL POINTS on the scoreboard.”  It does it because sportsmanship allows other folks to help you along toward your goals.  Sportsmanship gets other folks to share their secrets to success with you.  Sportsmanship makes you the recipient of knowledge, instruction, inside information, and support.

Poor sportsmanship leads to resentment.  It leads to things like we saw in Cincinnati.  My personal favorite was the tirade Pacman Jones threw afterward.  He fired off a profanity-laced complaint about a coach being on the field.  And you know – he might – just might – have had a point.  But we’ll never know, because when Pacman Jones saw someone who wasn’t supposed to be where he was, Pacman Jones decided to bump them.  Apparently Jones must know some football rule that I’m unaware of, namely that “it’s okay to push someone if they’re somewhere you don’t think they should be.”

Folks today think that sportsmanship means you shake hands with the other team’s players after the game.  A few might even shake hands with referees.  It will be the rare one that thanks the folks running scoreboard and the clock.  But if that’s as far as your sportsmanship goes, then you’re not going much of anywhere.

Sportsmanship is an attitude that you adopt and wear for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (366 in leap years).  The sportsman acts as a protector and custodian of the game itself, and that’s a lot harder than people think!

Kobe Bryant recently remarked that if he had to advise his younger self, it would be about compassion and empathy.

In the meantime, the legacy Kobe Bryant leaves is one of typical poor attitude toward teammates – a franchise in decline.  By failing to have real respect for those folks he played with, the team around Bryant has declined;  those who could have stayed and helped him are long gone.

But in Golden State, they’re celebrating, being led by the 2010-11 Joe Dumars Trophy winner (awarded to the NBA’s best sportsman) – Stephen Curry.  Curry won that award his second year in the league.

The Greyhounds have a sportsmanship trophy that we call the Hamilton Trophy.  I believe it’s important for folks to be recognized for being great sportsmen, because I believe this is truly one of the notable character qualities necessary for sustained high performance.

Exercise your sportsmanship.  Accept the brotherhood that basketball offers with your fellow players, and do your part to enhance and strengthen it.  These qualities will not only make you a better player, but a better person.

Did our Carfax team win tonight?  No.

But we did score our season’s high in points.

Sportsmanship puts REAL POINTS on the scoreboard.