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!


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.

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.

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.


Upward Basketball getting started

Upward Basketball season at Memorial Baptist church kicked off the past week. For those of you who are unaware, the Greyhounds were started out of an Upward team in 2007 – the 2007 Knicks – that wanted to stay together and keep playing for a bit longer, and that’s where we find most of our new players each year.

It was great seeing members of my Greyhound teams and their parents. In addition to the Greyhounds who are playing in the league – Kolin Easterling, Asa Holcomb, Lemuel Miner, Connor Parrish, and Brendan Royer – I got to see Tosin Ogungbade, and Jonathan Fajen‘s father. Oh, but there’s more: former Greyhound Grant Colwell is coaching in the league, and current Greyhound coaches and former Greyhound players Sam Clubb and Mason Chandler are coaching in the league. Former Greyhound coach Jamie Diggs (father of former Greyhound Lucas Diggs) is there, too. And parents of Greyhounds as well – Paul Rhoades, who is former Greyhound Marcus Burgett‘s step-dad is coaching, and Greyhound Connor Parrish‘s father, Alan Parrish, is coaching him. And I spend a good deal of time talking to former Greyhound coach, and in my opinion, the finest coach in Upward (although he’s not coaching this year), Jared Royer (father of Greyhounds Andrew Royer, Addison Royer, and Brendan Royer).

I was asked about the Greyhounds by a parent that I didn’t know. She wanted to know about the Greyhounds after hearing about it from Grant Colwell, and Marcus Burgett’s brother, Cooper Rhoades, expressed interest as well. And Mason and Sam are watching Boys 5-6 very closely, because there are a few players that I know that I want from that league.

I was also pleased to see my old players from my 2014 Tarheels and my 2015 Bruins. All of my old guys put up really great numbers this year in the evaluations, and I’m very proud of them all for that. Those players include Lindale Baker of the 2014 Tarheels, Jeremy Anderson, Cullen Snow, Max Sachs, Justin Slade, Ryan Slade, and C.J. McGuire of the 2015 Bruins, and Asa Holcomb, who played for both teams.

This year, against all conventional wisdom and perhaps all sanity, I’m coaching in Boys 1st/2nd grade. I got to meet my team this week, and was very pleased with my first practice. We worked on learning some basic rules of basketball – specifically travelling and double-dribble. We also worked on shooting lay-ups and dribbling. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other. Our team name this year is the Cavaliers. The only player I knew coming in was Taysir Yalaoui, who is the son of my friends Skander Yalaoui and Shannyn Yalaoui, and he’s the reason I’m coaching in Boys 1-2 this year. I’ll talk more about the Cavaliers as the year goes on.