I was a pretty darn good basketball player, but a terrible basketball coach. My one season as the head coach of the 1971/72 American Basketball Association (ABA) Carolina Cougers was a cornucopia of mistakes that I don't need to or care to enumerate. But the biggest one and the one that set me on the path to disaster is the lead-in to today's blog.
If coaches don't set the bar high and demand excellence from their players, they are doomed to failure. I wish I had realized that when I started coaching. Instead of demanding my players correct obvious mistakes, I tried to persuade them. Persuading never works. My key player back then was Jim McDaniels, a highly sought after 6'11" center whom the Cougars drafted number one and paid enough bucks to that he opted for the ABA over the NBA. He possessed loads of talent, but his game had flaws. I knew what they were from the very first practice. I did everything I could to persuade him to correct his errors that mostly had to do with footwork. I persuaded, cajoled, implored, explained, but I didn't demand. Jim never grew as a professional basketball player, and it was my fault.
Last night as I watched the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings play, I think I saw a possible example of this kind of coaching error. Last year I believed Paul Westphal did one heck of a job fixing some of the obvious wrongs on a team that had gone through a disastrous season the year before. With Geoff Petrie, the GM, trading for a solid power forward in Carl Landry, a reasonably good shot-blocking center in Samuel Delembert and picking talented rookie Demarcus Cousins in the 2010 draft, I felt the Kings were a team on the rise.
As of today, the Kings are 5-18 and last in the Pacific Division. So what's the problem? There are a number of them, but the most obvious is this: Kings rookie phenom Tyreke Evans - last season's Rookie of the Year - has not improved his game over the summer. What he had to work on couldn't have been more clear. Every player and every coach in the NBA could have told him. The custodians and popcorn venders in the arena could have told him. My old grandmother could have told him. Tyreke, you have no jump shot. You sling your shot as if you're trying to knock down Goliath.
I am sure Paul Westphal must have said something at the end of the last season to Tyreke about improving his shot, but did he demand it? It sure doesn't look like it to me. This is what Westphal needed to say to the Rookie of the Year: Tyreke everybody in the NBA knows what your strength is, so from now on throughout the rest of your career, defenses are going to play you for the drive and concede the jumper. So, young man, you must spend your entire summer mastering the jump shot. As a coach that is not only what I expect, that is what I demand. Without a jumper you will inevitably become a liability, and you will sit on the bench next to me until you learn to shoot.
Clearly, Tyreke didn't work on his jumper this summer. If he did, he certainly never worked with a coach who knew anything about how to teach a jump shot. I am actually amazed at this since Geoff Petrie was one of the NBA's premier jump shooters. His form was classic. I know, I coached Geoff when he was a Portland Trailblazer. Westphal was not a bad shooter either, although he was more of a scorer than a pure shooter. As an ex-Golden State Warrior and a Warrior fan, I shouldn't feel so badly about a Sacramento King's player, but it breaks my heart to see talent wasted. The way Tyreke can drive to the basket, if he ever developed a jumper, he would be unstoppable. Coach Westphal, you need to do some serious demanding. You need to raise the bar and make Tyreke leap over it - for his own good and the good of the team.
Here's wonderfully funny poem about coaching.
First Practice by Gary Gildner
After the doctor checked to see
we weren't ruptured,
the man with the short cigar took us
under the grade school,
where we went in case of attack
or storm, and said
he was Clifford Hill, he was
a man who believed dogs
ate dogs, he had once killed
for his country, and if
there were any girls present
for them to leave now.
left. OK, he said, he said I take
that to mean you are hungry
men who hate to lose as much
as I do. OK. Then
he made two lines of us
facing each other,
and across the way, he said,
is the man you hate most
in the world,
and if we are to win
that title I want to see how.
But I don't want to see
any marks when you're dressed,
he said. he said, Now!
What my musings are all about...
Blogging might well be the 21st century's form of journaling. As a writing teacher, I have always advised my students to keep a daily journal as a way of organizing their thoughts for future writing projects, a discipline I have unfortunately never consistently practiced myself. By blogging, I might finally be able to follow my own good advice.
The difference between journaling and blogging is that the blogger opens his or her writing to the public, something journal- writers are usually reluctant to do. I am not so reticent.
The trick for me will be to avoid cluttering the internet with more blather, something none of us need more of. If I stick to subjects I know: sports and literature, I believe I can avoid that pitfall. I can't promise that I'll not stray from time to time to comment on ancillary subjects, but I will make every attempt to be interesting and perhaps even insightful.