I wouldn't be a good Galloping Gael if I didn't blog about St. Mary's College basketball team and the success they've been having under Coach Randy Bennett. First of all, a belated congratulations (I wasn't blogging last season) to the Gaels for their impressive 2009/10 NCAA Championship run. Making the Sweet Sixteen was an accomplishment that only one other Gael team--our 1958/59--equaled. We made it to the elite 8, but in an era when there were only 16 teams to begin with. Last year's Gaels were victorious through two extra rounds, defeating a strong Villanova team on the way.
It looks as if this year is going to be a good one for the Gaels too. Much has been written about the Gaels Australian connection, and that's fun and perhaps significant, but I'm of the opinion that the credit for the Gaels success belongs to the coach and his staff. Great players are necessary to win, but going beyond mere wins to championship-type wins requires a strong, intelligent coach who can sell his brand of basketball to his players. It seems clear that Randy has done just that.
I've always been interested in what makes a great coach. I've played for several superior coaches in my basketball career, starting with my high school coach, Benny Neff, who was a little man and a fierce competitor. (He called me a sunavabitch so often I began to think it was my middle name). Such intimidation would not be tolerated by today's players, more's the pity. But his wild personality was beside the point. Neff possessed a genius for preparing teams to play. Every other coach I admired possessed that same practice-first approach to winning. I suspect it is the common denominator for all coaches, whose personalities vary so greatly. I'd bet the bank that Randy Bennett's practices are thorough and intense and his players walk onto the court feeling prepared to play their best.
Last night I was watching one of Randy Bennett's best ex-players, Patty Mills, playing for the Portland Blazers. Mills, who unfortunately came out one year too early in a draft year where there was a plethora of great point guards, has been languishing in the development league and/or taking up Portland bench space. I always thought he was an excellent point guard. In the last St. Mary's game Patty played--the 2008/09 season--the Gaels defeated Davidson, and Mills outplayed Steph Curry. In last night's game I saw flashes of the old St. Mary's Gael Mills, coming off the bench to speed the game up and distribute the ball quickly and wisely. His uptempo game was the reason the Blazers were able to catch up with a powerful Maverick team, and the decision by Nate McMillen, the Blazer coach, to pull Patty in the forth quarter and bring back the more ponderous Andre Miller might have cost them the game. Still, it was a pleasure to see the speedy little Aussie back on the court. As soon as Mills becomes more comfortable shooting the deep J, he is going to have a long future in the NBA. You can't teach speed and you can't teach intelligence, two attributes Patty Mills possesses in abundance.
Of other great Gael players. Anyone interested in the whereabouts of Omar Samhan and Diamon Simpson, two Gael greats, Randy Bennett told me Omar is playing in Lithuania and Simpson is playing in Turkey, and doing well I am happy to report.
The sports poem selected for today's blog is by Bob Hass, Poet Laureate of the United States, and fittingly, a graduate of St. Mary's College. It's a section from a poem entitled "Dragonflies Mating" from his book Sun Under Wood. What I like most about this excerpt is how it rings so true for all of us for whom basketball was so important.
the ball two or three times, study the orange rim as if it were,
which it was, the true level of the world, the one sure thing
the power in my hands could summon. I'd bounce the ball
once more, feel the grain of the leather in my fingertips and shoot.
It was the perfect thing;...
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.