meta name=”robots” content=”index, follow” Meschery's Musings of Sports, Literature, and Life Meschery's Musings on Sports, Literature and Life: 2010-12-19

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.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Larry Brown

    Last night on TV I listened to Michael Jordan give the prepackaged, tired, bland "parting of the ways" explanation General Managers and owners offer the public when firing a coach, and I was disappointed. Larry Brown and I came into the NBA together eons ago. I admired his playing, and I especially admired his coaching. Brown was Jordan's pick to be coach; they're both Dean Smith, North Carolina alums. They're both basketball men. Jordan knows good coaching, but he made it sound as if the Bobcats' losing season was Larry's fault. I understand that somebody must fall on his sword; it's the way things work in sports, and I admit in the past coaching changes often did help. But I believe Larry's Brown's firing represents something new and more troublesome that's happening in the NBA.  Something that bodes poorly for the league's future.
   Don't get me wrong, I love the modern game of professional basketball; its speed and athleticism makes for a thrilling sport. But, the same attributes that make today's game so exciting might also be its weakness, a weakness born of an increasingly heavy reliance on "go-to" Super Players. A weakness that could, become the League's Achilles heel.
   Certainly, the NBA has always relied on superstars, but every season, as the speed and athleticism of players increase, the chances for less athletic teams to even moderately succeed diminishes. This trend has recently been exemplified by the Miami Heat's acquisition of LeBron James and Chirs Bosh, and the Knicks aquisition of Amare Stoudemire. Now Carmelo Anthony is about to bolt Denver for better climes - rumors say he wants to join forces with Stoudemire in New York. Who can say where Dwight Howard will go if Orlando doesn't win a championship soon? (The Magic's recent trade is only a marginal improvement).
   Thank God Dirk Nowitzki stayed put in Dallas. Could you imagine if the Knicks had landed Nowitzki?  If you haven't noticed, the NBA is already so lopsided that only a very few elite teams exist. The rest of the teams have virtually no chance against them, even though some, like the Atlanta Hawks, have a number of excellent players. Even the Mavericks with that magnificent German will not prevail against the likes of Boston, LA, and Miami.  Whoa, you say,  Miami is not ready yet. Really? We'll have to wait for the last month of the season to find out. And what about the Heat next season?  And the season after? I'm taking bets there is a championship in store for them.
   What does this have to do with Larry Brown? I'm afraid that Larry and many other good coaches in the NBA are going to be fired in the future because the playing field on which they are coaching is no longer level.  Teams are increasingly stockpiling the best players.  You can be a smart and innovative coach but how do you win in such an environment? Kurt Rambis doesn't have a chance. Neither does Sacramento's Paul Westphal, or San Diego's Vinnie Delnegro. You can name a number of other coaches who are doomed to failure and will be, like Larry Brown, replaced by another coach who will, in his turn, be replaced, unless the NBA provides them with some tools to compete against the elite teams. Unless they do, small market franchises without deep-pocket ownership will remain perennial losers.
   The league can not wait much longer to solve this problem.
   One thing the NBA can do right now that would have an immediate impact is to change its 24-second clock rule to 35 seconds. The extra 11 seconds would allow intelligent coaches (such as Larry Brown) to compete for more points by creating complex offensive patterns that could allow a less athletic, but smarter team, to withstand the pure athleticism of the elites. Yes, it would slow the game down, but not by much. No basketball fan that I know of complains about the 35-second clock in college basketball.
   One last comment about Larry's firing. When did Larry Brown become a bad coach? From 1973 to 2005, across three decades of basketball players, he consistently won.  This poem is specifically for Larry, but any coach, I'm sure, can relate.

Ulysses   by Claude Clayton Smith

There is yet some elastic
in this tired old jock,
enough to toss the ball
around and teach my son
Telemachus the subtle art
of looking left - while
thinking right. To catch
the opposition napping,
to cross them up and leave
them guessing. Elastic
yet to flip the pages of
faded clippings and narrate
tales that live as legends:
the hours of practice,
the hard-fought game,
the occasional moments
of glory.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Biggest Mistake a Coach Can Make

   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.
      No one
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!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spit on it!

     In their fear of losing a valuable commodity, have NBA owners, general managers, coaches, and player- agents created a bunch of malingerers? I'm not talking about players with serious injuries. God knows the speed and strength in the NBA these days has increased so dramatically that serious injuries often can't be avoided, and coaches have to factor injuries into their game plans. However, I can't help noticing as I read my sport pages that there are lots of injuries that seem pretty darn vague. Here are some examples: Jamal Crawford, back spasms, ditto Andre Bargnani and Sonny Weems. Rodney Stucky, sore toe, ditto, George Hill.  Brandan Wright, lower back pain.  Jermaine O'Neil, ailing knees.  Joey Graham, strained quad. Tracy McGrady, sore groin.  Dan Gadzuric, strained groin.  Josh McRobers, lower back strain.  Jose Calderon, strained foot.  Amir Johnson, sore back.  Anthony Morrow, strained hamstring.  Nenad Kristic, lower back strain.  Jason Williams, sore foot.  Peja Stojakovic, swollen knee.  John Wall, bone bruise. Not to mention the numerous sprained ankles.

     Now, I know sprained ankles can be serious. I've seen enough of them when I played. Back then, the question most players asked themselves was did the sprain need rest and rehab or could they tape it up and go out and play? Is this question relevant today? I guess I'm concerned with words such as "strain" "sore" "ailing" "spasm" "swollen" "bruise" These are suspicious words lacking any conviction or sense of urgency. And I hate to be suspicious because I'm afraid of sounding like one of those retired players who is always talking about how much tougher his generation of athletes was. Still, I've been reading about these mysterious injuries for some time. Last season I remember reading that Tyson Chandler missed a game against the
Boston Celtics because of a "stiff neck," and Travis Outlaw, then of the Blazers, missed a game against the Clippers because of a "bruised tail bone." A stiff neck, a sore quad, a bruise - for goodness sake! Don't coaches have enough of a problem having to figure out their line-ups and rotations without having to consider every booboo?. Sorry guys, your injuries don't sound that significant to me. You might want to consider the remedy my old high school coach prescribed for most of his players' injuries: "spit on it".

    OK, I hear the groaning now. But here's a little aside: Scientists have now proven that saliva contains a healing agent called hestatin, which may or may not have any effect on stiff necks or sore hammies. But what the hell, it might help a sore toe. I present this possible curative with a slightly straight face.

    The key to a successful team in the NBA these days, unfortunately, has as much to do with a team remaining injury free as it does with the team's game plan. And I'm not talking about injuries to star players. A team can be negatively impacted by missing reserves - a back-up center, for example. What happens during a game when a starting center fouls out, and the reserve center is out with a sore buttock? For lack of important back-ups at every position, a game can be lost.
    In the army soldiers caught AWOL suffer severe consequences. It looks to me as if some NBA players are absent from games without leave.
    This kind of malingering reminds me of children who make-up stomach aches so their parents will allow them to stay home from school. Mommy I don't feel well. Don't worry, darling, you stay in bed.
    What can I say to malingering players except, Night, night, fellows. I hope you're well enough to play tomorrow.

    Here's a poem about a bull rider, but it says everything about being a professional athlete. Last night I watched Brett Favre finally succumb to injury. Finally, but not without giving every ounce of his courage and spirit. And for what? A game he really didn't have to play, a game that meant nothing to the Vikings. I wonder how many bruises and sores muscles Favre sustained over his career, that he ignored, and spit on, so he could lead his teammates onto the field to play the game he loves?

The Bullrider's Advice    by  David Allen Evans

What I'm saying is
you can't take this thing light
and there's no saddle to sit in

you can do it one of two ways
as far as I'm concerned
if you want to do it

you can get on just for the ride
take hold of the rope like it was
any old rope and pray for a quick 8 seconds
and no spinning

or you can wrap your fist into his back
so deep he knows you plan to stay awhile
dig in with your whole soul
until the sonofabbitch is sick of you
and lets up

what I'm saying is
it's up to you