Month: February 2013

Carmelo Anthony is a Turd

Carmelo Anthony is an elite offensive talent.  He can create a shot, shoot from distance, post up, draw fouls, recognize and exploit physical mismatches.  His offensive repertoire is so vast and varied that on any given night he can turn the outcome of an NBA game single-handedly.  For this talent, he is paid well and regarded among the superstars of the game.  And but for the latter, I could appreciate him without reservation. 

Truth is I demand more of a superstar.  Superstars are measured by winning and leadership.  Anthony has precious little of either on his resume.  Denver was a marginal playoff team with him, and remains the same without him.  The Knicks are winning now with a veteran and professional cast supporting him, but not at a rate likely to end with a championship in June.  Anthony’s best team’s have coincided with the arrival of genuine leaders in Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler, likely because the self-absorbed Melo has no gift or arguably concern for leading his team.

This also explains his relatively successful career as a member of the USMNT, where his role has been defined to scoring.  The presence of Anthony guarantees you little more than 25 points a game and a half dozen game deciding performances.

Actual superstars invest themselves fully into their team, elevate the level of play around them, and do all the things necessary to win games on both ends of the floor night after night.  Their is no shame in not being a superstar, but there is in pretending to be one.

Strength in Numbers or Strength in Purpose?

During the glorious 1985 Pop Warner football season, my Danbury Trojan team went 12-0.  The 14 man New Fairfield Falcons were our chief rival.  We fielded twenty players and I recall our game plan being centered on wearing the Falcons down.  We beat New Fairfield twice including the prestigious Candlewood Valley Pop Warner title game.  Both games were close, but neither was decided by the number of players at each team’s disposal.  We were just better by a narrow margin.  They were tough, disciplined and every player had a purpose.

This is the model of our special forces which deploy tough, disciplined and well-trained small units all over the globe.  Every member of the unit has a purpose and value.  Interdependence and trust follow.  In reading almost any written account or biography of a special forces veteran, the sense of respect for fellow veterans is literally overwhelming.

This weekend, Bryson guest played for FC America’s shorthanded U-16 team for two FPL fixtures.  The team had twelve players Saturday afternoon in Viera and thirteen Sunday morning in Boca including Bryson and other guest players from the club’s B team.  In Viera, they rallied late from a goal down to salvage a draw and in Boca won 4-0.  The play was solid, if unspectacular, but what was notable was how each player in uniform had a purpose and was necessary to the result.  Over the two games each player made plays and mistakes, and had to play through.

I am always amused when a coach seems pleased with the numbers at an open gym, or try-out.  Inevitably, the numbers must be whittled down to a functional number.  A number where every player has a purpose.  The purpose equates with value and from value flows self-esteem and the ability to improve.

Sister Flute

Sam Cooke learned to sing in church as a member of the Soul Stirrers.  The goal of each performance was to get Sister Flute.  Sister Flute was the woman who gave herself, all of herself, singing, shouting and gyrating to the music.  It was the measure of their performance, and it was competitive.  I am not going to let you passively enjoy this.  I am coming to get you.

This is instructive to any performer especially early in their career when most opportunities to play are in front of people that have no idea who you are, and are listening to you while doing something else.  You must make them watch, make them give a damn.  The obvious answer is to be really good.  The better answer is to be passionate.  Passion is contagious.  They may not know your name or be familiar with the song you are singing, but they can damn sure see and feel your passion.

Passion is internal.  It exists whether you are performing in front of three people or three thousand.  It is yours to bring or not.

Respect for Redick

I wasn’t meant to like him.  He is ostensibly a one-dimensional shooter.  He played at Duke, and while I have enjoyed Duke players in the past, none of them have been white.  He also bore the curse of being an effective, but absurdly over-hyped college player with in my learned estimation marginal pro prospects.  He ended his college career against a long, athletic LSU team that harassed him into a dreadful shooting night and a towel full of tears on the Duke bench.

Oddly, it was on this night that seemingly vindicated my opinion of his pro prospects (great shooter that can’t get it done against NBA caliber athletes) that he earned my respect.  He ran off screens, shot in tight spaces owning up to the responsibility of being his team’s only scoring option without whining for calls or giving into frustration.  It was a proud showing.  When Orlando drafted him a few montha later, I genuinely hoped he would find a niche.

It did not come quickly.  I suspect Magic coach Stan Van Gundy felt like I did regarding his limitations.  I went to a clinic where Van Gundy spoke in October.  He spoke of the importance of charting wins and losses in practice.  Coaches can have a tendency to go with their gut and sometimes lose sight of players that simply win.  Van Gundy realized one of his players won more in practice than any other…..JJ Redick.

Redick became a regular rotation player for the Magic.  He remains a great shooter, but his improvements as a ball handler, playmaker and defender make him a valuable asset in the league.  Today he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks and leaves Orlando after seven years because the likely can’t afford him in free agency.

He will never live up to his mid-lottery draft status, but he has through his relentless work made himself a legitimate NBA player.  Well done.

The Passion of the Indefatigable Brad Stevens

“Guys that are passionate about basketball never wear down. The wear down thing is for the guy that doesn’t really love it.” – Brad Stevens

This was the first tweet of the day to resonate with me. I love basketball and I have never been worn down by it. It’s quite the opposite. When so many other aspects of life have worn me down, I find energy and spiritual resolve in basketball whether I am shooting by myself, playing, coaching or just watching a game. I have lost tough games, been frustrated by underachieving teams, difficult players and other circumstances. This past season I was fired (wrongfully) was not able to coach a team I had so much promise for. It was and has been a crushing experience, but never at any point did my love of basketball diminish or fade.

I talked to coaches who have quit because of burn out, and others that talk incessantly of wanting to do something else. Go! Get the hell out! You are doing yourself and your team a disservice. You do not have the passion for it, and you will never be great or inspire greatness without passion.

We are not blessed with unlimited passion for all things, but must find that thing that taps the vein of our passion and let it pour into that endeavor all we have in us. It will not wear us down, but replenish us.

Time and Space

It may be the faint tap of death’s door as I progress through my fourth earthly decade, but as I watch the games I love I am drawn to the movement of the ball or lack there of.  Last night in Deland, Hagerty had a double figure lead midway through the fourth quarter and spread the floor.  Deland went small and quick to press the ball, and Hagerty, despite winning, threatened my sanity.  To a man, they would catch and hold the ball till a defender got right in their space then pivot desperately to find a pass.  On virtually every occasion the player with the ball had an easy passing option while the defender was en route to pressure the ball.

On Monday, FC America played the Florida Rush in the President’s Day tournament final.  FC America had played some excellent soccer over the weekend, but my hopes for the final faded with the first few passes.  The ball was played to the right back with time and space.  He hesitated, touched the ball twice and forced the ball down the line into traffic with open teammates in space.

Sadly for all that is right and good, Hagerty and FC America both won diminishing their urgency to improve.  As coach sans team, I have neither won nor lost, and have nothing better to do than ruminate on ball movement, time and space.

The ball is the focal point of defensive pressure.  Effective pressure on the ball impairs the decision-making process and the technical execution of the ball possessor by depriving him of time and space.

The ball is faster than any player.Movement of the ball changes the focal point of the defense.  Rapid movement of the ball relieves pressure rendering effective ball pressure impossible, amd creating time and space.

Time and space is where mismatches, breakdowns and inattentiveness become baskets, touchdowns and goals….where the black coal of selfless, collective industry shines like individual, bloodless diamonds.

Recommended in the Strongest of Terms

“I got tickets to the Daytona 500. Is that something you would be interested in doing?”

“Yeah, but Bryson has soccer. ”

That was the exchange with my friend Robin Singh a few weeks back. As last week drew to a close, I noticed I heard almost nothing about the Daytona 500, which was of course because it’s this weekend and not last. I called Robin.

“What race do you have tickets to?”

“Dude big mistake. My buddy got tickets to the Shootout, not the 500.”

“What time is that race?”

“It’s Saturday night at 8.”

“Well, I can go to that one.”

Robin and Jose picked me up in a convertible en route from Miami and despite warnings of cold weather, both guys were wearing shorts and t-shirts (a tank top in Robin’s case). We dropped the top. I got behind the wheel under the ostensible purpose that I knew where we were going and on to Daytona we went.

By Lake Mary Boulevard, Jose was hungry and we hit Taco Bell for a couple of Cantina Grande Burritos, each weighing roughly a pound. Within 45 minutes, we were at the World Center of Racing. We made a green flag pit stop at Kmart to drop off the remains of the Cantina Grande Burritos and buy tailgating supplies and pants for Jose.

We found parking at a dentistry office just off the main drag, dropped the top on the convertible and blasted some Marley as we waiting for my friend Todd to arrive. Todd just laughed at Robin and Jose as stood their in shorts and light jackets muttering something about them “possibly dying” it would be so cold on the metal bleachers. Todd a veteran of “35” Daytona races became Robin’s tour guide at this point as Robin was at his first race.

We walked over to the ARCA 200 and found seats at the exit of pit road just as the driver’s received the “Gentlemen start your engines” call. Forty late modal Nascar engines growled and barked into action pulling off pit road for a few parade laps. Todd correctly predicted that the race field would spread quickly with a pack of 6-8 veteran driver’s who “know what the hell they are doing” breaking to the front. He was also spot on predicting a major crash a half lap before it happened. Throughout the ARCA race, Todd told Robin, “this is double a ball wait till tonight”. After the ARCA race, we hit checkers and repaired to the car where we met up with Wes and Scott Below before returning for the shootout.

Just after 8pm, there were only nineteen cars on the track, less than half the field for the 500 this Sunday, but it was Johnson, Gordon, Stewart, Harvick, and the lights were on, the chill deep in our bones, and when the engines fired it was different. Different than watching a race on television in a way that must be experienced. It starts with the sound of the engines and smell of fuel. The engines are violent and loud, the smell of fuel harsh. There is a palpable tension that distances what is before you from any vision of forty rednecks making a series of left turns for a couple of hours.

The cars roll of pit road and take several warm up laps behind the pace car while the anticipation builds for the green flag. The announcer indicates one to go, the light on the pace car changes and it dips down on to pit road as the green flag drops. The engines rev to deafening levels and the field accelerates in unison. A flying parade of colors passes before us and into the high banks of turn one. When they pass us again they are at full speed over 200 mph, and the field is a tightly packed.

If anyone drove next to you on the highway at 70 mph as close as any of these cars are to each other, you would become completely unnerved or surrender to an episode of road rage. These drivers do this lap after lap at 200 mph often coming in contact with the others cars. It is stand up, hold your breath and don’t blink entertainment. There is nothing like it. Be you a race fan or a fan of human ability and accomplishment, I recommend you watch a race live in the strongest of terms.