Coaching For More Basketball Consumption

Zach Harper is the author of TalkHoops.net and Cowbell Kingdom. He has difficulty (as most people do) with how fast I speak in real life. He’s a former male gymnast who won gold at the 1994 Bel-Air gymnastics tournament. That last part is a lie. He’s our newest contributor to Hardwood Paroxysm. That part is not a lie. Revel in him. He opens with a discussion of hoops junkiehood, and the joys of young boys. Seriously.

There are basketball junkies and there are BASKETBALL JUNKIES.

There are people who watch most of the games and there are people who will argue the importance of Muggsy Bogues and how he changed the concept of what basketball could be (perhaps a future article?).

I fall into the latter category of basketball fans. I’m someone who can’t really consume enough of it. I actually enjoy watching the Bucks and Bobcats go at it on a random Tuesday night because it gives me a chance to compare and contrast Larry Brown’s affect on a team as opposed to Scott Skiles’, it gives me a chance to see if I believe in Boris Diaw Frenchness more than I believe in Charlie Villanueva’s hairless approach to scoring, and it lets me figure out if I’m actually willing to back Ramon Sessions in some future argument of the Nevada point guard versus Raymond Felton.

But there are points in a season or calendar year in which the grind starts to wear you down. Chris Paul’s jumper starts to look flat and pointless. Emeka Okafor’s jump ball genius loses its luster. Kobe Bryant’s spin moves and reverse pivots seem cumbersome and my criticism of LeBron James’ defense even starts to annoy me.

These are the points in which your mettle as a basketball nerd is tested and tested hard. It’s like David Noel at a pre-draft combine trying to prove that his athleticism is more valuable than his lack of pure basketball skill. It’s like LBJ learning through failures how to win. It’s being tested like Dwight Howard learning that he’s entered the mode in which it is better to foul him than give him a shot to make a move towards the rim. I feel like Maximus at the end of Gladiator in which I’m trying to honor my family while proving myself to hordes of people wondering if I’ll make it or not through the end of the final act.

And this year was no different. I felt those struggles and the wear’n’tear of 2,460 regular season games as the second season began in mid-April. But something different happened in my life to keep me juvenated and inspired to keep wanting to consume more and more basketball.

I started assistantly coaching junior varsity basketball for a local high school. It was going to take up two nights a week of my life from 6-8pm and it was going to dominate my weekends with four tournaments in four weeks. It didn’t just find a place in my life. It didn’t just become part of my schedule. It became my schedule. In fact, it became my schedule during one of the more exciting basketball playoffs in recent memory. Sure, the series weren’t all that great and there were quite a few teams that looked more like they were playing in those aforementioned Bucks-Bobs games than the Celtics-Bulls series but it was still a good time to be covering basketball on a nightly basis.

However, I was so hooked after my first practice with this group of 10 high school freshmen and one eighth-grade child that I realized an even deeper love and appreciation for the game of basketball. We traipsed through the first couple of weeks of our summer league by learning the correct ways to play basketball and by learning the strengths and weaknesses of our team. We figured that our team wasn’t very big or athletic but we had a lot of basketball skill from our best player to our 11th best player.

We played our first game four weeks ago and in that game, we learned everything we needed to know about our team for the rest of the summer. We were good. Check that. We were REALLY good. We were chaos masked in peach fuzz, braces and XBOX Live handles. We were a running, pressing team that played harder than anybody we faced and more hectic than Don Nelson’s brand of basketball could ever dream of being. And we won. A lot.

I missed the second tournament we played as I attended Blogs With Balls in NYC and never felt a more longing for home than since my first sleepover when I was five years old. I attempted to network and chitchat throughout the weekend while I kept checking my phone for voicemails and text messages to see how my team was fairing. When I heard the stories of success and losses, I felt like a working father who had to miss his child’s recital because of a business trip. When I came back to the team, I realized how much I loved coaching and it took over every moment of playoff splendor that I ingested.

Over the last two weeks, I saw my team win eight out of ten games and finish with a summer record of 17-4. In the final game of the summer with four months between this final 60 seconds of basketball and the next time we’d see the players at JV tryouts, we decided to run a play for our backup center who had been begging to let him shoot a three-pointer throughout the summer. We decided to put him back in the game with one minute left and allow him to shoot the three as long as it was in rhythm and off of a pass. Instead, he caught the ball on the break, took three dribbles to get to the three-point line, and fired up a three-point shot. It was against everything we taught our kids on how to play basketball the proper way. Shots off the dribble were bad and we took the ball to the basket in a strong manner on fastbreaks.

But the ball ripped through the net and pushed our lead to 21. The parents in the stands erupted. The kids on the bench went Dikembe Mutombo at a dunk contest as they tried to hold each other back while beaming with elation. The center and newfound hero of our summer was brimming with confidence and joy as he ran back up the court like he had just moved his school deeper into the NCAA tournament. It was a pure and heartwarming moment that capped off the summer in the best way imaginable.

It was the culmination of everything that we had worked hard for in the summer. It was the reward for the players who did everything we asked them to do. It was everyone coming together as a bonded group. It was basketball at its best.

And it’s the reason that I understand coaching much more now than I ever could have before this experience. I understand why Mike Dunleavy would never want to give up his spot as the play caller for the Clippers. I understand why Mike D’Antoni loves to create pandemonium on a basketball court. I understand why Mike Woodson struggles to get through to Josh Smith but keeps coming back for more. I understand why Scott Brooks is making the most of a situation that most men will never get close to. I understand why Maurice Cheeks would put up with guys like Zach Randolph, Qyntel Woods, and Darius Miles on an everyday basis. I understand why Larry Brown can’t stay away after not being able to stay in one place. I understand why Phil Jackson loves to win so much and why Red Auerbach received no greater joy than lighting up that victory cigar.

Coaching basketball is more than X’s and O’s. It’s more than game-planning and making sure your team knows the correct rotations on a full court trapping press that will be assured to create turnovers.

Coaching basketball for some is renewing that faith in basketball that wasn’t going to go away but become more mundane with the passing seasons.

And that’s where I’m at as a basketball junkie, once again. Ready for more.