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Archive for February, 2007

“‘Cornbread’ Said a Stupid Thing”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 28, 2007

Though more interested in the Celtics this season than in recent years, I somehow missed the radio broadcast of the game against the Rockets the other night. (I also spaced on catching Gorman and Heinsohn on the tube.) So, I am only now learning that Cedric Maxwell said a stupid thing; a stupid thing said for which he will offer an on-air apology during tonight’s broadcast of the Celtics/Knicks (little bottom-feeder) Garden party.

I’ve always imagined that Maxwell is a really good guy. Seemingly smart, fun-loving, and appearing not to take himself nor those around him too seriously. And he does a pretty good job as analyst. Great player, too: certainly enjoyed him shutting down Bernard King whatever year that was. My only brush with him was at an airport luggage carousel. (Where else?) I was on a recruiting trip for Harvard hoops; all my bags had Reebok emblazoned on them – they were our sponsors and gave us free stuff. Maxwell, a few years into his retirement, apparently thinking I looked more like a Reebok rep than a college basketball coach, came up to me and asked me if I worked for the sneaker company. I don’t know . . . was he looking for a gym bag? Sneakers? An endorsement deal?

Anyway, his ‘mot faux‘ (pardon my French) puts him only as the latest in a long line of those who said (presumably because they were thinking) stupid things. Stupid things that are typically sexist, racist, homophobic; the sort of thing that, undeniably, helps promote and ensure fear, mistrust, division. (“Aw, c’mon, it was just a joke.”) Let’s see: Howard Cosell, Jimmy the Greek, Steve Lyons, and a couple of local Boston radio doofuses: Dennis and Callahan, and many, many others. In the case of Maxwell, it’s easy to imagine, given his carefree, joking, keep-it-loose style, it’s entirely plausible, obvious, in fact, that he was hoping to make a joke, to be funny, to appeal to those who might think it funny. Hmmmm. Maybe not so funny to girls who are listeners or the mothers and fathers of girls and women who continue to seek equal footing, a fair shake in society. I know that sounds sort of heavy, but put yourself in a girl’s shoes, or of a parent of a girl who wants her to have all the opportunities anyone else has. At one point, maybe not so long ago, “go back to the cottonfields” might have been an attempt at humor, too. That one was never funny either.

But my problem with all this isn’t so much the speakers, my problem is with what is soon conjured by their superiors (or employers) as the salve to heal the wound, the little band-aid on the boo-boo: this idea of “on-air apology”. That’s all well and good, I suppose, if the goal is to save the job or neck of the misspeaker. But the real problem, the real issue is all those listeners, all those for whom the joke WAS funny (and intended). If there is to be real restitution or retribution, some worthwhile and impactful effort needs to be put forth to demonstrate that the speaker and the group that employs the speaker really means what the apology says. Dennis and Callahan should have been put together with the Center for the Study of Sport and Society or a similar organization to hold “on-air” forums to discuss racism, racist language and its effect on us all. Definitely. It was a great opportunity to turn a negative around. Similarly, Mawell and his employer, Entercom Communications, should team with Women’s Sports Foundation. (or somebody) and face squarely the issue of sexism, sexist language and its damaging effects. If the apology means anything, then that message needs to reach deep inside not only the joker himself, but all those for whom the joke was intended.

Besides, Violet Palmer is a really good ref (and I’m crying about calls all the time). Otherwise she would not have been in the league so long. And I believe Cedric Maxwell knows that, too.

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Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

“The Jacek Duda Drill”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 27, 2007


One of the all-time favorite Never Too Late Basketball drills. I stole it, I guess that’s what I did, or appropriated it, from Rick Pitino when he was at Providence College. Tom Thibodeau (then a Harvard assistant with me and now with Jeff VanGundy and the Houston Rockets and Yao Ming’s personal post-play coach) and I used to high-tail it out of Cambridge after our practices or on days off and on down to Providence where Pitino used to let us sit in on his practices. We must have observed over a dozen of them in 1987, the year Pitino took them to the Final Four.

Pitino is a great coach. He has his foibles and maybe, I don’t know, maybe, he’s not as committed as he once was, but there were years when Pitino got more out his players than any college coach in history. 1987 was one of those years. You pay attention to a guy like that.

At Providence, the team that featured the reclamation of one-time chubby boy, Billy Donovan, to first team all-Big East honors, Pitino wanted to maximize the team and each player’s quickness, speed, stamina, fitness and mental toughness. This is one of the drills they used to meet those goals. I call it “The Jacek Duda” after one of the Friars who played then: a 6’10”, slow-footed recruit from Poland who, despite seeing limited action was, like every player on that team, a role player, an important piece of the puzzle. (Duda went on to play pro ball in Germany.)

The player lines up on the baseline with the ball. On the whistle, the player takes off dribbling for a full-court layup at the other end, grabs the ball quickly out of the net and comes back, fast as possible for another layup, grabs the ball again, transitioning quick as can be, and sprints out to the other end, and so on. Total of six layups. Rest by shooting five free throws (two, step-off, then three). Repeat the drill for a total of three “Jacek Dudas”. The coaching staff at PC then, included (incredibly): Gordie Chiesa, Stu Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and Sean Kearney. They would, dutifully, chart each player’s times with the goal of getting faster, fitter, competing with greater resolve. Pitino set goals for guards (28-30 secs), forwards (30 secs), big men (32-34 secs). And we’re talking an NBA/NCAA full 94 foot court!

Get out there with a friend and a stop-watch and try it. And then try it again next week and the week after. Let’s go, you gotta be faster than Jacek!

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Posted in general improvement, notes: college & pro | 5 Comments »

“Playing and Winning Together in Louisiana’s Sabine Parish”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 25, 2007

from The NY Times:

“After nine hours of basketball, the air-conditioning system seemed to have a nervous breakdown. Still, more than 500 fans shoehorned into the tiny, sheet-metal gym at Pleasant Hill High School on Saturday night. When the bleachers filled, some people grabbed folding chairs. Others sat on the floor along the baseline. Flashes of yellow rippled through the crowd as spectators fanned themselves with a booklet of team rosters.

All seven high schools in Sabine Parish have won boys state titles; five of the girls teams have won. They had squeezed inside to see the Zwolle Hawks, the county power that is either 43-0 or 44-1 this season, depending on the inclusion of two informal games. Some fans had arrived in the morning, sitting through six previous games of the Sabine Shootout, a tune-up for the Louisiana state playoffs that begin Feb. 23.

There are thousands of one-blink communities like Zwolle (pronounced ZWAH-lee) around the country. Some, in states like Indiana and Kentucky, have become mythic for their hoops-on-a-barn devotion. But perhaps nowhere does basketball zealotry surpass the rural fervor of the timber and railroad towns of Sabine Parish.

All seven parish high schools have won a state championship in boys basketball; five of the girls teams have. The nation’s greatest schoolboy scorer and its leading career rebounder played in this poor, racially diverse county on the Texas border in north-central Louisiana. So did the highest-scoring boys and girls teams, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

‘If it’s not round and bouncing, it don’t matter around here,’ Bradley McLaren, 24, the Zwolle coach, said.”

continue here:

(Thanks to Nelson Wang for the tip!)

Posted in high school hoops | 6 Comments »

College Hoops’ Day in Providence, RI

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 25, 2007

Brown versus Cornell, 2/24/07
Brown University Bears Basketball images

Limited men’s college basketball report: Saturday, February 24, 2007. Spending the week and weekend in Tiverton, RI. Nice place on the water, throwing the frisbee for the dog, jump starting the rusted-out ’89 Chevy pick-up, using a bicycle pump to inflate the long flattened tires, hanging around, in-and-out, watching games. Creighton/Wichita State, Iowa State/Kansas, BC/Clemson: they’re all on. Settle into the Syracuse/PC match-up while keeping an eye on the Eagles, making sure they get the win and both feet in the Selection Committee’s door. ‘Cuse/Friars grabs my interest because they’re both on the bubble, tussling for their 2006-07 basketball lives. Plus PC coach, Tim Welsh, was an assistant at Syracuse and one of Welsh’s assistants is a former point guard for The Orangemen. (Picked all this up and more in the perfect-Sunday-morning-read college game reports in The Sunday ProJo. They had writers everywhere: The Dunk [10,000 in attendance], URI [6,000+], Brown [1,100+], even at RIC in the Little East title game. Awesome babe-e-e-e-!) Big threes by both squads, missed layup, blown call by an official, ‘Cuse by 4. Friars in need of absolution.

Take me west, Little Rhody, over to Kingston, where the Fordham Rams (“super team, show ’em that you’re not just a wild dream”, sung to “Jesus Christ Superstar”) go box-and-one on URI coach Jim Baron’s son, Jimmy Baron, the leading three-point shooter in the country, hold him to ZERO field goals, and come out with a 71-62 win to deny URI Rams a shot at Atlantic 10 title.

Decide late afternoon to take-in live and in-person the Brown Bears/Cornell Big Red contest at The Pizzitola Sports Center at Brown. Park right outside the door, pay ten bucks (twenty with wife/date), fourth row seat directly across from the Brown bench, the better to study the coaching calls/demeanor/style of first year Brown headman, Craig Robinson. First thing you notice is Robinson is wearing a very expensive suit, but no tie. Cornell’s coach, Steve Donahue, a Philly guy through and through, is wearing a tie, but no jacket and what appear from the distance to be Docker khakis. Robinson is tall, Donahue is not. Robinson rarely stands during the game, Donahue never sits. Both coaches aim to get to the top of the Ivy League. The passion and energy with which their teams play this particular game makes it clear they each have a good chance of doing exactly that.

They come to the game at different stages: Robinson, in his first year, has let it be known that he expects to succeed and soon. From where does the confidence come? Check out the man’s life resume. And what makes Docker Donahue think an Ancient Eight title can be had in the Gorges of Ithaca? Well, he’s led The Big Red to its third consecutive plus .500 Ivy League season, sat at the right hand of Fran Dunphy at Penn for years and has players who have won 11 of the 12 Ivy Rookie of the Week honors thus far this year. They’ve got it goin’. With the Princeton program in a fog and Penn perhaps vulnerable because they’re graduating their best and are led by a non-Philly head coach, Glen Miller (not to underestimate Glenn Miller but you look for chinks in the armour wherever you can), which may make recruiting less robust than the norm, there’s a chance here for someone to move in.

Both teams played extremely hard. (Mark McAndrew, Brown and the Ivies leading scorer, hustles, drives and dives, shoots his way to a career high 33 points then hops off the court on one leg, all cramping and spasming, with a minute left). Both teams wrought turnovers when they extended pressure. Cornell was in control, really, the whole game. Brown has zero post presence, zero, which severely limits them in the Princeton-style offense. (No post, not one backdoor cut and catch, some hesitant outside shooters . . . how does Brown stay in, and win some, games?) Cornell relied on, and won the game with, their freshmen shooters, Whitman (if there were a NCAA Freshmen Three Point Shooting Contest at year’s end, he would be a lock nominee) and Dale, who combined on 9 for 16 shooting from behind the arc. Whoosh! from the corner. Whoosh! from the wing. Again and again. Threes add up quickly. (How were they getting so open?) Ball game. It will be interesting to watch these two programs in the coming years. I’m rooting for them both.

Officiating: B-. Cheerleaders: A+ (for Ivies. In cheer after cheer, they spelled Brown, correctly, with their pompoms!). Band: MIA. Half-time refreshments: Water? “we’re out”. Juice? “we’re out”. Popcorn, please?: “this ain’t The Palestra*”. (Yet.)

* The Cathedral of Basketball (The Palace of Holy Hoops)

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Posted in notes: college & pro | 1 Comment »

“DJ to Bird!”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 23, 2007

“DJ ta Buhrrrd!”. DJ to Bird is part of what you still hear today if you were one of the lucky ones. One of those who sat and stood and leaped to your feet and pumped your fist and watched and lived and died with those teams from the mid-80s. And only if you can still hear Johnny Most’s voice, like it was just last night, the voice that always spoke the words that were the truth.

“DJ’s at the top of the circle, dribbling, looking, guarded by Nixon . . .”

For the past fifteen years, at every NTL Weekend Camp and at every NTL Weekly Clinic, we have taught going backdoor from the block when your defender jumps out early on the downscreen, hoping to beat you to the spot where you’ll drop your deadly jumper. Just last Thursday, at Matignon HS in No. Camridge, MA, for instance, we drilled that.

“Bird’s on the baseline fronted by Cooper and Worthy . . . ”

We instruct that the point guard zip a “one-handed off the dribble pass” to the cutter who, face-guarded, fakes a run to the corner and, cutting back, finds himself open under the hoop. And, after that fastball of a one-handed pass, we always say, “DJ to Bird”. Because that’s what it is: DJ to Bird.

“Worthy’s got ahold of Bird’s jersey . . . ”

DJ came to the Celts in a trade for Bird’s best friend on the team, Rick Robey. The paper’s are saying today that he was brought in to stop Magic Johnson, but I remember it being to stop Andrew Toney; there was no getting to the Lakers without getting by the Sixers. His previous coach with Seattle, Lenny Wilkens, dubbed him “a cancer”. (How did he really feel?) The Celtics trusted him, knew his hungry heart; Johnny Most spoke no ill of him or of any other Celtic. Ever.

“Bird starts to the corner, he’s got three defenders all over him, cuts back under the hoop . . . ”

I remember Bob Ryan once writing in The Boston Globe (in the definitive DJ piece) that DJ won the 1979 championship by dominating the finals’ series defensively FROM THE BACKCOURT! That was unheard of and spoke to the strength and uniqueness of his abilities. Yeah, maybe he couldn’t win any shooting contests, but he was the one guy who could, when Bird was wearing Cooper and Mychal Thompson was smothering McHale, he was the one guy who could grind it out to the hoop and get the toughest bucket. DJ was toughness and competitiveness and an absolute true hero to the true believer Celtic fans. Everyone needs someone you can count on, right?; we could count on DJ.

“DJ to Bird who lays it in!!!”

I can’t tell whether I feel like that was just yesterday or, now with DJ’s passing, impossibly long ago.

“Now there’s a steal by Bird, underneath to DJ and he lays it in”!

Posted in notes: college & pro | 7 Comments »

“What ‘Posting Up’ Really Means”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 22, 2007

Ruth Riley, USA Basketball, posts up versus Team Cuba
Ruth Riley (USA Basketball/images)

You are big or at least bigger than the person guarding you. Mismatch! One of your teammates, the one that likes to tell everyone what to do, starts barking, “Post up, Post up”. You think, okay, I haven’t touched the ball in the last fifteen possessions, can’t hurt to try. So, you run down to the block and look and look and look for the ball to be passed in. No ball. Nothing. What’s up with that? Your teammate, who it turns out came off the bench for a team that went to the Sweet Sixteen in the mid-80s, is not impressed with your “post up”; obviously just being “in the post” does not qualify.

During the next break in action, here’s what your teammate will tell you to do: make contact with your back against your defender. Lean right into him/her so that you can manipulate and react to any movement the defender may make. Almost like boxing out for a rebound. So, you run down to the post, to an area above the block, around the first marker. Still running forward, you run INTO the defense (arms across your chest). You then turn while continuing to push into the defender, but this time with your back and backside. (The bigger the backside, the better the post up!) You bend at the ankles, knees, hips and waist, anywhere you can bend, bend. This provides stability and strength so when the defender pushes back, you won’t give up the position you’ve established. Next, turned, you make eye contact with your Sweet Sixteen coach-on-the-floor and you get your “arm bars” up: elbows out to the side at shoulder height, hands up at ninety degrees. You spread out making yourself big. Bigger and bigger yet. And you start yelling “BALL, BALL!!!” Now, everyone in the gym knows you are really POSTING UP!

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Posted in without the ball | 11 Comments »

“From Barack Obama to the Sixth Principle of Zone Offense”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 19, 2007

Barack Obama is the junior senator from Illinois. He’s also running for President. Obama’s wife, Michelle, is the sister of Craig Robinson, two-time Ivy League Men’s Basketball Player of the Year at Princeton and now the head coach at Brown University. Not long ago, Robinson was a teammate of Arne Duncan, now CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (and former standout cager at Harvard AND who worked the NTL Weekend Camp in Lakeside MI in 1999) when they won numerous nationwide “HOOP-It-UP” Three-on-Three tournaments after their respective overseas careers concluded. Arne Duncan, at 6’5″, was so unathletic that to call him unathletic would be generous, but was also so good (think a slinkier Chris Mullin) that his senior season at Harvard in a game at Boston College, he scored 14 straight points by himself. No one else from either side scored; think of that. (After having an eight point second half lead, we blew a breakaway dunk and then blew the game, 87-86.) Many of his hoops were scored from underneath the basket, seemingly coming from out of bounds, or, at least, from behind the backboard. He was and is the finest practitioner of the sixth principle of (The Seven Principles) zone offense that I have ever seen.

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Posted in zone offense | 6 Comments »

The Seven Principles of Zone Offense”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 18, 2007

Never Too Late Basketball Camp’s ZONE OFFENSE PRIMER

Against any zone you want to do seven things:

1) line up in the gaps, that is, against a two person defensive front (2-3, 2-1-2) you should line up with someone top of the key, two players on the wings and two in the post;

2) perimeter players should look to dribble the ball into the gaps, between defenders. The idea is to get two players to guard you, just like you do against man-to-man and then kick it out to a teammate, get the defense moving;

3) use pass fakes to move the defense. This is the only time I advocate putting the ball up over your head. Do a hard, short snappy fake as you do a short step, then step with the same foot to pass. If you get good at this, you can jerk the defense all over the place and free teammates up for easy scores;

4) get the ball inside to the post players to collapse defense, not necessarily to score, but to collapse defense. Post players should move toward the ball with both hands high over their heads to give a clear target;

5) when post players catch, they should immediately square up to the hoop and process three thoughts: a) am I open, b) is my post teammate open, c) if neither a) or b) kick the ball out to the weak side, or opposite where the ball just came from;

6) one of the post players should be running the baseline, behind the bottom line of the defense as much as possible to flatten out the zone, to get inside defenders turning their heads and to give more room and opportunities to catch in the paint;

7) an additional thing to remember: when you devise a zone offense and you utilize cutters, when a cutter goes through, that cutter creates a vacuum in his/her wake, a vacuum in which a teammate should step into to receive a scoring pass.

You can run it with no cutters against a 2-3 using a point guard, two wings, high post low post exchanging scheme, and against 1-2-2 or 1-3-1 you can use two guard, high post and low post and corner line-up. Post players in both scenarios should exchange using an X-cut pattern almost every time the ball is reversed.

The simple rule is: against man-to-man you want player movement, against zones you want ball movement. There should be NO turnovers against zones; perimeter players should step WAY OUT to get reversals. If the defense challenges those outside passes, that just opens up the middle, which is what the offense wants.

One HUGE point regarding all perimeter players in any zone offense is that they should constantly be adjusting their positions as the defense moves. The flatter the zone gets, or the more it collapses, the more they can step in. The higher the defense steps out, the farther out the offense should step out. This is going to sound overly technical and I never heard anyone else coach this but it is absolutely true: the perimeter players should stay between 12-15 ft from the line that could be drawn between the two defenders they are splitting (remember, you’re always in a gap between two defenders whether you have the ball or not) and on a perpendicular to the spot that is the mid-point between those two defenders.

Say you are a wing player (on the left side) against a 2-3 zone. One defender is on the baseline and one is around the left elbow area, the two closest defenders to you and the ones you are splitting. Say the ball gets swung to the right wing, that elbow defender would probably dive into the middle of the lane, thereby changing the line between her and the defender who is on the baseline. You should adjust your position so that you stay on a perpendicular to the line between those defenders and 10-12 ft away from that line, spaced equally away from them. That means you are open and available and in the best place to catch and shoot. Closer and you’re not open; farther away and you aren’t taking best advantage of what the defense is giving you. (To give you perspective, the lane is 12 ft wide.) This all becomes totally second nature to players as they become more experienced.

Use back screens on the baseline and wings. Use skip passes, generally, and skip passes specifically on those back screens. When not penetrating and when not utilizing ball fakes, move the ball quickly; remember…ball movement versus zones.

Oh, and it REALLY helps to have some zone buster shooters. You can even start calling one another “zone buster” or “buster” or “zobbie”.

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Posted in zone offense | 7 Comments »

“Away Games”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 16, 2007

Basketball is played all over the world (and beyond, recall Darryl Dawkins and Planet Lovetron, and add to that the intergalactic display slated for this weekend in Las Vegas). On a more terrestrial level, there are a lot of interesting stories told about playing in unusual places. That’s the fun in it, right? Every game of basketball takes you somewhere new. Christine Bader, former NTL Hooper in NYC wrote a memorable piece awhile back: “A Night of Basketball in Manila”. One more recent basketball journey comes from Russ Bradburd. There is a nicely told review to help take you there, posted February 14, 2007 by Richard Kortum of East Tennessee State University on ARETE, a moderated e-mail discussion list hosted by The Sport Literature Association concerning “Paddy on the Hardwood”:

“Dr. James Naismith once proudly remarked of his invention, ‘I am sure that no man can derive more pleasure from money or power than I do from seeing a pair of basketball goals in some out of the way place – deep in the Wisconsin woods an old barrel hoop nailed to a tree, or a weather-beaten shed on the Mexican border with a rusty iron hoop nailed to one end.’

Driving across the treeless Mongolian steppe five years past, I glimpsed a most incongruous apparition. I had to rub my eyes. About a mile off the track there stood a lone sentinel: a tall wooden post with a single rough cross board and basketball hoop attached. Venturing off the beaten track in Mongolia requires that one be ready for just about anything. It’s the closest thing to being on another planet. But a basketball hoop? In the middle of nowhere? . . .”

more here

Thanks to Akira Motomura for the tip!

Posted in articles/books | 8 Comments »

“Shooting Homework: Watch the NBA Three-Point Shooting Contest!”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 15, 2007

SteveKerr in the NBA Three-Point ContestOne way to improve your basketball skills, and in this case, your basketball shooting skills, is to watch what the great players do and how they do it. The NBA All-Star weekend and game have nothing to do with basketball, far as I can tell, save the piling-on promotional aspect, except, EXCEPT the Three-Point Shooting Contest. There the players have to shoot the ball (under pressure, time pressure) like you have to shoot the ball in a game. Well, in a game, I guess you don’t have a rack right next to you and you do have a little more time after each shot to do something like follow-through, but the participants still have to employ good fundamentals to have success. Those fundamentals are what you as a player who wants to improve your shot should look for.

After grabbing the ball off the rack, does the player do anything to achieve good balance? Balance being critical; you can’t be leaning left, you can’t be leaning right. Is there a small one-two step? A tiny hop to adjust feet? How do they get the ball to their “shot pocket”? That spot that aligns elbow under hand, hand under ball? Do some players have the left (or off) elbow up higher than others? Do all the players have elbow-in, or are some getting away with it out? Is the head still on release? Where is the release point? In front of the middle of the head? Out to the side more? (Two-eyed shooter?) How about the extension of the shooting arm? Does it go straight out to 180 degrees? Just less? What about the follow-through? Is it consistent among all the shooters? What is the off-hand doing, and the off-arm? Does that off-hand flick out? (Bird, Kerr, Szczerbiak.) Or does it stay stone still, left hand fingers pointing straight up after the release?

Shooters can shoot the ball different ways and have success. The key is to find the common elements among all great shooters and try to incorporate those elements into who you are as a shooter and into what your shot is already like.

Now, I gotta go buy one of those racks, actually five of them, right? Five red, white and blue balls, too. (The other twenty are in the back of the station wagon). Get ready for next year.

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Posted in shooting | 7 Comments »

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