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Archive for March, 2007

Pro Basketball Games in Foreign Places, Part Two

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 26, 2007

Before stepping back into The Madness, I wanted to get to Part Two of the Foreign Places thread. It doesn’t take a long look at the results of the World Basketball Championships to understand that hoops is global and has been for quite a long time. As fun as it is to watch old clips of Arvydas Sabonis’s passes from the post or admire Tony Parker’s forays down the lane or Lauren Jackson’s overall game, you really connect the game with the global village by getting on the court in foreign places (I’ve played some amazing – and some lousy – pick-up in Warsaw, Sydney and Rio). But if you don’t get the chance to play or watch a game in some far away locale, the next best thing is to hear from someone who has.

Alexander Wolff, former SI college hoops writer and now owner of the Vermont Frost Heaves of the nascent ABA, has had a great book out about playing hoops all over the world: Big Game, Small World. A great read.

This is one account that I’ve always favored because it was written by a former Never Too Late Basketball hooper in NYC, Christine Bader. She sits you right down next to her as she writes about going to a pro game in the Phillipines. (It also appears at the NTL web-site):

A Night of Basketball in Manila by Christine Bader

. . . Vendors are circling the stadium, sucking their teeth instead of shouting to hawk their chips, cookies, hot dogs, ice cream, water, juice, soda. (Um, where’s the beer?) One small Jumbotron is near the ceiling at one end of the stadium; the camera is on and unattended, focused on the legs of the scorer’s table.

The players come out to warm up for the first game. A smattering of applause. Most guys look to be between 5’10” and 6’8″, with a few shorter point guards. This three-month season is the All-Filipino Cup; after the play-offs and a two-week break is the Commissioner’s Cup, which features the same teams, but each is allowed one “import” no taller than 6’8″. No one could explain to me how they determine eligibility. Genealogy checks? Citizenship? Do they ask to meet your parents? In any case, I finally find half-Filipinos who look less Filipino than I do. Three or four are half African-American, products of the former U.S. military presence here, I’m told. Some went to college in the states, ‘though none to hoops powerhouses.

While the players are warming up, one of the vendors stops next to me: “Autograph?” Sorry, I’m not signing any tonight. No, dummy, he’s offering to get you one of the players’ autographs, presumably for a small fee. Oh, no thanks. A minute later a fan goes courtside and asks one of the players to sign his program, which he does. Yet another scam avoided by the foreigner. . .

continue here

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Pro Basketball Games in Foreign Places, Part One

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 22, 2007

Wang Zhizhi,

I recently got the DVR system from Comcast just so I’d never have to miss another game or program (even something like Showtime’s debut tonight of Ira Glass’s “This American Life”). Ellen, who set it up (who always sets these things up) said we seemed all-of-a-sudden to have more channels, a lot more channels. So, it was my duty this morning at 9:30am to investigate. All-in-one remote in hand, my search quickly ground to a halt at Channel 257, where, of all things, I came upon NBA Live. (Are we paying extra for this?) What was showing on NBA Live? The Chinese Basketball Association championship series between the Guangdong Tigers and the Bayi Army Rockets. What a beautiful morning, what a start to the day! The definition of must-see-hoops, I say. I was drawn to it in part because The Boston Globe mentioned the other day that Danny Ainge was there scouting players. So, where was Yi Jianlian and how good is he? (Projected top ten pick.)

I was feeling for Danny, scouting can be tough, you have to do a lot of imagining, projecting; there’s a lot going on out there. How will the player mature physically? How will he (or she) play in a particular system (your system)? How about when the competition is tougher, much tougher than the game he’s playing in? What are the weaknesses in his game and what are the prospects for improvement?

Added to that are the other distractions that can make it difficult to focus, to actually scout and do what you are there to do. For instance, you look at the coach of Guangdong and he’s wearing a beret. You are Danny Ainge, you are jetlagged, your team is going nowhere this year, your mind wanders: would Doc look better in a black beret or classic french, how about army green? I mean, Red had his cigar. Then there’s the distraction of two public address announcers, one for each team, leading cheers with the microphone! Shouting in Chinese. Rhythmic, joyful, it’s stand-up singing for your team! NBA exec or not, BYU be damned, Danny’s gotta find it hard not to join in. And the cheerleaders, those earnest broad-faced, well-scrubbed girls in their native dress, looking like they’re greeting a president coming off a plane. There were six million of them crammed onto the floor during time-outs.

The game announcers, though, were priceless. I began to suspect they were in studio (or someone’s basement) rather than there in person when one, the analyst (I’m sorry to say), said, “how much time would you say is left”? And the color commentator replied, not-so-authoritatively, “oh, maybe a little less than four minutes”.

Bayi Army Rockets trailed by 20 at one point but came back behind former (and probably future) NBAer, Wang Zhizhi, to top the Guangdong Tigers and prodigy, Yi Jianlian, 88-83. “The Tigers are down four with four seconds left. Do you think they can do it?” “Um, uh, I don’t know. Probably not.”

NBA Live. I love this channel!

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Basketball Origins

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 20, 2007

Branch McKracken,

(first in an occasional series)

In the last post, Michigan State’s Pressure Release Play, I didn’t mean to imply that Michigan State and Tom Izzo made this play up. In fact, it and most of what you see college and pro teams run on both offense and defense has been around a long time. Coaches learn from the coaches they worked with or played for, then copy, use and adapt what they learned. I think it would be interesting (and perhaps interesting to pursue more fully at some point) to know who first made up certain offenses (and defenses), and who had the greatest success and popularized a particular offense or defense.

For instance, I was first exposed to that hi-post, wing-goes-backdoor play when I was an assistant at Harvard. My boss, the head coach, Peter Roby, pulled it out when our wings were having a hard time getting open. (Roby LOVED demonstrating the bounce pass from the elbow; he used to do it not looking, back to the basket [not recommended].) Roby played (captain) for Gary Walters at Dartmouth. (Walters was later to be head man at Providence, and now Athletic Director at Princeton and concurrently, Chair of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.) My assumption always was that Robes got it from him. But from whom did Walters learn it? Well, he played in high school for Pete Carril and at Princeton for Butch van Breda Koff. But Roby also was an assistant at Stanford for Dick DiBiaso who had been an assistant to Digger Phelps at Notre Dame and Digger worked for Dick Harter at Penn. So, maybe it’s a Harter-ism? But wait, Roby also assisted Pete Gaudet at West Point and Gaudet had been on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff at Army and, of course, Coach K played for Bob Knight. Now that I think of it, Knight always, and much to his credit, attributed Branch McKracken the legendary Indiana player and coach from the 30’s for innovation in the game. Was McKracken the original 1-4 man? Hold it! Didn’t McKracken play for Everett Case? And where was Hank Iba during all this? Well, now we’re going way back. Who then is the original innovator, the one from whom most of this emanates? No idea, but the point is little under the basketball sun is new and coaches smoothly pass good ideas from one generation to the next like a baton. That’s it, I’m gonna check Rutherford B. Hayes’ (any relation to The Big “E”?) Inaugural Address and make sure he didn’t sneak something in there about beating pressure for easy scores.

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Michigan State’s Pressure Release Play

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 18, 2007

Michigan State Pressure Release PlayIn a recent NTL Boston Advanced Clinic, we set-up a high 1-4 offense to introduce players to the “UCLA cut”. The point guard passes the ball to the wing and then cuts off a high post screen to the block. That cut is the UCLA cut. We talked about the issue of getting the ball to the wing if the defender was overplaying there. What to do? What to do? Here’s what we said:

“Bounce pass it to the high post and on the catch, the wing goes backdoor to get a bounce pass for the score. This ‘pressure release’ play is a play that has been around a long time and it’s one that teams like to use coming out of a time-out, if the other team has been overplaying or are all jacked up, for some reason. You make them pay for taking away your pass to the wing.”

So, there I was last night, watching the Michigan State/Carolina game in the 2nd round of The Tournament. Carolina, of course, is pressuring Drew Neitzel and all the other Spartans everywhere and, then, time-out with about 2:30 left in the first half. Feeling somewhat drugged from the previous six hours of watching hoops, I open one eye to see MSU go 1-4, bounce pass to the high post, bounce pass to the cutting wing backdoor for the score. I wanted to email and phone everyone in the clinic and say, “did you see that? Did you see that? That’s how it works!” Instead, I high-fived my wife, low-pawed the dog, got back into the game. State ran the same play at least three more times, all with varying degrees of success (and with an eventual new wrinkle or two). That play brought to mind the Michigan State/Princeton match-up in the first round of the NCAA’s in 1998 when Michigan State turned the table on The Tigers, and in the process totally demoralized them, beat them at their own game, by scoring off that same high post pressure release play backdoor for the last play of the half.

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Play-in Game? What?

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 13, 2007

Someone please explain to me why there is a play-in game? What? Can’t “The (All-Powerful) Committee” make up its mind? What? Can’t tell one conference, “no, you’re not deserving. You didn’t generate enough revenue for us so you can’t pla-ay?”

64 is so much nicer a number than 65. I just got off the line with The Basketball God and TBG says, “forget it, this game is not worthy. I am not telling you who wins”.

So, it’s up to me . . . The Mid-Eastern or the MAAC? It should be easy, Florida A&M, defending national champions and all? Wait, that was the other Florida. Maybe Niagara has them over a barrel? Yes, awash in the glory of their MAAC tourney run, The Purple Eagles drown The Rattlers behind Coach Joe Mihalich (a Philly guy who played for Paul Westhead and coached under Speedy Morris and the legendary Morgan Wooten) and you always go with the Philly guy.

Posted in notes: college & pro | 3 Comments »

Down Goes Virginia!

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 13, 2007

Albany Capitol Building
Albany Capitol Building,

The Basketball God and I, surprisingly, come from the same hometown: Albany, NY. Granted, I’ve never heard the Albany area referred to as “God’s Country”, but, I don’t know, real estate has always been pretty cheap there and everyone wants to save a buck.

Ted Sarandis (aka Ted Nation), the Voice of Boston College Basketball, once named me the 2nd best dressed assistant coach in New England. This, of course, is an utterly meaningless appellation and comes from a guy who thinks Louis is the place where Coach Carnesecca lives, and wouldn’t know a haberdashery from a bong. Who did he say was the best dressed? Dave Leitao, presently the head coach at Virginia, formerly (very formerly . . . like late 80s) assistant coach to Jim Calhoun at Northeastern. For this, it’s time for Leitao to pay the price: call it a hometown pick but in the South Region. . . Down Goes Virginia! The Great Danes of Albany U., 13th seed, snarl, snap, maul, haul and shred the 4th seeded Cavaliers. And Dave, c’mon, please don’t wear that orange and blue tie again.

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“Humbled By a (Not Entirely Unexpected) Visit From The Basketball God”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 12, 2007

Hal Greer
Hal Greer,

I saw tonight that the odds of picking correctly all 64 games (including the play-in game) in the NCAA Tournament is a very large number, like 9 billion times 9 billion (or the number of jumpers Sebastian Telfair needs to take this summer to be able to have a chance of beating, say, Ben Wallace, in a three-point shooting contest). As an example the stat quoters say that if every man, woman and child in the world fills out a million brackets, there’d still by only 1 in a 1000 chance that someone would get it right. So, it seems it can’t be done, you can’t get them all right, unless, of course, you’ve got an “in”, and that “in” gets you a “not entirely unexpected” visit from The Basketball God.

Why me? Aw, heck, that’s a long story and there are many more posts to go on this blog before we get to that. Let’s just say I recite the correct prayers at night, and have been since I witnessed my first Cousy look-away pass, the first Hal Greer jumper, read about Bill Bradley in John McPhee’s “A Sense of Where You Are”. Still, I did not expect to be so chosen.

Revelation Numero Uno: Va. Commonwealth beats Duke in the first round. “Why?”, I nervously ask without looking up from my Blue Ribbon Basketball Yearbook. Their pressure defense! They forced 170 more turnovers than they committed. What is the record for turnovers by an individual? (Does Quin Snyder hold it?) Greg Paulus is odds-on to break it. Plus, PLUS, VCU shoots threes at over 40%. Coach K’s a good man, was certainly good to me, but he needs a little time off after last summer, righteously.

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Stampede at the Garden; Celtics/Bulls report, 03/11/07

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 11, 2007

Kirk Hinrich
Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls, Yahoo Sports Images

Some NBA games just don’t resonate, whether it’s players going through the motions on defense or mind-numbing, poorly executed one-on-one theatrics on offense, it can get pretty bad. That was not the case tonight. One team in particular, and that would be the visiting Chicago Bulls, played as though they had a plan and meant to execute it. They came to town well coached, well stocked, well prepared, and on a mission. The mission being getting themselves right for the playoffs. Though missing all-around hard-nosed hustler, Argentine Andres Nocioni, the Bulls dispatched the Celts rather easily. Low-Ninety something to mid-Seventy something, I think. (I never know the score when I walk out of the building.)

How could the Celtics have won, actually? Pierce and Jefferson combine for 20? No West (concussion), no Gomes (foot sprain)? No points to be had. Green was rookie-ish with turnovers (though he had one dunk that they replayed five times in the thirty seconds immediately after it while the game was still going on!!!- true, it was amazing . . . his head was BEHIND the backboard when he flushed it); Rondo burned out after a great first half; Telfair is so overmatched (why is he not playing Development League?). Where else to get points?

There were nice matchups all night: Rondo/Hinrich; Green/Hinrich; Pierce/Deng; Rondo/Gordon; and the best: Jefferson/Ben Wallace. Gordon really gets low when he d’s the ball. Jefferson strugggled against Wallace’s combination of strength, quickness, smarts, experience.

Here’s my most urgent thought from the game: the Bulls roster is full of players you’d want on your team: Wallace, Gordon, Hinrich, Deng, Duhon, (Nocioni). Wouldn’t you want them?

Two other things:

1) in the post, “The Art of the Outlet Pass”, I mention how some of the great rebounders of the past, Embry, Walton, Russell, Cowens, et al, would actually outlet before they even landed. Ben Wallace had one tonight: ripped, turned his head and fired to Duhon before he even hit the floor. And I bet he heard my shout of approval all the way from my front row balcony seat;

2) the Celts never had one backdoor cut all night; not one. And isn’t that former Princeton great, Armond Hill, in a suit, two seats removed from Doc Rivers?

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The Call That Everyone in the Stands Gets Wrong

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 9, 2007

Yellow Garden Spider
Yellow Garden Spider, David Keith, Univerity of Nebraska-Lincoln Dept. of Entomology

You’re sitting there in the Robins Center, watching your beloved University of Richmond Spiders hustle, steal, trap and take apart another Atlantic-10 opponent. You’re a hoops nut, always have been. You’re wearing your Spiderman outfit, but that’s to fit in, not standout. You’re a fan! You’re there to watch and enjoy and love the game. When “the wave” comes around you’re up; when the cheerleaders spell R-I-C-H-M-O-N-D you shout it out and pump your fist. You love your hoops through and through. And when the point guard, say, #10, Tiki Mayben of the U-Mass Minutemen, dribbles up to halfcourt, jukes over the line with his left foot and then brings that same foot into the backcourt to retreat and elude the 1-3-1 halfcourt trap that’s staring him in the face, you and 9,121 SpiderPeople stand and scream, all turning into venomous black widows! “BACKCOURT!!!”, you and all the Spiderpeople scream! “That’s BACKCOURT!”

But . . . you and everyone else would be wrong. (And don’t do it again, okay?) Don’t get caught in the web of the mis-informed. Here’s the rule, disentangled, and here’s how to think about it: 2+1. (2 feet and 1 ball.) 3 points (2+1) have to make contact with the frontcourt otherwise the ball and ballhandler retains backcourt status. NCAA Basketball Rules Handbook.

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Someone Please Send This to the Celtics Management . . .

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 6, 2007

Cheerleaders on Crowe’s rugby club get hook

and sign it Arnold “Red” Auerbach.

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