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Archive for March, 2007

“Out of the Mainstream But Into Their Hoops!” (Part Two) or “John Amaechi’s Big Mistake “

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 6, 2007

John Amaechi
John Amaechi (from The

(John Amaechi. I know. Old news. At this point all thinking people understand and accept and welcome those of a different sexual orientation. The fear seems to have disappeared once the news broke that gays were not, in fact, training suicide bombers on the steppes of Afghanistan.)

John Amaechi should have come out of the closet in high school. That was his big mistake. Not so much for him, he seems to be doing fine. But it cost us. Damn, it cost us! You see, we were recruiting him when I was at Harvard; in fact, I flew out to watch him practice one day at his school in Toledo. The only other college coach in the gym was Bob Knight’s top assistant at Indiana University, Ron Felling. Would Bob Knight have wanted a gay kid in Hoosierland? I don’t know, Knight’ll fool you sometimes. My “fantasy” is that he would not have. How about all the other coaches “after” him? He eventually went to Vanderbilt but quickly transferred; must have been all those homophobes down South. Maybe all the coaches and all the teams across the country who wanted him to come to their campuses because he was bright, personable, articulate, easy-going, big, strong, oozing with basketball potential and gaining skills rapidly would have turned their backs on him because he was gay. That would have been so great, because at Harvard, we would have taken him in a second, welcomed with open arms his intelligent, athletic, gay self and definitely, DEFINITELY, been on our way to the ever elusive goal: Harvard’s first ever Ivy League basketball championship. John, oh John, why couldn’t you have come out sooner?

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“Out of the Mainstream But Into Their Hoops!” (Part One)

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 5, 2007

I like basketball because in its soul resides the ideal of inclusion. As much as or more than any other sport (that is played with a round ball and a hoop) games are won, success achieved, when players trust one another and come together. Coaches (smart coaches, anyway) devote as much time to the concept of “team” and “trust” and “chemistry” as they do x’s and o’s. In practice and in games, they spread out, screen, cut, work together, move the ball, get the ball to the open player. But they also foster cohesion: “always help a teammate off the floor”; “get your hands together, everyone in here”. High fives, chest bumps, holding hands, crying . . . All that stuff doesn’t work, means nothing, if you’re squeezing someone out. Team defense. Help defense. Players accepting roles and thriving in those roles. I accept you and trust you; you accept me and trust me; we believe in one another. We understand our limitations, put to good use our strengths. Teams lose and win together or risk never find meaning or success. And once again, sport mimics life.

Funny after reading Alex Beam’s column in The Boston Globe today on Mitt Romney’s chances of getting elected given his Mormon faith, comes this worthy article in today’s NY Times:

U.N.L.V. Forward Does Not Lack Family Support

“When the cheering section for Joe Darger is at full strength, it includes his father, his mother, his 18 siblings and his father’s other wife.

They wear red T-shirts, blow on red noisemakers and wave red pompoms. They appear no different from any other group in the U.N.L.V. family section — only larger and louder.

“We cheer for all the players,” said John Darger, Joe’s father. “We like to get a little rowdy.”

John Darger is married to Carollee Darger, Joe’s mother. He is also married to Elizabeth Darger, the mother of eight of his children. He calls himself a polygamist.

His children range in age from 2 to 40, with Joe in the middle at 20. A 6-foot-7 sophomore with spiky blond hair and a feathery shooting stroke, Joe is the most accurate 3-point shooter on the Nevada-Las Vegas basketball team. The Runnin’ Rebels, 25-6 after a 65-47 victory over Colorado State on Saturday, are poised to qualify for the N.C.A.A. tournament next week.

“I think we’re going to be on the road for a while here,” Carollee said. . .

continue here

(Thanks again to Nelson Wang for the head’s up!)

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“Binghamton U. vs Boston U., America East Tourney, 1st Rd. Report (03/03/07)

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 4, 2007

BU Men's Hoops
Corey Lowe
Boston University Basketball Images

Someone asked me after the game if I was surprised BU won. I said, “no, I wasn’t surprised. Everyone knew BU would win”.

I love going to mid-to-low major DI games. Boston’s great for them because BU, Northeastern, and Harvard (RPIs of 207, 171, 185 respectively), although solid teams, and sometimes a level or two better than solid, get no support, no crowds. Therefore, it’s easy, cheap, and eminently enjoyable going to their games. The gyms are tiny and the fans so scarce that you can almost always sit in, say, the fifth or sixth row – optimal – and catch everything: coaches’ calls, the up-close intensity of the defenders, an appreciation of their effort, size, speed, quickness, skill. If you’re lucky, you can even catch an errant pass and take-off out the door with it. Hey, those things are like forty bucks! In these gyms, each smaller than my high school gym, you are in the game. Perfect. Because that’s why you go.

But something happened between the regular season’s games at BU (Boston University, not Binghamton University) and their hosting the America East Conference Championships: they (naturally) moved the games to their gleaming, new, OVERPRICED hockey rink, the Agganis Arena. Instead of hardwood bleachers, your tush gets cushioned seats. Instead of the old FairPlay scoreboard, you got the Jumbrtron that’s bigger than my house. Instead of 10 bucks lighter in your wallet, you’re down 25! Instead of catching bad passes, you’re catching a cold from the draft of 6,000 empty seats. This was two lo-major teams playing a beta version of the big-time in a big-time arena.

Alright, there might have been 2,000 there but the scene just wasn’t as much fun. Binghamton, coached by Al Walker, an assistant at Cornell when I was with the Crimson, jumped on the Terriers, 15-3. Five foreign born players on the Bearcats and the same on the Terriers. No edge there. Binghamton has a 6’9, 260 lb. chiseled dude from Serbia, #44, Miladin Kovacevic, with a shaved head and fat goatee who set 3,000 screens in 20+ minutes. What a career in Ultimate Fighting he has before him! The screens and goatee were to no avail. Terriers (with assistant coach Mike Costello who has coached many NTL clinics and weekend camps) scrapped their way back to 26 all before Binghamton took a 5 point half time lead. Mostly man-to-man for (I so badly want to type BU) the Terriers with some 1-3-1 thrown in to keep ’em off balance. All man for Binghamton. Twelve point second half lead for the visitors but the hosts answer and pull even and then away in the last five minutes behind one of the heroes of last year’s Massachusetts Divsion One State Champions, Newton North, our local boy, Corey Lowe. The Bearcats poorly defend the dribble drive. BU wins, 62-58.

Couple other observations:

1) Boston University has a freshman guard, Tyler Morris, who was named AE Rookie of the Year. I’d be amazed if at least 1,850 of the 2,000 in attendance weren’t saying to themselves: doesn’t that kid’s game remind you sooooo much of Steve Kerr’s? Very quick jump into a quicker release jumper. Sweet.

2) Because it’s a hockey arena, the closest sideline seats are actually about twenty feet away from the court – a long way! Still, the other Serbian on Binghamton, #43, Lazar Trifunovic (they’re both freshmen) threw a pass, out of the half-court offense, that landed in the third row. He was on the elbow and the pass was to the corner. It took off like Evel Knievel over the Snake River Canyon. It was the most spectacularly wayward pass I have ever seen. I thought, wow, where is that going?

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“Running Wide on the Break; Angle in at 45 Degrees!”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 2, 2007

A Boston area player who has taken NTL clinics many times over the past few years, a great guy, a very good athlete who practices with good intention (and asks a lot of questions) one day sent me an email saying that he had played in a pick-up game the day before and that a former D III player (in other words, a player with much more experience than he) who was on his team complimented him for staying wide when they had fastbreak opportunities. It happened to be a topic that we had covered in a recent practice and he was psyched that it benefitted his play, wanted to tell me about it, share his success. I was psyched that he picked up something useful and got some recognition for it. Running wide on the break is one of those little things in basketball that gets overlooked by recreational players, but has big value when applied.

Fastbreak offense is similar to halfcourt offense in the sense that you want to maintain good spacing to keep the defense spread, in this instance, to keep the defense out of the middle of the floor (where the ballhandler is bringing the ball up).

(If you want to conjure a mental picture of “running wide” think of Karl Malone rebounding, outletting to Stockton, and running down the absolute sideline, sometimes so wide that he gave the appearance of being on top of the tables at press row.)

Here’s the rest of it: when you get almost even with the top of the key, begin to angle in at 45 degrees, the angle which will bring you to the hoop on a straight line, just above the block. This accomplishes three important things:

1) if you receive the pass from the ballhandler, it gives you the glass (or backboard) to use for your shot (the backboard is your friend); coming from the baseline and getting to the board is more problematic;

2) it gives you the opportunity to get your body between a middle-of-the-lane defender and the ball when you go in to score. If you caught on the baseline, coming from the corner or below the block, your shot would more likely be exposed;

3) if you do catch coming in at 45 degrees, then it gives you a “window” to hit the opposite wing going to the hoop. Think about it: if you caught on the baseline, the defender, naturally, would be between you and the hoop; you’d have no look, no opening to bounce pass to someone coming in opposite wing. If you caught coming in at 45 degrees, that defender, again, would be between you and the hoop, but because you are not flattened out, you could easily get a bounce pass to that opposite wing teammate streaming to the hoop..

It’s a subtle angle adjustment that yields a seismic shift in opportunities. (And a chance at giving yourself an “alright!” when praised by more experienced players!)

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“No One Like DJ? How About Clyde?”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 1, 2007

In the intro to the espn radio interview with Bird re: DJ (“Bird: DJ was more than a point guard”), there is a short piece in which Bob Ryan states that there was no one like DJ, that he played his position like no one before or since. Dan Patrick, the interviewer, brought Ryan’s point up to Bird and suggested Joe Dumars as a comparison. Bird rejected it citing DJ’s duties as point guard.

All that came to mind after seeing Walt “Clyde” Frazier at The Garden last night. (He does radio for the Knicks.)

How about it? Was Clyde’s game comparable to that played by DJ?

1) wasn’t a classic point, but assumed those duties;

2) was a true defensive stopper and game changer from the defensive end;

3) subordinated his game, somewhat, so that others and the team could flourish;

4) rose to the occasion during big (and the biggest) games;

5) fearless and astoundingly effective at taking it to the hoop in crucial situations;

6) not a classic shooting form (that’s for sure), but, similar to DJ, could be counted on to take it and make it if necessary;

7) surprising rebounder from the position.

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“High Above Courtside: Celtics vs Knicks, 02/28/07”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on March 1, 2007

“Cousy” Newsday photo files

Got there 55 minutes before tip-off. Settle into the first row balcony, season ticket seats we share with a few others. First row means no one walking in front of you; they’d have to be really, really tall to obstruct this view. Balcony also means three steps to the Molson Canadian booth. Timeliness meant we were among the first 5,000 which, in turn, meant we were recipients of a DJ “3” lapel pin.

Two players on the court working out. Stephon Marbury on one end getting feed after feed for “catch, one-dribble right jumper; catch one-dribble left jumper”. A bunch of those and he’d move to the next spot. Ten or so and another spot. Etc. On the other end, Sebastian Telfair, Marbury’s first cousin, played a simple, easy, goof-around game of one-on-one (always on offense) against two of the Celtics’ trainers. Shooting contested jumpers from 20+. My wife, Ellen, noted he wasn’t making many. Marbury and Telfair are, of course, not just related, they’re members of the same royal family, that long line of storied NYC high school phenom point guards. Tonight, Telfair never got into the game.

Celts started out eager, attentive, built a 22 or point lead first half. Knicks erased that and more in the third and fourth quarters, waking up the crowd and, eventually the Celts. Celtics put it away when Pierce hit a jumper with Marbury lodged between his upper lip and gums, 102-94.

Some observations:

1) the Knicks, seriousy depleted because of injuries to key players (Jamal Crawford, David Lee) played hard (the 2nd half) and, impressively, displayed a willingness to move the ball, share the ball, to the point where you’d have to say it’s a strength of theirs. Whether you have forgiven Isiah Thomas for “saying that if Larry Bird were black he’d be just ‘another good guy’ instead of being hyped as the league’s best player” or not, you’ve got to give him credit for putting a team on the floor that is giving the appearance of functioning as a unit. I don’t know if they can make the playoffs with Crawford out, but they clearly have gotten better as the year has gone along;

2) Gerald Green not only is good on the break running the wing but also is good pushing it up himself after rebounding. He got the Celts two great opportunities by doing nothing but pushing it hard upcourt;

3) Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe, the legendary hoops’ scribe, never once looks out at the “entertainment” on the court during time-outs, between periods, etc. I’m hoping he hates it all as much as I do;

4) there must have been seven traveling calls;

5) Similar to Kobe, Lebron, Wade and McGrady, Stephon Marbury can get a good look at a good shot any time he wants. He just doesn’t finish as often as those others;

6) If Rajon Rondo ever develops a jumper, he could be a top ten point guard in the league: great in the running game, comes up with loose balls and rebounds, gets into the lane and dishes. I do wonder whether he has staying power, the mental discpline needed to get on the long-term improvement arc that most great players in this league follow;

7) Al Jefferson made a believer out of me last night. We’ve all seen the McHale-ian moves, the numbers he’s been putting up. But, last night and more recently, he’s been looking like someone who is learning how to play with Pierce and someone who is no longer struggling under the weight of expectation: “can’t miss”, “future all-star”, all that. Now ready to be an awesome four-man. Great to see.

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