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Archive for April, 2007

Predicting the Flight and Location of the Carom

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on April 27, 2007

When teaching or coaching rebounding, what’s most often talked about is boxing out. Now, before I get tossed from the Fraternal Order of the Brotherhood of the Knights of Coaches Association Internationale, let me say squarely, “boxing out is important”. But the problem with boxing out and why it may occupy too much a space in the world of “rebounding fundamentals” is, it’s not always feasible. I mean, it is difficult, if not impossible, to “put a body on” an offensive player if when the shot is taken you are more than say eight feet away from the player you should be boxing out, which is often the case. No one’s gonna do it. If you do that, i.e., seek out that player to put a body on, you may, in fact, lose an opportunity to actually go get the ball. So, if you can’t box out, what should you do to help your team secure possession? Instead, or additionally (don’t want to lose that coach’s card!), I believe in practicing “predicting the flight and location of the carom”. In other words, learning where the ball will go when it comes off the rim.

Rodman was really good at this. If a three pointer was taken, he could tell when it was going to miss and he could tell where that miss would land. He was also often the only one moving there. Bird, of course, also possessed this skill. (Remember when he followed the shot to the right baseline and, in the air, flipped it in with his left hand? He knew where that ball was going to be.)

When players are rebounding in shooting drills, I ask them not to let the ball hit the floor. This requires one to have knees bent and be ready-to-go, and it teaches the whole predicting thing. Assistant coaches are the best, the best predictors of the flight of the ball, because they are always feeding players shots and rebounding the ball to feed the next shot. If you’ve seen enough balls in the air, you learn to tell from the flight where on the rim it will hit (if it hits) and depending on where it hits, were it will fly to. I’ve always imagined Jeff van Gundy, a hardworking assistant for many years, to be really good at this. (If you see him, tell him I was wondering.)

When I was growing up in Albany, we lived near Siena College. I was over there playing one day (actually every day), eighth grade, I think, when a flatfooted, 6’6″ kid from Long Island who was on the freshman team taught me and a buddy of mine the game “Tips”. It turns out “Tips” is a great way to learn where the rebound is going.

Here’s the game: one person shoots from the foul line. If he makes it, he gets a point. If he misses, the rebounder tries to tip in the rebound. Tipping in the rebound gets you to the FT line to shoot free throws. Your feet have to be off the floor for it to count as a legal tip. Also, the tipper can tip up to three times on that missed shot. In other words, if you miss the first tip, you can tip your own miss but, again, you’ve gotta be off the floor on the tip (quick jumping!). If the free throw shooter makes it, she then shoots another. If she makes three in a row, then the next made free throw has to be shot lefty or off-hand. Make three in a row off-hand then you can go back to righty. Every made FT is a point. You miss and the other player tips it in, the other person takes over at the line. Tip-in counts as two. Game is to twenty-one. You watch the flight of the ball, all geared up with quickness and life, you fly to the spot and tip it in. Easy. It’s a great game that I and a friend of mine (John Carvill, the greatest Shaker High School player that never was) played a million times as junior high and high school kids. (Also really good for your FT shooting! Um, I guess Rodman never took to that part of the game.)

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Posted in rebounding | 6 Comments »

Tommy Amaker Comes to Harvard

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on April 12, 2007

Tommy Amaker, savior
Tommy Amaker, Carols Ororio/AP photo

Tommy Amaker, the former All-American point guard at Duke and the former head coach at Seton Hall and, most recently at Michigan, has accepted the head men’s basketball position at Harvard University. I think he will do well, and by “doing well” I mean but one thing, the only thing that counts: win Harvard’s first Ivy League Championship in men’s basketball. After sixteen years, I’m back to rooting for The Crimson.

Some stuff I know about Amaker:

The year before I joined the staff at Harvard (1983-84), Amaker, as a freshman, was on the Duke team that first cracked the top 20 under Coach K. Johnny Dawkins, later to be the College Player of the Year (and now top assistant at Duke) and Mark Alarie (also first team all-American) were sophomores. Jay Bilas, the insufferably correct college basketball analyst, was a junior. That year, they played Harvard at Harvard and after being down eight at one point rallied for a 86-83 win in what was the best game ever played at the old Briggs Cage. Dawkins had 30+ as did Harvard’s Ivy Player of the Year, Joe Carrabino. Two years later as part of the backcourt that Al McGuire called the “greatest backcourt in college basketball history”, Amaker with Dawkins led the Dukies to the championship game where they lost to Danny Manning and the Kansas Jayhawks. The next year, as Duke captain he was named the nation’s Defensive Player of the Year. From the guard position! He was that good.

That season, his senior year in which he captained Duke, I was an invitee of Coach K (whom I knew from working Duke’s camps and from our yearly, ahem, battles with Duke), at the first Duke practice of the season. They had a freshman that year, Phil Henderson, something of a loose cannon who never quite matured as a player but who was a great athlete and very good player. Henderson, a reed-thin 6’4″ from Chicago, is most famous for a down-the-lane, out-of-the-halfcourt offense, delirious, one-handed tomahawk dunk on and over and in the mug of Georgetown’s Alonzo Mourning, the most feared big-man defender in basketball. That dunk was replayed a gazillion times during March Madness. Anyway, at that first practice, Duke was doing a deny-the-wing player defensive drill where the coach has the ball out past the top of the key and the offensive wing player moves in and out to try to get open. Amaker was defending the athletic, effervescent, youthful Henderson. Henderson could not get open on the wing. Amaker-glue-Henderson. Usually the drill quits right there and the next two players come on. But Henderson started moving all over the halfcourt trying to get open, and Coach K let the scene play out. Coach K was teaching. (Imagine?) Henderson ran to the baseline and fired out, but he couldn’t shake his shadow. He hid in the corner and sprinted out. Not an inch of an opening. Henderson literally ran all over the halfcourt, like a startled, desperate chicken in a pen, looking for a way out, but it was like he was looking in a mirror and an image traced and tracked, almost to a synchronized swimming type perfection, his every move. That was amazing. Duke beat us by twelve that year in a game in which our point guard, yes, had more than a little trouble.

Amaker had no interest in playing pro ball, probably knew that his lack of shooting range and scoring punch made the odds a little long. (He was drafted by Seattle and might have played one year.) I always admired that (assumed) self-assessment and restraint. He went on to assist Coach K for nine years and then spent a few as head man at Seton Hall and four more at Michigan before being fired. Only one NCAA apearance in ten years might be cause for concern among some Harvard faithful. I say not to worry. Interesting, though, that in 2007 he winds up in Cambridge because in 1991, after my boss Pete Roby resigned, I was told, rather naively or stupidly, by an assistant AD who was going to be in charge of the hiring committee, that I, as the in-house top assistant, was “in the lead” for the job. That sounded good to me, but I didn’t really believe it. I immediately called Coach K to get advice and support and he told me that he’d have to check with Amaker first to see if Amaker was interested in the job before he threw his considerable weight behind me (which he soon did). Amaker was not interested, wanted to ride the waves to a bigger beach, I guess. Took on a little water in the swamps of New Jersey and more off the shores of Lake Michigan and here he is: Down by the Banks of the River Charles!

On a personal note, I used to talk with Amaker in the weight room at Duke when I was working the camps; likeable, thoughtful, generous guy. And when I left Harvard and had a couple of opportunities with coaches at different schools, Amaker (through Pete Gaudet, another Duke assistant with whom I was closer) gave me advice and feedback on the coaches and staffs I was considering joining. Again, thoughtful and willing to help.

Basically all he’s gotta do is recruit and recruit well. Princeton’s down and Penn graduated a lot, leaving a B-I-G opening. Recruit like Frank McLaughlin and, later, like Pete Roby and his staff did, keep expectations in check for a couple of years and not suffer some of the injuries and bad luck that we suffered. Get them fit to play relentless defense; be consistent in approach and message to the players. Reach out to former players and staff and students; and, then, “I’m a-wishin’ and a-hopin’ . . . ohhn, ohhn, Cambridge you’re my home!”

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Posted in notes: college & pro | 1 Comment »

“Shutting It Down”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on April 4, 2007

Paul Pierce Dives Out-of-Bounds (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

Am I the only one who is put-off, I mean sickened, by this notion, this trend of not finishing out the season, this whole “I’m thinking about ‘shutting it down'” for the rest of the schedule? I know, I know, I am old-school as it gets. These guys are commodities, worth millions, tens of millions in revenue and, thus, have to be protected. It still makes me sick.

Bad enough when it’s “Manny being Manny” but do we have to put up with “Paul being Paul”? I know Pierce had the beginning of what looked like it could have been a stress fracture, but they brought him back in due time and they certainly would not have brought him back if it risked further injury. He came back to play so they could win a game or two after the eighteen game “Voyage to the Bottom of the (NBA) Sea”, but, more than anything, to see if the “young players”: Jefferson, West, Rondo, could learn to adjust to playing with the “superstar”, the “franchise”, the snubbed “all-star”, the “classic case of a great player on a bad team”. Apparently they got their answer because looks like Paul is “shutting it down”.

Give me a break. It’s pathetic. I share some Celts’ season tickets and knew I was going to be out-of-the-country this past Sunday, the date of the Cavs in Boston. Emailed a friend: “want the tickets? LeBron and Pierce”? Ya, sure. (Sorry, Mike.)

You’re right, I’m old school. And to prove it, I conjure the ghost of Red Auerbach. What Would Red Say? WWRS? As a coach, obviously, Red never would have had to deal with such a scenario. Last place, going nowhere? “Should I sit Russ to see if we can avoid moving into 3rd-to-last and diminish our lottery pick status”? WWRS? He’d be on the phone to see who he could get for that “warrior” Pierce, he’d throw in the Celtic dancers and Lucky, to boot.

Glad my mother didn’t shut it down right when I was beginning to walk. Or my trig or calculus teacher vanished in mid-April. Or a farmer at the 32nd acre. Ted Williams played that last game when he could have sat and protected the .400 average. Didn’t he? Cannot imagine Magic sitting or Mo Cheeks or Bird, but then again, those comparisons are spurious because they were too good to let the teams they played on be as bad as Paul Pierce’s Celtics.

And these “sitters” all claim to “love the game”? If you love it, then you play it. I think of all the players who would do anything to be on that floor, the NBA floor, proving who they are as ballplayers. But, I suppose, they too would soon be corrupted by what passes as values in today’s pro game. A guy or girl at a pick-up game, waiting on the sideline, having yelled “winners” has more, way more, integrity.

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Posted in notes: college & pro | 6 Comments »

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