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The “Reminds Us of Awards”, NTL Santa Barbara Camp, May 2015

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on May 6, 2015

At each of the Never Too Late Basketball Weekend Camps, Adidas sponsors the NTL “Reminds Us of Awards”. Every player is acknowledged as having some quality or characteristic that reminds us of some former or present player (or referee or movie actor or who-knows-what). Coaches confer on Saturday night and we present them at the Sunday afternoon post-camp breakup lunch.

Here is the rundown on the awards from the NTL Weekend Camp, Santa Barbara, CA, May 2015

Jim Morris, perhaps the greatest 40 Shot shooter in NTL Camps history, channeled Russell Westbrook from his Bruin days (but did not dunk)

Henry Jai leaned and fell away going glass for the Sunday 4-team game winner and walked away with the coveted Chris Paul

Mike Strautmanis posted and passed and shot like Boris Diaw then upped his game and got the Arne Duncan 

Coach Keith Webster said Andy Owens was the best defender in camp which got him the Gary Payton Award

Justin Owens was in the mix for best Big Man and was graced with the Frank Kaminsky Award

Evan Asher flashed MVP form then wrong footed at the buzzer à la Steve Nash (but promises not to retire)

Shelly Asher, steady and underrated and effective and unfazed, walked with the prestigious (to the coaches) Mike Conley

Bob Zukis, 6’8″ and a globetrotting Masters player, sees the court and moves a bit like the legendary Arvydas Sabonis

Leon Kwan, improving by the minute, went inside and out and garnered the Kevin McHale MIP

We liked Josh Berezin’s game as we like Steve Blake’s game: skilled, athletic, team first

Slim Garry Williams ain’t no Big Baby no more, he’s our Louis Orr (#55)

Peter Thom had his best camp in years and torched opponents like Bob Petit

Shaun Kerr, likewise had his best camp. He’s a gamer, a keeper, and gets the Jae Crowder

Brett Bowles, solid and confident, knows how to get it done and picks up the JJ Berea

Brother Brady Bowles wins NTL Camp shooting contests year after year and gets (the somewhat related to JJ Berea) JJ Redick!

James Terrile, southpaw, focused and dangerous with a developing crossover and on-the-cusp jumper, wins the prestigious Pablo Prigioni

Gary Seto, #2 camp draft choice, defended and surprised and scored in the lane like Evan Turner

Chinh Le, soared to the best vertical (29.75″), won the NTL Fastest Human Being, played an awesome all-around game and snatched the Cory Alexander (who graduated from U VA with a degree in psychology). C & C would have made a great backcourt in Charlottesville!

Matt Newman, also of U VA, played like another former Wahoo, Bryant Stith: smooth, skilled, relentless, equal parts good and great

Jeffrey Ogbara is a better athlete than Mike Waitkus, but Waitkus, Brown ’86 and he share a championship demeanor. (JO can become a very good basketball player.)

Mike Webb is a lefty scoring machine who is now finding others easy baskets, like Chris Mullin used to do

Kevin Ng is amazing. Gordon Hayward type amazing.

John Hochhausler knocked his college-age kid off in a game of one-on-one and then came to camp and played like Luc Longely, maybe better.

Rich Gulden. How good was he? Jeff Hornacek good!

Sam Dekker was among my favorite college players all year. Joe Corella won his 2nd NTL Camp 3 Point Shooting Contest and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the clutch Badger

Philly Duchene runs an offense and runs a defense and runs a game like Ty Lawson

Jason Ford never knows who his award namesake is but we all know he plays like Luis Scola. Yes!

Robert Parish (“Chief”) loved playing with John (“Tricks”) Bagley. Parish would have loved playing with Alexander Lim, who can do it all, too.

YK Low went to the University of Memphis. So did Derrick Rose. They both are playing very good basketball right now!

Steve Lutz can shoot from anywhere. So could Jeff Fryer

Keith Stamler played like Dave Myers, not quite Ann Myers, but Dave Myers ( 4-time All-American) was really good, too

George Sya defends and scores clutch hoops like Andre Iguodala, a true Warrior

John Wang may not go pro like Tyus Jones but he is confident and talented and so good that I am certain Coach K would love to have him (in some capacity) on his team.


Posted in beautiful basketball, general improvement | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Harvard FT Shooters (NCAA History’s Best)

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on December 22, 2008

I know the answer to great team free throw shooting; learned it from Frank McLaughlin (my freshmen coach at Fordham), head coach at Harvard when the ’83-’84 Harvard men’s basketball team set the all-time NCAA Division I Free Throw record (that still stands today): 82.2%. 

Coaches employ many different methods to improve their teams’ free throw chances: every player has to come to the gym at 7am twice a week to shoot a hundred (which coaches then chart and post); make ten straight before you leave the gym at the end of every practice (got that one from Jim McDonald, former head coach at Kent State); shoot FTs when players are tired after tough drills (to mimic game conditions); pluck a player and make everyone run a suicide if the player misses; shooting games like S-W-I-S-H (+1 for a swish, -1 for a miss, 0 for a make that isn’t a perfect swish; +6 wins, players shot 2 at a time and switch). Harvard used none of these strategies.

How did they do it? Well, Harvard’s all-time leading scorer (1,880 points) and certified stud (30 pts versus Duke in the greatest loss ever at Briggs Cage), Joe Carrabino, tied for 2nd in the nation at 90.5% (with Chris Mullin, “Dream Teamer”, Basketball God who everyone in Boston saw play in his high school days in the old Boston Shootout long ago). Bob Ferry (who taught little brother, Danny, future NCAA Player of the Year at Duke  everything he knew) was 4th at 90.3%. Arne Duncan (everybody’s favorite Obama Cabinet hoopster) and Duncan’s co-captain, never-say-die cohort, Keith Webster, each shot 86.7%. (Pat Smith, point guard, and for whom career stats seem elusive, got to the line rarely but never missed.) At season’s end, a writer from a national concern called Coach McLaughlin wanting to write a story on how they did it. He asked what secrets there were, what magic applied, or at least what special or innovative shooting drills they used. McLaughlin answered, “we didn’t do anything, nothing at all; they’re just great shooters.” The writer wasn’t buying it; maybe it has something to do with the innate intelligence of the players, you know . . . Harvard??? “Doubt it”, Frank said, “there have been plenty of Harvard teams that didn’t break free throw records or even shoot particularly well. Sorry, but the answer is these guys just happened to be great shooters.”

So, there it is. Frank McLaughlin, an innovative, smart, schooled-on-the-NYC playgrounds coach who had been a great player (and great shooter) at Fordham could not and would not take credit for a great thing his team had accomplished. But thinking back on that group over the years, and witnessing other teams, college and pro, go through their ups and downs at the line, during games and over the course of a season, I’ve often wondered what else came into play that year. This: I think it was all in the collective head of that team: the psyche, the ego, the competitive spirit, the unique motivation each player possessed, and the intuition McLaughlin applied. 

Nobody wanted to be the guy who missed. Just as missing in games is contagious, making them was contagious for that team. It all started with the big guy, Carrabino. Joe Carrabino had an ego the size of the centuries old campus and nerves of – well, no nerves as we know them. How’s this for proof? He made 50something straight free throws in the last 4 minutes of games over his last 2 seasons. (Let us pause for a moment to consider that . . . carve a spot for Joe Carrabino at Mount Rushmore.) Ferry, low-key and fun-loving was a close second fiddle, if you can imagine being recruited by Dean Smith and UNC and then be the sweet second option at Harvard. Smooth, perfect shooting form/stroke, my take is he was quiet about it, but he had things to prove and one of them was: if Carrabino could make all his free throws, so could he. Duncan, of course, had lots to prove, like whether he belonged there in the first place. (That’s what happens when you play JV your freshman year.) Miss your free throws and your spot becomes suspect. Plus it would be just embarrassing, wouldn’t it? Webster, the youngster of the group, was like the kid brother trying to prove he could play with the older kids in the neighborhood. Competitive, tough and tireless as a dog on the hunt, son of a 600+ win college coach, Webster wasn’t going to miss many. And Pat Smith, tenacious defender, ball distributor, like Ferry a proud product of Dematha Catholic, the “fifth starter” had no choice but to uphold his end of the bargain. Okay, maybe he wasn’t going to score as much but if he made his free throws he would once again prove his worth. In the end, they made their free throws because the other guys were making their free throws. Sure they had the strokes, the good technique, but they also, individually, had the critical mindset: that at this one simple doable task, they would not fail. It was pride, ego, competition, individual and collective desire; it was contagious and important. And it was record breaking. And McLaughlin knew enough to let them be.

Note No. 1: how many coaches in the past 24 years have challenged their teams to break Harvard’s record, set that very specific goal? I think that simple step, that simple clearly defined motivation would get some team in the record book pretty fast, plus help win some extra games. 

Note No. 2: I think the presence of Ray Allen and his career 90%+ free throw percentage proved motivational for Paul Pierce last year. Pierce went from 76% in ’05-’06 and 79% in ’06-’07 to 84% last year, the year that Ray Allen and his gaudy numbers showed up. Pierce changed his set-up: a more methodical, more one-foot-directly-in-front-of-the-other, Jeff Hornacek type set-up plus an exaggerated follow-through to get the results he had to have to be in the good company of Allen.

Posted in notes: college & pro, shooting | Tagged: , , , , | 15 Comments »

Arne Duncan, Sec’y of Ed, The Basketball Player

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on December 16, 2008

Arne Duncan at Harvard HoopsIn every newspaper and blog announcement, in President-elect Obama’s introduction and even in a question in the press conference following the naming of Arne Duncan as the new administration’s choice as Education Secretary, there has been mention of Arne as a basketball player, a “co-captain at Harvard” and a former overseas player in Australia. What doesn’t come through in any of this is 1) how good Arne really was (and, to some extent, I’m sure, still is) and 2) what that means, if anything, in his new position. That’s a point, after reading my brief (and incomplete history) I will let you decide on your own.

I came upon Arne when he was entering his junior year at Harvard, so what I know of his first two years I learned from others. He apparently came to Harvard, unrecruited, as a gangly, thin, weak 6’2″ player with no chance at making varsity. Most Division I schools don’t even have tryouts and if they do, it is pretty much pro forma. Arne played where he could, which meant JV. According to Julio Diaz, then the 2nd assistant (and now an assistant athletic director at Fordham) and thus in charge of the junior varsity, Arne was a “gym rat” and averaged something like 30+ points per game is freshman year. Harvard then under head coach, Frank McLaughlin, was on something of an upswing and after Arne’s freshman year, he was given no promises – and might have even been discouraged – regarding making the varsity squad the next year. (Here’s a funny story: Arne, it should be noted, spent all his basketball playing time in inner-city Chicago, seeking out  and playing with the best. Inner-city in Chicago means Polish-Americans and African-Americans. Let’s just say Arne wasn’t playing with the Polish kids. Hanging in those neighborhoods, Arne developed a manner of speaking that belied his ancestry. He sounded like “a brother”. Following his freshman year, desperate to prove he could play Division I, Arne, having grown now to 6’4″, got on the phone with a bunch of Ivy league schools and their basketball coaches. Sometime later, pre-season, Tom Miller, head coach at Cornell was talking with Coach McLaughlin about this and that and, as an aside asked, “who’s this, Arne Duncan, who called asking to transfer?” McLaughlin apparently gave his description of Arne and Miller said, “but he’s a black kid”. And McLaughlin said “no, he’s a white kid”. And Miller said again, “got to be a black kid, I talked with him”. And McLaughlin had to explain, “no, he just talks like that because that’s where he’s from”! Later in his career, Arne dropped 26 points on Cornell at Cornell, letting Coach Miller know exactly who he was.)

Arne came back sophomore year and made the varsity. By the end of the year, he was 6’5″ and starting on a team that finished very strong, winning 8 of the last 10 and finishing 9-5 in the Ivies. The next year (my first year on staff), with all the players returning, Harvard started out strong (swept Penn/Princeton at Penn/Princeton, the only time that has been done by any Ivy team EVER) but faltered badly down the stretch; Duncan meanwhile had emerged as a solid Ivy player. With a head coaching change and a bevy of new players, Duncan took the next year off to – take your pick: 1) go back to Chicago to work on his Senior Thesis (which even elicited a mention by Alex Wolff in SI) or 2) give his body another year to mature, allow the young players a year to develop and, finally, play his senior year with his best friend on the team, Keith Webster (future Utah Jazz draft pick).

When Arne and Webster came back in the fall, somehow they got the keys to the gym. Many a night I’d come back from being on the road recruiting, midnight, 1, 2 am and they’d be in the gym working out, doing all-out, game-speed shooting and ball handling drills. This was not something that you’d see at Harvard. You know, libraries open 24/7, all-nighters every night. But down in Briggs Cage working out? Nope. Another thing I remember is in pre-season pick-up games, Arne never called a foul when a defender fouled him. Never. I think he saw it, calling the foul, as an excuse he did not want to use if something had gone wrong – missed a shot, lost the ball or something. No excuses. Play through it. Get the job done. Overcome the obstacles, nobody bailing him out. Excuses equated to failure and he just did not see things that way. He was a brilliant player, smooth, crafty, unfettered by any defensive scheme or outside pressure (he was the top practitioner of what I call “The Sixth Principle of Zone Offense”), teaming with Webster to sweep Penn and Princeton early season in our gym; even pummeled a Pete Carril Princeton team 78-54! Earlier in the season, Arne led The Crimson to a near upset at Boston College, a game in which we had a 9 point second half lead, but faltered in the end, 87-86. During one stretch, Arne scored 14 straight points by himself. I mean no one else scored from either team (one being a Big East team). Somehow, on our last possession, we neglected to run the play for Duncan. Our bad.

The season sort of went downhill from there; it was too bad. We lost a couple of games and the coaching staff didn’t/couldn’t figure out how to get the players going in the same direction as the coaching staff thought it should go. Duncan grew much closer to Assistant Coach Tom Thibodeau (now regarded as the top assistant in the NBA, with the Celtics, and seen as the “guru”  behind their defensive schemes). Duncan worked hard in the off-season with Thibs (as we called him) to prepare for CBA tryouts but ultimately played four seasons in the top-tier Australian Pro League.

The reason Arne Duncan was/is (after pro ball, he teamed with Craig Robinson – Obama’s brother-in-law and a great, great Ivy league player at Princeton – and two others to win multiple Hoop-It-Up National titles) a great player is because the game and what the game requires suites him to perfection. It’s cliché, but it’s team game; no way Arne Duncan gets any good at golf or tennis or, god forbid, downhill skiing. It’s the perfect game for someone who understands what working hard will do for you and is ready then to do that work. It’s a game that if you can see the possibilities where maybe others don’t see it – in the angles, in the subtle change of speed and change of direction, in the gaps and openings, in the beauty and satisfaction that comes with a shot made or a pass completed, in the pulling together, in the belief of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, in the knowledge that there are lots of ways to get the job done. Arne Duncan was not a great talent, but boy, did he understand and see deep into the game. I think he believed in the game and in his belief that he could be very, very good at it even while others might not have thought so. Isn’t that what great teachers, what great educators possess? The unwavering belief that their pupils can and should and will succeed.

Posted in notes: college & pro | Tagged: , , , | 27 Comments »

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