Keeping Up with the Joneses: Part 7 - The First Weeks of February

February 4 

Non-conference game vs Juarez @ Jones
Jones 61, Juarez 41
Leading scorers:  Adrien 10, Bryson 9
Record 16-5


This game seemed like a snowstorm hangover game. Twenty-two inches of snow fell since February 1 and everyone looked tired and listless. There was no passion for playing from either team. We were the better team physically and record wise but we played sloppy and looked like we were bored with the competition.

There was lots of turnovers after we started  the game on an 8-0 start. Juarez got many offensive rebounds due our lack of effort and poor positioning by whatever lineup we had in, because Coach G substituted frequently five minutes into the game. That was the main positive; everyone played, deserved or not. Coach G is a fair man and plays some guys despite the fact that they don't practice hard and are not supportive of teammates in practice and games. He's a better man than me. 

No game till next Monday, when we have our makeup conference game with Richards. The game doesn't mean anything except trying to play to excel, because we already clinched the conference championship. Hopefully our practices the next two days are intense, and there will be no excuses. No snow in the forecast!


February 5 

Off Day

Watching the Chicago Bulls is getting progressively tougher and it's all because of Derrick Rose. It seems that he wants to prove to imagined doubters that he is a three-point shooter and that he can last a season. It is a fact that he is not meshing with his teammates offensively, has been worthless and helps no one off the ball, does not play to his offensive strengths, plays poor on the ball and screen roll defense, does not box out his man on rebounds and has forgotten how to pass and dribble efficiently. Whoever is giving him advice, and somebody is, better suggest that Derrick to listen to the professionals, which starts with following the plans of the head coach. This version of Derrick Rose is a loser.


 February 6   

It's always encouraging and gratifying when kids stay in the gym and work on their game after a tough practice. When urban kids get the chance to use gyms they take advantage. Most of the team worked on individual moves, played one-on-one, shot free throws, and some asked me for help, which was awesome. This is why we coach.


 February 9 

Conference game vs Richards at Jones
Jones 59, Richards 36
Leading scorer, Adrien 17
Record 17-5, 8-2 in the Blue Central. Blue Central Champion


This was the makeup game of the conference opener. Richards went to another gym on the day we supposed to play and Manley showed instead. Our guys took care of business today. We played with energy and intensity on defense and we rebounded well, rarely allowing second shots. Ellington has 10 blocked shots and 6 assists and Adrien dominated floor play and along with Ellington got us into the right offensive sets. Adrien hit 3 three pointers, too which stretched Richards' defense and allowed some passing and driving lanes for layups.

Aside from a couple of missed layups Will played well and made their only scorer work hard for his points. Vic gave us a spark off the bench with good passes, several layups off the dribble, and a three pointer. It's great to see the guys that care be rewarded for their hard work and team play with a conference championship.

And we get more good news because Chidi will be back, though not at full speed. But he brings so much intensity and energy to our team that any participation will benefit us. It will also benefit him because he's been driving us crazy on the bench! Just kidding, but he really wants to be out on the court and he feels like he lets the team down when he's not there, though he couldn't help it because he got hurt. But we love kids who love the team. I wish there were more like him.


February 11   

Non-conference game at Schurz
Jones 53, Schurz 39
Leading scorers Ellington 14, Will 13
Record 18-5


Nice win, but we got off to a terrible start. We have developed a bad habit of playing timid away from home and that's the way today's game began. We passed the ball tentatively and Schurz got several turnovers. The only reason we were down just 13-7 after the first quarter was because they missed a lot of easy shots and we were limiting their second shots.

Coach switched to a 1-3-1 defense in the second quarter and they started turning the ball over and we started getting some easy shots off steals. It was 18-17 at the half and we went on a big run in the third to put the game away. Schurz never figured out how to attack the 1-3-1, and we got a lot of layups off of their questionable shot selection and decision making.

Individually, Ellington controlled the game with his ball handling, passing, rebounding, and drives to the basket. He willed his team to win after that tough start. Will played aggressively after a weak start, and Justin had seven points and an assist in an active third quarter. Devin battled on the boards and played tough on defense. And the bench showed great spirit, almost like they were enjoying themselves. A practice tomorrow before we play a private school in a shootout in a rare Sunday game.


February 14   

No practice today so I had time to reflect on occurrences of the past week.  First, the passing of Dean Smith, the legendary North Carolina basketball coach. Since I am from the Midwest I didn't get to see a lot of North Carolina games when I became a fan because television coverage was not as comprehensive without cable. When I did see them it was usually in the NCAA playoffs or the ACC tournament and what I remembered was the dreaded Four Corners offense which made watching them a supreme bore.

One of Smith's great teams featuring Phil Ford, lost the NCAA title game in 1977 to a not as talented Marquette team because Marquette figured out how to defend the 4 corners by as quoting Al McGuire, the equally legendary Marquette coach, "when you cut off the head, the body dies." In other words, they defended Ford, the point guard, who was the key to that offense, and forced less talented ball handlers to make decisions, which led to turnovers and a Marquette win in McGuire's final game.

The NCAA then instituted a shot clock because so many teams adopted the Four Corners and the college game was losing fans. I guess we can thank Smith for the popularity of today's college game. Smith's legacy really is that of an innovator on offense and defense, superb teaching of team play (the joke is that he was the only person to hold Michael Jordan to below 20 points a game), a mentor to his players, and maybe his most important contribution, standing up to segregationists and racists in the South by recruiting and enrolling black players at UNC despite great resistance. As despicable as Adolph Rupp was at Kentucky by rejecting black players, that's what a humanist hero Dean Smith was and is.

Derrick Rose had a great game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday with 30 points, seven assists, and only two turnovers. The question is can he do this consistently and does he have faith in his repaired knees? The answer lies back to his high school days. Rose by all accounts was and is a great teammate and involves all his teammates in the team's offense, to a fault. At times he does nothing away from the ball and defers to less talented teammates when he should be dominating play. Only when he feels a challenge or is challenged does he seem to want to play at his best.

In high school his team played Oak Hill in a nationally televised game , a national power with several Division 1 players, and Rose was motivated, dunking, slashing to the basket, blocking shots getting steals and assisting his teammates for easy layups. And he led his team to 2 state championships, and did what it took to win games, whether it was scoring, assisting or defending. He hasn't changed much since being in the NBA, especially after his injuries. He defers too much to teammates when he is needed to take over a game. The disturbing trend of his game though is that he only defends and moves off the ball when he feels like it, doesn't box out his man and breaks off the half court offense by indiscriminately shooting 3's to prove to every doubter that he can. The three-point shot is the weakest part of his offense because of his forward body lean on long jump shots. Maybe, after the game against the Cavaliers, he will understand what's necessary for him to play well in order for his team to win every game. And trust his knees and his talent. And trust himself and not his handlers which is the toughest hurdle to overcome.

Keeping Up with the Joneses: Part 6 - Continuing Conference Play

January 14   

Blue Central Conference game @ Richards
Jones 50, Richards 37
Leading scorer: Adrien 10
Record 13-3, 6-0 in the Blue Central


We played our first league game on the road and our players kept their composure and played a decent game. It would have been a very good game had we not been loose with some passes in the second half. We were in control from the start and led by 10 at halftime.

Our man-to-man defense was not very good but when we switched to a zone they stopped scoring because their shooting was below par and we got some defensive rebounds for a change. Offensively, Adrien and Ellington controlled the game with precise passing and strong ball handling. We didn't shoot particularly well, but we got second chances, hit our free throws, and burned time with long possessions.

Richards was in second place in the conference so it was a big win. Chidi fell on his back on a rebound so I had to take him off to the side and keep him stretched and loose so his back wouldn't spasm. He got back in the game late in the third quarter and did a good job playing defense and getting several deflections and steals. He really keys our defense and when he is out of the game we don't play as intense as we should. I felt good about getting him back in the game.

Trainer, another one of my duties on the team. Ah, life in the Chicago Public League.


January 16 

Blue Central Conference game @ Solorio
Jones 67, Solorio 56
Leading scorers Ellington 20, Chidi 14, Will 12, Adrien 11
Record 14-3, 7-0 in the Blue Central


We played our best game of the year today with one huge qualifier, we missed 27 free throws! 

We were 19-46 from the line. It was horrible. Ellington was 2 for 10, Chidi missed his first 6 attempts, Will missed his first 4. It was so ridiculous that we just shook our heads. It's not like we don't work at it in practice. But whatever we are doing as a coaching staff isn't helping them in games so we will have to develop a routine to settle them down in games.

The good news was that we played great defense throughout the game, rebounded much better, and shared the ball. We hit one jumper the whole game. Our points came on layups off steals, out of bound plays, excellent interior passing off penetration from our offensive sets, and put backs off missed shots.

Ellington had an easy triple double and was close to 10 assists for a quadruple double. But if he wants to play collegiately he has to be a much better free-throw shooter and develop a jump shot. For that to happen he has to practice on his own, which he doesn't do now.

The only reason the score was relatively close was because of all the free throw misses and turnovers by our second unit in the second quarter. Solorio is a wild team that obviously fouls a lot and in our first game with them we had poor officials that let them foul without calling anything. Today we had good officiating and four of their players fouled out and deservedly so. Solorio's coach complained about the disparity of fouls between the two teams, but when you're seemingly taught to foul you're going to get called on it.

Some of our players are complaining about playing time instead of enjoying team success. Coach G has made it clear that if you don't do your job when you're in the game, you're going to get benched. Turnovers and poor shot selection are the causes of benching, and unfortunately Justin and Bryson are the most guilty. They don't seem to understand what to do on the court except look for their own shot. Justin has a lot of speed but doesn't use it best to help his team, and Bryson is not ready for this level of competition yet. I think they are jealous of Adrien, who transferred in and is getting better every game as a floor leader, defender, and scorer. We always say kids must earn playing time. If players such as Justin and Bryson want to play, they must practice better and understand the meaning of team.

We have 3 days off and we will what happens at our next practice.


January 21

Blue Central Conference game @ Little Village
Little Village 67, Jones 65
Leading scorer: Devin 14
Record 14-4 overall, 7-1 in Blue Central


This game was not defined by blowing a seven point lead with the ball and under 5 minutes to go. What stood out instead was our lack of effort and leadership, selfishness, and not competing.

Not only did Ellington not play, Adrien and Will did not show to practice yesterday because of an ACT Prep course and didn't tell Coach G, so they sat out the first quarter. Plus according to Coach G the players were not thinking about the game on the bus and were screwing around. They didn't take Little Village seriously because we beat them the first time we played, disregarding that we had Ellington at that game.

We started out okay. Gabe started for Ellington and hit a three-pointer on our first possession. Unfortunately for Gabe and the team, those were his last points of the game. We turned the ball over on three consecutive plays and we went down six, but Devin hit some shots and were tied after the first quarter.

Adrien and Will got in the game at the start of the second quarter and played like they had never played with the rest of the team on the floor. We couldn't stay in front of their guards on defense but they were taking some wild shots and making bad passes and miraculously we were up 2 at the half. Justin had 8 points and scored within the offense so that was promising, but nothing else we did was right. No hustle, intelligence, or competitiveness was seen nor did the team leaders step up and say anything. Both Coach G and me let them have it in the locker room and they usually respond, but they seemed indifferent or scared.

We started hitting some shots in the second half, but whenever we thought we we would pull away we turned the ball over and their guards were destroying our defense in every way possible; 3's, drives, pull-ups. And we let them. No help from the forwards after our guards got beat off the dribble and no talk on high ball screens. 

Bryson hit a couple of threes and Will got some put back layups and by the middle of the 4th quarter we were up 64-57 with the ball. On that possession, Adrien made a good pass to Chidi from the point to the base line and Will set a brush screen on the bottom defender of their 3-2 defense. Chidi drove to the basket and needed to go strong, but he anticipated contact and missed. They secured the rebound and scored and we lost our heads. Bryson forced two drives against the zone. Then Adrien threw up a runner that missed badly and led to a long rebound and break and they tied the score. Will hit our last point from the free throw line but missed the second. They missed and Devin got a clutch rebound. After being out of alignment on offense Coach G called time out and put us in our stall offense since we were ahead and in the bonus. The instructions in the huddle were no shots and free throws only. But when we inbounded the ball, Justin decided to shoot a contested layup, which was blocked and then he kicked the ball out of bounds. If I was his teammate I would have gotten in his face for not listening to the coach and letting his team down, but our guys let him slide. Little Village came down and their star guard hit another shot, and we turned the ball over and fouled, and they hit one free throw to finish the scoring.

We are two games up with two to play. But both games are on the road and we need to bond together and stop being immature and petty. Chidi had a bad game today and didn't show any leadership qualities when the team needed him. He loses his head at times because he wants to succeed so badly and forgets his strengths as a player and teammate. We are playing at a Park District gym Friday and it's Hope's senior night so we better toughen up and play to execute, because if we don't, we will struggle, Ellington or no Ellington.


January 23 

Blue Central Conference game vs Hope @ Sherwood Park, 5700 South Shields, Chicago
Hope 53, Jones 45
Jones 14-5, 6-2 in the Blue Central


Today's game identified the uniqueness and hardships of the Chicago Public League. We played a varsity game at a park district gym with substandard lighting and slippery non-swept floors. A second referee was late for the game and therefore we couldn't play the sophomore game following the varsity game because the gym was ️double-booked. The time keeper and Hope scorer were belligerent to our scorer. And during the game we had two significant injuries, in which I became our trainer and left the bench to treat our hurt players. We are the only league statewide that doesn't have trainers onsite. It is a travesty that CPL players of all sports do not have trainers at their events unless an individual school hires one out.

Ellington fell on his tailbone early in the second quarter trying to block a shot and I escorted him to an area in the front part of the building where I could get him some ice. He didn't play the rest of the game, but I got him back to the bench, which in fact was the last row of the bleachers. Just when I sat down to try to assist Coach G, Chidi stepped on a player's foot, and heard a pop on the inside of his left ankle, an eversion sprain. This is usually more serious than the common inversion sprain, in which the outside ligaments are damaged. He was in a lot of pain and we barely got him off the court. We got some ice packs and iced him until the game was over. The people at Sherwood and the police couldn't have been more helpful, and we are definitely appreciative of their professionalism.

Since our two best players went down, Coach didn't expect much and according to him, that's what he got. Hope had a nine point lead in the second half after leading 30-25 at halftime but we cut to two late in the fourth quarter before letting a shooter hit open three. We then allowed an offensive rebound and basket on the next possession to seal the win for Hope, a team we beat easily two weeks ago.

The problems are many but the team has lost what confidence they had. The areas that they excelled in, man-to-man defense and a trapping 3/4 court press, have become ineffective because of a lack of effort. There's no recovery and help, poor drops, non-communication and no understanding of weak side defense on the zone trap. And we have been playing this defense in practice since the summer.

On offense we are lost. No one is in the right spot in the simplest of man offenses, which led to ineffective dribbling and poor, contested shots. It reflects on the coaching staff because it looks like they have been taught nothing. So now we only have a one game lead in conference play with two games to go, and we have to play Richards instead of winning by forfeit when they didn't show up to our gym in December. Ellington should be ok, but Chidi is doubtful for Wednesday. I talked to him and he hasn't put any weight on his ankle yet. If our other players don't start to execute and listen to how they can make the best use of their talents, we will have a tough time winning. And we beat our next opponent Bronzeville, by 20 a couple of weeks ago. But in high school basketball, two weeks is a long time. Change comes quickly.


January 27

If we win Wednesday we are conference champions. We had an intense practice Monday after the coaches aired out the players for their lack of competitiveness and concentration on the court. A couple of frosh were talking when I was talking and no upperclassman stopped them, so I had to. That exemplifies our lack of leadership. When something is wrong no player wants to call out another. The coaches have to be the bad guys and we wish that our players would take charge when they are needed, but this group is just too nice and won't do it.

Today we scrimmaged and went over our zone offense because our next opponent plays predominantly a 2-3. Chidi's ankle injury is bad enough that he won't play tomorrow. Ellington didn't show up a practice today because of a academic commitment, but he practiced Monday it looks like he'll play although his back is a little stiff. He has let down his teammates before but this is the most important game for him and the seniors in their high school careers, so I expect some selflessness. It would be a welcome change from him.


January 28   

Conference game @ Bronzeville
Jones 48, Bronzeville 33
Leading scorers: Devin 13, Will 9 
Record 15-5, 7-2 in Blue Central, Conference Champions


This game was more a relief when it was over than the joy of winning the conference. We felt good for the seniors because it's the first time in their high school careers that they've won anything. There was no cheering after the game. It seemed like it was a big weight off the team's shoulders that we finally clinched.

The game was a grind. We have not been playing well and Bronzeville is in last place and the game was tied 3-3 halfway through the first quarter. One of their best players was playing hurt so it was obvious to the coaches that they would have a tough time scoring, and our man-to-man defense started breaking them down and we got a lot of breakouts and layups. The score was 28-9 with three minutes to go in the half and we were ready to break the game open. Then inexplicably we started shooting threes and taking shots without passing once, almost like they thought the game was over. So because of that Bronzeville outscored us 11-1 to end the half and we were only up nine.

I talked first in the locker room and the first sentence that came out of mouth was "Have you guys lost your mind?!" We are a layup and free throw team and we were jacking jumpers with zero passing. Then Coach G stepped in and echoed what I said, along with reminding them that what at stake was the conference championship and how poorly we have been playing.

We held Bronzeville to 12 points in the second half while scoring enough not to panic, which we did late in the Little Village game. Devin had one of his best scoring games, Will provided energy and breakaway layup speed, and Ellington controlled the boards. It's a nice accomplishment and for our effort we will move up to the White division next season.

Our goal now as coaches is to get the team playing with the intensity and execution that they played with in December, and to relax and enjoy the rest of the season before we enter the state playoffs.


NEXT WEEK - Part 7: The First Weeks of February

Chicago Youth Sports: A Culture Gone Rotten

When I first moved to Chicago in the fall of 2002, I heard whispers regarding the existence of rampant cheating within the high school programs and youth leagues of Chicago. I found it all really hard to believe until I started to experience it first-hand in the spring of 2003, my first season as a varsity high school baseball coach in Chicago. I remember not only how shocked I was that cheating actually occurred, but to the degree it was happening and the overt way it was practiced. 

I have witnessed cheating of all types – student-athletes competing for neighborhood schools without living in the neighborhood, student-athletes gaining admission to selective enrollment schools with rigorous academic requirements that non-athletes could not gain admission to, and teams dressing players for games that were not enrolled as students or who had already graduated. For years, I have been a part of games with questionable umpiring. I’m not referring to a few bad calls, as those are a part of the game, but rather I’m speaking of a consistent pattern of poor officiating that has been documented multiple times by a variety of coaches.  Examples include players being called out on strikes on strike two – not on strike three, the doctoring of scorebooks which resulted in the opponent’s best players mysteriously leading off innings when the game was on the line, balls consistently bouncing into home plate – but called strikes, sudden shrinking and/or expanding of strike zones, and the movement of foul-line cones which lengthened the field of play. I have seen kids being purposely thrown at with no consequences from umpires. I have seen coaches report false scores from games that never happened to local and state officials to increase win totals. And for years, coaches in Chicago have been getting away with it. No consequences, no investigations, nobody blowing the whistle.

Fast forward to the recent scandal involving Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Little League Team (JR West). I remember thinking back in August that JR West winning was the worst thing that could happen to them, because Little League would be forced to investigate. As we all know, winning inherently lends itself to added scrutiny. What the coaches and parents of JR West failed to realize is that winning at the national level, as opposed to the local level, forces a heightened level of accountability people from Chicago just aren't accustomed to. Yet, because cheating is so ingrained in the culture of Chicago youth sports, in large part because coaches have been able to get away with it for so long, the coaches and parents who decided to enter Little League despite the rules probably felt they wouldn’t be challenged.

People will try to spin this in every way imaginable, but there is no getting around the facts.  And this is not the first time Little League has stripped a team of its title, so to suggest this program was targeted is a challenging argument to make. As accusations of injustice are being frivolously thrown around by local leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Father Pfleger, I can’t help but think the only injustice that occurred in this situation involved the kids from the neighborhood who couldn’t compete for the Jackie Robinson West Little League Team because their roster spots were taken by kids from outside the neighborhood. 

I can only hope that the exposure of this unfortunate situation involving JR West will lead to Chicago’s high school and youth league coaches, as well as parents and administrators, to self-reflect and clean up their act. If the primary purpose of sports is to teach life lessons, we are failing miserably here in Chicago.

Keeping Up with the Joneses: Part 5 - New Year, New Team?

January 5  

We had a decent practice that focused on spacing in our half court offense. Coach G put tape on the floor to make players cut to the right spots and we had more room  without getting double teamed or bumped. I put in a new continuity set based on spacing and simple cuts similar to what pro teams run. The players seemed to get it quickly and we will review it in practice tomorrow to see if we can use it in the game Wednesday. We also worked on free throws and ran sprints and suicides on misses; surprisingly we shot them better. We also worked on skip passing and screening against zones, so we covered a lot in an hour and a half. Very productive day. 


January 7

The Chicago Public Schools are closed due to frigid weather, so we did not have practice today and will not have one tomorrow. I didn't go to practice Tuesday because I had a baseball meeting (I'm the varsity baseball coach), but Coach G said the practice was so bad he ended it early. They forgot the skip zone offense they learned on Monday and he got so frustrated with the team's lack of basketball smarts that he kicked them out of the gym.

I watch a lot of basketball, both college and pro, to see how they run their offenses, defenses, OB plays, and specials to see if we can use anything. I watched the Bulls get clobbered tonight by Utah, a bad team, but every NBA team has good players and once in awhile bad teams beat good teams. The most disturbing vision was watching the latest version of Derrick Rose. He's a enigma and his play should piss his teammates off, because it looks like he's not giving it his all. Tuesday we practiced like Derrick Rose has been playing according to G, and that's unacceptable. Home game on Friday. We'll see how we play with limited practice time this week.


January 9

Blue Central Conference game @ Jones; Jones 73, Bronzeville 57
Leading scorers: Adrien 17, Bryson 14 
Record 11-3, 4-0 in Blue Central


The game started out poorly. We looked lethargic from lack of serious practice time and Bronzeville went out to a 10-0 lead. Coach then switched to a 3/4 court trap and we scored 15 straight and then cruised, leading by as many as 27 points at one point. Adrien played great, distributed the ball well, got several offensive rebounds, and shot well after a slow start. More importantly he got into our offensive sets and showed signs of being a coach on the floor. Considering our offensive trouble, this was a welcome development. Bryson took better shots and made them when the score was close. We have a makeup game Monday from last Wednesday and no practice time because our gym is being used. This might be a problem getting off to a good start in the game, again.


 January 12

Blue Central Conference game vs Hope @ Jones
Jones 54, Hope 37
Leading scorer: Chidi 16
Record 12-3, 5-0 in the Blue Central


Predictably we played our worst game of the year, as the lack of practice hurt our man-to-man defense and offense. We couldn't execute properly or get in the right spots. We played with no passion or enjoyment. Players were pouting for being taken out of the game because of a lack of concentration or hustle. And Hope's point guard went through our defense like we were standing still, which we were. Collectively we were reaching, not staying in front of him by moving our feet, playing him too tight.

We had to switch to a zone trap and half-court zone to stop him from setting up his teammates and try to keep the ball out of his hands once he passed. We started getting steals because the other players couldn't handle the ball and made poor passing decisions. We finally strung together some layups and had an eight point lead at the half. In the second half we slowly extended our lead, but not because we were playing better. Hope struggled to score and we were able to get some offensive rebounds and put-backs. Chidi was 8-8 in free throws, Ellington played a good all around game, and Gabe hit 5 quick points to help open up the offense because they had to go out and challenge his jump shot. Glad the game is over. We finished the first half of conference play with a 5-0 record, but we play every game in the second half on the road due to scheduling quirks and court availability. If we keep playing without an urgency to improve or compete we are in trouble.


January 13 

We had a decent practice today and had fun. We had a brief meeting after warmups emphasizing the need to enjoy the game and be men. We played a sport today without making it look like work. Bodes well for tomorrow.


NEXT WEEK: Part 6 - Continuing Conference Play

Keeping Up with the Joneses - Part 4: The Dog Days of December

December 8

We are preparing for the first Blue Central conference game against Richards at our gym. The practice went very well and everybody was sharing the basketball and competing hard. The reserves started to get the picture and a lot of the unnecessary dribbling was stopped. Our offensive efficiency was much better; we even hit some threes. We worked against a zone because Richards plays a lot of 2-3. After working on breaking their diamond press, we finished with the practice shooting free throws. 


December 9

Terrible practice.

High school players' performances are so hard to predict. You never know the cause of how they can instantly lose concentration and play so poorly. It could be stuff that's happening at home, girlfriend trouble, struggles in the classroom, or lack of self confidence. Whatever it was today, we stunk up our gym. Coach G kicked them out of the gym after they were screwing around during free throw shooting. This doesn't bode well for tomorrow. 


December 10 

Blue Central Conference Game @ Jones: Jones 68, Manley 56;
Leading scorers: Chidi 16 Ellington 15.
Conference record 1-0

We were supposed to play Richards and Manley showed up. A glitch in scheduling. But Manley played tough. The story of this game was we played like we practiced Tuesday and also shot free throws horrendously. Chidi was 4-11, Ellington 2-6, Devin 1-4, Bryson 1-3, etc. Justin, Will and the rest of the bench were so bad that only Justin played in the second half and that's because Bryson got cut over the right eye and couldn't stop the bleeding.

We won because Ellington dominated play in the second half. He got almost every important rebound, handled the ball, broke the press by himself to set up his teammates for layups, and finished shots at the rim for a season high 15 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 8 steals, and 2 blocks. The defense held up though we were not defending middle screen/roll correctly and they burned us repeatedly on that play. We can thank Ellington for that win and clean up our mistakes in practice tomorrow.


December 11 

Ellington and Adrien have the flu. No practice other than a shootaround today. Hopefully they'll be able to go for our game tomorrow against Solorio.


December 12  

Blue Central conference game @ Jones: Jones 40, Solorio 38
Leading scorers: Gabe and Chidi 9, Justin and Will 8
Conference record 2-0

This game demonstrated this team's character and determination. We were short handed because Ellington and Adrien were still sick with the flu. Justin and Will started and performed well, especially defensively, after showing a different level of concentration. Chidi played to exhaustion and Devin battled on the boards against bigger and wider players. It seemed they were playing for their sick teammates and they kept fighting despite being out-manned.

The game was very physical. Nothing was being called. Over the back fouls on rebounds were ignored, traveling and mid-court violations were missed, and shooting fouls were neglected. That favored Solorio.

They were a bunch of wide bodies that played football in the fall and they climbed our guys' backs on offensive rebounds. The reason we were in the game was our basketball skills were better and they couldn't guard us in their man defense. However, they switched to 3-2 zone and that gave us problems. 

We were up by 4 at halftime, but we started forcing jump shots against that zone and they got some open court opportunities. We missed some free throws, a recurring theme, and they were killing us on the boards. Our players were starting to tire, and Solorio built a five-point lead with a little over two minutes to go.

We needed offense and Coach G asked me who to bring in. I said Gabe because Justin was looking tired and Gabe is our best practice shooter and he was fresh. I told Gabe it was his time and he proceeded to go in and hit a free throw line jumper to put us within three and then hit a three-pointer after a steal to tie the game. After a defensive stop and a rebound, Gabe got fouled and hit two free throws to put us ahead.

We exchanged some free throws and had a chance to ice the game with seven seconds left, but Will missed the second of two free throws and Solorio called time to set up one last play. We told our players to keep the dribblers in front of them and not foul, but being caught up in the end of the game moment like high school kids do, Will fouled a dribbler with 4.5 seconds left. The player made the first and missed the second, but we lost the ball out of bounds. Solorio had one last chance and got the ball in but missed the hoop badly. 

It was a good team win. I'm especially happy for Gabe, who is a fantastic hardworking kid and teammate and is supportive of everyone on the team. This was the best game of his career and hopefully he can build on this performance. And Justin played great, playing good man up defense, getting steals, and competing for rebounds. He also effectively initiated the offense by passing with two hands, something he had not been doing, resulting in multiple turnovers in recent games. He played with a passion that he hadn't shown in previous games. This team gave everything it had today and through effort and a winning attitude willed themselves to win. They have the weekend off and hopefully everyone will be healthy at our next practice.


December 15 

Everyone was at practice but Chidi, who had a severe asthma attack and will be out for the week. Ellington and Adrien were back and practice was okay.

We did a lot of full court drills and worked on conditioning, then went through our man to man offensive sets, shot free throws, and ended practice with running. A lot of players are sick so Coach G wanted to keep practice short. Very smart. Hopefully Chidi is feeling better. 


December 16

Coach J was sick with the flu so we had the sophomores practice with us for about 45 minutes. We ran punishment sprints to start practice because several kids were slow getting to the court from the locker room.

In the full court drills that followed, the varsity guys didn't want to be embarrassed by the younger kids so they dominated them, but with a little more effort than they usually need against the varsity reserves. That little added conditioning will help going into tomorrow's game because it's a regulation court. 

We worked against zone defenses because in the past this team always plays a variety of zones. We shot free throws since several kids are still not feeling 100%, but their concentration was not there. Coach G saw that and lit into them. I stayed around after practice was over and helped five or six players with their shooting and post moves. Everyone stayed and got extra work in. Very gratifying.


December 17 

Blue Central conference game @ Jones: Jones 63, Little Village 50
Jones 8-0, 3-0 in the Blue Central
Leading scorers: Gabe 13, Ellington 12


Coach G said after the game "you played like you practiced." He has been very unhappy with the effort in practice because the players looked satisfied. No hunger to get better.

It showed in the game today. Coach as usual was right in the mark. Little Village took it to us from the tip off and we were down five points quickly. We started in a man defense, but we didn't deny the first pass, stop penetration by the guards,  call out screens, or get back on defense. All of these breakdowns led to easy shots and baskets.

Coach called a timeout and lit into the players on how little hustle we were showing. Plus we were over-dribbling and not attacking their diamond press with diagonal passes, which led to some turnovers. We corrected that and also started getting the ball to the middle against their half court zone which got us some layups from Ellington and Devin.

We went ahead, but we could not stop their drives and the game remained close into the second quarter. During a dead ball, Coach changed to a 1-3-1 zone and brought in Gabe to give us a spark on offense. Both moves worked. The defense made Little Village shoot from distance and gave us chances in open court. Gabe hit nine quick points: a three-pointer, some jumpers, and a layup. He also had an assist and did a good job with Ellington rebounding and we took a 10 point lead to half time.
 
The second half was sloppy. We scored the first five points of the third quarter and then got rattled by their traps and physical play. Bryson, Adrien, and Ellington drew blood and Ellington hurt his calf. The game stayed even the rest of the way as both teams turned the ball over a lot and shot the ball poorly.

We missed Chidi's intensity on the defensive end and his finishing ability at the basket. Gabe and Ellington were outstanding but the rest of the team performed miserably. Our worst game of the year, and if we play like that tomorrow against a good non-conference opponent we will get blown out.


December 19 

Non conference game @ UHigh Chicago; UHigh 63, Jones 41
Leading scorers: Adrien 10, Gabe 7
Jones 8-1


Coach G's words kept ringing in my ears, "you played like you practiced." And it definitely was proven in this game. We played a team that was big, disciplined, and executed their system.

We had no chance.

Again we missed Chidi, who really is the glue of our team because he brings intensity and hustle at every game and practice. UHigh took us out of every offense we tried to run and beat us down the floor for easy shots.  When they missed, they got their own rebounds and scored. It was 10-2 after the first quarter and our basket was on a broken play.

We didn't cut, we didn't screen, we didn't pass and we DID dribble too much. We got flustered with the refs, with the other team, and with each other. We showed no poise or competitiveness. We looked scared. My question in my head was, "Why be scared? It's sports, PLAY!!"

We made a brief run in the second quarter after substitutions due to foul trouble or poor play. Vic came in for Devin and was very active on offense, while Gabe and Adrien worked the ball to open shooters. However we weren't running any offense. One time down the floor we asked them what offense they called and they said nobody made a call. It's easy to guard a team when one guy dribbles and the other four don't move.

Anyway, we cut their lead to six on some broken plays. UHigh was doubling the post and the point guard on screen/roll and we didn't know how to counter that, even though they were told in timeouts. This team has a tough time taking coaching points from the bench to the court. It is a recipe for poor play. So after our mini-run, UHigh outscored us 17-3 to finish the half. We totally collapsed to their pressure and lost what little cool we had. Justin got a technical, Will reverted to losing his man and throwing the ball away, Ellington went back to last year's version of himself and got in foul trouble and was distracted by the refs. As a team we switched without calling screens which led to two defenders on the ball handler and nobody on the screener. As you can imagine this led to easy scoring opportunities. Game over at half.

At halftime, Coach G told the team that he saw this coming because the team's lack of passion and attention to detail in practice. But the fact that they responded so poorly to competition was mind-boggling. It's obvious that our earlier games did not prepare us for this type of team.

We played better in the second half because we competed, plus UHigh played more zone and we got some open looks. Adrien found some gaps and hit some drives and Gabe had seven points and three shot blocks in the 3rd quarter. Bryson hit a couple of threes and we cut the lead to 14 before Coach emptied the bench with 2 minutes to go. We didn't score again.
 
We have a shoot around tomorrow and then the weekend off. Maybe they'll start listening to the staff again. Back to teaching the fundamentals of playing soundly and smart. Hopefully they felt some embarrassment and will pay attention.


December 23  

Practice was typical of a pre-holiday, post winter vacation effort. Sloppy and distracted. We don't have a game for three days, so the attention span of the team was limited.

The constructive part that they seemed interested in was walking through our Friday opponent's tendencies. We got clobbered by over 30 points last year to this team, so Coach G made it clear that we should not want to be their whipping boy. We have enough competitors on the team that they feel that, too. Plus a lot of them were embarrassed by the UHigh game and want to show themselves that the game was a fluke. The UHigh game magnified our weaknesses; poor rebounding due to lack of height, awful free throw shooting, over dribbling and questionable shot selection, switching without calling out screens, and turnovers from not running our offense.

The next team is similarly big, but not as quick so we can succeed if we are patient, make better decisions, and put hard defensive pressure on them. Chidi is back so that will help. He looked good in practice and keys our defense so that will be a positive. Let's see how much we have improved since that beating we took last year. Hope they took it personal. Happy holidays!!


December 26 and 27

Luther North Tournament Game 1: Jones 68, Taft 59
Leading scorers: Ellington 25, Chidi 16
Game 2: Von Steuben 53, Jones 43
Leading scorers: Ellington 16, Chidi 14
Record 9-2


The Taft game was chippy. They have not won a game and seemed determined to do whatever it took to bully their way to win. They had a player ejected and we shot 42 free throws. Their coach was imploring the refs to make more calls against us, but when teams play physical and dirty you get what you deserve. The game would have been more one-sided if we could have hit more than 22 free throws.

Ellington played a great game. Besides 25 points, he had 15 rebounds and broke their press by splitting their traps and hitting open guys for layups.

As a team we struggled against their man offense because we didn't talk on switches and we got burned on high screens early in the game. When we went briefly to a 1-3-1 zone, our bottom coverage was late and we got beat quickly so we went back to man and started getting steals and stops. Chidi was all over the court and got in some passing lane steals to start the second half to give us a lead which we never gave up. Nice win because they beat us by 30 points last year.

In Game 2, we were leading by two at halftime and seven midway through the 3rd before Ellington picked up his 4th foul. We had trouble getting into any offense after that and though we still led by four after three quarters, Von Steuben sensed we were short handed and tired to attach us by trapping in the front court. Plus they were much bigger and without Ellington they got a lot of offensive rebounds which led to scores. When Ellington got back in the game we were losing and he never got back into sync before fouling out.

Chidi had a recurrence of his asthma and was gassed. Will and Justin were not there for help and the bench provided zero points. We shot 7-14 from the free-throw line and missed easy shots by not being strong with the ball. We still don't believe we're a good team, but we are. We shoot lousy free throws, no matter how many we shoot in practice. It's very frustrating.


December 29 and 30

Luther North Tournament Game 3: Jones 67, Fenton 56
Leading scorers: 3 players in double figures
Game 4: Bremen 60, Jones 51
Leading scorers: Ellington and Chidi 14 apiece
6th place finish, 10-3 record overall


Both games mirrored each other except we lost the second game because we couldn't come back.

In game 3, Fenton scored 38 in the first half and seemed to hit every shot. Some of their offense was good execution, but most of it was due to our lack of intensity and effort. We were down only three at the half because we finally hit some shots, mostly off steals and broken plays.

We cannot run an effective half court offense. We panic under any type of pressure and make poor cuts when being bodied rather than competing and trying to execute what is called by Coach G. In the second half we clamped down on their offense through better ball pressure, talking on screens, and taking away their pet plays. We held Fenton to 18 points in the second half and got a lot of layups as we wore them down.

In game 4, Bremen had a point guard that controlled play and was the key presence in the game, especially in the first half when they stepped out to a 13 point lead. Again we held them to 23 in the second half, but the lack of passion and execution hurt us and we could never get closer than seven points.

The positive of this game was Adrien took on the challenge of covering the point guard and controlled him. He is showing signs of taking a leadership role on the team, which is sorely needed. We have to improve our offensive execution, free throw shooting, and rebounding. All doable. But what is more urgent is rest for the players, and they will get five days off until the next practice. Happy New Year!


NEXT WEEK - Part 5: New Year, New Team?

 

Travel Teams

A few months ago, a highly experienced 7th grade basketball coach reached out to me in frustration, asking for advice on how to deal with players leaving early from his November school-sponsored basketball practices to attend travel baseball practice. I certainly share his frustration, as school-sponsored programs are now taking a back seat to “pay to play” travel programs that offer year round training at young ages for anyone with a heartbeat and a checkbook. A few years ago, I wrote a four part series regarding my concerns with travel baseball. I feel compelled to write more, as I’m worried it is only getting worse.

The strong correlation between youth sports injuries and overuse are well documented. Overuse can occur in season – too many games in too short of time span without proper rest – or it can manifest itself in terms of year-round training. Dr. James Andrews, perhaps the nation’s leading expert in youth sports injuries, uses the term "professionalism" when referencing the recent trend towards treating youth athletes like seasoned veterans.  “Professionalism is taking these kids at a young age and trying to work them as if they are pro athletes, in terms of training and year-round activity," says Dr. Andrews. “Some can do it, like Tiger Woods. He was treated like a professional golfer when he was 4, 5, 6 years old. But you've got to realize that Tiger Woods is a special case. A lot of these kids don't have the ability to withstand that type of training and that type of parental/coach pressure. Now parents are hiring ex-pro baseball players as hitting and pitching instructors when their kid is 12. They're thinking, 'What's more is better,' and they're ending up getting the kids hurt.”

It is now understood among medical professionals that many sports injuries that occur later in an athlete’s career were actually caused by years of overuse at a much younger age.  Like a ticking time bomb hiding in the body, consistent overuse drastically weakens the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the body, just waiting for the right moment of pressure to finally explode. Former MLB pitcher Tommy John, about whom the famous surgical procedure is named after, has recently engaged on a speaking tour to warn sports parents who have the foresight to listen.  “Throwing pitches in the big leagues will not hurt your arm,” says John. “It's what you did down the road when you were younger. ... In essence, the injury itself is a buildup of overuse. And not overuse as an adult, but overuse as a kid. What I would like to see these guys do, these surgeons and all, is ask all the guys who have had the surgery -- 'How much did you pitch as a kid and how often, and did you pitch year-round?' And nowadays, probably 70 to 80 percent of the pitchers today have been pitching 12 months a year since they were seven, eight, or nine years old. And your arm is not made for that."

Despite the overwhelming medical research against these training practices, travel programs continue to jeopardize the health and safety of their athletes by subjecting their participants to year-round practices and over scheduling of games during the season. It has reached a point where I can no longer feel sorry for athletes who blow out their elbows and shoulders. It’s no different than any other misguided practices – cigarette smokers have an increased chance of acquiring lung cancer, just as travel baseball players have an increased chance of blowing out their arms. In both cases, the public has been more than adequately informed about the risks involved. It’s now in the hands of the people themselves to attack the source of the problem by making better decisions to reduce their risk. 

While I have been warning parents about this for years, I am no longer going to concern myself with discussing the physical risks of overuse. After all, doctors are much more qualified than I am in this area. However, what I do want to focus on instead are the other damages travel programs can cause when preparing young athletes for high school competition, which is still the ultimate proving ground for youth sports success.

  1. Travel programs are feeding into the entitlement and narcissistic culture that is prevalent in current young athletes: Simply stated, high school programs just can’t compete with travel programs in terms of what we can offer. In short, we don’t have the budgets for multiple sets of uniforms, several different hats, fancy warm-ups, cool websites with highly detailed statistics, and weekend tournaments on well-manicured fields. High school programs treat their athletes in an age appropriate manner – as amateur teenage athletes, not professionals. Having multiple uniforms and warm-ups with names names on the back simply has no place at the high school level or below. If I see another 12 year old in a special Fourth of July camouflage uniform with wrist bands, compressions sleeves, eye black, and Oakley Sunglasses on the top of their hat I think I’m going to puke. This is not what youth sports are about. Unfortunately, every year we get a huge crop of incoming freshman who have a difficult time appreciating the simplicity of what a high school team can offer – hard work through internal and external competition, working together for the good of the group, and simply playing for the love of the game.   
     

  2. Playing time is earned, not paid for, at the school-sponsored level: In the world of travel athletics, parents simply shop around their son or daughter to the team that will maximize their playing time. This mentality does not translate well for many athletes entering high school, who have little experience with sitting the bench, fighting for playing time, or understanding how to persevere when they do not like the coach. This does not help facilitate the grit and resiliency that recent research suggests is most critical to success.
     

  3. School-sponsored athletics is not business, but rather a program that puts the needs of the athletes and the team above all else: The goal of travel athletics is quite simple – to be profitable. While the interests of the athletes is a priority, quite frequently this takes a back seat to the organization and the coaching staff’s need to financially get what they want out of the deal. In order maintain cash flow, many youth athletes are coddled by their travel coaches, or told what they want to hear, to ensure repeat business. Unfortunately, we see too many freshmen experiencing difficulty dealing with constructive criticism or various other types of pressure applied to them from their coach once they reach the high school level.   
     

  4. School-sponsored teams practice: Many travel programs just play games and tournaments without allowing much time for practice. At the high school level, practice is a huge component to the process that builds work ethic and mental and physical toughness, in addition to determining playing time. As high school coaches, we expect our athletes to compete as hard in practice as they do in games. I’m also concerned that athletes are not maximizing their development by having limited time to practice skills in a different environment. Of course travel programs do offer additional practice time – private or group lessons with their instructors – that parents also have to pay for.

I am more than aware that the days of house league play are over, just as the days when we all played pick-up from dusk to dawn, when leadership was developed on the playground, and when playing a few organized games a week did not dominate our summer (or our parents' schedules).  

We were all coached by parents, some more knowledgeable than others, but at the end of the day, we all had fun. The ‘crazy’ parents who screamed about playing time, the umpiring, or general coaching decisions were the exception, not the norm. I look back at those days fondly, and I feel badly for these kids who will never experience that.  

I do believe that it is only a matter of time where we will see an end to this current travel sports culture and a return to a more simplistic approach to youth sports as described above. Until then, all we can do now as consumers is to hold our travel programs to a different standard, one that maintains proper perspective, ensures the health and safety of its participants, and promotes positive social and emotional growth.

Keeping Up with the Joneses - Part 3: Let the Games Begin!

November 24

Game 1 - North Side College Prep Tournament @ Jones
Jones 61, Chicago Academy 29
Leading scorers: Ellington, Devin, Will and Chidi all with 10 points


The score looks like we played well, but we shot the ball poorly (0-9 from the 3 point line) and missed a lot of layups. In our man defense we trapped all over the court. The problem was we hadn't practiced trapping with that defense, only with our presses, and a more experienced team would have made us pay for the mistakes we were making. We were leaving the basket unprotected with indiscriminate forays to trap. Adrien looked lost in his first varsity game. He started shooting runners a la Derrick Rose, and he had never done that in practice. Plus he looked rattled trying to run our offense at the point. We did show excellent intensity defensively and shared the ball, and the reserves got a lot of playing time. Coach G was upset with our offensive execution and random trapping. He expects a much better game from the team tomorrow. 


November 25

Game 2 – North Side College Prep Tournament @ Jones
Jones 66, Sullivan 35
Leading scorers: Chidi 16, Bryson 16, Ellington 8

We did play better, in the second half. Our defense shut Sullivan down in the third quarter by playing sound fundamentally with tenacity. In the first half we missed uncontested layups again and our shot selection was poor in the half court sets. We finally hit two 3-pointers (both by Bryson) but we were 2-9 for the game. That's 2-18 for two games against weaker competition. We've hit over 60% of our 2-point shots. Being around Coach G a long time, I know that he'll emphasize shooting 2's in practice tomorrow. Adrien looked lost again and was benched for awhile so he could see what we were doing with our offenses. He shot and missed those runners again. Ugh! He was better defensively in the second half and we could tell he was getting more comfortable with his team. We will need his leadership. 


November 26

The staff talked and worked with the team on trapping off the man-to-man, especially from under the basket, reviewed our presses and worked on improving shot selection and understanding what was a good shot for every player. We stopped practice at times to stress the importance of good shots. We ran through the out of bounds plays and shot free throws (We shot below 50% in the first two games - Double Ugh!) and ended practice. Coach G is going to give these guys a day off tomorrow because of playing consecutive days and a tough practice, so we will see them Friday to prepare for Payton.


November 28

Payton plays a slowdown game so we worked on trying to intensify our defense, starting with ball pressure on the point guard by Adrien. Payton's point guard is their best player, so if we can wear him down we can be successful. Adrien practiced well so he could be ready for his breakout game. 


November 29

Game 3 - North Side College Prep Tournament @ NSCP
Jones 54, Payton 35
Leading scorers: Chidi 14, Will 10

Our defense dominated this game. Adrien had his breakout defensive game. He frustrated Payton's point guard with his quickness and relentless play and the kid fouled out in the middle of the third quarter. Ellington was everywhere defensively and led the team in steals and rebounds. Chidi played hard as usual and finished well at the rim for layups. When we are going well we share the ball without using the dribble much in the half court. Coaches love that. Plus Adrien showed that he is an excellent open court passer which led to easy scores. Every team needs that but especially this team since we shoot 3's so poorly (just 4-27 in three games). It was a nice win because we played better, especially after half time, which has been a positive trend in our first three games.


December 1

We reviewed the Payton game during practice, focusing on what we did well and what we needed to work on. We did a lot of shooting, including mid-range 2's, 3-pointers, and free throws. We have not shot well so it's something we'll continue to try to improve. Poor free throwing is especially bothersome because it will hurt us in close games. It is tough to make kids realize how important making free throws are because to them it's not the glamorous part of basketball, but it is so essential to the success of a team. We preach having a routine at the line, being balanced, and relaxed concentration on the target with follow through, but we've been abysmal since last season. We have to stick with it. Maybe they'll get it one day. We also worked on press and press breaks. The next team we play does a lot of pressing. 


December 3

Game 4 – North Side College Prep Tournament @ Jones
Jones 67, Steinmetz 63
Leading scorers: Chidi 16, Devin and Adrien 15, Bryson 12

Interesting game, definitely competitive. We had our usual sluggish first half with Devin being the only player that produced any offense with some tough shots made in traffic. Steinmetz made us pay for our lackadaisical play with aggressive full-court defense and a hot shooter that our defense couldn't seem to find. We talked at half time about identifying the shooter and executing the press break and offense because we had too many turnovers that they turned into points.

At the start of the third quarter, we continued to make mistakes and went down by seven points. But we finally started to execute and compete, which led to a 9-0 run and put us in the lead. Adrien was the key. He hit 3's, he was fearless driving to the basket, and he hit his free throws. He also played great defense on the ball, which led to layups by Chidi and Bryson. Bryson also hit a couple of key 3's which helped give us an 11-point lead with less than a minute to go.

Coach G thought it was time to let the reserves play, but Steinmetz still had their regulars in and scored 7 points in 20 seconds due to turnovers and fouls so G had to put our starters back in to finish the game. The reserves that thought they should be playing got a rude awakening of how good they are. We are on to the championship at North Side Saturday against the host team. Definitely a challenge but everyone is looking forward to it.


December 5  

We had our best practice of the year. The starters Bryson, Ellington, Devin, Chidi, and Adrien dominated play. Justin was also excellent defensively when he played with the first team. The passing was sharp and crisp and everyone was involved in the offense. The help on defense was a joy to watch, as it led to stops, blocks, and steals. Coach G was pleased with our progress. I felt bad for the reserves, but a lot of them haven't put the time in to improve and we definitely saw that today. We are ready for the championship game!


December 6  

Game 5 - North Side College Prep Championship Game @ NSCP
Jones 52, NSCP 33
Leading scorers: Ellington and Adrien 9, Will and Chidi 8

We dominated this game from the start on the defensive end. Ellington shut down their top scorer until he hurt his ankle in the third quarter and Adrien made their outside shooter work hard for everything. We were up by seven at the half and then turned up the defensive intensity and they didn't score until there was four seconds left in the third quarter. By that time we were up 25 and cruised in the fourth. Our defense created our offense with double digits steals and lots of stops and run outs in the second half. Ellington, Chidi, and Adrien made the All-tournament team. An impressive performance! Kudos to Coach G and the players. On to the conference season!


NEXT WEEK - Part 4: The Dog Days of December

Keeping Up with the Joneses - Part 2: Tryouts and Practices

November 10

Freshmen tryouts and the first official varsity practice were held today. We only have one gym at Jones so we had to put the curtain down to split the court. It was crazy. There were more freshmen trying out this year than in my 15 years at Jones. We moved into a new building in 2013 and the bigger space has translated into 300 more kids at the school this year. Because of the increased enrollment, we had over 70 boys trying out for the freshman team. 

It is easy to make first cuts at Jones. Many of the kids that try out don't play much and are dreamers or basketball fans. Kids that are afraid of the ball, can't catch, or can't shoot a layup are the kids that get cut first. Coach J cut 25 kids after the first half hour. Another 15 were dismissed after doing some full-court drills. Then Coach G wanted me to watch the last half of the tryout to make sure we didn't miss on any players. It's easy to identity good or very good players, but it's only through experience that you can find some diamonds in the rough during tryouts. A trained eye can spot a kid with footwork, shooting potential, or intangibles like knowing where to be on the floor and coachability. Coach J was thorough and didn't miss anyone on the freshman team, so I moved to other court to help with the varsity practice. 

The varsity players were in decent condition. Coach had them warm up with three-man weave, three-man rush, three-man cross, three-man curl, five man weave to 3-on-2, 3-on-3, and 4-on-4. They played at a faster pace then they had in previous years. We always do some scrimmaging and simulated play because it’s fun and it keeps the players enthusiastic. If practice is always work they will eventually lose interest. We then went into a competitive shooting drill with three lines, and the line that hit 20 two-point shots first won and the other two lines had to do 15 push-ups. We switched lines twice so everyone had a chance to shoot from the left, center, and right side of the court. We would expand this drill to include 3's later in the week.

Coach G had the players walk through our presses, which is his specialty, and then we scrimmaged against each press while incorporating our press break. We both love combined offensive/defensive drills. We finished the practice with free throws and then had a selected player shoot two free throws. If he made both, practice was over. If he missed one, the team ran one full-court sprint and if he missed both, the entire team ran a suicide. Luckily for them the third player picked made both of his shots. In the past we've had the whole team fail to make 2 in a row. The team ended up not being very good. Go figure. Maybe this is a good sign. 


November 12 

After warmups we went right into man-to-man defense. In the past we have played a zone defense and we've been too passive. Our rebounding has been poor because we don't have block out responsibilities. We haven't gotten steals and therefore our offense suffers. We decided as a staff to play hard man-to-man starting with tough denial in the front court and really being physical in the post area. The players really responded to the man-to-man, but they soon realized that they weren't in as good a shape as they thought they were (which of course the coaches knew all along). They were gasping after these intense half-court drills, after which Coach G made them scrimmage full court. By the end they were exhausted, but it was a promising defensive practice. Tomorrow we put in our offense, which is review for most of the players.  


November 13

After our warm-ups, which are the same every day as described on November 10, the coaches had the players stand on the baseline and told them what offenses we were going to use for this team. Coach had the starters come on to the court and we walked through two offenses, “five” and “stack”. “Five” is the old Ray Meyer/DePaul two-guard front offense with L cuts to the wing, flash cuts to the free throw line and dive post cuts opposite the ball. Coach also added a UCLA cut by a guard if he passes the ball to the wing. A UCLA cut is cutting off a pick from the high post after a post man flashes to the free throw line extended. We then shadowed “stack”, which starts with two players on each block and the point guard at the top of the key. One player in each stack uses the other player as a screen and V-cuts to the wing or the top of the key to receive the pass. Once the pass is executed the player on the opposite side goes back into the stack and can use another screen or be the screener. There are so many actions we have using “stack”, but we just focused on the basic movements. We then had the remaining players walk through the offenses and then the first team ran the offenses against defense. That went surprisingly well as Bryson and Justin alternated playing with Ellington, Chidi, Devon, and Adrien. There was a definite chemistry among those six. Then the first team switched and played defense. As I said before, combining offense and defense in the same drill is fantastic given our time constraints so we got a lot of positive work done.


November 14

We went over our zone offenses today. I introduced a new offense that I picked up from the Chicago Sky, the women's professional team, after returning from a clinic at UIC. It's a 1-4 flat set where the point guard dribbles to the corner replacing a player who cuts the opposite corner and fills the spot of the player who cuts to the point to receive a pass. The player receiving the pass then gets a screen from the player who was on the opposite block from the ball when the dribble initiated the play. Again we will add options but this is the basic set. The players ran it well. The same could not be said for our other zone offense, which was sloppy. We also ran “five”, which can be used against a 1-3-1 defense, and the players kept forgetting the cuts. Full-court work tomorrow. We'll see how we've progressed.


November 15

Concentration level stunk today. The second group did not challenge the first team at all. We did some good work with the presses, but both the zone and man-to-man offenses were sloppy. The cuts were weak and passing was tentative. Maybe it was because our man-to-man defense was much improved. Both teams were having a tough time getting our offenses started by entering the ball to the wing and the defenses got a lot of steals. We walked through all of our out-of-bounds plays, both baseline and side court, and finished practice shooting free throws. All in all it was a productive week of practice. Next week we'll add more detail and continue to refresh players on the team concepts and fundamentals needed for us to be successful. 
 


November 17

The coaching staff worked the players through all the half-court offensive zone and man-to-man sets and worked on our man-to-man and zone defenses. We also added a guard-to-guard ball screen as part of our man offense. We finished practice with a sideline-to-sideline run on half of the court wise since the girls were practicing on the other half of the gym. It’s tough to only have one gym for a student body of 1,300.


November 18

The girls had a game today so we got to practice full court. Certain players are now starting to shine above others. Ellington is playing with an increased level of concentration while Chidi is contesting every pass on the defensive end. His intensity has seemed to rub off on everyone because we are getting tons of layups from turnovers. Hopefully it will carry over when we start playing games.  


November 19

The team did a lot of shooting, starting with a three-point contest at the beginning of practice. The best three-point shooters by a large margin are Adrien, Bryson and Gabe. At the end of practice the team shot a lot of free throws. Free throw shooting was a definite weakness of the team last year as we shot less than 50% for the season. It is a point of emphasis for the coaching staff to improve that area, because we could lose a lot of games if we don't make them when the game is on the line, just like we did last season. We didn't shoot them especially well today and there was a lot of running during the free throw challenge at the end of practice. We need to do better. The best free throw shooters seem to be Adrien, Gabe, Vic, and Will. We'll see what happens if their technique holds up under game pressure. 


November 21

Full-court warmups, shooting drills, and free throws were on the agenda today. We also worked on our three-quarter and half court presses in preparation for the intrasquad game tomorrow. It should be very interesting in telling the staff if our team is ready for competition. 


November 22

We played four, ten-minute quarters after we warmed up with full-court drills and competitive shooting. In the first quarter, both teams played man defense. For the second quarter, both pressed and dropped into man. Both teams then played zone defense in the third and the staff called out defenses and offenses for the fourth quarter.

Coach Thibs from the Chicago Bulls likes to say “next man up”, but in high school basketball the team won't be nearly as competitive if a starter gets hurt or gets into foul trouble. That is definitely the case with our team. The bench guys in the intrasquad game looked lost and were constantly in the wrong spots on offense and defense, which led to breakdowns and easy scores. As a staff it tells us that they aren't comprehending our systems.

The team is still adjusting to playing relentless and tenacious man defense and allowed our offenses to initiate sets when passes weren't denied hard. Justin especially had trouble grasping the denial concept. Chidi was over aggressive, but we liked that because we can channel his energy and make him a more efficient defender. Adrien showed excellent on-the-ball defensive skills against the point guard. This will make our defense so much better because we will stop penetration in the lane and can more easily deny passes. Ellington played a great all-around game and made his teammates better through his passing, rebounding, and defending. Devin showed a real good touch on his baseline shots and stop moves, while Bryson gunning from all over the court (as usual) and was making his threes and pull-up jumpers.  He even got out on the break to get some easy baskets. Justin turned the ball over too much, but rebounded well and got some steals to go along with some good drives. Gabe and Vic shot well from the outside and Gabe also blocked several shots.

We pressed well but the zone defenses and offenses were sloppy because the players don't like playing zone. Looks like we converted them! The out of bounds plays were average and our free throw shooting was, to be kind, not good. Like we said before, if we don't shoot free throws better it's going to cost us. Coach G passed out the uniforms and he bought pizzas for the team. The team looks close. We will see when we play Monday how close we are. 


NEXT WEEK - Part 3: Let the Games Begin

Keeping Up with the Joneses - Part 1: Preface, Background, Coaches, and Players

After watching features where viewers can follow elite high school teams like Simeon basketball and Providence football, I thought it would be enlightening and informative for those interested in youth and high school basketball to follow an average team in an average conference for an entire season and see how they work together to try to accomplish the goals of their program.

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