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