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?