A Shift to Public Speaking, Part 2

Yesterday we posted that we are moving in a new direction to public speaking. Two questions you might be asking are: "Why?" and "Why hire us?" The answers are interrelated. Though I'm not an ex-president, a hero, a religious cult figure, a sports icon, or a self-promoting windbag, we have a message that we want to share. And we will do it without trying to peddle or hawk a book or publication. Our mission is to promote the concepts and values learned in sports participation and apply them to everyday life, whether it would be in the workplace, home or in athletics. My credentials are 56 years of playing, refereeing, and coaching sports while teaching and being an athletic administrator, including a position as superintendent of recreation for a Chicago suburb. You never see it all but I've seen a lot from many different positions. I will bring that experience to the speaker table.

My speaking style is Direct, No-nonsense and Articulate, always DNA! I will be honest, maybe uncomfortably so, but the truth should be invigorating and enlightening in any environment. My delivery of material could be motivating and/or inspiring to individuals and organizations,l but that's not the intent. Our content, based on lessons learned from our athletic experience, will revolve around our Down to Earth platform, interchangeable for businesses or athletics. E is striving for Excellence, A is Adjusting to achieve positive R Results while being T True to your team, organization, and yourself while being H Honest and Humble in situations where it's easy to brag.

I've seen so many businesses that - to use sports terms - lack teamwork and sportsmanship. Given that there is so much competition in business, I always believed it would be more efficient that people work together to increase productivity rather than to be so cutthroat. Learning how to incorporates these sports concepts and values will help. And since a good portion of the working public have children, maybe they also will listen to our message of supporting and not interfering when their kids start to participate in after-school activities.

We need the public's help to get the word out about our speaker capabilities. Without being pompous or self-congratulatory, DNA Sports has always been about 'excellence without ego.' I've always gone by the credo of my parents and I've tried to pass it on to all my players and coaches I've been associated with; " Whatever you choose to do, do the best you can. We will be there for you and always be proud of you." Pretty simple and sweet message! Hopefully we can pass our best along.

To book a speaking engagement or to get more information, please contact us.



Life Lessons in Sports

There is no greater teacher of life lessons than participation in team sports. No matter if you are young or old, male or female, sports offers something for everyone, and I am no exception. 

It feels as if my experiences playing baseball, football, basketball, and hockey have laid a foundation for virtually every situation that I have encountered in my adult life. The positive (and not so positive) events on the playing fields have provided me with valuable lessons on subjects such as teamwork, self-esteem, and speaking up for my beliefs. 

Sports offered me a chance to step out of a sheltered world and into an environment with many diverse individuals. My first experiences with Little League baseball came when I played on a team with kids from similar backgrounds as myself. Teamwork came easily because we played with each other in the neighborhood and it was an smooth transition into organized competition.

As I got older, however, I had to learn how to interact with teammates that had a different view of what sports were all about. I learned that some guys were less concerned about the team's success and more concerned about their own personal goals and statistics. This philosophy was in direct contrast to everything my dad and my youth coaches had taught me; as they always stressed the importance of team play. And so I felt a need to let those players know (sometimes loudly and emotionally) that we were not going to be successful if individual accomplishments were more important than team goals.

Because I was able to stand up for myself and my teammates without help from the coaches, I discovered a level of confidence and earned a newfound respect from my teammates who believed I was right to confront the "ball hogs" or "spoiled brats". 

Those lessons and experiences from team sports have had a lasting impact on how I view the world as an adult. I applaud unassuming intelligence, selflessness, introspection, teamwork, work ethic, being prepared, and basic old school friendliness. I abhor prejudice, egomania, bitterness, ignorance, apathy, and laziness. I see examples of all these traits every day in the business world, at home, or at school, and I always try to apply the positive values and concepts realized from participating in sports to lead me to a quality, successful, and happy existence.

Keeping Up with the Joneses: Part 8 - Final Days of February

February 15    ️

Double Bubble Shootout at North Side College Prep
Jones 62, Latin 57
Leading scorers: Ellington 18, Bryson 13, Gabe 13
Record 19-5

I never made it to this game, I got caught in a traffic jam on the highway caused by a 38 car accident in the opposite direction. According to Coach G, we persevered despite several of our players showing up late because of the traffic problems.

Ellington dominated the game and Gabe got hot in the second half after refusing to shoot in the first half. Bryson gave the offense a spark and we played enough defense to win. Coach said Latin had a real good player and had him running off double screens and getting great looks. Not until the end of the game did we get some stops because according to the Latin coach, "your quickness wore us down." First time we heard that this year, so it sounded good.

It is always nice to win a game when your team is invited to an event, because you always want to be invited back and for that to happen you have to play well, which Coach said we did.

February 17 

We practiced poorly today. We had a day off yesterday because of a school holiday and we lacked passion and concentration no matter what we tried to do. Ellington didn't show up because of a scholarship commitment.

We play Taft at home tomorrow and though we beat them in the Christmas tournament they have their best player back and he's big and talented. Taft smoked us last year and though they've only won three games, they play in the top conference in the North section of CPL. Coach G calls them a physical team. I call them dirty. If our players aren't ready it could get ugly in a lot of ways tomorrow. We need to use our quickness and not get sucked in to their style of ball.

February 18   

Non-conference game vs Taft at Jones
Jones 63, Taft 49
Leading scorers: Ellington 20, Will 12
Record 20-5

Like I always say, "the more you know the less you know." We had our worst practice of the year yesterday and looked like we were content to call it a season and then we played our best first quarter of the year today.

It was 12-0 early, 22-6 after one and 30-13 at the half. We had the lead up to 25 before Coach G pulled the starters. Ellington dominated the game in all facets. He scored the first 8 points of the game, broke their traps and full court pressure, rebounded in traffic, and had great assists both in the half court and floor length. He did this in only 2 1/2 quarters as Coach liberally substituted. If Ellington ever had the desire to be great he could be an excellent contributor to a college program, but he has a lot of interests and doesn't seem to want to put in the time to elevate his game. He doesn't have a jump shot and his free throw percentage is around 50%.

Our team defense was awesome for most of the game. Taft runs their offense through high screens and we have a lot of same size guys so we talked and switched on everything rather than trying to fight through because their screeners didn't look to shoot if the cutters didn't get the ball. Plus we made them start their offense much higher than they wanted because our guys put great pressure on the ball.

As expected they started holding, grabbing, pushing, and bodying. And as the game got out of hand they resorted to blocking and dirty tricks that if I were playing I would have done something about it. Finally the dirtiest of all their players tried to take out Chidi on a layup and he got the worst of it and got hurt. As Will said on the bench "the irony of it all." When would you ever hear a quote like that from any team but ours? Love these guys.

Winning 20 games is a tremendous accomplishment for our guys. We don't shoot from outside or free throws very well and we are too undersized to be a decent rebounding team, but we play great defense, especially when Chidi plays. This was his first start since he severely injured his ankle and his defensive intensity rubs off on every starter and they play with impressive synergy and desire.

We have no school tomorrow because of severe cold weather so we will only have two practice days before we play Lane Tech, a very tough team, on senior night Monday.

February 23 

Non conference game, Senior Night
Jones 56, Lane Tech 47 (OT)
Leading scorers: Ellington and Chidi 16, Adrien 15
Record 21-5

This game was a big win, the best of the season. Lane Tech has the largest high school enrollment in Chicago and plays in the top conference of the North division. They looked great in warmups, hitting jumpers and looking big and athletic. We started five of our seniors on senior night and they held their own in the first quarter, and we were tied at 12 after one. We substituted Adrien and Will in the second quarter and they seemed out of sync, especially on offense and we started turning the ball over and we were lucky to be down only 5 at the half.

Our only points in the quarter were an Adrien 3. We were out of position constantly and played very scared and tentative. A probable factor was the packed gym. We had the biggest crowd of the year because of the seniors, our last home game and Lane had a lot of fans there.

The second half started like the first ended. We couldn't get anything going because of poor alignment and probably not running the right offense against their denial man-to-man. Though we seemingly couldn't score our defense kept us relatively close. But Lane started getting easy baskets and they had an 11 point lead early in the fourth quarter at 37-26.

We switched to a wider version of our stack offense and finally started to get some open lanes to drive. Not only did we get some layups and tip-ins but we got fouled and were able to add points with the clock stopped. We were also able to set up our full court trap. Though Lane was physically bigger and stronger, they did not have a great primary ball handler and we were a lot quicker. We turned them over and when we didn't we put tremendous pressure on their half court offense and didn't allow them second shots. We kept on emphasizing in the huddle in timeouts that we were wearing them down and to keep putting pressure on them because they were going to break. For the first time in his career, Ellington got animated on the bench and said "we gotta play like dogs" among other strong words and that fired his teammates up.

We finally caught them at 43 when Ellington hit the second of two free throws and forced Lane to take a bad shot with 31 seconds left. After a timeout nobody could get open on an inbounds play under their basket and Ellington threw the ball out of bounds. Lane held the ball after another timeout for the last shot, but we pressured the ball enough to make them go to an alternative option and they came up short on a baseline runner.

We scored the first 6 points in overtime and killed a lot of the clock in our stall offense and eventually they had to foul. We missed three free throws in a row which allowed them to cut the lead to 51-47, but we made three free throws and a layup to finish the scoring.

Our guys never played harder and wore Lane down. We had been telling them all year that this could happen if you play hard, smart, and quick and today they played with that kind of effort that showed them they can win games against good teams. Coach went with Ellington, Will, Chidi, Adrien, and Bryson for the last quarter and all of overtime and they communicated well and played smothering defense while attacking the basket. The crowd was loud and awesome and really helped us. It was THE way to end the home schedule and a great send off for the seniors who really care about the program.

February 25   

Non-conference game at De La Salle Institute
De La Salle 83, Jones 44
Leading scorers: Will and Chidi 11
Record 21-6

This game was an eye-opener for a lot of reasons. De La Salle has three Division I players and they go by the adage (as a lot of Chicago Catholic League schools do) that it's not their job to stop scoring. It's up to the opponent to stop us. Sportsmanship is out the window. 

It is a football bully mentality from a football conference. And their coach had no problem running up the score and played the regulars until two minutes to go in the game. Coach G said this attitude has cost them in the past, losing a D1 player to an ACL injury because the coach kept him in the game too long in a game like ours. And Coach G always pulls our players when he knows he's going to win because he doesn't want to embarrass the other team. But De La Salle and most of the other teams in that league want to bury who they play if they get a chance.

So much for their program, which we could care less about. On the court our players started out scared, settled in a little, and got to within 11-8 before they got blown away with a 14 point run. It was an absolute blitz caused by panicked shots due to their quickness and length, and multiple turnovers. They had three dunks and multiple layups, and our players got a severe dose of big time high school basketball. In the first half their heads were hanging and there was frustration and they stopped competing. It was 42-17 at half.

At halftime in the locker room there were teachable moments. We got after the kids for not competing and we asked them to play as hard as they physically could with some hard cuts on offense and staying in front of guys on defense. It's hard to have a strategy where a team is faster, bigger, and more athletic, but we explained if you pull together as a team and not feel sorry for yourself there can be some positives.

The third quarter went better. We cut the lead to 21 at 59-38 toward the end of the quarter, but De La Salle stepped up their traps and started to pull away at the start of the fourth quarter. Coach G emptied the bench with more than six minutes to go, yet their coach kept their regulars in and was still trapping until the end of the game. That's some kind of statement. I've never understood coaches that do that. Is it ego? Do they feel deficient in other aspects of their life and have to take out their  anger in a sports venue? It sure seems like it. And this coach isn't any good with all that D1 talent. They are barely at .500 on their season and have massively underachieved. He better check out his school's mission statement.

Our kids hopefully learned a lot of lessons in this game and it's mostly about attitude and practice preparation, and understanding that opponents aren't your friends. As a staff we learned that we are doing what's right for our players to make them responsible adults. We ask that they treat people with respect and play hard and act with dignity, but to fear no one and play smart and together and always give their best. I'm sure they will be listening at practice tomorrow.

February 26   

I didn't mean to sound like sour grapes in my blog yesterday, but I despise experienced coaches that exhibit ZERO basketball sense. That means a professional coach who knows what the outcome of the game is going to be and doesn't care how much he or she wins by and substitutes liberally and takes off needless pressure on a lesser and beaten opponent.

The De La Salle coach and others in their league, the top teams in the Chicago Public League, and other big time programs locally and nationally have coaches that do not deserve to be called professional. A profane word describing them is a better fit.

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

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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