Monday, September 29, 2008

Becky Hammon is the Truth!

Mental Toughness is a term that is commonly used in sports to describe great players. Great players are able to rise above their limitations to succeed. I think it is safe to say that every professional player has some mental toughness but some players are tougher than others.Becky Hammon is mentally tough. The undrafted guard out of Colorado State has constantly over achieved.Her latest snub came at the hands of the United States Women's Basketball Team. Hammon took out her frustrations on the Sparks and their 3 Olympians. Her performance was the epitome of Mental Toughness. What is Mental Toughness:

What is Mental Toughness and how to Develop It?
David Yukelson, Ph.D., Coordinator of Sport Psychology Services
Morgan Academic Support Center for Student-Athletes, Penn State University

Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:􀂃 Generally cope better than your opponents with the many demands (e.g., competition, training, lifestyle) that are placed on you as a performer
􀂃 Specifically, to be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, resilient, and in control under pressure (Jones et al, 2002)

I have yet to see a baby with a natural psychological edge. Now I agree that some children are born with gifts and special abilities just as some children are mentally stagnated due to certain circumstances but NO CHILD is born ready to meet the demands that is placed on an elite performer. The study continues:

Key psychological characteristics associated with mentally tough elite athletes Jones et al (2002):


• Having an unshakable belief in your ability to achieve competition goals
• Unique qualities that make you better than your opponents.
• Motivation:
• Having an insatiable desire and internalized motivation to succeed (you really got to want it)
• Ability to bounce back from performance setbacks with increased determination to succeed.


• Remain fully focused on the task at hand in the face of competition-specific distractions
• Able to switch focus on and off as required
• Not being adversely affected by others performance or your own internal distractions (worry, negative mind chatter)

Composure/Handling Pressure:

• Able to regain psychological control following unexpected events or distractions
• Thriving on the pressure of competition (embracing pressure, stepping into the moment)
• Accept that anxiety is inevitable in competition and know you can cope with it
Key component of mental toughness is learning how to condition your mind to think confidently and be able to overcome frustration/self-critical negativity (reframe self-talk into what it is you want to occur)

Self Belief, Focus and Composure are learned through experiences. Just as shooting, dribbling, running and jumping are skills, so is being mentally tough. Some examples of mentally tough players are:

Tiger Woods- Groomed for greatness since birth. Woods's father was very demanding and taught his son "Mental Toughness" through subliminal messages, motivational videos and hypnotic elements from a psychologist as a child.

Michael Jordan- There have been numerous basketball players that have been bigger, stronger and faster than Jordan but none have accomplished what he has. Jordan's supreme belief in his ability came across as cocky and selfish to some. Jordan is quoted as saying, "When I'm on my game there is no one who can stop me... It is like I can play them like a puppet"

Hank Aaron- The true Home Run King played the game for 23 years without the use of performance enhancing drugs. Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record under the threat of death. Aaron had to hire personal body guards and place his kids in private school because of assasination plots against him during the home run chase. Through it all, he delivered.

I am not comparing Becky Hammon to Woods, Jordan or Aaron but I am saying that her mental strength is as good as anybody in basketball today. Hammon's performance in the Western Conference Finals was legendary. She refused to let the Silver Stars lose. She bullied the smaller Sparks guards, out-quicked their forwards and penetrated right at their ALL-NBA frontline. I feel Lisa Leslie is the greatest basketball player in WNBA history. If I was a GM of a WNBA franchise and could pick any player in the league while in their prime, I would not hesitate to choose Candace Parker. Parker will change the game of women's basketball. But, if I had to bet all that I owned on one player making one shot on Sunday, I would have put my money on Hammon. I have seen that killer stare before and it was owned by Larry Bird(Bird reportedly walked into the 1988 All-Star 3 point contest and said" I'm just looking around to see who's going to finish second"). I have seen that get-out-of-my-way push off before and Byron Russell was the victim the last time I saw it. Magic Johnson taught me that "Show Time" was a great team but the clutch belonged to him. For all the great team talk surrounding the Silver Stars, the clutch belonged to Hammon. She shot 10 for 18 and scored 35 out of the Stars 75 points. Hammon even out rebounded Lisa Leslie 7-5. Simply put, Hammon is the Truth and any real basketball lover can recognize that.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A successful shooting form

I recently over heard a coach teaching the 'Triple Threat" stance to a young girl. This coach was instructing the player to hold the ball at the chest level as opposed to the traditional waist level. I love outside-the-box thinking so I moved closer to hear his reasoning. He went on to justify his teaching by saying, " Most girls shoot from their chest anyway, so it is quicker to have the ball already at the chest level". WOW!!! But true. Most girls do shoot from their chest. This High School coach was dealing with the fact that the majority of girls basketball players shoot set-shots as opposed to jump-shots that incorporate the "L" Form. Apparently, his philosophy was to adjust basic fundamentals to accommodate flawed shooting technique. Is it flawed technique? What about Elite players? Do they still shoot the set shots?

A quick look at the WNBA 2008 Scoring Leaders will show that the Top 5 scorers are:

1.Diana Taurasi 24.1 ppg
2.Cappie Pondexter 21.2 ppg
3.Lauren Jackson 20.2 ppg
4.Seimone Augustus 19.1 ppg
5.Candace Parker 18.5 ppg

Besides being prolific scorers, all these ladies have their shooting form in common. They all shoot with an "L".

Most young players shoot from their chest because of the lack of strength. We all have seen young players step back to the 3-point line, "chuck" the ball from their hip and hit nothing but net. All the adults cheer for the mighty-mites who hit these seemingly miraculous shots. The problem is that the shot is out of his/her range and is not shot with proper technique. Making the basket with flawed technique is like a child pronouncing the word "Cat". We are all happy at the development in speech but we know that true command of vocabulary comes with literacy. When our child spells the word Cat with a "K"(Kat), we tell them great try but try again. We understand that our children will never become literate unless we correct the flaws in their development. Boys have a tendency of correcting their shot and adapting to the "L"as they become young men. One High School Boys coach recently told me that he witnesses this transition at the start of high school. However, most girls seem to struggle to make the same adjustment.

Here is one popular theory:

- Physiological differences prevent girls from shooting with the "L" accurately.
Shooting with the "L" takes a certain amount of upper body strength which some say prohibits most girls from shooting with the "L" consistently. But, any good shooter will tell you that balance and leg usage are just as important in good shooting. Most young players, not just girls, fail to properly use their legs in shooting. In Shooting, like most things, repetition is King. Muscle memory is developed through thousands upon thousand of shots. Since shooting from the chest is easier and takes less strength, many girls continue to use this method.

Some may use the strength theory in the example of the Top 5 WNBA Scorers. Diana Taurasi(6'0/183lbs), Lauren Jackson(6'5/196lbs),Seimone Augustus(6'0/183lbs) and Candace Parker(6'4/194lbs) are all big and strong women. However, Cappie Pondexter(5'9/175lbs) is considered small by WNBA standards.

On the local level, two of the best girl shooters in San Antonio are "L" shooters. Madison High School standout, Monica Engleman has one of the sweetest strokes in the State. The University of Kansas commit has good size and strength(5'10) but she routinely hits shots from the NBA 3-point range. This young lady uses her legs and perfect "L" release to make shots that professional men make.

One of the other premier shooters in San Antonio is Meighan Simmons of Steele High School. Simmons is currently ranked in the Top 10 nationally and already has numerous college offers. Women's Basketball Hall of Famer and current Rutgers Head Coach, C. Vivian Stringer,visited Steele High School last spring to observe Simmons in practice. Simmons(5'8) is strong and explosive but would not be considered physically big in the game of basketball. Yet, she still hits bombs from beyond 3 point range while using the "L".

So what is the big deal about the "L"? As the game gets bigger and faster, the girls who shoot from the chest will find it increasingly difficult to get their shot off while being contested. The set-shot from the chest works well when the shooter has plenty of room to operate but is ineffective when closely guarded. This is the main reason that the set-shot gave way to the jump-shot in the men's game.

Both, Engleman and Simmons, illustrate how the women's game is changing. Increased participation, better training and more athleticism is helping elevate the women's game to higher levels. As the game elevates, so will the shooting forms of girls across across the country.

Cappie Pondextor using the "L" against bigger opponents!

"It is almost as if they are scared to dream big"

Brian McCormick recently wrote the following in his newsletter, Hard To Guard:

" How many players really think, plot and dream about being the best? How many write down their goals and look at them frequently? Not everyone will win the championship or be the best team, but everyone can prepare to win, prepare to be their best and play to maximize their ability. On a message board this summer, the father of Reeves Nelson, a verbal commit to UCLA, said that there are players who make the NBA who are less athletic or less talented than others who do not make it. Some disagreed with the comment, but there is certainly some truth. Players who make the effort to reach an outrageous goal have a better chance to reach the goal than those who may possess more talent or athleticism. Hard work is a talent, and a player with an outrageous goal are more motivated to work hard....
Players are often reluctant to verbalize their dreams or goals. I usually have to prod players to get them to express what they want. A player I used to train made a verbal commitment to a Division I program this week and the first time I broached the subject of his ultimate goals, I practically had to put words in his mouth. With some players, it is almost as if they are scared to dream big, like kids are taught not to dream bigger than their peers or to seek to be great."

This is all common sense to successful business professionals. Most successful people can tell you where their business endeavors or careers will be 5 years from now. It is standard practice for businesses to document, chart and vocalize goals at the start of the year. Most business professionals have monthly projections to meet. These five year plans shape one year projections and crystallize monthly expectations. This seeing success and documenting it allows successful individuals and organizations to work daily toward the big prize.

I was training a promising high school student recently and asked her what colleges were she considering attending on a full basketball scholarship? She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. This player is a promising upperclassmen and recently finished a pretty good run in viewing events over the summer and still she had trouble vocalizing her goals. When she informed me that she had no idea of her basketball goals, I responded by asking her to go to the store for me. She was obviously confused with my request but shrugged her shoulders and stood there and waited on my instructions. I again asked her to go to the store but gave her no directions. She became frustrated with my lack of directions. I then explained to her that without a clear picture(directions) of the store(goal), she could never make it there. I was not implying that she should already know what college she was going to attend but what level she was going to play at. For example, a girl basketball player with the goal of attending the University of Tennessee must have a clear plan and train accordingly. Only the cream of the crop earn women's basketball scholarships to Tennessee. Every player at the University of Tennessee set specific goals to play there. Not one of them woke up as high schools seniors and then chose to become University of Tennessee caliber players. At least 90% of Tennessee players would explain that they dreamed of big time basketball in middle school. I would bet some would even say their goals went back to their elementary days. Simply put, Elite basketball players have elite dreams and work toward them daily. In the words of Donnie Simpson(I'm sure he is the not originator), "Shoot for the moon and if you miss, you will still be amongst the stars."

SA Summer Teams and Players are Premier

Premier Basketball Report has ranked three San Antonio Teams in the Top 25 summer teams in the state of Texas. TeamXpress held down the Number #4 spot while The Lady Rohawks came in at #8 to give San Antonio two teams in the Top 10. The Comets finished at #24.

The ranking service also names The Lady Rohawks star, Monica Engleman, as the #8 prospect in the state. TeamXpress standout, Lyndsey Cloman, was also ranked #14. Both Engleman and Cloman are Big 12 bound. Engleman verbally committed to Kansas and Cloman gave her allegiance to Oklahoma. Both players are expected to sign their Letter of Intents during the early signing period of November.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Quote to play By

A very successful local High School quote sent me this gem from the most winning coach in NBA history, Lenny Wilkens, "

“You’ve got to risk failure to be successful. You can’t be afraid to take a shot because you might miss. You can’t play to keep from losing, because you’re going to lose if you do.”
Lenny Wilkens

This quote reminds me of a quote from the greatest:

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Michael Jordan

Many young player tend to forget that this is ultimately a game of failure. Earning 50% on any test in school would constitute a failing grade but shooting 50% in the game of basketball is a great accomplishment.

Here are the field goal shooting percentages of some all time greats:

Artis Gilmore 60%
Shaquille O'Neal 59%
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 56%
Wilt Chamberlain 54%
Charles Barkley 54%

The above percentages would explain the importance of having solid post play. All the above players (with the exception of Barkley) played the post. The stats may lead some to believe that the bigger you are , the better you shoot. However the truth is, the closer to the basket you shoot, the better the results.

Here are some shooting stats from some past perimeter greats:

Micheal Jordan 50%
Magic Johnson 52%
Larry Bird 50%
Isiah Thomas 45%
Jerry West 47%

Now look at some current perimeter players shooting percentages:

Allen Iverson 42%
Steve Nash 48%
Ray Allen 44%
Kobe Bryant 45%
Manu Ginobili 45%

All these statistics confirm a simple fact. Great players work on becoming the perfect player but only make roughly half of their shots.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quote of the Day

From the words of the late great Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) in the 80's classic Karate Kid,

"No such things as bad student-only bad teacher. Teacher say, student do".

Can she see it?

"I go up there expecting to make every shot," Ahearn said. "You put doubt in your mind, you've already lost, your chances have already dropped. I've never missed my next shot, ever, in my entire life. That one's always gone in for me."He paused, smiled and added, "At least in my head it has."

This quote is from NBA player Blake Ahearn. Ahearns' incredible story was recently documented on former NBA coach, Eric Musselman's blog. Ahearn apparently has taken 1,200 shots everyday for the last 10 years. His work ethic is so detailed that he can tell you how many shots he made on a particular date. He documents all of his workout in a notebook. Even though his work ethic is amazing, his earlier quote reflects a common trait of great shooters that is often overlooked. Simply put, Where the mind goes the body will follow.

Whether its Biblical(Calling those things that are not as tho they were. Romans 4:17),Cybernetics or The Secret, the practice of mental imagery is important to many in the happenings of life. Some would argue that Mental Imagery is just as important as all the other skills needed in becoming an elite basketball player.

Current NBA asst coach, Paul Westhead, is one of the biggest proponents of Mental Imagery.
He writes, " In order to be a good shooter, you must have the proper mental image....Your physical situation does not determine your status-your self image does. You act and feel and perform according to what you imagine to be true about yourself." He goes on to say,"The muscle memory becomes even greater the more you groove the activity in your mind...The saying "Practice makes perfect" is only half true, for so does "mental practice make perfect".

Westhead was known for making his players practice free throws with their eyes closed. He believes that this "Mental Practice" was just as important as the "Physical Practice" of shooting. He claims that with this practice, he had players making 4 out of 5 free throws on a consistent basis. (His results of his"Mental Practice" captivated the basketball world in the 1990 NCAA tournament. Westheads' high scoring but low seeded Loyola Marymount team made an improbable run to the Elite Eight. The run was unlikely do to the untimely death of LMU's leading scorer and co-captain, Hank Gathers. Gathers collapsed during a game in early March of 1990 due to a heart attack. LMU's co-captain and Gathers best fried , Bo Kimble, took the team upon his shoulders. The lasting memory of his performance was when Kimble shot his first free throw. The right-handed Kimble shot his free throw with his left hand in tribute to the southpaw, Gathers. The result was nothing but net.)

Westhead goes on to say" What mental practice is doing is conditioning us to win. We have every reason to believe things will go well because of our great capacity. There is so much energy and excellence within our body if we only learn to call upon it."

Friday, September 12, 2008


Rest in peace to all those who lost their lives seven years ago in the attacks of 9/11.

Rest in peace to all those brave soldiers that have died protecting our freedoms.

Rest in Peace to "The Bear". Former Texas Western coach (now UTEP) , Don Haskins died on Sunday. Haskins was introduced to many in the Disney film Glory Road. Haskins's 1966 Texas Western team was inducted into the Basketball Hall of fame last year. This team is credited with helping break down racial barriers in basketball when it beat Kentucky in the championship game. Former Kentucky guard and 2008 Hall of Fame inductee, Pat Riley stated, "That game was the emancipation proclamation of basketball".

Rest in Peace to those victims of terrorists, war and racism. Coach Haskins one said,

" Basketball is NOT a complex game. It is a simple game played by complex people."

One could reason that those words of wisdom should apply to life as well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Salud! to all the Elite Dads

You have undoubtedly seen us. You definitely have heard us. We sit together in cliques and discuss our brilliance. Our wives paste and print the jersey numbers and names of our daughters on T-Shirts and wear them for all to see. Our daughters are the best players on the court; even if they are not the best players on the court. We are the ELITE DADS of girls basketball.

Girls basketball would not thrive without Elite Dads. When Simone Augustus's shot is struggling, she turns to her Elite Dad to fix it. Candance Parker's Elite Dad was her first coach. Even though it was not her personal dad, an Elite Dad made sure Lisa Leslie got to practice everyday. In fact, the majority of male AAU coaches started off by coaching their daughters and a lot of elite players were introduced to the game by Elite Dads.

Elite Dads come is all shapes, sizes and colors. The common denominator is the baby girls they cherish. Some Elite Dads have played the game at a high level while others have not played it at all. Some Elite Dads actively push their daughters while others take a more reserved but supportive role. Here are some ways to spot an Elite Dad:

1. He is in the crowd at the State Championship and he is still criticizing the coach. The coach does not know what he/she is doing. Only if the coach ran the entire offense through his daughter, the team would be undefeated.

2. He is constantly coaching from the sidelines. The girl is confused. The coach is giving a specific instruction but Dad has his own agenda. He obviously knows more than the coach. His baby needs his instruction.

3. He has held his daughter back in school on purpose to enhance the chances that she can earn a college scholarship. He reasons that she will be bigger and stronger against the younger competition and stand out as an elite prospect.

4. He jumps from team to team in search of the perfect fit for his baby. It is always something wrong with the coach and or/the other parents.

5. He either yells at his daughter like a maniac when she makes a mistake or his daughter can never do wrong in his eyes.

6. He exaggerates his daughter's stats and accomplishments.

7. He alienates High School and AAU coaches. They inform prospective college coaches to "BEWARE" of him.

Here are some other ways to spot an Elite Dad:

1.His daughter IS one of the better players around. He makes sure she gets quality instruction from quality coaches and trainers. She is one of the more skilled players since dad made sure of it.

2.His daughter is self confident and goal oriented. All the time spent with her is shaping her into a remarkable woman.

3. His daughter is less likely to fall victim to social problems such as teen pregnancy and eating disorders. She has developed a strong and assertive personality since he has made sure of it. His attentiveness has made her less susceptible to negative peer pressure.

4. His daughter is a top prospect in and out of the classroom. He has prioritized school. College coaches are comfortable with recruiting her because she performs on and off the court.

5. He DOES know more than the coach. When his baby girl said she wanted to be a good ball player, he immersed himself with the best instructional tools available. He hired the best coaches and trainers and observed and learned their ways.

6. He sacrifices financially to ensure his daughter can continue to play at an elite level. Elite basketball is not cheap and he does what it takes to make sure his daughter can play.

7. He is recruited by college coaches. Coaches understand that daddy has a lot of influence on his baby girl and she is more likely to choose a school that he likes.

8. He supports the team through his encouragement, compliments and fundraising. He provides rides for kids and advise for fellow parents.

Now the question is, what separates the two examples of Elite Dads? A lot of times, nothing seperates them.

I knew of an Elite Dad that constantly bad mouthed a coach that had a great resume'. This coach played pro ball, was coached by great coaches and had a seasoned track record. This Elite Dad would complain and criticize this coach to anyone who would listen. This coach helped get this Elite Dads' kid into a very prestigious school. The kid is currently playing college ball and maintaining an "A" average. Her Elite Dad sponsors economically disadvantaged kids in playing for the same coach he constantly bad mouthed. Go figure.

For better or worse, the girls basketball scene would not be the same without all my fellow Elite Dads.

An elite dad opines

In response to my rant entitled, Is AAU helping or handicapping our players? I received this email from the father of one of the better players in San Antonio.

"In my opinion the first thing any good club team should do is have your regular coach, and then have a few skills coaches available that the parents can hire on their own. Make it very clear that little Susie will not get any better without working on her individual skills, and game with a skills coach. Unfortunately with the lack and cost of gym time, the club teams these days can only focus on team structure, and team fundamentals in order to be competitive. Nuances of the game really have to be taught on an individual basis. The problem is when people start paying money for something, they start expecting tangible things that are still ultimately on them, not on a coach or a team. You are not buying a watch, you are buying the understanding of how the watch works."

I agree with much of the email but I do believe that AAU parents ARE buying a watch. The quality of the coach and his instruction depends on what kind of watch you are buying. Is your AAU coach selling you a Timex or a Movado? We both agree that the AAU coach is hard pressed to deliver the latest Philippe Patek with so little instruction time. I do take exception to this statement," The problem is when people start paying money for something, they start expecting tangible things that are still ultimately on them". Here is my opinion.

ALL coaches that teach middle school aged players should not focus on team structure. The emphasis should be on teaching the fundamentals of the game. By instilling the fundamentals, these players will be able to fit into ANY STRUCTURE. I can not effectively teach the Dribble-Drive motion offense if my players can not dribble. What can be more tangible than a middle school player going on to high school with a decent skill set. That is what AAU parents should expect if they are not only paying but entrusting their kids to AAU coaches.

Now it is very true that an AAU coach can not make a player a great shooter. Great shooters are made with good instruction but even more sweat. Gilbert Arenas just signed a $111 million contract with the Washington Wizards but he still works out like a madman. AAU coaches can not make a player great at anything because all of the skills that need to be mastered take unthinkable hours to perfect. Personal trainers nor AAU coaches can be held responsible for players that do not work on their game. This father is absolutely right in recommending personal trainers to sharpen the games of players but AAU coaches have a responsibility to introduce the fundamentals to their young players.(One of the most common shooting techniques taught is the 1-Handed-Shot. Shooting can be very intricate but the 1- Handed- Shot is one of the most simple yet effective tools a coach can teach. Youtube has a video of Gilbert Arenas beating teammate Deshawn Stevenson with this technique. The amazing thing is that Arenas beat Stevenson while shooting the 1- Handed-Shot but Stevenson shot the regular way and still lost!!)

The great Tex Winters writes:

Coaches must develop and organize out-of-season programs that promote greater total development of their players."

What is out-of season? AAU season is out-of-season!!!! All AAU coaches should incorporate drills that enhance skills in every practice. This father goes on to add:

"The other thing parents do not understand at all, is the type of club teams that are out there, and the type of team that will suit their kid. Even between so called Elite travel teams there are many differences. A parent that does not understand that, could end up wasting a lot of money. Everyone attributes success with winning. At the NCAA showcase level what is more important is being on a team that can highlight the skills your child is blessed with. Not with how many wins you rack up."

My point exactly! NO CHILD IS BORN BLESSED WITH BASKETBALL SKILLS. Skills are the result of good teaching and constant work. Most serious young ball players are introduced to the game at the AAU level. For those of you who do not know, the "showcase level" refers to viewing/exposure events. These are the events that college coaches attend. Gone are the days of a college coach flying across the country to scout one player in a high school gym. Coaches now line up like cattle to find the missing piece of their championship puzzle among the dozens of viewing events. Any respectable viewing event will have at least 100 college caliber players going at each other. This underscores my earlier point. These coaches are looking for players, not teams. AAU coaches, even at the elite level ,should spend time on making sure their players have the adequate skills that coaches are looking for. Adequate skills can be the difference between a free ride to college or mommy and daddy footing the bill.

Here is a quote from Pat Summit at a recent clinic in Los Angeles,


I think that Summit was slightly exaggerating but it is well documented that coaches are looking for kids earlier than in the past. Since that is the case, the kids that want to play at a high level will have to be associated with an AAU coach and/or personal trainers that are TEACHING at an early age. As the elite dad put it, " A parent that does not understand that, could end up wasting a lot of money.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

S.A. has 2 girls in Hoopgurlz 2010 Super Sixty!

Hoopgurlz released its Super 60 for the class of 2010 and San Antonio has a couple of girls on the list.

Ranked in the #6th position is Meighan Simmons from Cibolo's Steele High School. Simmons is ranked as the #1 shooting guard in the nation.

Ranked in the #39th position is Stephanie Wittman of Alamo Heights. Whittman is ranked the #10 shooting guard in the nation.

Simmons and Whittman had a very productive summer with TeamXpress . Whittman had a breakout summer and leaped onto the national stage. She was highlighted on Hoopgurlz earlier this summer. Simmons was already a known entity in the basketball world before this summer but catapulted into the Top 10 nationally with her jaw dropping performances . Simmons and Whittman helped TeamXpress achieve a Hoopgurlz National Top 20 ranking.

A few weeks ago I referenced San Antonio's very gifted and deep 2010 class on this site. I ranked Whittman as one of the best players in the city but just outside of the Top 10. I guess I missed on that one.Word has it that others are missing too. Apparently, Whittman has received major attention from colleges around the country but very little from local and surrounding schools.I ranked Simmons as the #1 player in the city and many called that a no-brainer.I wrote that she should be mentioned among Texas's other great players, Chiney Ogwumike and Odyssey Sims. She was ranked right behind them in the Super 60. Okgumike is #3 and Sims #5. Do not be shocked if another 3 players make this list when it expands to 100. Watch for CeCe Harper, LenNique Brown and KiKi Ageous to join that list when it is all said and done.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bad Basketball!

Fall ball is here and the season is around the corner. Local basketball enthusiast could not wait for the regular season so we packed the very hot Churchill gym on Sunday to see the girls lace them up. Here are some views on the first day play:

  • Antonian looked good. They played an undersized and over matched East Central squad and blew them out by 30 plus. They have strong guard play and a quality big. They also have a 6'1 freshman that looked promising.
  • Judson beat Steele by double digits. Judson is deep and athletic.
  • Speaking of deep and athletic, Wagner still looks like the team to beat. Great guard play and a smothering defense will make them tough to beat.

I must say that I was very disappointed by the play on Sunday. But here are the excuses why play was so bad:

1. The real coaches are not allowed to coach

2. The girls are not in basketball shape

3. Some basketball stars are playing volleyball right now

Now here is why these excuses are not valid:

1. I saw at least 3 AAU coaches coaching these girls. One team had an AAU coach that runs a very popular club with numerous teams in town and they scored less than 20 points in the entire game. Twenty points in 36 minutes is sad. Real coaches or not, the kids should know how to play the game enough to score more than 20 points by the time they are on varsity.

2. Most of the teams on Sunday had at least a few AAU players. These players just finished long summer seasons that saw them play through July. How out of shape can players get in one month.

3. Missing volleyball stars are no excuse for such a lack of skills shown on Sunday. The team that had an AAU coach and scored less than 20 points had at least four AAU players on it.

One thing that Sunday promised was that things can only get better.

A side note:

Roosevelt's Felicia Jacobs was in the building observing the scene. A source close to Jacobs says that St. Mary's has already offered her a full ride. She is also being pursued by numerous small Division 1 schools and SMU has offered her a ride to run track.

Alamo Heights Stephanie Wittman is reportedly drawing heavy interest from Princeton, Rice and Kansas among many others.

Wagner's LenNique Brown is reportedly getting major attention from South Carolina. South Carolina is led by women's basketball great Dawn Staley. Brown is getting a lot of attention from UT Arlington as well.

Is AAU helping or handicapping our players?

“These kids can not shoot like we could” says one old timer. Another wise one claims, “The game is not the same and they are ruining it”. If you hang around gyms long enough, you will surely hear these complaints and others like them from the basketball elders who knew how to play the game the right way. What is the “right way and who is the “they” that are ruing our great game?

In most circles, the criticism will inevitably lead to AAU. First, lets correct a common misnomer .AAU stands for Amateur Athletic Union. The AAU is an organization that sanctions and holds events. It also provides players and teams with certain benefits such as insurance and non-profits statuses for its registered clubs and or members. AAU is not a particular club or team and not every team is registered and plays under the AAU umbrella.

Whether you call it club, travel or select ball, it’s commonly referred to as AAU ball so I will not rock the boat.
Former Indiana University great, Damon Bailey states in a recent article:
“As a parent and an AAU coach, I’m as guilty as the next person, but today the kids play so much, and there’s very little time actually spent working on the individual things kids need to work on,” Bailey lamented during a brief break from camp duties. “Again, that’s something we’re trying to teach the kids, that basketball is something that, unfortunately, if you want to be good at it you really have to work at it, but you have to work at it the right way.
“Just going out and playing games or going out and playing AAU is not necessarily the answer. I think there’s a place for it, but just doing that alone is not going to help.”
For those of you who do not remember, Bailey was a phenom in his day. The great Bobby Knight recruited him in the eighth grade. He went on to a good career at Indiana and played ball overseas.
Bailey is mirroring the sentiments of many basketball traditionalists who feel that AAU is hurting players. There is some truth to his argument but as always, there are two sides to this coin. A few thoughts follow:
Too many AAU coaches do not develop. Developing is teaching
How many times have you seen an AAU team play and all they do is runs sets? Running sets is a major part of learning to play basketball but is it helping to develop young players? It amazes me to see a team that runs an offense that is initiated with a pass from the top to a wing but the wing has not been taught to get open. Instead of teaching the appropriate way to execute a V-Cut, the AAU coach focuses on teaching a play that he/she saw Coach Popovich draw up during a timeout. Never mind that the execution of that play depends on the fundamentals that have been instilled in pro players since they were kids.

The flip side of running too many sets is not having any structure at all. A lot of AAU clubs have been known to just roll the ball out let the kids play. Who is teaching kids how to play? Who is teaching them to not only set screens but how to set them at the correct angles? How many kids intuitively know when and how to cut back door? These coaches need to learn how to play the game themselves so they can teach the future of the game.

Too many games to develop

As Bailey describes above “today the kids play so much, and there’s very little time actually spent working on the individual things kids need to work on.”
Basketball games are like the spelling tests that we used to take in elementary school. We would get a list of words on Monday and practice them all week. Our parents would make us write them down again and again. Sometimes they would use word association to help us remember the words and definitions. We would then put them into sentences and apply the newly learned words. We would repeat the correct way of spelling the words for the entire week and wake up on Friday, game day, and study some more. We would then go into the designated hour ready and PREPARED to ace the test. We practiced to get perfect score on the test. In basketball, there is no perfect score but working on your game is the secret to having success on the court. Playing so many games is like taking spelling tests everyday in order to learn how to spell them the correct way. That philosophy is backwards. The games are tests and they allow you to show what you have already learned.
On the other hand, games are very important. Games allow players the opportunity to grow. Games offer circumstances that practices can not. Pressure, increased competition, and mental toughness are tested in games. Simulating these conditions strictly in a practice setting is impossible. The key is the right balance between games and practice. NO eleven year old kid needs to play in 100 basketball games in a year.

Too many kids are pigeonholed into positions at an early age
Take a look at the Hoopgurlz Top 20. The smallest player is a 5’8 guard. The Top 20 has five girls that play on the wing facing the basket and their heights are as follows: 5’11, 6’1, 6’1, 6’2 and 6’3. Wing players are essentially guards in today’s game. They face the basket, put the ball on the floor and can shoot from the outside. The top 100 has thirty five guards and only three of them or shorter than 5’7.
One of the problems with youth coaches is that they take 5’8 eighth graders and make them post players. These young ladies are told to rebound and pass to 5’2 guards. Many of these 5’8 middle school post players end up being 5’9 high school seniors. These players have restricted skills sets since they have played hundreds of summer games in a position that they can not succeed at. A player can have the best footwork and low post shots in the state but scoring in the post on a girl 6 inches taller on a consistent basis is not going to happen at the elite level. The poster child for undersized bigs having success against taller opponents is Charles Barkely. Many forget that Barkely’s face up game was better than his post moves. Also, I have never seen an undersized female post that can dunk. Barkley’s freakish athleticism allowed him to dominate bigger opponents.
All basketball players should be able to face the basket and shoot from the outside. They should definitely be able to handle the basketball and it is the coaches’ job to teach them these skill sets but the players’ job to work on them.

In fairness to the AAU coaches
-In fairness to the AAU coaches, it is not all on them. What happened to the days of players shooting until the sun goes down. Where is the player like the great, Nancy Leiberman,
who would leave her suburban home and travel to Harlem and play pick up with the boys?
-Are today’s players’ worse shooters than in the past? I’m reminded of a coaching video featuring Bob Huggins in which he claims otherwise. Huggins describes the defensive tactics in the past. Most teams played a zone defense that restricted them to the paint. They played with both palms facing the sky and hands at the offensive players’ waist level. The defending guards were 5’5 and 5’7.This combination of pack the paint defense and smaller players allowed for wide open shots. Now look at today’s game. The defense is full court and in your face. The players’ hands are in your face and all over your body with arms that have been hardened in the weight room. The players are now 6’3 and 6’7 at the guard spots (on the mens side) and trap, chase, funnel and harass. Could Bob Cousy get his set shot off against Bruce Bowen? Most likely not.
-AAU serves its purpose. The best players play club ball and if its better competition that makes you better, it is the place to be. Take 2008 state semi-finalist Wagner. The entire starting five played travel ball. AAU ball players are the best in the city.
-Damon Bailey played travel ball. In Bobby Knights book, My Story, he writes:
“ AAU basketball was just beginning to grow, and this southern Indiana kid had been the national MVP on three teams that had won AAU age group champinships-starting when this kid was in the fourth grade”….I went down to see this kid as an eighth grader”.
There is national attention on the early recruitment of basketball players today. The theory is that the game is showing the sign of the Apocalypse because coaches are recruiting players so young but here is Bobby knight, the poster child for the old school, admitting he was recruiting an eighth grader in the late 80’s. That is another story.
-I saw Damon Bailey coaching his daughter in the 2007 AAU national tournament. His 10 year old daughter was playing in this event that featured close to 100 teams from across the nation. His team was skilled and disciplined. His daughter was one of the better players on the floor at all times and had an advanced skill set for her age. I guess if AAU worked for daddy, it will work for her.