Tuesday, November 11, 2008

CeCe Harper's Killer Instinct

Athletes commonly use sports as an analogy for combat. We always hear things like " Kobe in the clutch is as cool as an assassin". Or "Tony Parker killed him". We also see fit to make athletes tough with comments like " Charles Barkley was a Beast" or "Roy Williams just crushed him". Of course we all truly understand that these comments and phrases are just hyperbole. The worse example of this happened a few years ago when Cleveland Brown Tight End, Kellen Winslow made an idiot of himself while proclaiming to be a soldier. I am sure our American troops, that are sacrificing their lives for him to have the right to say such stupid things, were not amused with his tirade but most fanatics have used these exaggerations at one time or another. They help us convey our feelings toward a particular player, team or game. I say this because if I had to describe the game of CeCe Harper in two words, it would be "Killer Instinct".

The Madison guard, along with a group of seasoned veterans that include Kansas Jayhawk commit Monica Engleman, is primed to lead the preseason favorite Mavericks deep into the playoffs and a potential trip to Austin. As talented as this group is, there is no question who will have the ball in her hands in crunch time. Bet your money that CeCe will have that responsibility and smart money says you do not want to bet against her coming through in the clutch. In a great article on Kobe Bryant's Killer Instinct, Bryant was quoted saying, "I can get off" -- that is, score at will -- "at any time. In the second half I did that." No one is comparing CeCe to Kobe but some of that same mentality is very apparent in the Madison guard.

I witnessed 6 games in the last high school season in which CeCe went for close to 20 points in the second half of very clutch games. This is telling since she averaged 18 points per game for the entire season. The most thrilling was in the first District match up against the eventual state semi-finalist Wagner. Wagner had no less than three Division 1 basketball players and at least 6 college bounds kids on their roster. CeCe almost single-handedly willed the Mavs to victory as she forced overtime by putting on a show in the 4th quarter. She hit jumpers, did spin moves into the lane for lay-ups, hit open teammates for easy baskets and made big free throws. She had ice water in her veins. The crowd was rocking and the fans for both sides were rowdy but Harper was calm, cool and collected. The question is, what gives her the ability or composure to have that "Killer Instinct"?

The above mentioned article on Kobe Bryant references his childhood. It goes on to speak of a young Kobe playing against the varsity as an eighth grader and a player remarking "Here's this kid, and he has no fear of us at all,". Fear is the opposite of Killer Instinct. Why or how does CeCe overcome fear to thrive when the game counts the most? Here is MY theory:

-Her Big Brothers Toughened her up- CeCe has two older brothers who were both standouts for the Mavs and have gone on to college basketball careers. Having these two as examples have undoubtedly helped her growth. I am sure they used her as a guinea pig on the basketball court as most big brothers will do. Playing against elite boy basketball players has always been a recipe for success for elite girls. It does help to have two of them under the same roof.

- Her mother played basketball- CeCe's mom knows the game. She is often seen in the stands with video camera in hand while encouraging her daughter. She pushes CeCe in workout sessions to get better. It can only help when you can not only discuss mother-daughter stuff with mom but what new move you should add to your game.

The most important reason in CeCe being so clutch, in MY opinion ,is her DAD.

CeCe's Dad is a demanding coach and father- CeCe's father is a coach. He is a very demanding coach that plays a very demanding style. He despises zone defense. His Lady Rohawk team goes into Dallas and Houston and brings the pain to them. His style is full court in- your-face man defense and you better be mentally tough or you will break. An example:

Texas Basketball Preseason All-State pick Taylor Calvert, plays for Coach Harper's Lady Rohawk team during club season. Calvert is very talented with great upside. However, Calvert is as gentle as they come. She is one of the smartest and kind hearted kids you would ever meet. She is a very good on-ball defender and gets after it on the court but you probably would not call her nasty. Enter Coach Harper! I saw coach Harper chew out Calvert for making a play that he considered meek. Coach Harper and meek do not get along very well. I was no further than 10 feet away from the one sided conversation and Coach Harper was hot. AT NO TIME DID HE VERBALLY ABUSE NOR INSULT CALVERT. He just let her know, in a very demonstrative and vocal way, that her play was unacceptable. He was demanding a mental state that refuses to be accommodating. He was demanding a mental state that refuses to back down. Of course Calvert, being the very respectful kid that she is, looked him straight in the eye and nodded in agreement. She understood that he was only making her better. She understood that Coach Harper was trying to instill the "Killer Instinct" in her as he had successfully done with his own daughter, CeCe.

Again, this is just my theory but how can Wagner's fans shake CeCe's confidence when she has heard criticism from the person she admires most on this earth? How can game circumstances inspire fear when her father has instilled a supreme confidence? When the crowd is heckling her, Coach/Dad can be heard yelling " Shooop". Shooop is his way of telling her that her next shot is going to hit nothing but the bottom of the net. "Shooop" is what he yells whenever she shoots. Positive reinforcement from Daddy. When the crowd is cheering her accolades after another great game, she says hi to mom and walks over to dad. They sit there quietly as he critiques her game." When they back into that zone, you must hit that jumper and make them respect you" is what you will hear from Dad. Never mind that she just had a great stat line and her team won. CeCe listens because she understands that this is the reason that she is the player, that she is. This is why she has that "Killer Instinct". While some kids are depressed with what they perceive as overwhelming expectations, CeCe is used to the pressure. A college education is required among her and her siblings. In her home, earning A's is expected. Earning B's is frowned upon and earning C's is almost a capitol crime. Some kids buckle under this pressure but CeCe seems to thrive upon it. Being tough on your kid is discouraged by many today. It's a good thing that CeCe has an old school dad that understands how to use tough love, positive encouragement and sets the bar high. His preparation has developed the "Killer Instinct" in his daughter. CeCe was built for the clutch. At least in my humble opinion!