The Elite Summer season is now over and I admit that I am a little depressed. I had hoped that San Antonio was gaining on the nation in terms of basketball and it is apparent that that is not the case. I am not saying that SA is not continually getting better. What I am saying is that, we still have a very long way to go. This reality hit me like a ton of bricks yesterday.
Yesterday I saw the best club team in our area lose to some HS freshmen. I have taken darts for giving too much ink to TeamXpress but the attention has been valid. They have yet to be beaten by a local team over the past few years. That being said, it was TeamXpress Black that lost to the DFW 2012 team at the Cen Tex exposure event in the semifinals. While this is a not a story to some, it was disheartening to me. I have watched the Lady Rohawks and the Hoyas lose to 2012 and 2013 teams respectively this season. I am not sure how the Comets or Heat have fared against younger teams but I would bet that DFW 2012(beat Hoyas too) and US Westside Select 2013(beat Rohawks),both Dallas area teams, will beat them too. A few reasons why I feel that we are not on par with Dallas area teams and other regions in the country follow?
1. Toughness- For what ever reason(s), San Antonio is lacking nasty players. While we do have some players who have a mean streak ( Arielle Roberson is a favorite of mine), the city as a whole is not developing nasty players. When I say nasty, I mean fearless players that back down from no challenge and is mentally and physically ready battle. Players that thrive when the going gets tough and embrace competition. Now I will provide a couple excuses that I have heard as to why we are not producing nasty players.
a. Affluent Players- The story goes that all nasty(tough/fearless) players come from impoverished backgrounds and too many of our kids have it too good to be nasty. Sounds logical except one thing; Cal Swish just won the toughest tournament in the Nation with girls from the very impoverished community of Orange County, California (Sarcasm!!!).
b. High School Coaches- I have heard that it is the high school coaches who spoil and cater to the players. While this may the case in some instances, what does this have to do with the club coaches? Club coaches primary goal should be development(more on that later) and exposure. How can you develop an elite player without instilling a tough mindset that accompanies an elite skill set?
c. Parents- This excuse is probably the most valid. The excuse goes that parents will not allow players to be treated with stern discipline and expectations. Yelling at kids is considered verbal abuse by many parents. I have noticed that most of the tough kids have demanding parents who are not submissive. I could be totally wrong in this case but tough parents seem to raise tough ball players. Show me a child who runs all over and manipulates their parents and I will show you a mentally weak basketball player. If this theory of parental babying of players is valid, the question is, does San Antonio have more "soft" parents than other cities? Probably not.
(a side note: New york Exodus is one of the premier teams in the country. A local coach had a chance to view them at an exposure event this year. This coach said her players were surprised and shocked at how demanding Exodus coach, Apache Paschall was with his players. They said that they would not play for a man that yelled at them and pulled them from the game for turnovers and bad plays. It is no surprise that Apache has no less that 10 Division 1 players on his bench including Jelleah Sidney, Jennifer O'Neill, Bria Hartley.)
Another reason for the disparity continues:
2.Wrong Priorities- Club coaches in our area seem to cherish winning more than developing. I am contradicting myself a bit. My depression about the state of basketball in SA was brought on by local team losses to younger teams from Dallas. Now I am saying that it should not be about wins and losses. But, here is a fact that I heard Kansas coach Bill Self say at a clinic," 90% of the time, the team with the best players win". Following that premise, why are we not DEVELOPING the best players? Here are some reasons why.
a. Playing Down- I have seen coaches play players down in the name of chasing a trophy. I have seen a local coach have a 14 year old girl lie and say she is 12 in order to play in events. I have also seen teams play in divisions other than the top division and brag about winning it. THAT IS TOTALLY FINE IF YOUR GOAL IS WINNING BUT ELITE CLUBS SHOULD BE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT FACING THE BEST COMPETITION.
b. Running Scared!- I have witnessed clubs forfeit rather than play teams that will beat them. This is unheard of in other parts of the country. To refuse to play a game because of the competition underscores everything that is wrong with our so called elite basketball. YMCA teams forfeit because of the need to protect the little hearts and feelings of the sweet babies. BUT FORFEIT IN ELITE CLUB BALL. Amazing!! Some clubs and coaches are more concerned about their reputation instead of preparing their kids for the big time. Elite freshmen play against elite seniors in college and high school. Candice Parker had to face Lisa Leslie in practice everyday last year. A rookie against a legend. CP3 was prepared for that because she has been playing up and not running from better players since she was a 7th grader.
c. Signed Seniors- I have seen local clubs play signed seniors in exposure events. This is contrary to the mission of elite basketball. These kids should should not be taking looks away from their teammates for the sake of winning.
3.Flawed Teaching- I have seen some truly flawed teaching this past season. Basketball players are supposed to get better during every club season. The high school coaches that are smart enough to support club ball do not care about club ball wins. They want their players to get better in order to help them win. College coaches can care less about a clubs pursuit of winning when it interferes with a recruits progress. Some disturbing things I have witnessed:
a. 100% Zone Defense- Cal swish just won Nike Nationals with a zone that shut down opponents. A zone can help you win because it exploits ineffective shooters. I am not against a zone defense. It is smart to play zone at times from a winning perspective and developmental one. A zone instills rules to defense and team work is a must. But, to play a zone exclusively is not developing players in a way that they need to be developed. A good portion of college programs play man defense and those that do not usually use a match up zone that entails man defense principles. Zones allow for weak defenders to hide. It also allows for coaches who have not taught defense to hide.
b. Too Many or Not Enough Sets- A good coach is known but his/her ability to adjust. The willingness and ability to adjust is an important ingredient that good coaches have. In order to adjust, a good coach must have the requisite knowledge in their repertoire to put their players in a position to progress and succeed. A good coach at the elite level will ensure that their players have the freedom and more importantly, the ability, to play basketball. Too many sets makes players robotic and renders them ineffective when the script does not go according to plan. At the same time, a coach should do just that; coach. Rolling the ball out and screaming play in not instilling the IQ needed by elite basketball players. Some type of set offense is needed at times since college programs utilize a number of sets. The ability to run a set is important. By not having the ability and flexibility to do both, handicaps players development. As the saying goes, "The same thing that will make you laugh will make you you cry." In other words, a strictly set driven team is predictable and lacks improvisational skills. It also stagnates players offensive ability as they are delegated to set roles at such an important age in their basketball development. On the flip side, teams that run no sets are usually ill prepared for crucial basketball scenarios. A shared basketball rule of thumb is to "ride the hot hand". A coach that does not have sets that will get his/her hot hand easy shots, is an incompetent coach.
c. Hugging Man Defense- We all have seen a team go to a 5-out offense and an ignorant defensive team hug the weakside defenders instead of being in the help position. The flaw with a lot of man defense coaches is they are just as lazy as all zone coaches. They yell to "keep her in front of you" without teaching angles, closeouts, weakside help, communication, and cutting the floor in half. Not many elite defenders can keep a proficient ball handler in front of them if the defender is on an island by themselves. Bruce Bowen is an ineffective defender if you isolate him at the top of the key and Tim Duncan is hugging his man 20 feet away from the basket. With no help, Bruce is in trouble. This type of defense is also susceptible to hard basket cuts as the defense is not in the right position to protect the basket.
In conclusion, I have no conclusion. I am frustrated by my unreasonable expectations. I wanted to see SA shine on a national stage but we are having difficulties beating(producing better players) teams that are a few year younger than our best teams and players. I will share this:
I knew that TeamXpress Black was going to beat DFW 2012. I predicted that they would win by 5 points. Uninformed readers must know this. DFW 2012 features a kid(Moriah Jefferson) that has offers(not letters)from Tennessee, Oklahoma and Baylor to name a few. It also has another kid that has already committed to Oklahoma(Courtney Walker). I would not be exaggerating to say that the entire starting five of DFW 2012 will play for Top 50 programs. They are good! But, I felt that TeamXpress Black zone defense would give them trouble. I was wrong. This young(I wrongly thought undisciplined) team picked the zone apart. They exploited the 3-2 zone where it is most most vulnerable, weakside and the middle. They cut, skipped passed and penetrated gaps until the 3-2 had to be scrapped for a 2-3 zone. When they got a significant lead, they pulled the ball out and went to a delay game and dared Black to come out of the zone. When Black did come out of the zone, in an attempt to intentionally foul , it became a dribbling exhibition by DFW. They hit shots when they needed to, they got loose balls, they were patient when called for. I was hurt. I had expected this "undisciplined" team to fold. They did not. The beat the most disciplined team in the city at their own game. All while playing two years up. They were skilled, smart and tough. Simply put, they were better.
I guess Bill Self was right, the team with the best players win 90% of the time. Until we change our mindsets and our training/coaching methods, we will continue to produce inferior players and lose to superior teams. That sucks!