Friday, January 25, 2013

Ball Don't Lie:Tina Camacho 500 Wins


Tina Camacho is a leader. She is a manger, boss, supervisor, etc. She has that IT that allows her to earn not only the respect of her players but her peers. The two time court coach with USA Basketball earned her 500th victory this past Tuesday and the feat is nothing short of remarkable.

Take a quick look at some of the great coaches in the NBA. Phil Jackson, Don Nelson, and Doc Rivers all played the game, yet were not considered stars in the League. It is probably not a coincidence that these players became very good leaders. Playing on teams with great stars, these men learned to earn their respect, yet understood their role. Being stars at the high school and college levels, these men learned what is was to be at the top of those respective totem poles. They have learned to play with teammates who had inflated egos and they also learned to encourage lessor teammates with fragile psyches. Camacho too learned to lead by being a high school star yet paid her dues as a role player at a Division 1 University, UTSA. Leadership ability is earned and learned through being battle tested and proving that capability to those that follow. Leadership is not a title, bestowed by some high school athletic director filling a position.

Camacho's leadership is evident on many fronts. She has coached current high school head coaches and former assistants, Triva Corrales(Judson), Jackie Contreras(Harlandale). Another former assistant is now a head coach in the Fort Bend district. Her current assistant works in a auxiliary role for the SA Silver Stars. Like Bobby Knight to Coach K, Al McGuire to Doc Rivers, and Red Holzman to Phil Jackson, the Camacho coaching tree is a direct indication of her ability to lead.


Leaders inspire. After a recent workout in preparation for her Pro Day tryout, former Wagner star and recent San Diego State player Sojoyia Griffin spoke to a gym full of young aspiring middle school players. When a future Wagner Thunderbird asked her to give her thoughts about playing for Camacho, the well spoken Griffin seemed to struggle to find the words to express her appreciation for her former HS coach. After repeatedly pausing, Griffin stated, "I just love Coach Camacho, what she has done for me, I will never forget". Enough said! She is a leader that inspires loyalty and admiration from her successful troops, not dissension and contempt.

Many high school coaches view their jobs as Jobs. Camacho realizes that coaching is more than a Job. Many of her players have had to overcome incredible obstacles and social issues to thrive. Camacho has been and is at times a social worker, mentor, shoulder to cry on, disciplinarian and for some, a second mother. Whenever I tweet anything about Camacho's success, it never fails that her numerous college players retweet the message. Her players care about her long after they are done playing for her because they know she continues to care about them!


The 2007-2008 Wagner team was loaded with 10 players that went on to play in college. That team went 36-1. The T-Birds went to the state semis before running into the Ogumike sisters, who lead their Cy-Fair squad to the championship. The  Wagner 2007-2008 team was the best that I have seen in my handful of years in the city. Sajoyia Griffin, Jessica Sommers, Briana Brock, Arielle Roberson, Len'Nique Brown, Michelle Rodriguez, all went on to play D1 basketball. Amber Roberson had D1 basketball opportunities but chose to play at UT for the Final 4 bound volleyball squad.

Detractors will read that and exclaim that she is supposed to win with all those bullets in the barrel. That is easier said than done. Managing the egos and agendas of 10 talented kids and making them believe that the best interest of the team supersedes individual accomplishments is not, nor has ever been easy. For those nostalgic dreamers that wish for a different era, read about Auerbach, Lombardi and Wooden and learn that all great leaders have had struggles coaching supremely talented teams and getting players to "buy in" to the mission. That is what made them great, the ability to teach sacrifice by sacrificing!

How many high school coaches still drive from house to house, apartment to apartment,  dropping off kids after practice? How many of them will encourage players to sell candy or work a snow cone machine in order for them to afford to travel with a club team in the summer? How many high school coaches will meet their player, an aspiring rapper, at a local college visit where she can get her first chance to rap in a professional studio, all while learning to appreciate an art form that is so foreign to a fan of country music?! How many high school coaches spend time cold calling college programs to help their kids get into school? Or spend their time and money traveling to Dallas or Houston in the summer to keep an eye on their players while they play club ball?  Camacho has done and will continue to do these things. She is vested in her players success and her players invest their considerable abilities in her and her program. It is not a relationship of exploitation in the name of recognition or coaching advancement.


500 hundred wins speaks for itself. Now factor in how difficult it was to win at Burbank, a program that was not known to inherit an abundance of talent. Then move to Wagner, an immensely talented environment filled with "know it all players and PARENTS". Anyone sitting in the crowd at a Wagner game over the last few years have heard daddies, mommies, grandma, grandpa, and the community of sideline coaches criticize and second guess her decisions. Through all this, she is respected by almost all of the "know it alls". They know that the ball don't lie. She has consistently won and given the opportunity for many young women to succeed. That is her enduring legacy. How many young women have USED her to realize their dreams?!

I look forward to the summer in San Antonio. Every year, I get a chance to be a fan! The grapevine speaks of a game time and they all come. Last year I walked into the gym and saw Nique Brown, Jessica Sommers, Amber Roberson, Ashley Catlett, Briana Brock,  and The Twins. Also in action, half of the current UTSA women's team, current and  former college stars from across the city. WNBA All-Star Danielle Adams sat on the sideline and took in the action. I mistakenly identified Texas Tech and Judson great Ashley Roberson for her baby sis Arielle. I tweeted the assembly of SA hoopers, happy to get a chance to see young women play with passion, for the love of the game. Arielle replied to my tweet that it was not her in the gym YET, she was on her way from Colorado and excited to join the celebration. Arielle came to the place that loved her, to a culture of success that helped propel her to having a remarkable freshman season. The architect of that culture of excellence is Tina Camacho. The ball don't lie!!!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Too Close for Comfort!!!

Again referencing Clay Kallam's article, parents of recruits need to take heed for a different reason.

Some conferences are known for having a really physical style of play. When looking at options for your child, it is probably a good idea to study not only the fit of the school that is interested in your child but also the style of play that the teams in the conference typically play.

Occasionally, the glory days call upon me to hit the court and prove that I still got it. At 6'3 and 210 pounds, I swear that I can still go! That is until some young buck hits me with a double cross over and leaves me standing still. I saw the move, knew the proper reaction but the only recourse I could offer was the 'Derrick Haper' claw! For those of you unfamiliar with 1980's basketball, it was an era of super physical play, even on the perimeter. Former Dallas Maverick Derrick Harper would use his immensely strong hand to hand check and clamp down on the hips of an opposing dribbler. Etched in my brain are childhood memories of 6'9 Magic Johnson violently slapping away 'the claw', only to have Harper attached it to his hip again and again in a dual of wills. Fast forward to my current gym experiences against these lighting quick youngsters and they too know what it is like to get clawed by a very physical defender, way past his prime. It is not manly to call fouls in pick up ball and when these youngsters inevitably complain about the rough stuff, I remind them of such. It is the only way that I can still "compete". It seems that some college programs subscribe to this theory as the best way for them to "compete" as well.

When discussing the "ugly" brand of basketball in his piece, Callum speaks of unskilled athletes being able to negate the skill sets of polished players. The same goes for physical conferences that allow bully ball tactics to thrive. It does not matter how skilled a kid is if the defense is allowed to push and shove beyond the rules of the game. Proper footwork, ball fakes, deft ball handling will enable skilled kids to create opportunities on the offensive end but a quick jersey tug or well placed stiff arm to the hips can make all these skilled moves ineffective. Playing through some contact is part of the game at any level, but playing with excessive contact favors some and hinders certain players.

When attending a coaching clinic a few years back, West Virginia's HS Mike Carey was asked what was his strategy defending the pick and roll. I prepared myself for some pretty complicated insight since Carey's defense was known to be formidable. Coach Carey simply stated, "We do not let them set the screen". Huh? He went on to explain that he teaches his players to physically impede screeners by pushing them away the areas in which they want to go. I was sitting next to Bob Starkey, current Texas A&M assistant who was an assistant at LSU at that time. Coach Starkey, a serious note taker in the clinic, looked confused said, " We could never get away with that in the SEC". To put that comment into context, the common wisdom is that the SEC is a VERY physical league. To have a coach in the SEC say that those tactics were too physical for the very physical SEC, told me all I needed to know.

Do your research early and often when searching for the right style of play for your child!

"Winning Ugly, Stunted Growth"

Clay Callum of Full Court Press wrote a thought provoking article on "winning ugly". The article speaks to the way college programs often recruit unskilled elite athletes to negate skilled players and win games that are a nightmare to watch. This article touches on some things that surely effect the development of young players.

"I do not care if the score is 2-0, as long as we win" is a common saying of a "successful" local high school coach. Consequently, his/her team wins, yet his/her players do not get better in the process. This is great example of a one sided relationship. The coach calculates his/her wins and winning percentage in hopes of gaining recognition and eventually a better job, but his/her players, that jeopardize their health and formative developmental years for him/her, get little in return.

Judson High School coach Triva Corrales has been praised on this site on more than a few occasions. She is blessed to inherit a lot of athletes that MUST attend her school. Many coaches would utilize these athletes in a way described in the Callum article, as glorified defenders and servants for the all mighty win column. Corrales is thankfully not a member of the tribe that takes and takes but rarely gives to her athletes. Judson has upset Top 3 schools Steele and Wagner this season and the primary reason why, her kids have grown from just athletes to skilled decision makers.

Steele and Wagner high school overwhelm teams with a daunting full court press. Both schools are also stacked with talented kids that will play at a very high level in college. In the past, Judson had one primary ball handler and decision maker, Samantha Allen'14. Allen is one of the top point guards in the city. Teams like Steele and Wagner would chase and trap Allen all over the court. Her teammates were as athletic as opposing teams but not fully capable of making sound decisions with the ball in the past. Now they are. Ball reversals to Allens' teammates result in transition opportunities, smart decisions and sound basketball plays. The development that Corrales has fostered in her program* is paying off and flies in the face of the practices that are being applauded as successful at some schools in the city.

(*Corrales has a program, not a team! She has a former varsity head coach as her jv/frosh coach! Think about that for a second. A capable former varsity coach and former local high school star resigned from her position to assist Corrales. Corrales previously coached at the varsity level and gave up that position to become an assistant with her former coach Tina Camacho at Wagner before landing the Judson job. Corrales is very involved with her middle school programs and encourages her kids to play for the right club programs.)

Callums article is addressing the negative impact that the unskilled labor force has on college basketball and illustrates one of the reasons why womens' basketball may never be a truly revenue producing sport for more than a few schools. However, the problem starts in youth basketball, with clubs and high schools that emphasize winning over development. Sadly, in most industries, winning or success is a byproduct of proper development. Hopefully girls and women's basketball will soon get the notice.