Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Steele Playing for Keeps!!

Tim Calvert and Pops Lambert had foresight. The fathers of two of the best kids in San Antonio history donated their time and effort to support dreams. Not only the dreams of their own children, but the dreams of so many other kids that have went on to succeed throughout San Antonio. Players like Aleeyah Harris(Western Kentucky), Asha Hampton-Finch(Prairie View A&M), Erica Sanders(Texas Tech), Moriah Mack(New Mexico St)and Elena Gumbs(Rice) have used the Jaguar club program as a stepping stone to success. Both fathers have spent tens of thousands of dollars on travel, gym costs, equipment, insurance, etc., in an effort for local kids to thrive. They have spent summers in Florida, Washington DC, New Orleans, South Carolina, Oregon and Tennessee. The Daddies have sat in gyms during April in Virginia and Las Vegas, all so their kids can stay home! Home is College Station for Pops' daughter, while Waco will be second home for Tim. As of last Saturday, Home is also Austin!

Steele playing in the Final 4 of 5A is no surprise. If anyone is shocked, they should have familiarized themselves with this blog a long time ago. Since 2008, the obvious has been stated, Steele is deep with immensely talented kids and talent usually prevails.

"Three to four Division 1 players on a team, 2 of them Top 50 players nationally, may be enough to get them to state."

That was surely the case as the Lady Knight will face Pflugerville on Friday. Pflugervile is ranked #2 in the state but lost two starters in their last two games. Even if Pflugerville was 100% healthy, a team like Steele is a headache for opposing squads because, to put it frankly, they are built to succeed.

Kari Wallace has danced to this song before. The Meighan Simmons era included a few trips to the Drum. Besides having experience in going to State, the Simmons era helped her learn to coach talent, truly a learned skill. Managing individual brilliance while instilling team pride is not an easy task. Playing a style that UTILIZES talent, without USING it, is another attribute that Wallace has mastered. Witness the scores of Steele's games. Wallace will keep her thoroughbreds in during games that have long been decided since she understands that she is only restricting the growth of her players by not letting them shine.The ugly fact is that a 40 possession game is NOT conducive to developing players and keeping them somewhat happy. Wallace plays a style that rewards hard work and  welcomes move ins.

One of the most slept on kids in the city, Erika Chapman moved to Steele last season as a rising sophomore. The military brat is called "steady edddie" by a long time basketball observer and it describes her correctly. The Florida transplant is a 5'10 wing that is a double double kid nightly.She provides Steele with an evenness, by doing the dirty work when needed and 'going to work' when called upon. The game winning free throws against Reagan with .01 left on the clock in the area semi's was so indicative of Chapman. She never gets too high or too low and that is why she is a great compliment to the fiery competitiveness of superstars, McKenzie Calvert and Kyra Lambert.

Calvert has the mindset of Kobe! Since first seeing her at the age of 11, it has been evident. To sum her up, witness the Reagan game. She was having a tough night with her jumper so she took her talents to the post and got buckets from there. The most telling sequence was a fourth quarter three that hit noting but all net. What was the big deal about that? The previous shot was an air ball. After she shot the air ball, I wanted to see her mannerisms, judge whether she was losing her trademark confidence in the clutch. Yeah Right! The kid was smiling as she ran up the court while the Reagan fans chanted "air ball". They probably should have let the hornets nest rest. The next pin down screen she received, she curled to the top of the key and let a dagger fly. The net barely moved. Mamba!

Every once in a while I get infatuated with a kids game, Kyra Lambert is one of them. Four years on a small and extremely hot middle school court, I yelled, "Kyra, you are the best player on the floor. Go to work". Like most fanaticals, my statement came off as crazy to some. On that court in a game versus DFW Elite 2013 was, Diamond Lockhart(Texas Tech), Jada Terry(TAMU), Candace Adams(UNT) and her club mate Calvert. While she may have not been the best on the court to others, she was best to me and my preferences. Her vision, change of speed, basketball IQ, top end speed in transition, and ability to lock up on the defensive end were all things that translated to the next level. Still does. Now, as witnessed in the huge win vs Judson, her jump shot is becoming more reliable and that sucks for the competition. It was Lambert who chose to guard the high scoring frosh, Amber Ramirez, fresh off of a 31 point effort in the regional finals. Lambert is so important to the team in ways outsiders can not understand. Read her frequent pronouncements of following Christ, yet witness the intensity and grit in which she exhibits on the court. The more you see the kid, do not be surprised if "crazy" statements start flying out of your mouth as well!

Bri Millet is yet another weapon that Steele has at their disposal. Strong and skilled, she provides an added scoring threat when needed. Add Sarai Rodriguez and Steele's depth is going to be tough for Pflugerville to overcome.

This region has yet to get to the championship game in recent memory. Friday night may just be the night. No disrespect to the brilliant Clear Springs and their 2104 whiz, Brooke McCarty(another fav), but Steele's potential advancement should pit them against Duncanville! Wo! Wow! Whew! Whatever!! That team is no joke! However, thanks to the frequent flyer miles that Pops, Tim, and Ernest Chapman have logged in the name of "playing against the best", and the experience of Wallace in past trips to the Drum, the Steele kids should not be overwhelmed nor surprised.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Poetic Justice: Koty and his Golden Bears

The Brennan girls were hurt. They had given their all for the program. They sacrificed time, energy and individual fame for a cause. That cause was a chance to go to the State Tournament. They came up one game short and were set to have that bitter taste in their mouth all summer. Then it hit. The twitter feeds informed them that their coach, who demanded so much from them in the name of team, had taken another job. They felt duped, "hung out to dry". Their proverbial boyfriend and broken up with them through a text message, or that is the way a parent of one of the players described the emotions.

Across town, at a different high school, two players cried. Literally cried. These kids had worked with training gurus Gannon Baker and attended the great John Lucas clinics. They have been to Nike Regional Skills Academies , adidas Elite Camps and worked out with Women Basketball Hall of Fame players. They have played for coaches that groomed All-Americans like Ogumike Sisters and Meighan Simmons. They were so excited to hear rumors that their high school was hiring one of the best kept secrets in the country as their coach. And then, they read the same tweet the Brennan kids read, Koty Cowgill, former UTSA assistant coach, was not going to be their new leader.

This is not about what others are not, it is about what Coach Koty IS. A few years ago, UTSA would have never landed local stars like Tesha Smith and Niaga Mitchell-Cole. The UTSA elite/team camp has had national Top 50 players, Recee' Caldwell, McKenzie Calvert(Baylor), Kyra Lambert(TAMU), Amber Ramirez, Kianna Williams, AJ Alix(TCU), primarily due to Coach Koty's efforts. Despite his ability to reach kids as an elite recruiter, he knows his stuff. In this informational age where elite skill set instructors are a click of a mouse away, Coach Koty IS skilled. His jumper is as wet today as it was when he played. He can handle the rock as good as any kid in the city. Two ball, Three Ball, Combos etc., Koty can do everything he teaches. As far as X&O's go, he was only an advance scout for the WNBA Atlanta Dream the past couple of years. Local kids have been exposed to his unique abilities and the Brennan Bears' won!

"Kiarra Etheridge is a steal". This is exactly what I told a D1 school after the Brennan vs Champion game. This was the first time that I had seen Etheridge since the beginning of the year. The Marble Falls transfer has transformed from a 5'11 post player and athlete to a wing player with an improving skill set. I initially liked her in the fall but now the kid had the skills to go with her incredible motor. It was her effort that propelled the Bears to Austin. Why? Koty! Etheridge college opportunities have multiplied and the level of her offers have dramatically increased because she has been challenged to play her college position while in high school.

Tanaeya Boclair was considered and undersized post to most of the D1 schools that had offered her. Review any tape of Brennan last season and witness Boclair playing in the crowded post. She helped Brennan go undefeated and made the SuperTeam in the process. What she did not do was get individually better and increase her college readiness. That was until, Koty. Coach Koty immediately went to work teaching Boclair to extend her range on her jump shot and getting her to shoot "with a pause", as he terms it. The ability to elevate and shoot the 1-2 dribble pull up translates to every level of the game(see Cappie Pondexter and Maya Moore) and Boclair now possesses the formidable weapon. The results have enabled Boclair to add additional offers, including BCS opportunities to play the wing.

Eliza Martinez will give her all for you, as long as the 6'1 post player believes that you believe in her. Martinez is a different kid this season. The Mason sisters, Tia and Deja have continued to improve and make their presence felt. Point guard Ashlin Graham has had remarkable gains in terms of understanding time and score when running her team. She no longer pays tentative. Her defensive presence in the Regional Finals was very instrumental in the Bears victory. All of these kids have benefited from having a leader that truly understands that if players get better, the wins will follow.

The Bears are searching for a slogan for the T-Shirts. The shirts are for State. The parents and girls asked Coach Koty what does he want on the shirts. He tells them to choose a slaying because this is "their team".He goes on to state that he will hopefully have 30 more teams in his coaching career and this is the players team, their moment. Despite losing starters, all district performers and eventual college players, Alyssa Crockett and Kalani Marquez, the Bears have prevailed. Their disappointment has been turned to joy. No longer feeling betrayed, they feel blessed!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Law of being unAverage: Amber Ramirez

Of the 40 or so players that played at UTSA on Tuesday night, how many of them were on Twitter or texting their teenage crush until the late on Monday night? How many of them were watching TV or playing video games? True, some of them were surely studying all night but how many of these players, some playing the biggest games in their high school careers, did nothing to get better? I know where one player was at 11pm on Monday night, she was at a Gold's gym shooting hundreds of shots for the thousandth time in her young life.

The saying goes, "Youth is wasted on the young". Amber Ramirez has not wasted her youth on doing young things. She has worked on her game with a focus and passion that is contrary to many of her counterparts. She is that story, the kid that is always in a gym.

Not ten minutes after entering a gym five years ago, game revealed itself. A tiny 4th grade player split a double team, performed a one handed crossover against the second defender then  scooped in a right hand layup, and finished around a third player without securing it with the left hand. I sat at attention and asked the guy sitting next to me "where are the parents of that kid"! The guy next to me motioned to Amber's father, sitting immediately to his left. I introduced myself and shook his hand. Nothing else was said. Nothing else needed to be said. Any fool could see that this kid was special and NO ONE is born with game, especially a tiny 4th grader that had the physical frame of the kids that you see playing softball. The mutual understanding was that NO kid is born so gifted, so polished with skill and basketball instincts. After a few more sequences, I saw the obvious, Amber Ramirez was not the average player, in fact, she is one of the few that you could call elite. Yes, at 9 years old.

Amber Ramirez put on a show last night. Go back into the recent history of SA playoff basketball and her 31 points on less than 20 shots has to rank among the best. And she is 14 years old! Ramirez hit  five from downtown, one literally from almost down town, in the first half on her way to 17 pts. Reason has it she would cool down. Nope! She scored 14 more in the second, two more 3's.
I have purposely NOT written about Amber this season. I am too familiar with the fact that familiarity breeds contempt. I know that the insecure would take her early success as personal fronts to their well being! I understand that some fathers, unwillingly to dedicate themselves to their child's goal, would beat the drums of envy. I knew it was coming. When many of the nation first learned and Googled the names Meighan Simmons, Jessica Kuster, McKenzie Calvert, and Kyra Lambert, it was this blog that the search engines would provide. Sitting behind a couple in attendance to see the next game, they saw Amber showing out and Googled her name. They were provided with a Premier Basketball Report article detailing what the nation knows. She is a Top 10 kid by Peach State Basketball. She is ranked as the 3rd best kid in the state by PBR, in a talent heavy 2016 class. She has multiple offers(not letters)from schools in the Big 12 and is being recruited by every major conference in the country. Her first division D1 offer came as a 7th grader.

What the article did not detail was that as a 7th grader, in the same UTSA gym, Amber broke the record for 3 point makes for 1 minute during the UTSA Elite camp with 17! The article did not discuss that she is a kid that often played against boys, while her "friends" teased her for it.The calm and collected  kid this couple saw was a product of playing up 3 years in some national events. The article did not detail the time she gave 28pts to a commit slated for the University of Oklahoma. The article could contain that last summer she was the talk of an elite camp last that featured kids two years her senior, one bound for a team with more national titles that one hand can count. Or that Amber has been called a young Sue Bird by someone qualified to make such a pronouncement. That couple did not have a dog in the fight and Ramirez had shown them what many who took an unbiased look already knew; the kid is different.

The "law of averages" is usually referred to things having a way of evening out. Amber Ramirez proves the law is correct in a different way. She has refused to be average. She has refused to work like the average player. When the detractors talk, she is learning to not listen, unlike the average kid. The game of basketball does not "even out". The best are not chosen through natural selection. The best players usually have the best work habits(work smart and hard) and a fertile environment allows them to grow their game. While many were constantly comparing themselves to Amber, she continued to be unAverage in her focus and her performance rightfully reflected how different she truly is.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Growing disparity between good and bad ball players.

In another thought proviking article, Brian McCormick questions while the disparity between elite players/teams and others. He also questions the reason(s) behind the great migration to volleyball for SoCal girls. McCormick Link