Sunday, May 4, 2014

Too Nice for Victory?

I can count on one hand, pun intended, the times I have been given the "Southern California Wave" while driving on San Antonio highways in the last 8 years. The finger is a salute given and received often on Southern California freeways everyday.  Congestion and the need to get somewhere adds a certain hostility to the culture of Cali drivers. The very disrespectful salute speaks of edge, chip on the shoulder mentality that I do not miss. Except, when it comes to basketball.

Some say character is revealed in sport. In recent readings of revered teachers and leaders, it is NO surprise that the great John Wooden used to heckle opposing players during games. The often quoted Wizard of Westwood frequently verbally lashed officials and got into fist fights as a player as well according to the very telling biography  'Wooden, A Coach's Life', by Seth Davis'.  I recently saw a well respected lawyer and conservative high school coach tweet that he would have loved to play for Bob Knight, a man that you can see on YouTube choking one of his players. It an absolutely great book, "When Mexicans Could Play Ball", I read that the San Antonio legend Nemo Herrera would whoop his players with a paddle when they got out of hand. Appalling? Today maybe. Living in Compton California in the early 80's, our school instructors would swat us often. I hear child advocates screaming abuse but I saw my community get progressively worse when our teachers were banned from spanking our butts when when got unruly. Back on subject, I bring up the characteristics of our esteemed characters and hope that we can keep it real. Going HARD in basketball, sometimes in an uncouth way, is how success is achieved on the court and according to those we celebrate, is a characteristic of a champion.

A few weeks ago at the Cy-Fair Invitational, some of the best teams and players in Texas assembled to duke it out. One of the best clubs in the country featured a middle school team in the event with only six players. If that was not challenging enough, the six babies played up in completion with a style that is indicative of their entire club, full court man to man defense. During a crucial part of one game, the smallest and youngest player on the team stole a pass and racked it on the other end. In the process, the youngster was fouled hard by the competition. After the ref blew the whistle a voice screamed out, "You gotta finish that"! It was the little girl's mother, imploring her child to be what Dallas basketball players are known to be; TOUGH!

In a podcast, I said that if Brennan High School did not win the state title, it would be disappointing.  I am sure that the statement was subject to ridicule by some in Dallas and Houston. A girls basketball team from San Antonio being the favorite to win State? Yeah right! Well, I ate my words but still felt disappointed. Disappointed because a team full college basketball players, at least half a dozen D1, and an adept coach had a great chance to do what no girls team in recent SA history has done, win State. My disappointment went to the what I consider the real reason that Brennan and our local girls have yet to get to the "promise land"; lack of city wide toughness.

I did not attend the game, yet talking to almost everyone that was a Brennan fan or supporter, the refs got the blame for allowing extreme physicality. When I spoke with almost everyone else that did not have a dog in the fight, especially outside of San Antonio, they failed to mention anything about the refs as to why Brennan was defeated by a team full of mostly freshmen from Dallas.

I am not taking shots at Brennan girls team, many of them are kids whom I adore personally since many of them have been in my life since they were preteens. The Brennan administration and coaching staff is one that is helping our city close the gap between Dallas and Houston with their competence and dedication. What I am saying is that San Antonio as a collective whole must toughen up!

In a example of this and an ironic twist, Ducanville, the epitome of toughness and discipline was reportedly robbed in the championship game by....the refs! Most Dallas and Duncanville supporters blame the majority San Antonio referee crew that called the championship game for them losing. The San Antonio crew called the game tight, just like they do locally, and the result was that Duncanville's top four players were fouled out. I have heard some cry conspiracy but I disagree. Duncanville should have known San Antonio refs live and ply their trade in a city that is passively aggressive in many ways but overt confrontation is a no-no.

When local kids are dedicated to the game at an early age, whispers of eventual burnout and overrated comes from detractors. When a local high school coach is dedicated, stays after practice and shows support outside the 40 hour work week for her/his players, they are recruiting says the lazy high school leaders. In a city that the teen pregnancy rate is almost 4 times the national average, and 1 in 4 kids are overweight, involved parents are labeled as helicopter parents that live vicariously through their children.The passive aggressive take to message boards, send anonymous emails and sit in the stands and ridicule kids instead of celebrating the pursuit of true success.

If success is determined by college scholarships, San Antonio is more successful than it has ever been. If success is determined by winning, San Antonio teams now routinely beat teams from Dallas and Houston in club ball and high school, though not in the State Tournament (Steele defeated a central Texas team,Pflugerville, last season to reach state finals). The gap is continuing to close but the question remains if SA has the collective makeup to ever achieve "success" when compared Dallas and Houston. 

In a city that shuts down school so students can attend a parade during Fiesta, an eleven day party,  is it possible to be angry enough to refuse to be denied? Angry enough to refuse to continue to be an afterthought and an automatic win for Dallas and Houston teams at the State Tournament? How ever you analyze it, the same passion (anger) that led Wooden to fight as a player, Bob Knight to throw chairs (choking went to far:), Pat Summit to physically grab her players by the jersey (as seen on 30 for 30 special on Summit) is what it is going to take to raise players tough enough to have "success". No one is advocating physically hitting or abusing kids, far from it. I'm speaking of a collective chip on the shoulder, a collective edge. If our city continues to not confront the weak elements in our basketball community and challenge ourselves to toughen up, the results will remain the same; "defeat".

I enjoy not getting the finger in traffic. I have grown accustomed to speaking to all who make eye contact with me at the local HEB. My elderly neighbor bought my family a welcoming present when we moved into our home. San Antonio is a lovely city, full of genuinely nice and accommodating people. I love it here! However, college basketball is like the California freeways, congested with players that NEED to get somewhere and possess a competitive hostility to acheive their goals.  If toughness is an essential attribute needed to succeed at the next level, I am not certain that basketball is supposed to be so gentile. Corporate America ain't!