Saturday, January 28, 2006

The good part about basketball

We started our league season 2-1. Since then, we have lost four straight. Two games were loses by teams that were pretty darn good. Two were losses that we should have won, but instead played pretty poorly. With half the season over, many teams would fold up and cash it in, thinking about the spring sports that start in a week or two.
Not these guys.
Our practice on Thursday (after a really bad loss) was intense. I was getting the feeling that some players were finally getting "it", meaning that motivation to constantly play hard and compete to win. I was pretty excited about Friday's game at Rancho Cotate, a school that beat us by 19 three weeks ago.

We came out of the gates against Rancho exactly like we had come out against the last four teams, flat. Shots were short, we were getting out rebounded, we played with our hands instead of our feet, etc. Before you knew it, it was 17-0, Rancho Cotate. At the end of the first quarter, it was 18-3. We does a coach think about when his team is down 18-3 in the first quarter? Honestly, you think that 15 points is a manageable deficit that can be worked on, but it will take a very strong effort to pull out a win.
Suddenly, the score started to change. 18-5. A kid comes off my bench like a spark plug and starts to hassle the point guard down the floor. 18-7. I get the feeling like some of the kids can start smelling blood on the floor. I scream out "FIVE FULL", which means "full court man-to-man". The response was great! All of the sudden the Ukiah freshmen are flying all over the floor with an intensity that hasn't been seen all season. 18-9. Steal. Run the floor. Lay-up. 18-11. One of the players that I have been waiting for all season to gain confidence starts to look for his shot more. He nails a short jumper. 18-13. Then a three pointer. 18-16. With a minute left in the second quarter, a Rancho player hits an off balance jumper with a defender in his face. The score at half: 20-18, Rancho.
I hoped that the intensity would last, that it wasn't a fleeting moment that the kids luckily had, but couldn't produce at will. The kids came out of the locker room more than ready to play. We trade baskets in the third quarter, but our kids know that this win would be very special, since we were down 17-0 to start the game. We are down 31-30 at the end of the third. Once again, would the intensity be there? It actually got better. The press started to wear down Rancho, as Ukiah players started getting more and more aggressive. Guys dived into the bleachers, dived on each other, and showed an enormous amount of heart and pride in their defense. Then the spark plug comes in again and starts attacking the basket on offense. He scores twice and the defense starts to compress. Then he drives and dishes to the newly "confident" player, who nails a three. We take the lead halfway into the fourth quarter. The Ukiah section is going nuts. Rancho comes down and forces a shot. For the remainder of the game, our post men make sure it's "one and done" for rebounds. The point finds another player in the corner. He drops another 3. The Varsity boys are going bananas across the court and my players are feeding off of it. Their big guy makes a shot and they feel like they can stem the run. But the ball is swung around the court by our offense to perfection and the new "confident" guy is wide open at 19' 9". He nails his fourth three of the game! Ball goes out of bounds and we set up an inbounds play. Usually we run it for two other guys, but I call the name of the hot hand. They run the play perfectly and Rancho doesn't cover the corner. "Confident" nails another 3. That's his fifth and now we have a six point lead. The toughest thing in basketball is keeping a lead, but we did it. Their defense expanded to cover the perimeter and that left the "spark plug" to attack the hoop, which helped maintain the lead. The final was 47-41, Ukiah.

My pride for this team was expanded after the game with their reaction. They did some fist pumping and high fives, and they were obviously happy. However, they didn't celebrate like they had won the NCAA title, acting like they hadn't won before. They acted like classy winners, shook the hands of their opponents, and went to the locker room for post-game. When I got in the locker room, I noticed that the players were not jubilant, not egotistical with the victory, and had not lost focus. They were hungry. They had that look of a basketball team that wanted more. And I'm excited.

I was real nice to see great kids become ball players.
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