Middle School Basketball Moments.

The Speed Team.

Well, in the comments section DC was getting all nostalgic about our middle school basketball team, and I thought, you know what?  Those were some pretty classic times.  Middle school proved to be the culmination of my basketball career, probably because it was at that point that playing games became a lot less fun than just shooting around.  We just got our stuff handed to us over and over again.  I had several years of losing baseball left in my stomach, but I’d had enough of basketball.  Want to play a quick game of knockout?  I’m in, but anything organized, I think I’ll catch you later.  Probably a shame, seeing as I was a pure, pure shooter of the basketball.  I don’t want to say I was a jump shooter, because I can’t jump, but I was a great “shuffle shooter.”  Maybe the best.  RAIN!  Anyway, some hilarity from youth basketball…

The “Oh My God” Game.

This is the game that DC mentioned in the comments.  We were playing a team that had far more skill than we did.  Keep in mind, we didn’t run an offense of any kind.  Our best play was, dribble across half-court, face the sideline, and pick up your dribble.  Some teams gave us more trouble than others, though, and that was especially true of teams with any kind of athleticism.  We faced one squad with a prematurely developed monster named “Ricardo.”  He was so giant, the sides of his jersey were cut so it fit him.  Now, Ricardo today is probably still 6′ tall, but at 12 or 13 that’s a large human.  We were fascinated.  I was fascinated on the bench.  The critical moment occurred when our beloved point guard charged in on a fast-break.  He was all alone.  He went up for a textbook, to form, lay-up.  Out of nowhere Ricardo volleyball spiked it off the backboard.  The ball bounced to half court.  I stood up on the bench and screamed, “Oh my GOD!”  The coach gave me a stern look, and I didn’t play the rest of the day.

The You Want to Play, or Do You Want to Win Game?

An all-time coaching classic.  I want to say our record in 8th grade was somewhere around 4-10.  This number of games was plenty for us, believe me.  Now, even on our team which was not skilled in any way, there were certain players that were better than others.  Everyday at practice the 15 people on the squad were broken down into sides.  There was the #1s, the #2s and the “speed team.”  Now, I don’t know what it was about the term “third-string” that made it inappropriate, but I guess being one of the 15 best basketball players in one of the least talented classes of all-time wasn’t reassuring enough for some people.  The coach came up with the “speed team” notion as a way to comfort the 3rd stringers, telling them among other things, they were defensive specialists.  We had no specialists.  So, the last game of the year, we are winning or close at the half, and our coach brings us in for the speech.  He looks at the “speed team” and says, “You guys want to play, or you want to win?”  They chose play.  I think we lost.  How’s that for motivation from a head coach?

SHOOT IT! And, Other Fiascos.

One of the underrated parts of middle school basketball was that we had to sit through the girls games on the road.   Now if we were bad, our girls team was…well, they were special.  I don’t know how often they won or lost, but 8th grade girls basketball can be something else to watch.  8-6 finals, things of that nature, aren’t out of the question.  To add to this intrigue, the girls had one of the oddest coaches of all-time.  A man immersed in Wooden era fundamentals, and completely ill-equipped to coach our young ladies.  On one occasion he wouldn’t let them out of a time out, and the referee allowed the other team to inbound the ball for a free lay-up.  When the girls actually broke free of his iron fist, they were quite impressionable.  In fact, one girl on the team had less conscience than any shooter I’ve ever seen.  She also never made anything.  That didn’t stop some of my teammates from screaming, “SHOOT!” every time she darted across half-court.  And you know what?  Most of the time she let it fly.  Watch your teeth on the rebounds.

Three’s.  Not 2’s.  The End.

I will say that 8th grade basketball practice was a good time.  We did nothing but run 3 on 2 drills and jack up 3-pointers.  This was not effective for a number of reasons, most notably, we didn’t have a fast-break all year.  But, all that gunning in practice elevated some of us to the status of 3-point shooters.  In middle school if you made a “3” it was almost like dunking.  At least in our sheltered suburban area, no one could even sniff a dunk, so if you drained one from downtown…look out.  The 3-pointer was like a secret weapon.  We were only allowed to bring it out during special occasions, or in times of desperation.  Toward the end of the season we were playing a team with another man-giant, this one far less athletic than the aforementioned Ricardo, but much taller as well.  I’m trying to think of how tall that could have been when we were 12, but he was well over 6-feet.  He didn’t move that well, but he was a shot-blocking presence.  Somehow we managed to stay in the game, and in the 4th quarter, our coach told me and a couple of the other guys to start looking for 3’s.

So, on one of our following possessions, I found myself relatively open at the top of the key.  I got a pass, looked toward the rim, and saw the giant pituitary mountain coming toward me.  I threw an up-fake, dribbled around him to the elbow, and made a shot.  It was and remained the only “move” of entire basketball career.  Needless to say, I was pretty pleased with myself.  Who can’t get their own shot?  What?  RAY ALLEN!  Seconds later, the coach grabbed someone off the bench and sent them in for me.  On my way to my favorite seat he said to me, “I said 3’s.  Not 2’s.”  And, as they say, there it is.

Feel free to share your own tales of Middle School Heroism.

Medinah to This?

We've Gone From this to the Oldest 30-year Old in Sports.

Whether you care about the Ryder Cup or not, and I assume most of you do not, it’s hard not to be a little fascinated by the plight of Sergio Garcia.  Garcia was never seriously under consideration to make the European Team, which when looking at Garcia’s impeccable team-record is hard to believe.  It’s a testament to the depth of the Euros, but also an obvious indication of the state of Garcia’s game and even state of mind.  There was no push from Sergio to make this team, and he seemed so resigned to his fate that he announced an intended leave of absence that ran through the Ryder Cup.  For a player that embraced the event, that leaned on it for his most notable successes, it was surprising to see Sergio so removed from the discussion.

The way he re-entered the Ryder Cup picture over the weekend was something I wasn’t expecting.  Colin Montgomerie surprised some with his captain’s picks, but the more unexpected move was announcing Sergio Garcia would be his final assistant captain.  So the Euros will have Garcia on board, he just won’t be hitting any of the shots.  At the last Ryder Cup Nick Faldo brought along PGA Champion Martin Kaymer to get a feel of the event.  He correctly predicted that Kaymer would be on the 2010 team, and wanted to baptize the young German.  This feels like the opposite of that. Garcia, who is already possibly past his prime, will come along to try to offer some of what he did on the course in the team room.

This isn’t a role I saw Sergio taking.  I suppose it speaks to his commitment to team play, or maybe everyone has just read too much into his apparent lack of interest in golf.  The reasons for his decline are numerous and speculative.  He can’t putt.  He never got over his last girlfriend.  He’s burnt out.  Everyone has a theory, and Sergio himself said golf wasn’t that fun anymore.  A long break seemed like his only option, but now he’ll be in Wales, taking on a role usually assumed by someone ten or fifteen years his senior.

I suppose a return to form is possible, and Sergio could restart his fabled Ryder Cup career as soon as 2012, but the further we get away from the Garcia that burst onto the scene at 19, the harder it is to remember why everyone was so excited about him.  Garcia was the first challenger to Tiger Woods, the first guy who came along that was younger and was supposed to be able to compete.  At 19 he’d done things Tiger hadn’t at that age, and after the 1999 PGA Championship, the golf world sat in anticipation of a budding rivalry.  It never materialized.  Woods himself will need help to make this Ryder Cup team, but it’s Sergio’s situation that is more troubling from a golf perspective.

The sport is not without its shooting stars.  Many guys have brilliant early careers only to fizzle later on.  Hal Sutton comes to mind.  He eventually had a brief second peak, but that was after a decade of struggles.  You could make a long list of guys, but the majority of them lost their games.  Sergio has never been out there hitting it sideways like Ian Baker-Finch, or trembling over a 4-footer like Johnny Miller.  He’s had his moments of bad play, but he still drives the ball beautifully and should be able to contend.  There’s just no fire.  And, when you look at Sutton, for example, to will yourself back after the depths he hit, it takes at the very least a continuing passion for the game.

If Sergio is burnt out, and it looks like he might be, I wonder what that means for the future golf prodigies.  Golf has been a sport that has always had a fluid sense of a player’s prime.  Most guys peaked somewhere around 30, but there were always the late-bloomers as well.  With more and more guys coming out on Tour that have been totally immersed in golf for their entire lives, I wonder if golf won’t start to mirror tennis a bit.  There’s a sport that is dominated by the young, where burn out seems like a constant concern.  I imagine there will always be the veterans hanging around in golf (unlike tennis), but how many young stars will end up taking the Garcia route?  And is Sergio ever going to get back to playing good golf, or are we going to be talking about him as a 34-year-old Ryder Cup Captain?

Phillies Assuming Fan’s Mentality?

Young Lloyd Christmas was a Die-Hard Phillies Fan.

Fell off the Jetway, again.  That’s what last night felt like a little bit, didn’t it?  In the year of the pitcher, the no-hit game that is going to be tossed against the hot and cold Phillies seems inevitable.  Especially in the last ten days.  Each game starts and then there is building anxiety while you wait for the first player to reach base.  Am I the only one who is experiencing this?  I must say it’s a recent phenomenon.  A couple of weeks ago, the Phillies were hitting well, and they were waiting on the big bats to return.  Now the line-up is intact, but hits have become scarce, runs even more so.  I know it’s incredibly pessimistic, but I checked in after one inning last night to see the Phils had no hits, and I thought, “here we go again.”

Now, one measly 1-2-3 inning shouldn’t produce that kind of feeling, not with a playoff contender, but like I said, the Phillies have been dodging no-hit bullets all year.  Maybe it would be better if they just got one out of the way.  Worse than the actual result (one hit, a shutout loss to the fringe Dodgers), I’m getting a sense that the players themselves are starting to feel like the fans.  Or at least starting to feel like me.  There’s some kind of mental block with this team, has been for much of the year on offense, and I think we are seeing the results of that right now.

I don’t want to take all the credit away from the opposition.  San Diego has a really good staff, and the sweep was the kind of baseball they needed to play to get the job done, but last night and in the Houston series, the Phillies have upped their opponents class every time out.  JA Happ morphs into Tom Glavine.  Brett Myers into Curt Schilling.  Maybe it has been the run of left-handers, or it’s all just a bad stretch, but this team looks unsure if it can score runs lately, and when the balls don’t start bouncing their way early, it ignites some type of panic button.  The players thoughts could very well mirror the fans’ thoughts, “we don’t have a hit yet?”

I look at the game against Wandy Rodriguez.  He’s a guy that had been pitching well, but at the start of that game the Phils had him a little off-balance, and hit some balls hard.  They didn’t find the holes, though, and that’s when the pressing started.  They were flailing at that curveball of his, and suddenly the guy was rolling along, and the home town boys were headed to another loss.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a magical solution in mind to fix this problem.  It can probably only be fixed by a big inning, or maybe a couple of laughers in a row.  I don’t have the formula that is suddenly going to make Howard and Utley start to hit again.  The only things I would change right now, and they aren’t big enough moves to make a huge difference, would be maybe inserting a bench guy a little more often and I would stop pinch-hitting Domonic Brown.  The last good offensive game the Phillies had was the day Utley sat for Valdez, and Brown just isn’t a pinch-hitter.  He hit the one moon-shot homerun in a game that was already decided, but that’s not what he’s going to do.  I know he’s forced in there by the absence of Gload, but giving him an at-bat every other game just turns him into an out.  The Phillies would probably be better off with Andy Tracy up here, and I’m serious.

The boys will have a chance to get things going in LA tonight.  Which Kyle Kendrick will show?  Probably need the good one, and the Dodgers trot out spot starter Carlos Monasterios.  Yeah, I’ve never heard of him either, and the Phillies have never seen him.  The good news is he’s right-handed.  The bad is the Phillies don’t tend to do well against guys they’ve never seen.  Here’s to getting a knock in the first inning.  Take the heat off…

National League = NFL

Well, Monday will bring me back home to PA, and I’ll have to bid adieu to the Midwest. I don’t think I have a full bull ride summary in me. Just know that the bulls won. They won huge. I want to say the success rate was approximately 1 in 8. Fun Fact; PBR doesn’t stand for Pabst Blue Ribbon in these parts. Thàt’d be Professional Bull Riders, though the woman I saw in the “PBR Girl” t-shirt I suppose could get some double entendre mileage out of it. But, if you really want a taste of a rodeo, you’ve got to attend, I can’t capture the magic.

Moving on, I did have an actual topic. It’s something I’ve hinted at a couple of times this year. The National League is awful. As awful as they ever were. If I was a fan of an AL team right now I’d be rejoicing. Just win those first two series. The rest should be a cake walk. Back in the Spring I made separate posts claiming the only thing that could get in the Phillies way would be the bullpen or the Braves. Less accurate statements have been made, but I’m not looking for credit, in fact, I’m here to say don’t worry about the Braves. They’ve got issues. So does every team in the NL (including the Phils). So why do all these NL teams stink? Let’s look…

Someone said to me today that they thought San Diego was coming back to earth. My answer was, no, that’s just how San Diego looks. The Phillies had an ugly sweep, about 10 hits total over the weekend, but it was just what they needed. That’s what San Diego has done all year. They’re the new Giants, who we all know never won a damn thing.

Speaking of which, stick a fork in the Giants. Another comment I made recently is that I’d be surprised if Tim Lincecum makes a dozen starts next year. I hope I’m wrong, I’m just saying. This is a guy who hasn’t closed his Cy Young seasons that well, and this year is a total implosion. Zito and the boys are going down with him, and their offense isn’t good enough. The NL west is like a college football conference that builds its rep by beating each other. What if they all stink?

If the Wolrd Series was in May, I’d love the Cardinals rotation. No one over the past few years has been more feared than St. Louis, because of that staff, and yet they’ve been coming up empty. Here’s another offense I don’t like. Albert Pujols has absolutely been on fire, and they are still wallowing behind the Reds. He’s got no help, the team looks ready for a kill shot.

Speaking of Cincy, they might be the team I’d want to avoid in the post-season. If it was only between Philly and Cincy, I’d be a bit worried. But, there’s room for both in the playoffs. Working against the Reds is a stunning lack of big game experience, but what can they do? Hit. In the new era of pitching it sets them apart more than the pitching staffs out west. That said, is Scott Rolen really going to drag this whole team over the line? Is it 1990? I don’t think so.
Let’s talk Atlanta. AKA, the luckiest team in the league. 13 walk off wins, 20+ in their last at-bat. That sounds normal. Don’t see any statistical anomaly there that needs correcting at all. The Phils, with any competence would have shuffled past Atlanta this week, but they’ve got their own problems. Atlanta’s struggles against 2nd tier competition should be noted, though. And the pitching staff is starting to look like Tim Hudson and a bunch of crossed fingers. Can this team stay hot enough? I don’t know, there could be 28,000 Braves fans asking for ticket refunds for games 1 and 2.

Do I need to take a swipe or two at the Phils to even this out? Eliminate the jinx? Well, the Phillies have a playoff ready starting rotation. I’m not sure what else they have. They put themselves into this latest slump by rushing back Howard and Utley, meanwhile everyone else lets out a deep breath because they’re back, throw in some good pitching and…poof. Slump. Good news was the sweep, and the occasional ball hit hard. Perhaps salvation in LA, where they’ve folded up the tents. For the Phils, they have no reliability after the 7th inning, and without big leads it will be very dicey. They’re tested though, proven as the skinniest kids at fat camp. If the playoffs started today they’d be in, and the point is none of this other NL slop should really get in their way.

***Important and unrelated DA Fantasy football note. Sometime this week, I’ll be settling on the official rules. Probably just go with the consensus, so if you had anything to add to the email, if you haven’t checked in, or have any lingering questions…let me know. Dramatic week one will be upon us before we know it, and perhaps Rexy will be available. Tempting. Keep working on those team names as well.

Bull What? Bull Ride.

What’s on tap for tonight? Me, I’ll be at a Bull Riding contest. Is that what they are called? Jamborees? Not sure, but we’ve got 100 cowboys vs. 100 bulls. Epic showdown. I’ll be rooting for the bulls, and some spectacular falls. No serious injuries, though, and hopefully no bulls running amok in the stands. Should be a good time. Now’s your chance if you have any questions about bull riding. Fire them off, and I’ll get back to you.
Is everyone on Tiger watch? Is it official? Tiger’s hanging in today, and this is probably already his best event of the year, all things considered. So, aside from being bad news for European Ryder Cup team, what are we seeing here? Not sure. We’ll see if Tiger is still around on Sunday. If he is, what I’m most interested in is what the rest of the field does. It’s bound to happen eventually but if Tiger is leading on Sunday are the rest of the guys going to just fold up like old time? I bet they will.

Phillies vs. Padres. Everyone have this one circled on the schedule before the season? Oh, those surprising Pads. It looks like a bad spot for the Phils. Struggling offensively and heading into face a strong, 1st place staff at home, but the Astros looked like a good spot, and we know how that went. Perhaps the Phils need a little heat off, especially Ryan Howard, and the road could be the place for that. Oswalt vs. Latos to get it underway. The Phils need a ball to bounce their way, a big inning, something. The sooner it happens, the better. The good news is, SF, Atlanta and St. Louis have all had their struggles this week as well. Little more than a month to go, time to get hot again.

Last up for the weekend is Week 3 of the NFL pre-season, or whatever you want to call it. Point is, the starters will be getting a lot of reps, which means it’s time to do some serious DA Fantasy Football scouting. It’s about to get real.

Derek Jeter’s Got Plenty of Fans.

I’ve seen a bit of the Little League World Series over the past couple of days. I think I did a post on the LLWS last year, but I feel at this point the event has been over-exposed. As much as I would have loved being on TV as a 12-year old, I don’t need to see the sub-regionals. In a perfect world, we return the mystery and novelty of seeing only the final. It’s not the actual event I want to talk about, though. It’s the kids. I’m a bit worried about the youth of America.

If you’ve never seen a LLWS game, when they introduce the lineups the kids offer a fun fact about themselves. It’s usually their favorite team or player. As I listened to the team from Ohio introduce themselves yesterday, there was a disturbing trend. Two kids named a player from the Reds. The rest? A variety of big names from Pujols to Mauer. The most popular, though? Jeter. What? The youth of Ohio are Yankees fans? I’m going to be sick.

Since you are wondering, I did go back into my archive of memories to try and remember if I was a shameless fraud of a front runner as a youth. The answer is, I was a little bit. I don’t think it was to this extent, though. I thought guys were cool, like Bo Jackson and Will Clark. I hadn’t learned to despise all the teams yet, but even the non-Philly people I liked it wasn’t because they were winning titles.

Of course I understand why kids like Jeter or David Ortiz, even if they’ve never been within 500 miles of the East Coast, I just wonder what that means for the future of teams like the Indians. Here are these kids from Ohio and none of them like the Indians. No one is toughing it out with the team. They just latch onto the player of the moment. I feel like the life-long Indians fan, or Royals fan is an endangered species. Where’s the integrity?

I think occasionally (very occasionally) about how I might act in a parenting situation. I just try to steer myself through one day at a time,and that is hard enough, but sometimes you see or hear about flagrant parenting behavior, and wonder if that would be something you had in you. My sister told me the other day a woman said to her that sometimes she just wants to punch her kid in the face. I imagine most parents have this feeling every once in a while(kids can be such pricks), but would you voice it to someone you don’t know that well? I thought about it, and realized it’s hard to come up with an answer. I won’t know until I have the kid that I want to punch in the face.

But, on the less critical topic of fandom, I wonder how I would react if my kid grew up parroting Derek Jeter, a player on a team I despise. Or worse, wearing his eye-black like Bryce Harper. Have we seen this? I have to say, I blame the parents a little bit for this bandwagon, fair weather nonsense. In many areas I might not cause any trouble, but if I had a kid that said he was a Jeter fan on national TV, I’d probably cross to the dark side. I wouldn’t say, “I want to punch him in the face,” but I might say, “If my kid doesn’t cut out this Yankees horse bleep, he’s sleeping in the shed.”

Anger Sharks

They are circling. Not a funny line, and yet it always pops into my head. Would you rather be memorable, or funny? Tough one. Lucky or Good? I’ll take good. No-brainer. Let the hapless morons take the luck. Anyway, the play of the Phillies has me pretty cheesed off (someone remind me what movie that is). There’s been something distracted and desperate about them for five, six days here. Rushing guys back, base running mistakes, just a mess. When Werth admits a funny face caused him to get picked off, that’s my breaking point. So, in that spirit here are (even more) things that annoy the bullcorn out of me, aside from the Phillies/Astros series.

1. Direct Snap in the NFL. Really? This is a play you want to run? Come on. Line up, snap the ball to the QB and play like a professional team. This isn’t Boise State.

2. Boise State. Boise isn’t a state. They know that, right? Aside from that, I’m over the hype. A constant reminder that the BCS is brutal, and if they beat VA Tech (suddenly 1994 Nebraska) it’s really going to be hard to stomach.

3. Toasters/Toaster Ovens. You need both, and that’s just too much to bear in 2010. I like pushing the toast lever or whatever, but most toasters are incredibly impractical. Most toaster ovens toast like ass. But you can’t warm up take-out fries in a toaster. Maddening.

4. Bagels with holes. How are supposed to spread anything on them? Or, what becomes of the middle of your sandwich? Fatty, hole swallowing bagels only, please. The ones that don’t fit in a toaster.

5. Check-out Commenters. Walked into Kohl’s the other day to get some socks. I know, Ballin’. Jim Jones style. Check-out girl running her mouth like it’s her job. Everything she rings up, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. She said to someone, “In case you’re wondering this is my real personality.”. Shame, guess it can’t be helped then. I went to other line with my socks. The cashier was the perfect blend of mute and miserable.

6. New School shoelaces. Remember when the laces for sneakers used to be those incredibly budget, flat things? I loved those. Now, they are the rounded/shiny/slippery messes. I find myself having to re-tie my sneakers on occasion. It makes me feel like a toddler. And, no I won’t double knot. Double knotting has never made sense to me, not for one second.

7. Out of Place sports equipment. If you’re sitting in the upper deck, don’t bring your glove. If you’re going to a golf tournament, don’t wear your soft spikes. “But, the grass was wet…”. Shut up. You look like one of those tools that wears their dream week uniform down to the Phils game. Ever seen someone show up for a hockey game in skates? Get it together.

8. Time Zones. I’ve been in Missouri for a couple days and my phone clock didn’t switch over. Oh my, the agony. Wherever I am should be the time. I feel like everyone would be okay with that. Grossy standard time. GST, bitches.

9. Sales Tax. I’m fine with being taxed, but just add that crap in. I don’t want to make that leap from 99 cents to $1.05. That makes me want to light things on fire. Just put 1.05 on there, then I know I need to grab like 8 mini-peppermint patties from the bin, so I don’t have 95 cents in change in my pocket.

10. Rooms without ceiling fans. Every time I’m in a room, especially a bedroom with a fan, I’m like…this must be what heaven is like. Then I go back to my fan-less rat trap. You put in a door, you put in a fan. That should be the rule.

All right, I actually feel a bit better. Goooooo Kendrick.