Saturday, November 06, 2004

Eleven Days and Counting

Basketball season officially started today, when our school's flag football team lost in the city championship game. Eighth grade tryouts will be on Monday, and round two will be Tuesday, when I expect to have about thirty boys from all three grades competing for the final 12 to 14 roster spots. I'll post that final list on Wednesday, then we'll practice that afternoon, skip Thursday (Veteran's Day), practice Friday (maybe), Monday, and Tuesday, and then play our first game on Wednesday.

Have I mentioned before that this is insane? But at least I'm not alone. I spoke to another coach today whose school beat us in this morning's football game. His school's volleyball team was playing in the volleyball championship later that afternoon, so he hasn't been in the gym at all. He's starting tryouts on Monday. This is a small comfort, though. I'm certain that there are other teams in our league that have been practicing for weeks.

So what can we accomplish in six 90-minute practices? I'll focus on defense, probably going with a basic 2-3 zone and a more gimmicky 3-2. For offense, I think I might have to teach some offensive "ideas" instead of plays. We'll focus on the importance of running our offense through the high post and looking for the gaps in the opposing team's defense. I've got a hunch that our opening opponent will play man-to-man defense, which will probably make things easier for us.

With such short notice, here are some of the things that I won't even consider teaching even though I'll have to get to them at some point: in-bounds plays, full-court press, press break, opening tip, taking charges, and intentional fouling. I will, however, have to find the time to work on boxing out and free throw alignments, as well as other fundamentals like passing and dribbling. Probably the most pressing concern, however, will be eligibility. In order to play, the boys will have to turn in a permission slip and proof of insurance, which shouldn't be too difficult. But they also need to get a physical, which will be problematic. If we have more than seven boys eligible for our first game, I'll be shocked. The football players, at least, have already taken care of all this. Have I mentioned before that this is insane?

The good news, though, is that I have a few returning players. It's not all good news, though.

There were four seventh graders on the team last year, and all of them played significant minutes and started at least a few games. Here's a quick recap:

Those of you who followed us last season will remember Kenneth, our volatile point guard. He had some serious anger management issues, and I had to sit him out of a few practices and consign him to the bench in a couple of games as a result. But he was talented and always worked hard during games, so I had high hopes for him as an eighth grader. Unfortunately, Kenneth is no longer with us. A few weeks after our season ended last year, he was kicked out of our school for punching someone (a girl, I think) and breaking her jaw. I never found out the details of the incident, but I can't say that I was too surprized. He was sent to another school in the district, but I don't think we'll play his team this year unless we meet in the playoffs.

Stephan (rhymes with Geffen) was first on the team as a sixth grader. I kept him then mainly because of his height, and now that he's in the eighth grade he's about 6'2". He played a fair amount last year, and I have strong expectations for him this year. Stephan and the rest of the boys have been telling me that he's dunking, but since I haven't yet seen it, I don't believe it. It's rare for a middle school boy to have the strength to dunk; sometimes they can get high enough, but they aren't usually able to get the ball down over the rim. So when a boy says he can dunk, what that usually means is that if he takes ten runs at it, and he's on the court with the rim that's bent down just a bit, and the wind is blowing in the right direction, he might be able to rattle it in once in ten tries. It really doesn't matter, though. Stephan is tall, and tall is good.

Roman was probably my favorite player on the team last year. He might be the smartest basketball player I've ever coached. Even as a sixth grader, he picked up on things faster than anyone else on the team, and demonstrated his basketball intelligence during simple practice drills as well as games. His maturity was also an asset, as he was one of the few players who never seemed frustrated at being pulled from a game, since he trusted me to rotate him back in. He's in my English class this year, and it's been a pleasure to get to know him in a different context. He's confident, articulate, and funny. Sadly, though, he won't be playing for me this year. Roman also plays football, and last Saturday he fractured a bone in his leg, his shin I think. His injury weakens our team, to be sure, but my first thought when I heard the news was of how disappointed he must have been. I called him immediately to check on him, and I assured him that I still expected him to be a member of the team, even if that means that he's just sitting on the bench in a cast. He seemed happy to hear that, but I know it won't be the same.

Here's all you need to know about DiMarrie (pronounced di-már-ee-ay). Last season he drew a foul because he was boxing out too aggressively. Middle school basketball players box out in practice -- sometimes -- but almost never in games. In that respect, I guess, they're no different from NBA players. DiMarrie is different. He works hard every minute that he's on the floor, and he doesn't mind if he's touching the ball on offense or not. Because of this, he was an absolute pleasure to coach. He made my job easier in two ways. First, he was always doing his job, and second, he provided me with a perfect example to hold up to the rest of the team. DiMarrie's status, however, is also uncertain. Based on his last report card, the one he received at the end of his seventh grade year, he's eligible (GPA > 2.0, no more than one Unsatisfactory conduct grade), but when he receives his upcoming report card, on or about November 24th, there's a good chance that I'll have to remove him from the team. His grades will probably be okay, but I'm sure that at least one or two of his teachers will give him a "U" in conduct. (If it's one he plays, if it's two he doesn't.) I'm bothered by this because one of his teachers appears to have some type of vendetta against him. Instead of trying to change his behavior, she seems intent on punishing him for his behavior. Instead of wanting him to improve, she wants him not to play basketball. This is the way this teacher always operates, but it doesn't frustrate me any less. Because DiMarrie doesn't fit into her narrow view of how a student should behave, she has written him off. Obviously, I have a strong interest in having him on the team, because his presence on the floor will make us one of the better teams in the city, but in this situation, my concern is honestly more for DiMarrie than it is for our playoff possibilities. As delicately as possible, I think I'll talk to DiMarrie's teachers this week to find out where he stands. I'll definitely keep you posted.