Thursday, February 02, 2006

Opening Night

Lindbergh -- 08-20-11-16--55
Bancroft --- 10-08-12-14--44

Even though there was a fair amount of drama leading up to it, this was a pretty good effort for our first game. Here's a quick recap of our pre-game issues:

• A student was discovered with a pipe bomb at school on Tuesday morning (yes, a pipe bomb), so that afternoon's practice was delayed so that the bomb squad could continue its search of the lockerroom.
• When my expected starting two-guard (Chris) showed up in my English class on Wednesday afternoon, I noticed that his grade check had been altered (and poorly so, I might add) to make his F in math look like an A-. He assured me that the A- was the correct grade, even as I was dialing his math teacher -- who confirmed the F. I had no choice -- he would have to sit out the game.
• Another starter -- and our second-best player (Raynard) -- showed up at the pre-game shoot-around and announced that he hadn't been able to get his physical as planned. Apparently four weeks wasn't enough time for him to work it into his schedule. He wouldn't be able to play, and we were suddenly down two starters.

During the bus ride to the game I tried to occupy myself by juggling possible lineups in my head, but it was difficult not to worry. The first game is always the most difficult for me, because you really have absolutely no idea what to expect, either from your team or from your opponent. After working with our team for the past two weeks, I was beginning to think that we had a chance to very good, but I couldn't be sure until we faced live competition. Some teams come together well, others don't. Some players surprize you by how they react to game situations, while others disappoint. The only thing that kept me sane on the ride over was the knowledge that the Bancroft was likely dealing with the same issues and unanswered questions that I was.

Things were a bit ragged in the first quarter as our boys got used to each other and adjusted to some of the different things Bancroft was doing on both ends of the court. But once we got into the second quarter, we took control and never really looked back. I had installed a 2-2-1 press in practice about a week earlier, but hadn't looked at it since so I wasn't sure if we'd be able to use it much this week. As I gathered the team before the opening tip, however, I decided to try it out, almost on a whim. It worked well. With a lightning-quick point guard, and incredible small forward, and an overall depth and athleticism that I don't think will be matched all season, our full court pressure was stifling. I didn't keep stats on it, but I'm fairly sure that close to half of our points came off turnovers, most as a result of the press. It was beautiful to watch.

Our best player by far is Jesse, who was a starter on last year's team. In addition to being incredibly talented, Jesse has one enormous advantage: he turned fifteen in December, making him at least a year older than most of his competition. And really, it's just not fair. He scored 31 points (a huge total in middle school basketball), but he didn't take a single bad or selfish shot. If anything, he passed up shots that he should've taken, and he missed five or six free throws. He easily could've gone for forty. Next week, though, Raynard will hopefully be back, so Jesse won't have to score as much.

Splitting player of the game honors with Jesse would probably be our point guard Markes. Raynard's older brother Bernard played the point for me last year, and I told everyone that he was the best point guard I had ever coached, but Markes is definitely better. He's small, probably about 5'5", but an incredible decision-maker and ballhandler. No one will ever take the ball from him, and I have complete confidence in his ability to run our team on the floor. Guard play determines success at all levels, but it's probably even more important in middle school, since there tends to be a wider gap between the good guards and the mediocre ones. With Markes controlling things, we'll be fine. But the best thing about him? He's a great kid. He's in my English class, and he's one of my top students.

So hopefully we'll have the entire roster available for next week's game against Hoover Middle School, a team which figures to be one of our league's best. I'm doing my best not to look ahead, but if we beat Hoover, it will be difficult not to.