Thursday, February 23, 2006

You Live by the Sword, You Die by the Sword

Marshall (1-3).....19-00-18-20--57
Lindbergh (4-0)...17-10-20-20--67

If last week was the most enjoyable game I've ever coached, this week's game was definitely the strangest game I've ever been a part of. I expected a bit of a letdown, since we had already beaten the top three teams in our league, but that's not exactly what happened. We were athletically superior to (and even taller than) this team, so we won fairly easily -- but it was interesting along the way.

The Marshall Plan was simple -- shoot three-pointers like crazy. When the shots were falling (they hit five in the first quarter, and a total of twelve for the game) they were difficult to shake, but when they weren't, the game swung in our direction pretty quickly. If you take a look at the boxscore above, you'll see what I mean. They played us evenly in the first, third, and fourth quarters, but the final margin was essentially determined when they didn't score a single point in the second, something I didn't realize until I saw the scorebook.

We stuck with our usual 2-3 zone throughout, even though I was tempted mightily to switch to man-to-man. It occurred to me on the morning after the game that I probably should've tried flipping our zone to a 3-2, just to make it easier to get out on the shooters. As it turned out, it didn't really matter.

There was an interesting guest in the stands on this night. A few minutes before tip-off I noticed Coach Massey, the local high school coach walk into the gym. He's been the head coach for at least twenty years or so, and I when I first started coaching I spent a lot of time observing his practices, learning drills and talking to him about subtle things like motivation. He used to come to our games every once in a while, the way high school coaches all over the land watch the players that will soon be playing for them, but I somehow convinced myself in those days that he was coming to watch me, not my players. Back then I harbored hopes of one day coaching in high school, and I wondered if maybe Massey was thinking the same thing. I can't imagine that he was, but when he and I attended a coaching clinic hosted by then Long Beach State coach Seth Greenberg and happened to walk in at the same time, Coach Greenberg said hello to Coach Massey, then turned to me and said, "This must be another Massey disciple." He had it about right.

I've long since given up thoughts of coaching high school basketball, but I was still interested in what he might have to say after watching our team play. He told us that he didn't think he had ever seen such an unselfish team at this level, and commented on a few of our players, then asked me if we had been beaten yet. When I told him we hadn't, he dropped the bomb: "You probably won't be." My immediate response: "Don't say that -- that's what we thought last year."

The playoffs are still a few weeks ago, but here's what we know. Last night's win was important since it allowed us to clinch our league championship for the second straight year. That gives us a first round bye in the playoffs and a ticket straight to the semi-finals where we'll play a second- or third-place team from either our league or the other. Here are the standings: