MOTIVATIONAL MONDAY – I coached seven games yesterday so I could see the spring team players. My mentality is that I want to know the players who didn’t go for the “candy” of the games’ culture, and to see them training in the gyms. It is also helpful to see them in games, and even more helpful to see them respond to my simple yet very direct and demanding instructions. This way, if a coach is stepping in or we are tag-teaming, I can write up notes and we can get the best results. I also like to know early in the season who has the most character initially, and who continues to maintain and build their character as they play in a program run by a director who believes in the value of creating an uncomfortable environment.
The kids – grades 5-8 team players – looked good all day up until the last game. Throughout the day, almost all of the players on all of the teams were playing with the right intent. They were thinking out there, moving, doing what we asked – talking on D, running the break, running on and off the floor, getting to know each other and what we want them to do in the off-season.
We don’t hide behind a few players. It’s because we put all of our players out front even if it means offering them up as roadkill to older kids, as I did on Sunday. We signed up for a league that was billed 14-16 years old downtown. I wrote the director and said that I am bringing mostly 13-year-olds with maybe 1-3 older kids only as support for this league. The older kids we’ve merged with need to be training more than jumping into our games for now anyway. I said that I didn’t want to upset any of the other teams if we didn’t bring enough horsepower.
Director said not to worry.
When the boys walked into the gym, they did what most grade 7-8 boys do at that age when they see stiff competition. Girls would gasp, whisper, call out everything they are thinking. Boys go mute. I remember walking my JV boys into Wadeligh High School in Harlem years back and they stayed so close to me and looked so nervous that I said, “Boys, do you have to use the restroom?”
No words. Just one collective shake of their heads. They were too afraid to go to the bathroom.
On Sunday a few of them looked like they wanted to leave or throw up immediately. Then when our opponents walked into the gym as an entire team, I prayed to the basketball gods that the other team and my kids would forgive me. I swear if Coach Andy was there with me or Geri or Justin, I would have asked them to play.
We did okay. Honest. You tack 2-3 years of development, muscle, speed and testosterone on to an all-Black team that plays year-round (did not know this until I spoke to the players after the game) – and you’re going to see the difference on every play.
The referee came up to me with about two minutes to go and gave me that look. I knew what he was going to say and he did. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt and it seems like we’re okay, but I may call it.” I shook my head. “I said they’re handling it okay. Both teams. I want them to finish.”
We were down by 40. They took the press off rather early.
With about 27 seconds left in the game, the other referee blew the whistle randomly and tried to give me the football official sign – game over. I said, “No. I don’t teach my kids to quit. The roof isn’t falling in. The court and kids are safe. We get what we paid for and we always finish what we start.”
The last time I screamed this at the top of my lungs, “We finish what we start” was about six years ago when I invited the Gauchos into our league. The ref tried to call the game with about two minutes left. I said, “What are you kidding? You cannot do that.”
He was not happy with me.
“It’s my job to teach these kids that we finish what we start.”
He was not happy with me. He knew he would lose if he contested my very fair claim. In my entire career, nobody ever called a game. It’s only called if there is a fight or danger to the players. None of that was taking place.
As the referee and I stared each other down, the Gauchos’ parents and fans started clapping for me and for us.
Nobody clapped on Sunday, but we still finished.
Granted I felt awful and sweat profusely throughout the demoralizing loss. I told the boys after the game that if they do not want to come back to this league, I understand. But there will be no private school high school game that they will play in that will be played faster, harder and more aggressively that what we just experienced. I told them they may hate every second of it now, but this is exactly where you need to be if you want to be the best basketball player you need to be.