I grew up in Indiana where basketball was once king. Every barn or garage had a basketball goal on it. If you didn't have a garage or barn, you had a pole with a goal on it. As a kid, when the weather was nice, you were outside shooting hoops. When you weren't playing basketball, you watched it when it came on tv.
As I grew older and continued to watch the game, I saw changes in the sport that I didn't care for. A more liberal interpertation of carrying the ball is the most obvious. It seemed that NBA players didn't give the game the respect it should. Call me "old school" or a basketball purist. It doesn't matter because I probably fit both descriptions pretty well.
This year was different. As the fall approached, I asked Shawn Phipps, the head boys coach at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School if he wanted me to continue to keep his book. He said there was an opening for an assistant coach and would love to have me. Just one little drawback for me was that I never played the game or even coached. While I have seen countless games in person and on tv, I didn't really feel qualified to coach. You see, I have never having played for a team in that big time atmosphere of a gym. I was apart of my high school varsity team as a manager my junior and senior year. Being a manager allowed me to become a student of the game and learn the little things about the sport.
Some other drawbacks to coaching was the time it would require. I was in the middle of finishing up my sons' youth football season (which takes up a lot of time) and I wasn't sure if I wanted to commit to that time requirement for the next few months. Add to it that I just didn't think I had the knowledge of the game that it would require to be a coach. I thought I could sit on the bench, keep a few stats and give quicker information to our head coach during the game, such as time outs and free throw percentages. The thought of helping with the team and being more involved was intriguing and I accepted.
Our first practice was the first of November and the team was trimmed down to 12 players from over 30 7th and 8th graders that tried out. With only one returning player from the previous year, I wasn't sure what kind of team or season we would have. When the first game was over, it seemed apparant that our kids had a severe case of the jitters as we lost. Missed free throws, missing open shots, being in the wrong place on offense and not boxing out for the rebounds.
The second game, everything seemed to come together. We led and the other team would come back and take the lead. We sucked it up, got the lead back and won the game on the opponent's court. It made the post game stop at McDonald's for something to eat even more worthwhile.
After three months of practice and playing two games a week, our season came to an end last Thursday against our cross county rival, Camden. The 27 years between high school and the fall of 2009, I had became disenfrachised with the game. Rules interpetations and watching some players (particulary NBA players) not really caring about the game and their performance got me turned off a little by the game. That and going to games at bigger schools with smaller crowds than I was accustomed to led to my bad feeling toward the game I grew up loving to watch.
This season, I began to enjoy the game more. I was able to teach the kids some subtle parts of the game. Showing them things in practice or a game that they couldn't see. Things like if they would make a cut to the basket on offense, they could be open for a bounce pass and an easy layup. If they would back up a step or two away from the basket, they would be in a better position for a rebound. Teaching them form in shooting free throws.
I soon found out that I knew more about the game than I gave myself credit for and I could pass that knowledge on to my new apprentices. While our season wasn't as successful as we all had hoped for, it was fun. We only managed three wins, but one of those was over our sister middle school, Stover.
We saw a Kobe Bryant like effort by our point guard, Michael Humphrey. A lot was on Michael's shoulders this year. He was the only returning player on the team, his dad had just moved to Texas and at some point once the season would be over, Michael would be moving there as well. Humphrey scored 27 points in one game this year. That's quite a bit considering we play six minute quarters. What made that performance more remarkable was that he had a breathing threatment earlier in the day for his asthma. He also stepped up and was a leader throughout the season in getting people in the spot they needed to be on the floor. His back must be sore because he carried our team most of the season.
With the season now in the books, I can look back and see the improvement each player has made in their game throughout the year. The last month of the season, I could tell that our guys were coming together as a team. Communicating with each other, even after a timeout was over to go over a few extra things. A team where each person enjoyed the other's company. You could see a few guys develop that confidence in a shot, how they played defense or even just develop that confidence in themselves that had nothing to do with basketball. They understood the game a little bit moreand adjusted to playing at a level they hadn't played at before.
I'm proud to have been associated with them. The 12 guys we had are all great in their own way and I consider them like one of my own. I appreciate them for helping me get reaquainted with a game that growing up, meant so much to me. So thanks to Ben Galloway, Nathan Tyson, Chandler "Big Country" Miles, Russ Radcliff, Michael Humphrey, Bailey Jordan, Geremiah "Bullfrog" Montgomery, Khalil Jefferson, Josh Jones, Jeremmy Bates, Chase Matthews, Keith "Pops" Anderson and our manager (who will be a future basketball coach) Austen Haney.
During the season, I have sat on the bench in a few girls games to help out their assistant when their head coach was at class to try to further her education. The girls team has also helped me redevelop a better attitude for basketball.
This season has been fun and you guys and gals have made it so.