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What my musings are all about...

Blogging might well be the 21st century's form of journaling. As a writing teacher, I have always advised my students to keep a daily journal as a way of organizing their thoughts for future writing projects, a discipline I have unfortunately never consistently practiced myself. By blogging, I might finally be able to follow my own good advice.

The difference between journaling and blogging is that the blogger opens his or her writing to the public, something journal- writers are usually reluctant to do. I am not so reticent.

The trick for me will be to avoid cluttering the internet with more blather, something none of us need more of. If I stick to subjects I know: sports and literature, I believe I can avoid that pitfall. I can't promise that I'll not stray from time to time to comment on ancillary subjects, but I will make every attempt to be interesting and perhaps even insightful.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

George Karl

Welcome to the Kings, George Karl.The headaches the Kings are presenting you with will not go away with a couple of aspirins, but only with a lot of tough decisions. I'm sure you're aware of this. I'm sure you've already started making some.

Good luck, George.

When I was coaching the Reno Bighorns in the old CBA, we played George's Montana team. He beat the pants off of us. The Bighorns were a so-so team with a lousy coach; the Montana team was a so-so team with a great coach. Well, he wasn't great yet, but he was on a fast-track to greatness.

The Sacramento Kings' GM, Pete D'Alessandro, made a wise choice hiring George Karl. Why George remained un-hired up to now is a mystery to me and a gift to the Kings. I believe George belongs in that category of elite coaches which include Auerbach, Holtzman, Hannum, Sharman, Wilkens, Riley, Daly, Brown, Jackson, and Popovich, the defining characteristics of which is four-fold: basketball smarts, razor sharp instincts, the ability to teach, and passion.  Of all of these, I rank Passion the highest. The smarts, the instincts, the teaching goes sideways without passion.

George was passionate about the game, I suspect, from the first time he picked up a basketball, but I saw it first when I watched him play as a intelligent point guard at North Carolina. And later, as I watched him coach in the NBA.

If George has ever failed as a coach, it's been his inability to coach selfish players. Selfish players don't respond to coaching. I don't see any selfish players on the Kings. Some people have laid that accusation at the feet of Demarcus Cousins. Cousins, no doubt has his faults - brooding, complaining, whining, obstinacy, self importance to name a few, but no one watching the big fellow can say that he lacks passion.The fact is Demarcus Cousins has improved in the above mentioned areas of personal behavior, so George if fortunate to inherit a more manageable player to begin his tenure. .

We will see if the still young Cousins has matured enough to embrace the kind of straight talk he'll hear from Coach Karl. Carmelo Anthony couldn't, and still can't, his problem being a hard wired genetic case of selfishness. Gary Payton (known for being difficult and stubborn) could, and grew into a Hall of Fame basketball player under George's tutelage.

There is one other attribute that should be pointed out, not something George would emphasis, but I will and that is his battle and victory over two cancers: of prostate and throat. Having overcome three types of cancer myself, I'm in awe of my fellow cancer survivors. I'm not sure it makes one stronger, but it sure teaches one patience, the importance of a sense of humor, and how to live day by day, all of which George will bring to his coaching this year. The Kings may be lucky in that they nabbed George at the moment when he has reached the pinacle of his humanity and, as a consequence, the height of his ability to coach. 

George, you will love Sacramento. The Capital City is on the rise, with an aggressive, future thinking Mayor, a beautiful new arena, a revitalized downtown, an energetic university and arts community, good schools, involved citizens,  a city with more trees in the world except for Paris. And lots more attributes too numerous to count.

Last Saturday I sat in on a poetry workshop run by Sacramento Poet Laureate Bob Stanley. I was there as his guest to talk about my recent collection of poems: Sweat: New and Collected Poems About Sports. One of the members of the group wrote a wonderful poem about basketball I'd like to share with a wider audience.

Roundball   by Stan Zumbiel

      I always dreamt of being a basketball player,
      A dream that only I believed in.
  
                      David Duchovny

I could shoot. Don't get me wrong
about that. Hours and year on the
driveway tossing the ball against
the wooden backboard and into the
metal net meant I was a deadeye.
Sometimes the balls were oblong
from being run over with the car
or worn completely smooth by
constant contact with cement and
the black-top of the street.But I could
shoot.  From the edge of the lawn,
guarded by the boxwood hedge,
from the complete backcourt of
the sidewalk, I would hear the
ringing song of the chain link net.

When I was a freshman, we had a contest
in P.E. For two minutes, we alternately
shot freethrows and lay-ups retrieving
our own misses. Two points for the
freethrow and one point for the lay-up.
And for the entirety of one lunch
period, I held the school record at
thirty-two points, was the talk of
the cafeteria. Until Bruce Lee,
the captain of the  freshman team,
got forty-one that afternoon.

I could shoot. There was no doubt
about that. But, let's not deceive
ourselves, I couldn't play. I was slow,
short, couldn't jump and hated contact -
worthless during a game.
But I could shoot, on my driveway
I could fill it up like mad.






Saturday, February 7, 2015

Mid Season Comments

A solid analysis of which teams have a chance to win the NBA title won't be possible until the trade deadline passes and all the lineups are in place. However, my picks up to this point are the following teams. In the West: Golden State Warriors, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Houston Rockets. In the East: the Atlanta Hawks, I hesitate to add any other teams from the East, but I'll hedge my bets by adding Washington Wizards, and, yes, Cleveland Cavs. The addition of Mosgov, Shumpert, and JR Smith creates a whiff of possibility. But, after last night's win against the Warriors, I'm sold on Atlanta's game. Like the Warriors, they can go deep into their bench for productivity.

About that game, it appeared to me, the Hawks bench was more physically aggressive than the Warriors' bench. During last night's game the Hawk demonstrated a slight edge over the Warriors in that bench play. I don't believe that will be the case come playoff time. The key will be the improved play of David Lee. Notice, I said "will be, not might be." Right now, I don't see Lee playing at the high level we're used to seeing. He seems reluctant to shoot that good mid-range jumper of his, and the banker in the paint, that was his bread and butter is a tad off the mark. Other than that, the Warriors have all it take to win the title. As an Old Warrior, it warms my heart to watch them play, the way they pass, cut, set picks, board, look to help each other.

One last comment. It seems to me that whoever wins the title, it will be because of the following: Paint protection (driving to the basket must be significantly curtailed and and an opponents' offensive rebounds virtually eliminated); a solid eleven man rotation (at this point in the season, there are only four teams that have eleven trustworthy players - Warriors, Grizzlies, Houston, and Atlanta. There are lots of teams with 8 or 9 solid players, but that won't cut it to win a championship.

I found a wonderfully funny and surreal sports poem. The title of the poem is the key to the humor. I'm sort of a history/political junkie, so that added to the fun.

LOUISVILLE FEARED IN MIDEAST  by   Steven Bryan Bieler

                       after a newspaper headline

You can't buy baseball bats in Israel.
You can't bring them in, either.
(The batting gloves tucked in your belt give you away)
God forbid you could poke somebody's eye out.
Louisville feared in Mideast.

You can't make crime pay in Egypt
Egyptian justice will track you down.
Your cell has no windows, no telephone, no Reader's Digest.
They turn on the TV
NCAA basketball playoff.
Louisville feared in Mideast.

You can't predict the price of oil
With the tools of supply and demand.
The Arab oil ministers use their own tools
"And in today's results
Chiropractor ran last in the fourth.
While Stormin' Norman failed to show."
Louisville feared in Mideast.









Monday, January 12, 2015

NBA Review for the New Year

Looks as if Boston gave the Grizzles a New Year's present in Jeff Green, a very capable, border line All Star stretch forward/with power skills. For Dyshawn Prince? Definitely an upgrade. It gives the Griz fire power from angles they never had before. If Green pays off, and I can't imagine he won't, the Griz are going far in the playoffs. With the addition of Green, they're damn solid at every position, starter and backup. And they board and play tough D.

Rajon Rando make the Mavs a better team, not immediately but come March, watch out. They still might be a little thin off the bench come playoffs when things get nasty.

If Waiters can play some D, he' ll help the Thunder, but some intangible is missing from that team. It's not energy (a word I hate), perhaps a coherent offensive and defensive game plan. In my opinion, the team needs to incorporate some big-men-points into their offense (Adams and Ibaka). From my own experience as a player, it gets old if you're told to go out there and play D and grab rebounds and not have any touches. The Thunder needs to retool their philosophy.

Boy, was I wrong about the CAVS. But I'm not giving up on them. I watched them last night get absolutely whipped by the Kings, a team that is struggling to figure things out themselves, and I thought, they looked like a boat without a rudder, just going around any which way. I see no pattern, defensively or offensively. When James comes back, that will help, but its going to take a position by position overhaul to turn the season around. JR Smith? Really? Mosgov and Shumpert can help, but not without a plan.

Talk about being strong at every position, starters and off the benchers, the Golden State Warriors have got it covered. If all players are healthy, the Warriors bring five players of the bench that could be starters on at least four teams in the NBA whose names I'll not mention.

ERGO: To survive deep into the playoffs and/or to win the Championship, it is my belief a team must be solid at all positions ten players deep. There are other requirements, but personnel is a must. That means that bench players are not a huge drop-off from your starters.

Therein lies the problem for the Blazers, an excellent starting five (with Lopez), then a dramatic drop-off.
A team that could surprise in the first round like last year, but I doubt it.

The Clippers are 7 players strong. Not enough to take them too far into the playoffs. They may make it riding on their Four Horsemen: Paul, Griffen, Crawford, and Jordan. (If only Jordan could create a little offense?) Is Reddick or Barnes the fifth horseman? Maybe, maybe? Bench does not instill any confidence. A three point shooting backup center?

I'm a big Bulls fan, simply because I love teams that play tenacious and smart defense, but they too are thin off the bench. Butler, Gasol, Noah, Rose, Hinrich, Gibson, Brooks (meteoric right now, but capable of fizzling) and Mirotic. I've never been a Dunleavy fan. 

One has to believe that Pop has a strategy, so I'm predicting the Spurs will finish strong. Whether they win the Championship again, I think depends on getting all their players healthy by April. If that happens, the team is deep enough to do the job.

As much as I admire the Hawks, their bench is not dependable. Schroder is fine player but still a work in progress. Sefolosha can't produce any offense, and Antic is inconsistent. Inconsistency the rest of the way down the bench.

The Phoenix Suns is an interesting, go, go, go team. Mile D'Antoni would be proud of this offense. They're very deep. Their first round draft choice, Len, is starting to look like the real deal, so if he continues to grow as a player (able to produce some offense and block shots) and Plumlee can be a productive backup, that is cause some mayhem in the paint on D, the Suns with the firepower and speed they have could surprise the West.

The Wizards are also deep, but they can't quite match up player for player against some of the elite teams in the West. However, if a few of their players, like Seraphim, Butler, and Porter overachieve, they could win in the East. You have to have post strength to win in the playoff, and they do. Note, I didn't say height, but strength.

What is it about the Houston Rockets that doesn't quite measure up to Champions? On paper, they have 9 players that should be solid, but upon careful examination, are not. Smith is undependable and I'm not sure how smart. Pnikalau is inconsistent, Brewer runs hot and cold, So does Terry at his age. Harden doesn't play much D. Howard, given his physical talent, often under-produces. Beverly looks like a point guard, but really isn't. He should be coming off the bench. Montejunas is going to be an excellent power forward one of these days, but the Rockets miss Jones. Now, if the Mavs had signed Rondo??? With Beverly off the bench???? Oh, well, water under the Dallas Bridge.

If DeMar DeRozan returns, which it appears he will by February, the Toronto Raptors. With DeRozan back, the Raptors have seven excellent players. I worry about their bench and maybe shouldn't. For some reason, although he's playing well, I don't trust James Johnson's game. The same for Patrick Patterson, roaming too far away from the hoop where he could be of more use. Landry Fields is a question mark. What happened to his NY Knicks' game? And Hansbrough is a loose cannon. So, if my idea that you need solid at all positions both starter and benchers, I can't see the Raptors this year. Maybe next year if they can get their rookies Coboclo and Nogueira in some kind of shape. 

Anyone a horse racing fan? If you are, here's a sad poem about the sport of kings that made me think about athletes who play for the love of their sport, even though they know they're not going to be rewarded financially, who just keep trudging on, giving it their all. The poem was written by Ron Koertge.

A Jockey 

named Kovacs went down
at Pomona yesterday.
He was riding something
that was born to hold
one piece of paper
to another.

The crowd loves to hate
accidents and everybody
wanted to know who Ted 
Kovacs was. Like the
next winner, it was
a mystery.

This, then, is to set 
the record straight:
Ted Kovacs makes 14
thousand a year when
things go right.

His wife keeps a 
scrapbook that shows
the day he tripled,
the $9,000.00 Exacta
where he was second,
and all the times he
was in intensive care.

When he almost didn't make it,
the article ran to nearly
20 lines.













Tuesday, January 6, 2015

As an Old Warrior, I can't begin to tell you how satisfying and fun it is watching the New Warriors. Taking a page out of the Spurs' book on how to play basketball properly and adding their own postscripts and addendum, the Warriors are showing the rest of the league what sharing the basketball and playing team D means to winning. It is significant that, while Stephen Curry and KlayThompson play crucial roles in terms of point production, the victories have a lot more to do with the rest of the players. This is best exemplified by the enthusiastic reaction of Curry and Thompson when they're resting and their replacements are doing well. For your stars to become the teams' best bench cheerleaders says a great deal about the Warriors' camaraderie. Let me repeat the word, CAMARADERIE - a spirited goodwill among friends and colleagues.
The word Chemistry belongs in a science lab.

I'm compelled to enumerate:

Draymond Green. I haven't seen a more productive undersized player since Adrian Dantley. Talk about mental toughness. Harrison Barnes keeps growing in all aspects of his game, that deadly corner three and lockdown defense for example. Can you imagine superstars like David Lee and Andre Iguodala on any
other NBA team giving up starting rolls to come off the bench for the good of the team? How about the Comeback Kid, Shaun Livingston, taking his comeback to a higher level?  Remember him in his rookie year with the Clippers - pure joy. And how about Mareese Speights, whose anguished facial expressions remind this writer of Job the Afflicted; can this solid defender, rebounder and sharp-shooter be the same Speights that was a less than effective journeyman in Cleveland? I'm particularly excited about the play of Justin Holiday. I remember watching him in the 2014 summer league and thinking, wow, this kid's got talent. Does his jumper remind anyone of KD's? Let's not forget the contribution of the swift defender Leandro Barbosa, ready in practice, ready to come off the bench to contribute a steal or a defensive stop. These are the Warrior Comrades that are winning right now. Waiting on the bench to make a significant contribution is Andrew Bogut, arguably the best passing center in the NBA, whose toughness, paint defense, shot-blocking, and passing may not be missed too much during the regular season, but will be crucial to how deep the Warriors go in the post season. I am not forgetting Festus Ezeli, a man who started playing basketball late, but whose back up role at center can't be overestimated. As he continues to grow and learn from Andrew Bogut, his minutes will increase as will his importance to the team, especially when protecting the paint becomes essential. Hats off to Brandon Rush and Ognjen Kuzmic; I'm guessing their contribution to the team takes place during practices, which does not lessen their importance to the health of the body of the team.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the coaches. Steve Kerr, the head coach and his top two assistants, Alvan Gentry and Ron Adams. I'm not sure how Kerr has managed in such a short time to bring these players into his field of dreams, his vision of teamwork, especially since he followed a charismatic coach and a winning season, but brought them together he has with a quiet verve and unflinching passion. (Loved those T's, Steve) And with the help of two solid assistants, Gentry working on offense and Adams working on defense. It is no cliche to say that a great symphonic orchestra is only as good as its conductor.

Since I'm talking hoops, let's leave the accomplishments of management for another blog. Suffice it to say it will be a complimentary blog. 

WELCOME TO THE NEW WARRIORS a team with glory waiting for them in June.

Here's a poem that comes to mind whenever I watch Stephen Curry shoot a basketball.

When I Got It Right   by  Carl Linder

The ball would lift
light as a wish,
gliding like a blessing
over the rim, pure,
or kissing off glass
into the skirt of net.
Once it began
I couldn't miss.
Even in the falling dark,
the ball, before it left
my hand, was pure.







Sunday, January 4, 2015

Hurrah for Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant nailed it. AUU basketball for youth stinks. Say Kobe, "Horrible, terrible, AAU basketball stupid. It doesn't teach our kids how to play the game at all. They (the kids) don't know the fundamentals of the game."

Last night I was witness to what Kobe was talking about. My wife and I drove to a mega-basketball venue called Courtside Palace where we paid ten bucks a person to watch her grandson. His team played four games in one day. We only watched two. The Courtside Palace is one of two huge AAU basketball arena next in the same area containing eight basketball courts, all of them in use. One team off, one team on. It's a supermarket of basketball. Teams come from a hundred mile radius to play against each other. The games have referees and coaches. The refs seem good enough. The coaching? That's another story. I watched horrified at the lack of fundamentals on display. There was plenty of fancy dribbling, (I hear you Kobe) most with little effect, lots of three point shooting, tons of turnovers, virtually no blocking off the boards, and defenses so porous that any player who put his head down and drove made it safely into the paint. Freethrow shooting was abysmal. Weakside defense was non existent.

From what I saw, it's clear that AAU youth basketball stresses playing games over teaching skills. Too bad for the future of American basketball. I'm nut sure parents understand what's happening to their children. They better listen to Kobe Bryant and call for some fundamental changes. But maybe that's unimportant to them. I saw lots of tall dads dreaming of college scholarship. Is that what this is all about?

High school coaches, what do you have to say about the AAU? Or doesn't it matter to you if these young kids come into your programs with zero fundamentals?

I found this strange little poem by Susan Bright about tennis but the message could be about all sports. What it says about young players is important.

 CONTEST

            "If I played myself last year,
             I'd beat her."
                          - Martina Navratilova

I let roots pull foot tendons
down,
until I am just about
here.
I know what 
I can get away with.
When I am tired,
I stop.

The young ones
run circles around me,
seem translucent,
ineffective.
They do everything
wrong,
make mistakes,
lack experience.

That is how I keep up
with them.