The Perfect Basketball Practice: Part I

The Perfect Basketball Practice: My Beliefs About the Game

Part I

This guy Nate and I were supposed to meet to talk about coaching basketball. I didn’t know him very well, but we would soon be friends. It’s one of the best things about sports, that it delivers friends.  Nate and I live in the mountain town of Boone, North Carolina where I can drive twenty-five miles to the north and be in Tennessee and just a little to the east and enter Virginia. My friends back in Indiana where I’m from often refer to me as being an East Coaster. I don’t think they realize I’m pretty much south and just a little east of Columbus, Ohio, and it’s at least a five-hour drive to the beach from here. I used to live in New Canaan, Connecticut and also New York City. Those are the kinds of places I think of when I think of the East Coast. Nate and I were to meet at a coffee place called The Local Lion right across from Appalachian State University where we were both lecturers. Nate has since moved on to a job with a less flexible schedule, and I try to keep my late afternoons clear for working out my girls and coaching their respective teams. 

I arrived to The Lion first and chose a seat at a wooden table where I could see the door and watch for Nate. It’s a place that serves homemade doughnuts with names like “pumpkin apple cider” and posts videos online in which homemade chocolate glaze can be seen poured over one of their latest creations. I pulled out a notebook I call a daybook. I started calling my notebooks daybooks after I read a book called Write to Learn by Donald Murray. Murray was the first book I ever read about writing that I liked. He used the first person, told stories to illustrate his ideas, and he wrote in a conversational style that was easy to understand.  In Write to Learn, Murray wrote this about his daybook: “anything that will stimulate or record my thinking, anything that will move toward writing goes into the daybook.” When I am feeling a little high falutin, I say that I write down intellectual seeds in my daybook that I hope to grow. For my meeting with Nate, I’d written down a bunch of stuff I thought we might teach the girls. Some of the words and phrases included work on weak hand, pivoting, shooting technique, and jump to the ball. I tend toward the belief that it doesn’t do any good to teach kids a bunch of plays if they can’t dribble or pass. It’s a cliche for coaches to say they want to teach kids to play and not a bunch of plays, but it’s another thing entirely to put teaching the fundamentals into regular practice over a long period of time. Besides that, with only 90 or so minutes twice week, which fundamentals will the coach choose to teach? 

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That’s Nate on the left and me on the right with the team.

Nate arrived and came over to shake my hand. He’s a couple inches taller than me, probably 6’4 or so, and is an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic guy. We each had some experience with coaching basketball. Nate was a manager at Arizona when Lute Olsen was the coach, and he’d been a high school head boys coach in Maryland. I’d been a graduate assistant at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois where I’d played and then over the course of two decades had been a head coach and an assistant for boys and girls in both North Carolina and Indiana. The most impressive highlight I can share about my coaching career was that I was an assistant coach for Vance High School in Charlotte when that team beat a Chris Paul team on its way to the North Carolina 4A state championship. Nate had worked with the fifth graders the year before, and I had started working with girls through the YMCA in Connecticut back when my oldest was a second grader. We’d both learned that all of our high school and college experiences didn’t necessarily translate into planning effective and fun practices for the girls we would coach. After a trip to the counter for coffee and doughnuts, Nate and I sat down to talk.

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Nate’s iPad notes from the day we met to talk hoops.

For Nate’s notes, he came armed with an iPad the size of a standard piece of notebook paper. As I watched him pull out the pen that had come with the device, I remembered about how I’d read Steve Jobs always took a stand against the pen. He’d hold up his hand and wiggle his fingers demonstrating that people are born with natural pens for the iPad. With Jobs having passed away, the pen came to Apple. After some chit chat, we got down to the business at hand. 

“What’s your ideal practice,” Nate asked, “for these kids we are about to start working with?” I loved that Nate sat down ready to fire off questions. It’s certainly my style too, to be constantly asking questions of others and trying to learn. I’m going to use Nate’s question in the coming posts to try and get down some of what I’ve come believe about ideal workouts and practices. 

 

Life Without Sport

It used to be, before the COVID-19 caused lots of cancellations, that my days were full of sport. Some days, I wrote out practice plans for the sixth and eighth grade girls travel teams I coach, strength training plans, or a workout for my girls to be held in the Quinn Center on the campus of Appalachian State University where I teach. Six days a week, I was used to meeting my daughters for a travel team practice or one of our workouts. Many nights, we’d get home after 9:00 p.m. and the girls would still have homework to complete. Days were long. There didn’t seem to be quite enough time for everything.

Peak Basketball, Laura Barry, Bill Torgerson, Boone, North Carolina, Watauga High School

The travel basketball seasons of the two teams I coach were suspended indefinitely.

Every weekend for the foreseeable future was filled with a basketball tournament. Now, even though there are online courses for me to teach and homework for the girls to do via remote learning, the day’s schedule has a lot more free time in it. 

Not only are the sports we participate in cancelled, but so are the ones we are used to watching on television. I am not a passionate fan of a sports team I watch regularly on television, but I do live with two such people. My side of the family is from Indiana, and my mom and dad are Indiana Hoosier basketball fans first, the Big Ten second, and then they come up with connections such as rooting for the team that beat a Big Ten Team in the tournament or perhaps paying attention to a school such as Baylor because Scott Drew is the coach, and he is from Valparaiso, Indiana. With the loss of March Madness, my parents lose one of their favorite times of the year, and I lose the pleasure of hearing my mother shout at the television for the players on TV to rebound. 

While I’m not a big fan of sports teams, I do regularly watch games on television. I am a fan of Golden State Warriors’ Coach Steve Kerr, and the way he has helped his players organically find random double staggered screens in a motion offense I see at least in the same family of the Bob Knight motion offenses I grew up with in Indiana. During the course of this basketball season, I became interested in what Carolina Coach Roy Williams would say after the next loss, and I thought I saw ingredients of possibility that the team might get things turned around for a late winning streak. Following an 81-53 loss to Syracuse in the ACC tournament, the Carolina’s men’s basketball season ended with a sense of closure unavailable to many teams. I think of teams such as Gonzaga who will have to wonder if this year would have finally been the year or all of those high school players and coaches I know whose seasons were cancelled or put on hold after a couple of wins in the state tournament. 

At my house, life is not yet without sport. My daughters and I just completed six days in a row that included a ball handling routine, strength training, and basketball skill workouts on our pretty-narrow but still adequate backyard court.

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Screenshot of Durant in Big 12 Champtionship

When we’re in our little weight room, my girls and I put on House of Highlights, watch one of the fifty or so games I have recorded, or dig into some of the content on ESPN+. Just this week we watched Kevin Durant drop 37 points and snag 10 ten rebounds during an overtime loss versus Kansas during the 2007 Big 12 Conference Championship. That’s what’s on television now. 

I wonder how long my girls and I can keep up the workouts and watch old basketball games without losing enthusiasm for the work. We can definitely make it until next November when we hope middle and high school basketball in North Carolina will resume, but what if there aren’t any sports for the 2020-2021 season? I’ve read about the possibility that new infections of the virus might decline in the summer but make a strong comeback during the fall. For now, I try not to think too far ahead. For both sports and the rest of life, there’s a lot to be said for enjoying each day while keeping in mind what could happen in the coming weeks and months. I try to have a plan for the future while focusing on today and this week. It’s a way of thinking I already tried to operate under before I ever heard of COVID=19. It’s also, by the way, how I think about death. I know death is coming, but rather than dwell on it too much, I try to use that knowledge to keep myself aware of savoring what it is I will do today. 

 

Fav Basketball Books on Torg Stories Pod

What are your favorite books

about basketball?

The Jordan Rules Sam Smith Pat Conroy Rick Pitino Wooden Sprawlball A Season on the Brink

Torg Fav Basketball Books

Kent Chezem and I list and discuss our favorite hoops books in this episode of the Torg Stories Podcast, March 8, 2020 edition.

In preparing for this pod, I realized that I have read a lot more basketball books than I previously thought, probably at least 100.

I came up with nineteen books I thought were worth mentioning.

First, a commercial. My book, The Coach’s Wife has a lot of basketball in it and is on sale via Amazon for less than ten bucks.

  1. Season on the Brink by John Feinstein. 1986.
  2. The Losing Season by Pat Conroy
  3. Born to Coach by Rick Pitino 
  4. The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith
  5. Sprawlball by Kirk Goldsberry
  6. Wooden, A Coach’s Life by Seth Davis
  7. The 21st Century Basketball Practice by Brian McCormick
  8. Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem  (I met Kareem in the St. John’s locker room at Madison Square Garden)  AND Becoming Kareem by Obstfeld 
  9. When the Game was Ours by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan (appears on ESPN’s show Around the Horn)
  10. The Legends Club by Feinstein
  11. The Last Amateurs by Feinstein
  12. My Life on a Napkin by Rick Majerus
  13. Sum it Up by Sally Jenkins 
  14. The Last Seasonby Phil Jackson
  15. I just bought Seven Seconds or Less about the Suns by Jack McCallum. 
  16. Lebron INCby Brian Windhorst. He also wrote Return of the King. 
  17. Showtime by Jeff Pearlman
  18. Basketball, A Love Story. 
  19. The Book of Basketballby Bill Simmons

In doing this work, here are the books I’m going to look into reading: 

  1. Geno: In Pursuit of Perfection
  2. Assisted by John Stockton
  3. How Lucky Can You Be (Meyer) by Buster Olney
  4. Bleed Orange about Boheim
  5. The Pistol 
  6. Fab Five 
  7. Boys Among Men by Abrams 
  8. Seven Seconds or Less Jack MaCullum 
  9. Basketball on Paper Dean Oliver 
  10. A Coach’s Life by Dean Smith with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Which of my favs overlaps with yours?
  2. How did you rank these books?
  3. What do we get out of reading these books?
  4. What are these books about that we can talk about? Three point line. 21st Century Basketball. How would we describe our college basketball practices? How have we departed?
  5. Which of these coaches have we met? How at all, have these books or the coaches influenced us?
  6. I mostly left out technical X and O books like these:
  • Knight and Newell’s pair of books, Tex Winter’s Triangle Offense, Wooten’s Coaching Basketball Successfully, Dean Smith’s Multiple Offenses and Defenses, Tim Grover’s Jump Attack

I counted 42 books on Amazon written by John Feinstein:

  • The Back Roads to March, Where Nobody Knows Your Name (baseball), The First Major, A Good Walk Spoiled, The Legends Club, Season on the Brink, Quarterback, The Last Amateurs, A Season Inside, The Last Dance, The Punch (about the Rockets), Forever’s Team about Duke 78, A March to Madness about ACC

What are your favorites? Which ones are we wrong about? We hope you’ll join the conversation!

 

 

 

Torg Stories Podcast: Coaching Your Kids

Kent Chezem on the Torg Stories Podcast March 12th, 2020 Edition

In the midst of all this coronavirus news, I’m joined by my friend Kent Chezem. With stops including Clinton Prairie, Covington, and Loogootee, Kent has spent 25 years as a head boys basketball coach in the state of Indiana. His teams have won over 300 games and four sectional titles. Kent and I were teammates at Olivet Nazarene University where he is the all time leader in assists.

kent, dara cade

Kent Chezem, his son Cade, and his wife Dara

Kent was named the District 2 Coach of the Year by the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association in 2014. Kent’s wife Dara became the Superintendent of Schools in the district where I went to high school, Eastern Pulaski Schools in Winamac.

This edition of Torg Stories is a basketball-centric podcast. We spend a fair amount of time talking about issues related to coaching our kids.

The Torg Stories podcast is also available on iTunes.

Hope you enjoy!

Andrew Yang on The Problem With the U.S. Economy

The problem with the U.S. economy, Andrew Yang writes in his book Smart People Should Build Things, is that too many of the United States’ best students choose to attend law school, enter the medical field, or go to work in finance. To help address the problem, Yang founded the nonprofit Venture for America (VFA). What follows below are bolded prompts I wrote to outline some of the content of the book. The bulleted quotations come directly from the pages of Smart People Should Build Things.

What percentage of students are choosing finance, consulting, medical school, or law?

  • In 2011, 29 percent of employed Harvard graduates went into finance or consulting, while 19 percent of the class applied to law school and 18 percent applied to medical school. That’s a majority of the class.

Why are so many students, who seem like they could succeed in any career, choosing such a small variety of professions?

  • Ambitious college students have no real idea what to do upon graduation, but they’re trained to seek the ‘next level.’ Many apply to law school, grad school, or even medical school because of a vague notion of status and progress rather than a genuine desire or natural fit. Those who try to do something independently often find themselves frustrated by their lack of rapid advancement, and so default to a more structured path of law school, business school, or graduate school. The concentration in professional services leads our national university graduates to congregate in a handful of metropolitan areas—primarily New York City, Silicon Valley, Boston, and Washington, DC.
  • If we want today’s graduates to take risks and build new businesses, we can’t have them systemically graduating with tens of thousands in debt that will take years to pay off in the best of circumstances.

Yang, himself, went to law school. What’s wrong with that?

  • Bloomberg Businessweek has projected a surplus of 176,000 unemployed or underemployed law graduates by 2020.
  • If year after year we send our top people to financial services, management consulting, and law schools, we’ll wind up with the pattern we’re already seeing: layers of highly paid professionals working astride faltering companies and industries. But if we send them to startups, we’ll get something else. Early-stage companies in energy, retail, biotech, consumer products, health care, transportation, software, media, education, and other industries would have a better chance of innovating and creating value.

What can possibly be the problem with a lot of talented students entering medical school?

  • From a value creation standpoint, it’s not ideal for a massive level of talent to be going to existing enterprises that have captured large economic rents or where people are fighting for a set of finite slots. The rents and slots will stay essentially constant. Contrast this with new business formation.

Yang uses that word value a lot. What does he mean?

  • The economy needs more companies to start, grow, and thrive in order for the service organizations themselves to prosper. For example, if Mark Zuckerberg had become an investment banker or gone to work in a bank’s information technology department, then the bankers wouldn’t have had Facebook to take public. It’s actually far better for the investment banks (and everyone else) that instead of heading in their direction, he started his own company.
  • People and companies around the country are solving real problems right now. For example, in New Orleans, Venture for America works with a company called Kickboard that provides a software application to help teachers track student performance. Kickboard was founded by Jen Medbery, who studied computer science at Columbia University and taught middle-schoolers through Teach for America. Jen created the product that she wished she’d had as a teacher. Now she’s building a company; Kickboard has dozens of school districts as clients and has grown to more than twelve employees.

What are some of the other problems caused by so many talented students going into these professions?

  • The concentration in professional services leads our national university graduates to congregate in a handful of metropolitan areas—primarily New York City, Silicon Valley, Boston, and Washington, DC. Those who become bankers or consultants are highly paid and heavily socialized, yet many become disaffected due to a lack of purpose or unsustainable lifestyle, and some simply discover they don’t enjoy their roles.
  • Our identification and distribution of talent in the United States has gone from being a historic strength to a critical weakness. We’ve let the market dictate what our smart kids do, and they’re being systematically funneled into obvious, structured paths that don’t serve them or the economy terribly well.

If we want to change the system that causes so many people to choose so few career paths that don’t create value, what are we up against?

  • A friend who works in financial services recruiting estimated that her firm spends $50,000 per recruit. If you project the analogous expenditures from every major bank and consulting firm to develop talent pipelines, you have tens if not hundreds of millions being spent each year at major campuses across the country. One hedge fund spends so much on recruitment that it offered to pay Dartmouth students a hundred dollars each to tell the company why they chose not to participate in its recruitment process.
  • The financial services industry has mushroomed in size, with Wall Street firms employing 191,800 at their peak in 2008, up from only 65,300 in 1975.4 The growth in professional services has given rise to an accompanying set of recruitment pipelines only in the past several decades.

So what’s the solution? Yang founded the nonprofit Venture for America (VFA) with plans to accomplish the following:

  • Our immediate goal would be to help create 100, 000 new US jobs by 2025. To do that, we would provide to startups and growth companies around the country the talent they needed to expand and hire; and we would train a critical mass of our best and brightest to become business builders and entrepreneurs.

Check out some of the possibilities if college graduates begin to choose a more diverse set of fields:

  • What if the same level of talent that is currently heading to finance or law school or management consulting instead went to starting or developing growth companies? … What if 25 percent of our top graduates went to startups around the country each year instead of to Wall Street? How long would that take to generate thousands of new jobs, companies, opportunities, and even industries?
Andrew Yang Smart People Should Build Things #YangGang

Andrew Yang founded Venture For America to        Create Jobs in the United States

How does Venture for America work?

  • The first ever five-week Venture for America training camp started at Brown University in June 2012. The VFA team and I moved into apartments and dorm rooms in Providence to prepare.
  • The best way to become an entrepreneur is to learn from a more experienced leader as he or she builds a company. We provide that operating experience, as well as training, networks, and support for enterprising college graduates who are accepted into our two-year program. We also offer seed funding to some of the Venture Fellows who perform well and want to start their own businesses. Our goal is to make it as straightforward to become a startup manager or entrepreneur in Detroit or New Orleans as it currently is to be a professional in New York
  • If the US economy had generated as many startups each year for 2009–12 as it had in 2007, the country would have produced almost 2.5 million new jobs by 2013.5 If we’re interested in spurring long-term job growth, we want as much talent as possible heading to new firms so that more of them can succeed, expand, and hire more people.

Has Venture For America Been Successful? This answer comes from the VFA website.

  • VFA fellows have contributed to the growth of over 450 startups. There have been 365 jobs created by 129 fellow funded companies, and VFA has provided 50 million dollars in seed funding. VFA has received over 10,000 applications from people interested in becoming fellows.

Thank you for taking the time to read about Andrew Yang’s Book Smart People Should Build Things. If you found this post informative, please share it by using one of the social media buttons on this page or by copying and pasting the link. If you have thoughts in response to this post, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. If you have requests for future posts or story ideas, pass them along.

Coming soon: The War on Normal People.