If you’ve ever met me or even just read my column over the past couple of years, it’s easy to recognize my love and passion when it comes to basketball. There’s something about that orange sphere that fires me up and can get me talking even more than usual.
I’ll still put baseball on the top of the list of my favorite sports. I can sit down to watch any baseball game at any level and become deeply immersed in what’s going on and thoroughly enjoy all the elements that go into America’s pastime. The same can’t be said about every level of basketball; the NBA is not something I spend a lot of time on anymore due to what I look at as a devolving of the game through too much one-on-one and not enough defense.
I grew up during a great age of the NBA though. While there were usually only games on TV on weekends, I could count on seeing Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, or some combination of them. And when Michael Jordan hit the scene, it got even better. I’d spend hours at my basketball hoop, pretending to hit that game-winning shot for the Boston Celtics or dropping a hook shot for the Los Angeles Lakers.
My school had an elementary basketball program called Super Hoopers, which we started when we were in third grade. I don’t think we learned how to run an offensive play that entire first year, but really drilled on fundamentals. By fifth and sixth grade, we were playing games and tournaments, and I really learned to love the game.
One of the strengths I’ve had as a coach over all these years is that I played every spot on the floor at some point in my career. I was the tallest kid in my class in middle school, so I was a post. When I stopped growing in 8th grade, I had to learn to play at a wing and better my ball-handling to even work at point guard for a while. Even when I sat on the bench most of the time on varsity, my enjoyment of the game didn’t diminish.
What makes basketball such a great game? To me, it’s all about the team aspect. The five people on the court, when working together, create such a precision machine that it’s amazing to watch. Instead of just focusing on the ball, I try to see all ten players and how their movements play off each other. There’s nothing better than watching a team run a complex play to perfection and scoring or seeing help defense rotate around to deny a pass and get a steal.
While baseball is so symmetrical in its measurements, basketball has some odd lengths. The court is 94 feet long in the NBA, but only 84 feet in high school, and that’s not even throwing in an international court at 91.86 feet (darn metric system). A three-pointer in high school is shot from 19.75 feet. In the NBA it’s 23.75 feet except in the corners where it’s only 22 feet. College basketball has the line at 20.75 feet. Go watch a high school game on a college or NBA court and the lines can get dizzying! But maybe this is a good thing. While high school pitchers throw from the same distance as MLB players, basketball has clearly defined a need for improvement as you progress to a new level.
While my playing skills (what there was to begin with) have certainly diminished, I’ve found plenty of ways to stay involved with this game I love. I’m in my 20th season of coaching. I’ve officiated from elementary up to JV for almost as long. And I’ve grasped the microphone for announcing games. Unfortunately, the MSHSL has issued guidelines for all PA announcers at high school events, limiting what and how we can announce. So if you come to a game this year and I don’t sound as excited, there’s a reason.
And you should come to some games! I’m on record as thinking this could be one of the best all-around seasons when you take boys and girls both into account. While a state championship will be much more difficult, I think both squads have a legitimate chance to play in a section final this year. The girls have experience, though it will be interesting to watch the dynamics change. The boys had their best season in years and have all their starters back to make a deep run. Please, if you love basketball like I do, come on out and have some fun at the gym!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is luftmensch, which means an impractical dreamer, as in, “Many called the prognosticator a luftmensch for his unrealistic expectations for the local teams, but he was proved right in March.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!