Sunday, October 26, 2014

Old Guard in Hoops

           I have been coaching basketball for over 20 years, and have been playing school ball before that for another 13. I have watched every NCAA Basketball Tournament and NIT religiously every year since 1976. I have been focusing on the NBA Playoffs as well for the same duration. Recently, while I have been coaching in the last 2 years the phrase, "Last of the old guard." has been used a lot. I have heard it used before when Bobby Knight retired as well as Bobby Bowden. (Not to mention Paterno, but I am not looking for controversy.) I have heard comments like 'that old stuff doesn't work anymore', but it wasn't put that nicely. I beg to differ and furthermore I believe that the basics have been passed down over generations very nicely and will continue among young coaches.

          Does the term 'old guard' coaches mean angry non player oriented yellers that have a military feel? Not really. I used to listen to Al Mcguire and Hubie Brown and similar guys from the northeast like my father talk about the game when I was young. Emphasis on game. They made it fun. Yes, Dick Vitale is included in that coaching heritage and he is still considered fun. There is a reason that Christian Laetner's last second shot looked familiar to me when it happened. Al Mcguire's Marquette team won a Final Four game versus UNCC in almost the exact same fashion more than a decade before Coach K drew that up against Kentucky. All of the defensive and offensive sets look like offshoots of stuff I saw the old guard run in the 70's and 80's. There was the flex, motion, weave etc... People thought what Pete Carril was doing with the Princeton Offense was new but it actually started back in the 1930's.

          "But Sports Philosopher! What about the fast pace game today, running up and down the court, dunking, and all of that?!?"

          Let's look at basketball as it is played today compared to the 60's, 70's, and 80's. The NBA scoring average per game in 2012 was 98 points per game. In 1960 the point per game average was 118 points. Why has the scoring been steadily declining? It is my feeling that the 3 point attempts have steadily increased and the 2 point shot attempts have declined. Actually all field goal attempts have declined since the 60's. Here is the quick reference if you are interested in fact checking: NBA League Averages

          "But if they take threes they can score more. 15 footers are two points."

          Only if they make the shot. The emphasis on the three point basket leave kids ignoring the 5 to 15 foot jump shot. It seems there are a lot of dunks or threes and nothing in between. The three point shot in the early days was usually used as a last ditch effort to catch up faster. Now it is used as part of a normal offense. The mid range/shorter shots are going away.  Assists have declined, and the amount of shots being attempted have declined. What does that mean? Don't know. I am not saying it is better or worse, it is just different results. As far as the fast paced games, I have not seen a team like the Showtime Lakers in the 80's come along and push the ball that relentlessly. I have seen some college teams attempt it, but it is hard to sustain. Poor Kareem had to take oxygen on the bench. So less three point shots, but more shot attempts equaled more points. Currently there are around 30 teams in the NBA. In 1980 there were 23. Talent was not as diluted but there really is not a huge difference in players that almost make a roster and those that barely make a team. Like a job interview it has a little to do with resume, and who you know.

          I listened to Bobby Knight lecture at a Five Star Basketball Camp at 8pm in a small 80 degree room filled with fellow campers who have been playing ball on the black top during the summer since 8am. He was funny in a sarcastic way and was really grandfather like and made you feel really comfortable. I can only imagine that these kids that are playing for the older coaches may feel that way as well. All he really demanded was that you pay attention and for that day stay awake.

          When I hear somebody say, "Man, when he retires, he truly will be the last of a dying breed." Cue Lee Corso with a big and loud, "Not so fast!!" Amakar, Calipari, Creen, Gregory, Bennett, Knight, Collins, Montgomery, Heath, Dawkins, Williams are just a few of the coaches that are now coaching in Division 1 programs that were assistants for the long term successful coaches. There are many more but that would mean I would have to do my research. There are also more who have played for the generation before them and moved on to coach. These offspring are not carbon copies but they know not to reinvent the wheel or if they do what was the purpose in learning. They will have their own flair to add to their team. As scared as us older guys get about the game changing, I will say to them to just sit at a practice or a game and you will laugh to yourself and think that this is basically the same but they are putting better uniforms and brighter color socks on the players.

           The old guard is starting to leave but they have planted enough seeds and passed along enough wisdom to sustain the knowledge of the game for a long time. You will see some flashes come along that will make people say this is the new direction but in a few years the flash will be gone and will only be used in a short duration or slowly evolve to be integrated into an older concept. Some will make good additions to an already great game. Thank you for reading and hope you will come back for more.