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The 2017 Alumni Summer Reunion was a huge hit.

Ive had to wait a long time until my alumni were old enough that we could go play as a team together against other full grown men. And it was everything I hoped it would be. I don't know if these boys will truly know what it meant for me to be playing full court ball alongside them until they have sons of their own. But for me it was one of the best days of my life.

I can't wait to do it again. So for 2018 we are forming a Jokers Alumni City League team to play in Orange County Adult Men's Summer League. All former players in High School are welcome. I will be providing team issue jerseys.

As you all know, our program was started in November of 2012 as just a Boys & Girls Club "rec team". From there I had dreams of building a AAU travel ball program. I'd known ever since I was 12 years old that I one day wanted to coach youth sports. 20 years later life gave me that opportunity and I embarked on the most fascinating 18 months of my life. 

Know, that when I say that, it doesnt come lightly. Ive traveled the world a few times over, competed internationally with some of the best athletes in the world from Paris to Thailand. I then acted as a trainer/manager for my fiance's brother as I helped him try to accomplish similar dreams on a international scale. He and I moved to Italy where I thought I'd spend the rest of my life. I had a wonderful job doing what I loved, I lived in a swank apartment in a cozy small town in Northern Italy, and together he and I traveled various continents in search of a World Championship.

Fate would deal me another hand though when a freak knee injury cost him dearly. I soon found myself alone in Italy and it was my girlfriend at the time who decided she'd move half way around the world just to be with me. It was the craziest thing anyone had ever done for me and it was something I knew I'd be a fool to ever take for granted.

The company I worked for at the time (Husqvarna Motorcycles) was sold and the factory and race team were going to be moved to Austria. Being that I was without any roots in Italy and a fairly new employee to the company, my dream of growing old in Europe was cut massively short. Me and my girl moved back to California in October of 2012 where I found myself struggling to find work. So I decided one random nite that I was going to ignite an old dream by embarking on coaching youth basketball. I began calling every AAU team in the Orange County area to see if they needed coaches. I called every private instructor in Southern California to see if they needed an assistant or if they'd let me come learn from them. Nearly every e-mail or phone message I left was ignored. And of the ones that I did actually get in contact with, I was quickly shot down by everyone except one person... that man was Sander Herman. He actually called me back and while he didnt have a spot for me on his staff, he did spend a solid 45 minutes on the phone with me explaining how I should go about getting started with my endeavour. His advice was invaluable and I cant thank him enough for what he did. 

Within 3 months my "rec team", the "Irvine Celtics", won the league Championship. We were the bad news bears. But I loved that original 8. Beck, Aziz, Torin, Victoria, Alex, Amin, Kevin, and Devonte. Without that Championship won by those 8 players, I likely never would have been able to get this thing off the ground. It was the euphoria caused by that title that helped push 5 of those parents to be willing to fork over the dough to have me coach their kids full time. I soon found 8 more kids to add to the mix in Ali, Donovan, Hasheer, Tim, Aanan, Tobias, Khalil, and Khmori & Alex (both of whom were far too young to play for our team but wanted so badly to earn a spot they showed up to every practice and would eventually be the blueprint for what our program was all about).

By the Summer of 2013 I was running the Boys & Girls Club Basketball League and coaching free Clinics there 2 days a week. Word was beginning to spread throughout the community about our program. Several more kids joined the team in Payton, Marcus, Andrew, Trent, (Aanan's younger brother) Lucky, Xavier, Pedro, and Jared. With each new kid, our practices grew and eventually we formed 2 teams with a 3rd one on the way. By the Fall season we were a full fledged program with over 30 kids and just me to coach them all. At this point I still was very naive to just what a impact I was having on these kids lives and even more so, the impact they were having on mine. We were not your typical AAU travel ball program that typically have a rotation of coaches and very little continuity. No, our system was built around having a small core of coaches (and by coaches I mean, myself) that build strong bonds with the players. We didnt recruit talent, rather, good parents with hard working kids came to us in search of a chance to play for an travel ball because most other teams were too expensive or difficult to join. At this time we were still very raw, and our goals of competing at the AAU level were still extremely audacious. 

Before I forget, it must be noted that during the 2013 season I had the pleasure of meeting three other coaches that would be every bit as helpful as Sander Herman was. Gary Scott of the Irvine Lakers, Devone of the Pasadena Fury, and Dennis Reiland would all become friends and huge assets. I hope the 3 of you see this blog post and know how much I appreciate all you did to help me and the boys of my program. It also must be noted that without the help of Sergio Lovell and Ernest Johnson, my co-workers at the Boys & Girls Club, none of this would have been possible. Ernest was by far the best boss Ive ever had and an even better friend.

By the start of the Fall season in 2013 we had entered a few AAU tournaments and the results werent always pretty. In fact, they were usually ugly. You can read some of my earlier blog posts to see how we were faring at the time. We had the occasional close loses but usually we were getting our butts kicked. We still had so far to go and so I got down to work volunteering every possible hour I could to my kids development. I soon found myself coaching the kids every weekday morning for 90 mins starting at 6am as well as 4 nights a week at our normal times. In short order the kids skills started to improve rapidly. We had a sponsor and the kids all got new Nike jerseys and I let the kids pick out a new team name: the "Irvine Jokers". Thanks Aziz.

It would be these next 6 months that would be the toughest though. With the addition of a 3rd grade team the toll of coaching so many kids was affecting my health. The intense coaching schedule & humbling tournament weekends were beyond taxing emotionally and physically. Especially when as a entire program we would sometimes lose as many as 9 games in a weekend without winning a single one. Often leaving me a wreck all the way into Tuesday of that week. That isnt to say that the 3rd graders were tough to coach, in fact, they were a absolute dream. Noah, (Tobias' younger brother) Gabe, (Khalil's younger brother) Khmori, Lexi and her sister Marissa, Nabil, Sammy, and ALan were going to be my dream team. They were all-effort all the time and in short order became the first of our program's teams to reach a Championship game at a AAU tournament.

But where the 9Us were excelling, the other 2 squads were struggling massively to get over the hump. It took what felt like forever but eventually the 11U's would break through and get their first AAU win, followed by several more, and eventually becoming a dominant team in their division. It all culminated in our final tournament together. Where my 11U's would dominate all the way to the championship game only to fall short. Despite the 2nd place finish, I could not have been more proud of my boys for all they endured to get to that point. They had learned "how to lose" plenty and now they were showing they "knew how to win". All the hard work had finally paid off, they had finally made it. From a team that was getting beat by 60 pts 9 months earlier to being the team dominating the opposition. Funny, those same AAU programs that wouldnt call me back just 18 months earlier, we were now beating them easily. We were now a legitimate AAU team and we (the players and me) did it 100% thru player development. Life is about up's & down's. But for these kids it was mostly "downs" that first year. But they never ran from the tough times. With their "heart" I had the sole tool I needed to mold them and prove another of life's great lessons: Life is not about "how too", it is about "want too". Coaching my 11U's to that 2nd place finish is the greatest thing Ive ever accomplished and while I fought back the tears during my post game speech to the kids, the way those boys played that weekend was the highlight of my life.

During this whole journey maybe nobody had struggled more than my 13U team. It was my original team, but far from the original lineup. Only Torin remained from the Championship winning Celtics team, and only Ali, Aanan, and Khalil from the Spring season team. The numerous hard loses and intense training schedule took it's toll on the roster and resulted in a lot of turnover. Which is why I give all the credit in the world to Torin, Ali, Aanan, and Khalil. Their perseverance, fortitude, and loyalty to this program revealed their true colors. They are tough as nails and I admire them immensely. Eventually the roster would settle down and they'd be joined by 3 sets of twins in Isaac & Simon, Hunter & Kyle, and Kyle & Ethan, and Michael. The team had undergone a complete makeover but is now more talented than ever before. This is a really good group of kids with a ton of personalities, and I will always regret not getting to coach them longer and see thru their development. 

Their time is coming soon but even if it wasnt last weekends time for the 13U's, it was our programs finest weekend. All 3 teams played the best they had ever played. I gave the kids everything I had the last few months and had I not been on my 11th game coaching in a 30 hr period I believe I would have had the right energy to guide my 11U's to a much deserved Championship. I used to think losing was hard. But the truth is, when Im locked in and coaching at my best, it's even harder. We won the most games we'd ever won at a tournament as a program and Ive never felt more drained. Which is a funny thing. When I worked with pro athletes, I had a habit of pushing so hard that I often showed them their limits. Well, the honest truth is that this time around, these kids finally showed me mine. 

Bittersweet the entire weekend was though because several months earlier I had been given a huge job opportunity that would give me the financial security to be able to take care of my now fiance & start a family of my own. Coaching these teams was a labor of love and extremely taxing on my health. Bills were starting to stack up as was my blood pressure. The great thing about kids is that they'll take as much attention as you have to give them. And for whatever reason I just cant say no to them. One thing Ive prided myself on as a manager/trainer/coach is that I could show a athlete their limits, well, for once it was the athletes that showed me my limits. Ive been very hard on every one of my players but they all know, I never told them "no" when they asked for more help in any way shape or form. Upon hearing that I would be leaving Southern California, it would be the first time I would ever tell these kids I couldnt say "yes" to their request. The time has come that I not take for granted the love of my life, the girl who moved all the way to Italy to be with me, and then followed me back to Orange County, another place where she'd never lived, in hopes that I'd one day ask her to marry her. Well that time has come and It's time that I move on to the next chapter in my life. As the great Colin Cowherd says, "there are two things in the world that make really smart men dumb......Sports & Beautiful Women". Aint that the truth. 

This decision has been the hardest decision of my life. I care about my players like they were my own children. Watching them grow as a human being & basketball player has been the single greatest experience of my life. The loyalty my players have shown me is the greatest gift I could ask for. They have done everything I have ever asked of them and I know Ive asked a lot. It hasnt always been easy but they never gave up on themselves or me as their coach. We've won games, we've lost games, we've laughed, we've mourned. It's been everything you could ask for out of a full life. 

The bond between a player and coach is something that will never fade even long after Im done coaching. Almost everything I know about basketball (and life) I learned from my first coach. He coached me from 3rd grade until 7th grade. I am still friends with him even though it's been over 20 years since he last saw me dribble a basketball. I hope I can carry on the same relationship with all of my players. If they ever need anything or just simply someone to talk to for advice, I will always be there for whatever they need.

Basketball, like all sports, is just a tricky tool used to teach youth the valuable lessons in life. Understanding these lessons is the key to overcoming life's challenges so that a child can one day reach his or her potential. Change is a inevitable part of life. Change is not something you can avoid. All you can control is how you prepare, and eventually, deal with that change. However difficult, I know my players are prepared for this next step. This is just one of many challenges they will face in life. I expect them to use the lessons Ive taught them to attack it head on and overcome.

As my father used to tell me, "...Life is a series of hills and valleys, without them, the world would just be flat..." The point of that is, while this may be difficult for us now, if you stay focused and keep working hard you can climb out of a valley then you will reach the new heights that await you around the corner. And with that I want my players to all understand that while I will no longer be coaching them on a full-time basis, this is not a "goodbye". Im simply taking a backseat role and handling the administrative duties of the program from afar. I'll be with them in spirit and the "RJ" on their team shorts will always stand for "Riff's Jokers".

I know that doesnt make the situation any better because for all of these players, since they were all plucked from "rec ball" where the coaches are volunteers, Im the first "real" coach theyve ever had. So naturally, the parents and players alike are all afraid of what lies ahead. But the truth is, the strength of this program has always been the loyalty of the players, the work ethic, and the tight knit family structure we've fostered. Im putting good qualified caring coaches in charge and if they get the same support I received, they will be able to repay it just the same and our program will continue to grow. I believe in Coach Mo and Coach Sergio, but more importantly, I believe in the families of this program. We didnt come this far just to give up now. The future is bright for this program, always has, always will.

I will visit often. I plan on attending most of the team's tournaments and hopefully watching some of these players eventually excel at the High School and College level. But the ultimate honor for me will be to find out that Ive inspired if just one of these kids to one day become a coach themselves in the same way my childhood coaches inspired me.

I found this in my email box today...

Kobe was in Shanghai this summer running a clinic for some of the top players in the area.

The first thing he did was schedule the clinic for 4:00 AM.

In his words, "…being up at 4 am adds to the mental toughness". So if you're wondering why I prefer to do Pro Camp so early, this is why. It's a measure of commitment. 

The second thing he did was run the guys through a simple full-court drill… Before emphasizing to them, in no uncertain terms: "That was awful."

But then he dropped the most hard-earned secret to basketball training there is.

The message was simple: 

He stopped the drill, stood right in the middle of the group of players, looked them in the eyes, and explained:

"It's not about how much you practice. It's about how much your mind is present when practicing."

Phil Jackson calls this "Zen"

And it's deep stuff… But more important than anything else you'll ever focus on in basketball.
If you read my blog you know that I started with my original 12U players as 8 kids that I randomly drafted in a local Boys & Girls Club recreational league as a volunteer coach. I worked really hard with the kids and we eventually won the league championship this past winter. I know "rec ball" is nothing to brag about but as far as these kids were concerned, it was the NBA Finals.

After the season the parents of the team asked me if I would keep the kids together and form a travel team. Being that I coach for a living as a personal basketball trainer, I was thrilled to start coaching my own youth team program. I entered them in a 14U rec league for this past Spring. We lost all our games but it was a valuable experience for the kids. "Playing up" against 14 year olds really toughened up my kids. Our practices got harder and more frequent. The players have been steadily improving. I have the best group of parents and kids I could ask for. The parents are all super supportive and all my kids hang on my every word in practice.

As Summer came along my program started to grow. What started as a 12U team had grown into a 12U, 11U and 8U program due to word spreading around the community about our team. We entered another rec league. We absolutely dominate it. So I began scheduling scrimmages against local AAU clubs. My kids are no longer getting a challenge at the rec level.

Initially we got spanked by the AAU teams. My kids were not ready for the speed or physicality of the games. But they kept working at it and kept fighting. Slowly but surely we started to play better and better. Then we entered our first AAU tournament and the results were not pretty. In our first games, we looked shell shocked and intimidated. By the end of the weekend my kids evolved and we nearly beat one of the established AAU clubs. My kids are over achievers. But it isnt via some magical luck. They simply work their tails off. They are a bunch of kids that no AAU program would have touched 6 months ago but I've believed in them since day one. Each one of them brings a certain intangible to the table and has the potential to be great. 

We hold 4 two-hour practices per week and have been doing so since the winter and the kids were even asking for more practices so I started offering what I called "Pro Camp". It was for all the kids who have dreams of playing at "the next level". It's from 5:50am to 7:30am every morning. 6 days a week. To my shock over half my team started showing up. Lately the kids are practicing in the gym with me for a total of up to 17 hours per week! It's a pretty intense schedule for 10 & 12 year olds. 

But here in lies the hurdle I face today and the impetus for this blog post. 

My kids are ready for AAU ball. From a technical standpoint we have worked ourselves into having the talent to run with most anyone. From a schematic's standpoint, there isnt a offense or defense that my kids arent prepared to face. We have 6 defenses we run and close to 20 variations of our offensive system that they run at the call of my bark. The problem though is that we have lapses in effort that lead to massive momentum swings in games. For example, I'll explain last Friday's match....

We were going up against a championship winning NJB All-Net team from the area. Not top flight AAU quality but just a minor step below. All of the 12 year olds on their team were close to 6 feet tall or taller (some were probably 13 years old). My kids were definitely overmatched in the size department. But unlike during the last AAU style tournament we entered, we werent fazed by it. We went out and blitzed the other team and for the first 5 minutes of the game the other team never got the ball across half court. In fact, for the duration of the game their team never once got comfortable in their offense. And every time we ran our offensive plays, we got good looks at the hoop.

We were up 8-0 after 5 minutes (could have easily been 20+ point lead had we made our fast break layups and not had careless turnovers of our own). But nonetheless, we are up 8-0 and are dominating the other team on all fronts. Then out of nowhere it all gets lost in 30 seconds. On one play we dont close out hard on the perimeter for some reason and they get their first clean look. Wide open 3 pointer. Score now 8-3. On the ensuing inbounds my kids decide to all of a sudden jog on the press break and the inbounder has no one open, throws a errant pass, pass is stolen, layup plus a foul. 3 point play. Score now 8-6. All in less than 5 seconds. Now I see my kids start to get rattled. The next time down the court the other team catches our weakside defender jogging half-ass down the court. Layup. Score now 8-8. Our 5 minutes of domination are all for not. All wasted in about 30 seconds of horrendous play/effort.

And from their we start trading baskets. But every 5 minutes or so we have these odd lapses in effort and the other team pounces. A series of random 6-8 point runs by the other team due to careless mistakes by us and before we know it we are down by 20. Every basket they got was a result of a lazy turnover or blatant poor defensive effort. Not one of their baskets came from beating our press or against our half court defense when we actually put the effort in.

This is an issue we have been battling since we started playing AAU clubs. We are currently 0-12 against legitimate club teams. In only 4 of those 12 matches did I feel that we didnt belong on the court. In those 4 matches the other teams were just flat out more talented and better coached. But in the other 8 games, they have all been against teams we should beat or at least compete with. When we give it 100% and match the opposition's intensity, we can compete with almost anyone.

But when we let off the gas for even a brief moment, the results get ugly in a hurry. My "rec ballers" still dont understand how to keep up the intensity at this AAU level. Maybe they never will. Or maybe Im doing something wrong coaching them. Or maybe they will get it in time. All I know is that we have hit a wall and everything Ive tried has failed to get them over this hump. It's been 3 months of battling the same issue and we arent getting better in this regard. It's the only thing holding us back. 

As the days have gone by I've struggled to try and solve this issue. How will I get these kids to permanently "flip the switch" and keep it pinned until the final buzzer sounds? How do I build this teams swagger and fortitude so that they can develop a killer instinct and just step on the throats of the opposition that we are clearly better than? 

A win last Friday would have been the most impressive win in the teams history. And for the first 5 minutes of the game we saw how good we can and should be. It was spectacular. And it spoiled me. Now that I've finally seen all the work Ive put into these kids come to fruition (if only for a brief 5 minutes) I cant rest until we put together a complete game of that intensity.

I've called former coaches of mine, coaching colleagues, spoke to parents, and stewed on this for the better part of 48 hours. Ive taken notes on my thoughts and the advice given to me. I've gone over the notes several times and re-written them. I'll probably re-write it again before the next practice. Here are the notes Ive been jotting no particular order....welcome to the inner thoughts of a (neurotic) hyper-competitive basketball coach.....

  • Don't forget why I started doing this.
  • Keep things in perspective. We are doing the impossible. Taking 12 year old "rec ballers" and turning them into competitive AAU players is unheard of. Doing it in less than a year is considered crazy talk.
  • I need to do a better job of coaching players up. Showing my frustration in the form of impulsive anger or yelling will not net results. Everything must be calculated and premeditated.
  • During games I must do a better job with substitutions. I must manage my players stamina. Develop packages and a steady rotation.
  • Speak to the players about their potential. They are so close to being great. I can't lose them now.
  • When disciplining, be matter-of-fact. And when praising them, bring back the heavy enthusiasm.
  • Run more "soft" scrimmages. Call out the slackers. Punishment will be swift and harsh. Apply the pressure to perform so that the practices are tougher than the games.
  • Talk to the parents and let them know my agenda. Some tough practices and disciplines are ahead. Let them know that this is all calculated and part of a master plan.
  • This is a battle of psychological warfare. My wits & will versus the human nature of a bunch of 10 & 12 year olds.
  • I need to have the "patience to communicate". Patience. Patience. Patience. They are only kids. If I can weather this storm, I'll help them break through to the other side.
  • Have the kids watch some Michael Jordan inspirational videos. His Nike commercials are like mini motivational seminars.
  • The players must TALK more out on the court. It is a sign of intensity and enthusiasm. We go silent for long stretches for some reason. This is a major red flag.
  • Define "coachable" and ask the kids if they want to be coachable? (Coachable doesnt mean you are nice or respectful to the coach. It means you listen. And by listen I mean follow orders. And by follow orders I mean that when I say that you need to run a sprint and touch the baseline, you actually touch the baseline and dont have to be told again. Ever. Follow orders. My job is to teach, not to motivate.)
  • The player Ive been the hardest on, Aziz, is the player playing the best right now. He's heads and shoulders above the level of anyone else in my program. I've put Aziz through mental bootcamp. Ive pushed him harder than anyone ever has. Ive put the weight of the team on his back and while it's nearly cracked him, he never buckled. More importantly, he "bought in". And never once has he second guessed himself about that choice. He asked me to go hard on him and Ive pushed him harder than any athlete Ive ever worked with. Now he is seeing the fruits of his mental strength and loyalty to my program. He's battle hardened. Mentally tough. So that when he gets in a AAU game he's the one kid who isnt wilting under the pressure. He looks calm. He plays aggressive. He has the pedal to the metal at all times.
  • Not every kid has the mental strength Aziz does. I cannot put them all through the "Bobby Knight" treatment. How do I reach every kid individually to raise their level to match Aziz?
  • Practices must get tougher. So tough that someone quits voluntarily.
  • Whoever survives the next few weeks will then feel the joy of victory.
  • My kids have a ton of heart. We have no "cancers" on the team. But we have a lot of players that are "soft". Only Aziz and 2 others are mentally tough enough at this time to handle what is coming. The rest need the "Irvine washed out of them". Softness is as contagious as being a Cancer. Must find a remedy.
  • August is the last month we will ever be playing against rec teams. From then on out it is AAU tournament ball all the time. The clock is ticking. Get to work coach. 
One of my all-time favorite players. For all the kids out their whom are fans of Chris Paul and Shawn Kemp, they really need to take a look at the duo that started it all. Likely the greatest Alley-Oop combo in the history of basketball, Gary Payton & Shawn Kemp.
It seems like just yesterday we were just a rag-tag group of rec ballers at the Boys & Girls Club. Everything was about having fun and pizza parties. Well, not that our agenda has changed over the course of the last 8 months, but we do get there in a different way these days.

The roster is different. Only 4 of my original 8 players remain with the team. The roster has grown to support (3) teams now. And we no longer have our sights set on recreational league trophies. What was once a "rec" team has now blossomed into a full-on travel team. After months of practicing as much as 6 days per week (in some cases two-a-days) we found ourself entering our first AAU style tournament last week. The results on the scoreboard were not pretty. But that doesnt mean that it wasnt a successful endeavour. Nobody quit the team. Instead, the day after a tournament that required some players to play 8 games in a 48 hour span, we had players practicing at 6am in the gym doing intense plyometrics drills. As they say, "losing doesnt build character... it reveals it".

  • 10U vs Inglewood Team Dream - They are the #5 ranked team in the entire country. That was a very tough draw for our first ever tournament game.
  • 10U vs San Francisco Rebels - This is another top program in the country and believe it or not, we could have won this game. This was the 10U's best effort of the weekend and it shows what our potential is.
  • 10U vs Garden Grove Jr Hoops - Some of our kids were on their 4th game of the day by this point and the fatigue was showing. Normally, we should beat a team like this.
  • 10U vs San Diego Coastal Elite - Another team in which we should beat. But fatigue set in and we began to make uncharacteristic mistakes.

All-in-all, for this being our first tournament, I threw us in the "lion's den" to see where we are and where we want to go. Not all tournaments are as professional as this one, so on the administrative side, I wanted to make sure we had a good experience. But on the basketball side of things, this is a "A Level" tournament. It was the best-of-the-best and considering that we were missing Xavier & Tim, we did ok. Despite what the score says, in 3 out of the 4 games we played, I felt the 10U's belonged out on the court. We can play with these teams. We just need more work. Our 10U team is less than 3 months old. We were competing against teams that have been around for years.

  • 12U vs Anaheim Regulators - This is proof that we should never judge a team by its size. They were small but fast and aggressive. It caught us off guard but that is only natural considering the 12U's were new to tournament play as well.
  • 12U vs San Francisco Rebels - They are a top team in the nation and we just arent ready for them yet. But we will be one day.
  • 12U vs Pasadena Fury - Finally during this game, the 12's snapped out of it and started playing ball. Unfortunately we had already spotted the other team a bunch of points by that time. But the key was that we finally started fighting back.
  • 12U vs Los Angeles Elite - We spotted them 12 points and scored one basket in our own hoop. But then we stormed back and nearly won it at the end. Better play at the start and we dominate this team. Better coaching at the end and we take it to overtime and take our chances there.

I am very proud of all the kids this weekend, but Im most proud of the 12's. They showed tremendous growth over the weekend. I know I push them hard at times. I can get loud and animated, but I hope they know I love 'em to death... this is competitive sports. And despite all the yelling, I had a lot of fun coaching our kids. We've all come a long way in a VERY short period of time.

I know what our potential is and I wont stop trying until we reach it.

What We Learned
It's one thing to take the kids to the movies and get burgers to build team unity, but nothing galvanises and strengthens a unit like losing together. It's a odd phenomenon. But the players that can stick through these rough weekends together and come back fighting will be better for it. It takes "learning how to lose" before you can "learn how to win".

The bottom line, is that there were only 2 games out of the 8 that I felt we didn't belong on the court. The other 6 teams were all beatable. 

We need more experience at this level. I need to recruit some more players so that I have more substitutions to battle fatigue (especially in the 10U). We need to work on our individual skills (dribbling & passing) as well as get into better conditioning. All of this will come with time.

Lucky will be joining the 10U team shortly. He is tall and willing to work hard. I also have 2 other players that will be joining us soon as well. One is a great athlete and the other is a very hard worker. Both are raw but with coaching, they will be key additions to the team.

I have 2 tall players that I have been heavily recruiting to join our 12U squad. These additions will make a huge difference. Losing Ali to a knee injury today limited his playing time and didnt give me a lot of flexibility with substitutions with our forwards. I'm also hoping to add a couple kids named Hunter & Kyle. Im not going to say anything more other than that they "bring it".

Our Growth
I know that the games were not close by the score in most cases. And I could see that the kids were bummed out at losing so much. 8 losses in 3 days is not easy on anyone. Especially considering we won that many games in a row in the previous month. But this is the big boy leagues. This is where we are going as a program. And with enough practice and effort, it will be where we belong. 

We are a much stronger team right now than when we started on Friday. Remember, just 6 short months ago we only won 2 of our 8 games in the Boys & Girls Club League. Now we destroy those teams. Right now we are 0-8 in tournament play. Imagine where we will be in 6 months? You have to believe to achieve. Please tell all the kids to keep believing in themselves because lord knows, I havent given up on any of them.

And lastly, the kids werent the only ones that learned and grew from this experience. This was my first tournament of this nature since I was their age and my first tournament as a coach. There are quite a few things I will be doing differently as we prepare for the next one and coach in it as well.

Future Tournaments
Now considering that was a "A Level" tournament and it was the End-of-the-Season event. That was about as hard a tournament as we could have entered during the 2013 season. Every team in there has been preparing all year for that. 

The new season starts in September. Our next tournament will be played in either August or September and I will be entering us in a lower level tournament with other club teams as new as ours. We will begin the process of building our confidence up and gaining further experience against good competition as we gear up for the 2014 Anaheim event. Starting this Fall, we will no longer be playing in the Boys & Girls Club League. We are a real "club team" now. Which means it will be all tournaments, all the time. 

Here is a list of links to future tournaments in the area: 

Ive been told that SWOOSH does a good job of getting together lower level club teams so I think that their late August tournament is what I'll be shooting for (August 24th-25th).

Future Sponsor
I am very close to locking down a sponsor for our team that should cover our tournament costs. Almost all of the top programs either have a big-time sponsor or some rich parents forking out $400-600 per kid a month to compete at this level. 

I know I dont have any parents within our program with that sort of dough. But I do have kids that are willing to put in the sort of effort worthy of a big-time program. So in order to be a team that enters at least one tournament per month, I have to get some assistance for our program to cover entries, food, hotel, shoes, etc. 

I will keep everyone posted as this situation materializes.

I am now a authorized supplier of RynoPower sports supplements. 

Contact me for the best possible deals on product. I personally know and have worked with the owners of the product line for years. It is of the absolute highest quality products you can put in your body. If I had you describe RynoPower products in as few words as possible I'd say "I trust them and I know they work".

These are necessarily the best players of all-time, but rather the guys that I seemed to be the biggest fans of. Whether I identified with their attitude, parts of their game, or was fond of a quirk of their's, each person is on this list for their own reason. I will keep adding to this list as time goes on.

Michael Jordan - This needs no explanationLarry Bird - 2nd only to MJ in a list of greatest trash talkers. Gary Payton and Reggie Miller round out the top 4 
Charles Barkley - Greatest personality in sports

The Seattle Sonics of the 90s - George Karl's teams always broke my heart, but they were my team
Gary Payton - As good a defender as their has ever been, and maybe a better trash talker
Shawn Kemp - During his years in Seattle, he cemented himself as one of the great dunkers of all-time

The New York Knicks of the mid-late 90s - I loved their defense. It embodied where their city
John Starks - My favorite of those Knick teams, oddly enough, defense wasn't his strong suitAnthony Mason - Coolest haircuts ever

Nick Van Exel - Such a unique style. How could you not be a fan?
Allen Iverson - Maybe the toughest player Ive ever witnessedSteve Nash - A 3x MVP in my opinion. Looked like he was playing soccer out on the court
Jerome Williams - Nicknamed "The Junkyard Dog" because he loved rebounding so much
Ray Allen - And when I teach kids how to shoot, Ray Allen is the example given 10 out of 10 times
Carmelo Anthony - A storybook single college season at Syracuse
Nate Robinson - See blog post #14

The Detroit Pistons led by Chauncey Billups - Imagine had they taken Carmelo instead of Darko?
Chauncey Billups - When I teach kids how to play defense, I always say, "Do it like Chauncey does"
Whale Watching Pics
Pictures from the OTA have been posted on the team's official Facebook page. The event was a total success. Everyone had a great time (even Aziz I think haha). The kids were really well behaved. As worn out as I was by the end of the day, by the next day I already was missing the kids and ready to get back to practice. Here is the link to the photos:

Once again, a big thank-you to Victoria's mom Blanca for putting this event together and also taking all the pictures. And a BIG thank-you to all the chaperones that helped me keep the kids safe.

Torin's Birthday
Our next OTA will be Scorin' Torin's birthday party. EVERYONE is invited. The event will be June 8th and here is the address:

Wintermist Pool in Irvine. The cross street is East Yale Loop. Simply head West past the Boys & Girls Club on East Yale Loop until you hit Wintermist Ave and then take a Left Turn. Within a block and a half you will see the community pool on the left.

Bring shorts for swimming as well as basketball shoes since there is a court to play on. And bring a crazy costume. We will be filming our own version of the Miami Heat's "Harlem Shake".

Welcome to the Team

Please welcome our newest members of the teams:

Alex F
Marcus L

Alex has been a practice player for some time now. At only 9 years of age and relatively new to the country (he recently moved here from Spain) he has worked EXTREMELY hard to get up to speed. He spends countless hours practicing at home and has come a long way since joining the team. With his work ethic, he as a bright future with our team. Andrew brings with him superb instincts, defense, and ball handling to help sure up our point guard position. With Andrew and Aanan working together at PG, the position has now become a strength of this team. Tim is a player that gave us a LOT of trouble during Winter League and Im very glad he's now on our side. He plays great defense, can score at will, and never takes a play off. Tobias brings excellent learning ability. I never have to tell him something twice. His defense is superb. I think that at some point this season with Tobias, Victoria, Marcus, Andrew all on the same court at the same time, it will be nearly impossible for opposing teams to score. Peyton & Marcus L are the newest members to join. They are eager to learn our system, get in shape, and show they have what it takes to play our style of basektball. And then their is Xavier. One of the most unique kids Ive ever met. He has the swagger of 10 rappers all in one lil body. He is a fast learner and plays GREAT defense. And then there is "Lucky". This kid has a knack for keeping everyone on their toes, and laughing at the same time. I have high hopes for him, I dont think he's really aware of his potential.

Im thoroughly excited about every member of this team going forward. With each season we are adding more and more talent. Our bench players are nearly as strong as our starters at this point. That will make us a very dangerous team.

As some of you may know, we will be splitting the team into 3
  • 8 & under
  • 10 & under
  • 12 & under

Some of the more talented players on our team will have the opportunity to play on multiple teams. For example, I expect Marcus Green to suite up for both the 10U & 12U team. A few other players will fit this example as well.
The 8 & under team is my newest project. This is a work in progress. I hope to have the entire squad set and ready by July so we can enter our first tournament. So far, I have 3 outstanding talents on board. Khmori, Noah, and Gabriel. These 3 are going to be the foundation of what I know will be a DOMINANT basketball team one day.

Summer League Schedule
I will have our Summer League schedule finalised by this Sunday once the league has been formed this Saturday. We will be playing games on both Thursday & Friday evenings most every week from now until August.
July 5th thru 7th we will be entering our first tournament. The WCE25 Championships in Anaheim. The cost will be $325 per team. I have already registered both the 10U & 12U teams. So the cost per player will be split up evenly amongst the team. That should work out to about $50 per player if everyone wants to attend.
Boxing Out in Basketball is Controversial 

Whether you're a coach or a fan, there will be times that you'll find that you don't agree with what the referees have called in a particular situation. Of course, the same can be said about the 'no-calls' in sports, as well. Regardless of the sport, there will always be a certain level of disagreement, as they're not always going to get it right. Baseball seems to be the worst in this - however - basketball can sometimes be just as bad in this, especially at the youth level.

In all of the missed calls, it does seem as if the 'over the back' call is one that's generally missed more than many. I watched a NBA playoff game on the other day and in my opinion counted 20 ‘over the back’ situations and only 3 were actually called by the refs, which resulted in a foul. They are better at referring games than I am and I’m watching it from the television, but the ‘over the back’ call isn't a subjective call nor is it difficult to see happen as it occurs. These plays happen right in plain sight. They aren't "missed calls", they are blatant "no-calls".

The Controversy

One of the most infuriating things about the no call is that it's flying in the face of the fundamentals. It's extremely important to teach young players how to be fundamentally sound, especially when we're on the defensive side. Boxing out is imperative to properly crashing the boards - a trait that all players should have - regardless of the position that they play. 

One of the worst things about the controversy is that there's a chance that the players would be hesitant in game time situations because they may have a player climb all over their back to grab the ball. Not only is it something that can lead them to some level of injury, but it may stop them from making a bigger impact on the glass going forward. If they know that there's a chance that they'll have another player jumping all over them, they may simply choose not to exert the effort.

The Problem

There are a few theories as to why referees don't call over the back as much as they should. For one thing, coaches may assume that their player has better inside positioning than the other - often taller - player, however he doesn't quite get the rebound because of sheer size. The referees generally won't call it because - while there may be a little contact - that's what they assume is supposed to happen. It's the law of nature. It's not often that you'd expect a 6-foot guy to get a rebound over a player who outweighs them by 50 and has 6 inches on them.

This doesn't excuse them, but the point is to give a bit of perspective into the mind of the referee. Either way, its a slap in the face to the game of basketball for those of us who are purists.

Make no mistake about it; the over the back call is one of the most under-utilized call in basketball. Unfortunately, this is something that's the case in basketball at basically all levels. Coaches do everything they can to assure that their players have the technique down to a T, even if they're going against a much taller player going for a rebound.

There may not be a time where fundamentally-sound athletes are rewarded for doing what they should do in this case, but it's important that young athletes continue to exert the effort even if they don't get rewarded for all of their hard work. 

Author: Lamar Hull is a former NCAA basketball player for Davidson College. He also played overseas professionally. Lamar loves writing about sports and teaching young kids how to play basketball. You can follow Lamar @lamarhull20 and then be sure to check out his website @

Lamar's Youth Basketball Site
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