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.
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.
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:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Irvine-Celtics/254045458056488
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 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.Rosters
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.
If you go back to my 2nd blog post several months ago, you can see where I mentioned the 5th & 6th grade team I began volunteer coaching in the Boys & Girls Club Recreational Basketball League. We started as a group of kids that I picked not based on their basketball skills but rather from what I saw in their natural hustle during evaluations. I went around and then talked to most of the kids during evaluations so I could get a sense of their maturity, intelligence, and willingness to listen to what I had to say. And when I drafted my team later that week, I took a lot of players that seemed to surprise the rest of my contingent.
For my first draft pick I took a kid that surprised everyone because he was frenetic and wild out on the court. But when I talked to him he was the most articulate 11 year old I'd ever met. I new with his intelligence and maturity I'd be able to mold him into the perfect point guard for our team. He is now a much more controlled player who runs our entire offense like a quaterback on the court.
With my second pick I took another kid who wasnt on anyone's radar but he caught my eye becuase of his sheer hustle. Nobody was sweating harder than him. He was diving for lose balls and was eager to do the job nobody else wanted to. He ended up making All-League honors and I couldnt be more proud. The kid is a coach's dream. Always attentive, 100% effort, selfless, and a leader out on the court. He would sometimes be directing the team before I had a chance to say what I was seeing, he was actually seeing things before I did sometimes. I cant really say enough about this kid, all I can say is that his parents have done a magnificent job and that he is going to be a coach's favorite no matter what sport he's playing.
And so the draft went, I kept picking the unconventional choices. Even taking a tall uncordinated girl that later would blossom into my teams best defender. I cant really take any credit for this one, all I can say is that all of a sudden one day in practice mid-season she just started playing the most fundamentally sound defense I'd ever seen out of a 11 year old. She became my lock down defender in a boy's league and if she keeps working at this rate, she will be playing for whatever high school team she wants too.
As the season progressed we lost games due to injuries, flu season, and we lost others due to the fact that I was sacrificing wins in order to teach them lessons. For example, I refused to let them run a full court press. I also discouraged them from fast breaks due to the fact that I wanted them to learn how to run a half court offense. As a result we ended up losing our final 5 games of the season. I kept preaching to the kids about the merits of hard work, perseverence, and discipline and with each mounting loss, it got harder and harder to do. They would look at me after games in the locker room with tears in their eyes asking "Why?" .... What are we doing wrong?" ... and "We've done everything you have asked us to do and we are still losing"....
And the truth is, they were doing everything I was asking. After two months of practicing 3 days a week, 100s of suicides and pushups later here I was having to tell them that they were doing all the right things and that this was a process. I was seeing the improvement and I didnt care about the wins or losses. But at 10 or 11 years of age, that rhetoric loses its meaning after multiple 2 and 3 point losses where we'd have the lead going into the final minutes of a game.
But the kids never wavered. They never lost their faith in what I was preaching. And I owe them and their parents all the credit in the world for that. I kept telling the kids we were built for the playoffs and that if we just stayed the course, I promised them we'd win the league championships.
As the playoffs approached, the kids did something I'd never seen out of athletes this age, they began asking for longer practices and more 1on1 coaching time with me. So I began staying after late, doing individual drills with the kids working on their ball handling and spot up shooting. I began also having nightmares about the upcoming games. Ive competed at a professional level in motorsports, and I can tell you that losing is as bad as it gets, and so I thought coaching would be easier but I was dead wrong. Especially with kids as young and fragile as this. There was no way I'd be able to live this down if we didnt deliver in the playoffs. But the fact is, it wasnt up to me, just like I'd always said from the beginning, the wins & losses are up to the kids. My job is to just teach. Well they were the ones that ended up teaching me that lesson all over again when they took charge and began asking for extra coaching.
The night before our first playoff game I spent an hour with my starting point guard & shooting guard. We did 3 point shots from a specific spot on the court until my shooting guard could barely lift his arms. And the following night, in a 1 point game with 90 seconds to play, he came off a perfectly set screen and took a 3 from that exact spot that hit nothing but the bottom of the net. I've never been so happy for anyone as I was that moment.
After we won that game the kids proved that they had learned "how to lose". Meaning, they never got too down on themselves, they just kept working and working, knowing the results would eventually come. And they did. But now the next challenge would be to see if they could prove they knew "how to win". Meaning, rather than feel too good for themselves would they get back and work harder than they ever did before to avoid a letdown.
And on Wednesday March 6th, 2013 they did just that. They came out strong from the start, running our offensive system efficiently and effectively. Backdoor screens, cuts, and layups. A flood of 3 pointers. Aggressive boxing out and rebounding. Diving for any lose ball. Unselfish pick and rolls that resulted in wide open shots.
We led 13-10 after one quarter. We were tied 15-15 at the half. And towards the end of the 3rd quarter we were down 19-23. But I wasnt worried. And neither were the kids. As I'd told them the night before the game at our final practice, "You dont ever want to look up at the score late in a game and think back and wish you had done more to prepare. It doesnt matter what the score is, if you know you have done everything you could have done, you will find great inner strength in knowing that." And it was during the intermission before the start of the 4 quarter that I reminded them of this. That we'd put in all the hard work. All those sprints and pushups were about to payoff. And sure enough they did. The kids went out and played flawlessly. While the other team looked fatigued and began making mental mistakes, my kids had barely broken a sweat. We went on a 15-2 run to start the 4th quarter and ended up winning easily.
The kids screamed with joy afterwards. All dancing and hugging each other as if it was the Final Four, and for them, it was. They'd worked their tails off and got to reap the benefits I'd promised them. It was a very special group of kids & parents that I will never be able to replace and will be VERY lucky to come close to duplicating.
Ive been around world championship athletes my entire adult life. Ive competed in Europe, Asia, and all over the United States at the highest levels of sport. This was easily as rewarding and exhilarating a experience as anything Ive ever experienced and I owe it all to the 8 special kids whom I'll forever hold a special place in my heart for.