Four days of hoops left this ex-Laker fan yearning for the days of yore.
I have a regular Thursday night game at Hamilton High in Los Angeles. Famous Hami High alumni include ex-UCLA and NBA star Sidney Wicks, one of the most talented players in the league ever, Al Michaels and the incredible Rita Hayworth.
For our Thursday night games, we play 2s and 3s to 19, with the winner staying on. One of the early games became stuck at 17-16 with the team stuck at 17 missing all their 2s, and the team stuck at 16 missing all their 3s. The debate about whether a long 2 is as efficient as a 3 pointer loses meaning when teams can't make either shot. Thankfully, somebody finally made one, and those of us waiting to play (me) finally got on the court. Since have 8 guys who played some level of college hoops, the Thursday games are normally well played. This Thursday was not one of those great nights.
Even worse, I taped the Spurs - Bulls game, and watched it when I got home. In many ways, this was the Spurs most disappointing game of the year. And this was to a Bulls team who was missing one of their better players, Joakim Noah. During all those early season losses to lottery teams, and the painful triple OT losses where the Spurs gave away leads, we had the "the Spurs were not at full strength" excuse. The Spurs were either missing Kawhi, Splitter or Mills for all of those losses, sometimes all three, and sometimes others. Missing Kawhi was the most painful, particularly because the fall-off to his erstwhile understudies Austin Daye and Kyle Anderson was so massive. Not unlike the fall-off when Adam Sandler tried to reprise the Burt Reynolds role in The Longest Yard.
Day two was "highlighted" by the Lakers visit to San Antonio. In the old days, this is a game I would not have missed, if only to see if Tony could dominate Fisher. This year, as documented in my earlier piece "Tale of Two Cities", even longtime Laker fans take a night off every once in a while. Although the most amazing stat I have heard all year is this one: Laker TV ratings this season double that of the Clippers.
Not wanting to see the game, but still wanting to see some basketball, I took super-wife Linda to see American Sniper. To my surprise, American Sniper was not a movie about Golden State Warrior shooter Klay Thompson. As a result, I missed Thompson's 9 for 9 from three, 37 point performance in the third quarter of the Warriors-Kings game. Note the classic bit of appreciative (and knowing the feeling) laughter from the other Warriors sniper Steph Curry at the end of this piece:
In my first piece for Pounding the Rock© I wrote about coaching against Gregg Popovich during the 1980s in the Claremont - Pomona rivalry. As part of that piece, I described the intensity of the games between these "across the street" Division 3 rivals
Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont are so close that on game nights the basketball teams simply walk down 6th Street in Claremont that one tenth of a mile to get from one school's gym to the other. For two of Pop's last years, when Pomona's new gym was being built, the Pomona team practiced (at 6:30 a.m. most days) and played their home games in Ducey Gymnasium.
Before the season, the players from the schools often play pick-up ball with and against the other team's players. Players at the schools take classes on both campuses, and most of the best players were recruited by both schools. The two teams are traditionally among the best in the league. As one can imagine, the rivalry between the teams, and the fans, is crazily intense. The games were so loud that we had to call in plays and defenses by holding up pieces of cardboard with different colors or numbers on them because the players didn't have a chance of hearing us over the crowd.
Saturday night, I returned to campus for the latest iteration of the rivalry, along with 6'5' super-son Pablo, his 6'3'' fiancée Katie Olsovsky (two-time USC All-American and national champion in volleyball), and 6'6" ex-Trinity College (Connecticut) great Jason Levin. Needless to say, I sat in the backseat on the way to the game.
In the last few years, Claremont has dominated the rivalry and the league, winning the crown 5 of the past 6 years. Claremont's star guard, 6'4" Tyler Gaffney is a large part of that, and one of the best players in the country. Coming into the game, Tyler is averaging 22.6 points per game, 57.5% from the floor and 52.1% from three. Yes, 52.1% from three.
Amazingly, Tyler went to the same tiny high school (The Branson School) as the best player I ever coached, our 6'7'' shooting guard Chris Greene. Chris was an excellent player for us, and once made 8 consecutive threes in a game, earning both a Sports Illustrated Faces in the Crowd mention, player of the year in the league, and first team All-American honors. Of course, Chris's 8 threes in a row falls just a bit short of Klay Thompson's 9 in a row Friday night.
Ducey Gym (Claremont's home gym) is no more. While the new gym is being built, Claremont's home games are at Pomona, just like how Pop's final teams at Pomona practiced and played at Ducey Gym while Pomona's new gym was being built. As a result, Claremont's "home games", even when playing Pomona, are in Pomona's gym.
As mentioned above, these games are always intense, regardless of the team's place in the standings. Claremont entered the game having been nationally ranked much of the year and in second place in the league. Pomona, which has been racked by as many injuries as the Spurs this year, came into the game 3-12 overall and 1-5 overall - and had several of their injured players back for the game. (One of Pomona's win was over Trinity College from San Antonio.)
This year's games was no exception. After Claremont went up four points on Tyler's clutch 3 with a minute left, Pomona's post guy scored on a "he didn't call it" bank shot to cut it to two. When Claremont's wing shooter then missed two free throws with 19 seconds left, this happened:
The Pomona player who made the winning 3 point play will NEVER forget that moment. He is a senior at Pomona, and from Lakeside High in Seattle -- the same high school that produced on of my former players Henry Albrecht, mentioned in this earlier PtR piece:
The Claremont coaches attended a coaching clinic with Pat Riley one summer, and he essentially taught us the Lakers Showtime fast break: Magic at the point, Scott and Worthy on the wings, and Kareem and Rambis either filling the post or trailing. We ran the D-3 version of that break for several years, and the Spurs brought it out of mothballs in Game 5. The back screen for Kawhi was essentially the same screen we would set for our all-conference post player Henry Albrecht -- the same screen the Lakers set on Kareem's man as the last option on the Showtime break. The Spurs ran it against the Heat 30 years later as a set play after a sideline in-bounds. Getting Kawhi opportunities to catch and score on lob passes would certainly help feature him more in the Spurs offense.
You should try to catch a Division 3 game before the season is over.
Day Four started with my weekly Sunday morning game at Pacific Palisades High. Pali's famous alumni include another former UCLA and NBA great -- Kiki Vandeweghe. Also present Warrior coach and ex-Spur Steve Kerr. Two fairly great shooters from one school. The Sunday morning game is not quite as competitive as the Thursday night game, but it is still one of the highlights of my week. We also have the distinct advantage of driving up the Pacific Coast Highway on the way to the gym, so we get a bit of the Pacific Ocean every Sunday. I know the River Walk is great, but that old Pacific Ocean trumps it.
Later on Day Four we attended the Rockets-Lakers game at Staples Center. The introduction of the Lakers' starters is a fascinating event. "Starting at guard, Jordan Clarkson!!" Total silence. "Starting at the other guard, Wayne Ellington!!!" More silence - and so on for other Lakers starters Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, and Robert Sacre.
The only loud cheers during introduction were when they announced that "Laker for a season" Dwight Howard would not be playing, claiming a "sprained ankle" -- though the "cheers" sounded a lot like boos. The other Rockets star, James "the Dictator" Harden received a more mixed reaction, perhaps because of his resemblance to Sasha Baron Cohen:
As expected, the game was a Rocket win. And thus also a Laker win The Lakers now have a 3 game lead over (or more accurately "under) all the on other contenders for the 4th spot in this year's NBA Lottery. Since the Lakers first round pick has been traded to Phoenix, but is top 5 lottery protected, true Laker fans recognize that the only good thing that can come out of this otherwise forgettable season is that top pick. Which means finishing with one of the 5 worst records, and watching the standings and cheering whenever the Celtics, Jazz and other dregs win a game.
But for this ex-Laker fan, I had the pleasure of coming home after the fairly uninteresting Laker game to watch the tape of the Spurs - Bucks game. With all the hoops I saw and played the past four days, returning to the normalcy of a Spurs win felt good.
And someone should tell Pop that Pomona beat Claremont Saturday night -- that will make him feel good too.