My two younger children attended a Spanish immersion program from kindergarten through fifth grade. They are now, and always will be, fully fluent in Spanish — and hopefully English. (Both are in their 20s now.)
When I started coaching college basketball, I did my own form of immersion — Basketball Immersion. For the first six years I coached, I was the head coach of the junior varsity program, and also an assistant on the varsity. As a result, I would run my own two hour practice with the JVs, followed by a two-hour practice with the varsity. On game nights, I would coach my JV team for their game, and then immediately shift one seat down to assistant coach the varsity. No better way to learn the game.
This past week, I tried a new version of a basketball immersion experience. I played in my normal weekday game — two hours on Wednesday night. I then attended UCLA vs. Villanova (preseason #2 vs. #4) on Friday night at Pauley Pavilion. I got up early the next morning for Mormon church hoops (I am not Mormon, but good friend Steve is, and he has the key to the church gym). The next day, I played in my Sunday morning game at Pacific Palisades High, two more hours of hoops. This was all capped off by a visit to see my Spurs take on the Lakers at 12:30 p.m. P.S.T. at Staples Center. So that is 6 hours playing ball myself, and 5 hours of watching my favorite college and pro teams (UCLA and Spurs, not Lakers and Nova). Five games in five days a.k.a. Basketball Heaven (and a tolerant wife).
A brief recap:
The Wednesday and Sunday games at local high schools include players in their 20s all the way up to ... me, I guess. We have several players who played college ball (including … me, I guess) and many others who played in high school. Even those who didn’t play in school are good, so the games are very competitive. We range in size from 5’8” to 6’9”, with me in the middle somewhere. We play games to 19, counting by twos and threes, so we normally get in between five and seven games into our two hours on the court.
The Saturday game is a different animal. Because the Mormon church gym is short and a bit narrow, we play either 4-on-4 or 3-on-3 — but either way, we go full court. The interesting result of having less players, as expressed by a new player: “There’s no place to hide out there”. Put another way, if you lose your man, he scores, without some big guy by the rim to bail you out. And if you lose your man in the “short corner” (because the court is narrow, the corner three-pointer is indeed short — about 17 feet), your team just gave up 3 points. For this game, I am not the oldest, but the guy who is (Steve With The Key To The Gym) played Division I ball (at BYU, naturally). As a result, he started at a much higher level of basketball than this Division III guard, and remains there.
For the UCLA - Villanova game, I busted out my home jersey white UCLA #4 (Arron Afflalo?). Former Nova star Kyle Lowry, sitting three rows ahead of me, probably was confused seeing me in my Bruin home jersey sitting in the stands and not out on the court raining threes.
For an early season game, the game was well played by both teams, with a great home crowd, as one would expect with two veteran teams ranked in the top 5. As a friend pointed out, this was an early test of the “real UCLA”. Is UCLA the team that impressed the country on their run to the Final Four last year – or the team that deserved an 11th seed and needed to go the “play-in” route to make the actual tournament. For this game at least, this was Final Four UCLA, not the team that struggled through the Pac-12 regular season and playoff. My game companion Brad (former UC Irvine Anteater hooper) pointed out that the team’s March Madness run taught these guys how to win. As a result, the Bruins have at least five players perfectly comfortable taking and making big shots — and all of them did so Friday night.
That being said, both team’s defenses are ahead of the offenses at this point of the season. As proof, each team only had 12 assists in the 45 minutes they played — about 1 per every 4 minutes of game action. By way of comparison, the Spurs average over 28 assists per game. A friend from Texas suggested that UCLA’s win in OT could have partially resulted from the late start time. When the game started, it was 11:30 p.m. on the east coast, and when OT began, Villanova’s body clocks were telling them it was after 1 a.m.
On the way to the game, I wondered if UCLA’s experience is a precursor to what the Spurs have and will go through since the end of the Big Three era. Like the Spurs, the UCLA program was a dynasty for decades – and then wasn’t. UCLA has not won a national championship since 1995, and last year’s Final Four appearance was the team’s first since that 1994-1995 season. Will the Spurs have as long as a gap between their 2014 Beautiful Game championship and their next ring?
Sunday’s game against the Lakers did not answer that question. Several comments:
- In years past, the ratio of Lakers gear to Spurs gear at Staples Center was about 80/20. This year is was about 98/2. Though this jersey represented well.
- We had good seats for the game. This was the best shot of a shot I got:
- To get back to the NBA Final Four, the Spurs need a guy like The Great Tim Duncan, or the guy the Lakers had Sunday. It sure would have helped to have Jakob Poeltl out there defending the Frequently Injured Anthony Davis, because when FI-AD is not injured, he was very simply the difference in these two teams. Once again, the Spurs were within 2 points in the last five minutes, but could not close the deal. Especially painful were the two plays down the stretch when Spurs players chose to attack FI-AD at the rim, and came away empty.
By the way, I am also attending the Spurs game against the Clippers Tuesday night – but Six Games in Seven Nights doesn’t have the same ring to it.