January 18, 2009

Anything but Basketball

When you go to multi-game events like the great Classic in the Country you get the opportunity to hang out with a lot of basketball people from high school coaches to college coaches and even the two levels of high school basketball fan, the casual fan and the fan-expert.  Most of the people want to talk basketball,  where you’ve been, who you’ve seen and what players you like.  At the Classic in the Country and other major regional events most of the casual fans are parents who you’ve met before or through their daughter who you’ve know.  The fan-expert is a more difficult person to deal with. As the internet has allowed anyone with a keyboard and an opioion to have their say without any safeguards or controls the fan-expert has become a boon and a dangerous sign of the decline of the traditional newspaper coverage.  As more newspapers fade away or limit coverage it is this new breed of psuedo-journalist than has taken the ungiven title of expert and voice.  This kind of person is a fixture in the men’s game at the high school level.  On the women’s side they are cropping up even more and more.  Making the jump from casual fan to fan-expert to a respected expert regardless of your affiliation comes from serious hours accumulated and who you know and on what basis. People come to respect you if you’ve done the time and you know your craft. At the major events you’ll find a number of fan-experts.  Each state has at least one or two of them.  Most of the time you’ll find them talking to assistant coaches because they don’t have a personal relationship with the head coach unless its the local head coach.  The head coaches spend their time catching up with the serious experts who have some sort of affiliation or prior history in the game.  The two biggest names here were Mark Lewis of ESPN and Brett McCormick of All-Star Girls.  These two are super respected and liked for their insights, work ethic and time in the game.  They know what they’re talking about.  There were a few of the Ohio experts around also.  The biggest name in the building was Tom Jenkins who besides running the event operates the best state evaluation report in the US – the Ohio Girls Basketball Report (OGBR).  Tom, who now lives in the Berlin community, runs his service and other projects and supports a summer travel basketball team. Practically everyone in the state loves Tim and his efforts to enhance girls basketball in Ohio.  If you’re around this sport long enought you learn who knows what they’re talking about and who doesn’t or is faking it.  Tom’s opinion is respect as gospel.

The other aspect of coming to an all-day event like the Classic in the Country is the opportunity to catch up with people you know very well and have developed realtionships over the years with.  It was great to sit and talk to Indiana assistant Jose Mori, Virginia assistant Jeff House and Notre Dame assistant Jonathan Tsipis – all great assistants and future head coaches.  Each conversation covered different aspects of the game but it never was always about basketball.  When you spend your life in the game you want to talk about life and other things you do besides basketball.  You also want to ask how people you have a common history with are doing like former players and coaches. 

There are few college coaches you can sit next to who want to talk about anything but basketball like Ohio State head coach Jim Foster.  As for history, Jim goes back to Philly when he started as a high school girls basketball coach at Bishop McDevitt with an assistnat named Geno something (at that time).   The duo eventually moved over to St. Joseph’s and then Geno Auriemma moved down to Virginia with Debbie Ryan. Foster had many a Philadelphia Belles players and other Philly players during his tenure at St. Joe’s before he left for Vanderbilt.  A few years later and Jim jumped to Ohio State.  During the summer you may get about 5 minutes to sit and talk before you have to speak to the next person.  Today Jim sat down between me and Duffy Burns and wanted to talk.  I asked about what and after a few minutes of basketball discussion we leapt into what we both really like – global news and political discussion.  Jim mentioned that he didn’t read a newspaper for the past three days. Me, I try to read two of them every day.  We started on the Israeli-Hamas conflict then to Iraq invasion to the economy. We didn’t get to talk about Russian history which Jim can speak on.  We then talked about the skill and development of basketball players in Europe and global basketball.  We also went through a list of some familar players and we talked about getting Christmas cards and notes. The biggest one is when they have birthdays and you realize how long you’ve been in this game.

If you were looking at us from afar you wouldn’t expect to discuss these non-basketball things.  But, as Jim said when he said down to watch one of the big games of the day, let’s talk about anything but basketball.  When you look at some head coaches next time across the floor or room watching a game don’t expect it to be the game their watching.