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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Hoop Editor Ming Wong is in Midseason Form

I recently went to a local bookstore and flipped through the new issue of Hoop Magazine; I am not foolish enough to buy such garbage but sometimes it is interesting to see what is being printed in the NBA's "official" publication. Instead of publishing an in-depth, insightful look at Clyde Drexler's career--a task likely beyond the capabilities of anyone on Hoop's staff--Hoop ran a tiny item ostensibly about Drexler's first NBA game. However, even though Hoop provided Drexler's stats from that game--and it would not surprise me a bit if Hoop got the numbers wrong--the quotes from Drexler had nothing to do with his first NBA game but rather simply addressed his general recollections about his rookie season with a Portland team that featured All-NBA Second Team shooting guard Jim Paxson, future All-Star small forward Calvin Natt and solid point guard Darnell Valentine. Drexler noted that even though he possessed the versatility to play any of those positions it was difficult for him to earn much playing time ahead of those veterans (Drexler averaged 17.2 mpg as a rookie in 1983-84, starting just three games). The funniest thing about the Hoop piece is that the writer not only repeatedly misspelled Darnell as "Darnelle" but also repeatedly referred to Hall of Fame Coach Jack Ramsay as "Ramsey." If the writer made these mistakes in his submitted copy, shame on him for being so sloppy--but, more to the point, shame on editor Ming Wong for not fixing this mess. Clearly, Wong--who is not above "borrowing" the work of others without proper attribution and who ran a story that incorrectly stated that Julius Erving's famous dunk over Michael Cooper took place in the 1983 NBA Finals--is in midseason form, which is sad news for anyone who loves basketball and is seeking out intelligent writing about the sport.

Hoop used to feature at least one or two full length, in depth articles per issue--for example, consider my 2005 piece about Walt Frazier. Now, though, the magazine largely consists of a series of brief puff pieces that lack any substance, depth or insight. The same thing has happened with the Sporting News: instead of producing fully developed articles, SN trots out a ton of "mini-articles," many of which consist of little more than a series of brief quotes from various "experts" (some of whom are "experts" only in the loosest sense of the term); the Yogi Berra interview in the current issue is interesting but such a full length piece is the exception rather than the rule now with SN. John Feinstein's back page column is usually good and occasionally excellent but Will Leitch's column is a waste of space/ink and the rest of the magazine often seems like the sports version of the Dick and Jane reader. I'm not sure if this trend means that editors/writers lack the attention span and/or talent to put together full length articles or if they simply assume that their readers are not interested in spending more than 30 seconds reading an article. Sports Illustrated may be the last remaining sports magazine that regularly publishes articles that resemble real journalism (ESPN the Magazine is a promotional tool for the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader" that occasionally--seemingly by accident/chance--publishes an in-depth, thought provoking article or column).

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:32 AM


Monday, October 05, 2009

Interview With Sacramento Kings' Assistant Coach Pete Carril

This interview was originally published in two parts at Suite101.com on April 6, 2005 and April 7, 2005.

Hall of Famer Pete Carril won 525 games and 13 Ivy League championships during his 30 year collegiate coaching career. His Princeton teams ranked first in the NCAA in scoring defense 14 times and in 1975 he led the Tigers to the NIT Championship, the only time that an Ivy League team has won that title. Carril joined the Sacramento Kings' coaching staff before the 1996-97 season. His book The Smart Take from the Strong bursts with pithy insights about basketball, coaching and leadership. Before the Kings blew out the Cleveland Cavaliers 128-109 on April 1, 2005, Coach Carril discussed the difference between coaching in college and in the pros and what the Kings need to do to advance in the NBA playoffs.

Friedman: "From a coaching perspective, what is the biggest difference between college basketball and professional basketball?"

Carril: "I'd say that I agree with the assessment that the NBA is a players' game--the players have more to say about what they are doing than the coach does, for the most part. There are a few exceptions to that--most of them are very successful coaches who have some sense of control about what goes on. Most of these guys (NBA players) are darn good players who think that they know exactly what is good for them."

Friedman: "When you say 'sense of control,' you mean control that is given to the coach by management, right? The players know that the coach is going to be there and that they have to listen to what he says."

Carril: "Right, right."

Friedman: "From your perspective as a coach, do you think that defense is emphasized more in college, more in the pros or about the same in each?"

Carril: "I think that it's the same. It varies with the coach, when he makes an assessment of his team. If he comes to the conclusion that he does not have the kind of players who are good shooters or good scorers, that in turn dictates how he's going to play on offense. At the same time, he might have some guys who don't defend very well--he works them and he works them and he works them and after four or five months they still don’t guard. Then he's got to tailor his defense to that. A lot depends on personnel--defensive stoppers, when you have them, you notice them, because when the other team comes into town, their high scorer hardly ever scores."

Friedman: "In your book (The Smart Take from the Strong) you made a similar point, saying that one of the most important things that a coach can do is identify what his players do well and what they don't do well and avoid putting a player in a situation in which he can’t succeed or is unlikely to succeed."

Carril: "Exactly. When I used to give clinics years ago, I used to say that--take the first three days of practice, especially if you don't know your players, and let them run up and down the court and play. You watch them play for three days without instruction and they will show you--by what they value, how they play, how fast they run, what they want to do--exactly what you have to teach them."

Friedman: "That's a good way to find out which players are leaders. If you're not directing things every step of the way then you can see which players will take control."

Carril: "Exactly right."

Friedman: "What one or two things are most important for the Sacramento Kings to do well to have success in the postseason?"

Carril: "We have to do two things. We are not a good defensive team--the stats show that. We are not very tall with our center, Brad Miller, hurt. We better shoot well and we better move the ball around to get good shots."

Friedman: "At this stage of the season, Sacramento's playoff positioning is not locked and you don't know for sure who you are going to play in the first round. So these games are important. On the other hand, when teams get in the playoffs they tend to shorten their rotations. How does a coaching staff balance the desire to set up the playoff rotation with the necessity of winning the remaining regular season games?"

Carril: "I don't really think that it is particularly hard. First of all, in our case, our head coach is concerned--and I am concerned, too--whether we will even make the playoffs. We have a four game lead in the loss column over Minnesota, and they're playing hot. They're playing real well. We've got some tough games, one with Minnesota, two with Phoenix and one with Seattle. We have five away games and we need to win five of our next nine games to hold our position. It looks like Houston is going to take the fifth spot away from us. That doesn't bother me too much, but going down to seventh or eighth, I don't know that that is good--playing San Antonio or Phoenix (in the first round of the playoffs)."

In The Smart Take from the Strong, Carril writes, "There is a difference between teaching and coaching. When you are instructing your team about the actual game, you are teaching them, transmitting knowledge and information to them. There are guys who don't teach their players anything or much of anything, but who go around and recruit the best players and they win--they're coaches but not teachers." One of the most important--and neglected--skills that players should be taught is the dribble.

Friedman: "You mentioned in your book The Smart Take from the Strong that it is a crime for any coach, particularly at the younger levels, if he doesn’t make sure that his players know how to dribble--that this is such an important skill."

Carril: "I think that what has happened is that about 25 years ago they went into this passing game offense in which dribbling is discouraged. Maybe it was because guys were dribbling too much."

Friedman: "I was going to ask you about that."

Carril: "They might have been dribbling too much. All of a sudden, guys start passing the ball, pass and cut, don't dribble the ball. The coach is screaming from the bench, 'Don't dribble the ball' and all that kind of stuff. Now if you find a '3' man (small forward) who can dribble the ball, it's rare. I mean, if you play LeBron James at the '3,' he’s going to kill everybody. He kills everybody at '1' or '2.' At '3' it's even easier. A guy like Tayshaun Prince, because he can dribble the ball--if you're looking for an outlet (pass), there he is. He can dribble the ball up the court and make the play in a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 (fast break). It is a valuable asset (because) if you have three guys who can dribble the ball on your team then you are not going to get pressed."

Friedman: "Sure. You mentioned something that I want to follow-up, in terms of over-dribbling. There are certain point guards in the league--not to mention any names--who dribble too much and it seems like this gets the other players on their teams out of rhythm because they never know when they are going to get the ball."

Carril: "Oh yeah. That's right."

Friedman: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but what you're suggesting is that all basketball players should have the capability to dribble, but part of that capability is knowing how and when to use it."

Carril: "That's definitely true. When you show a guy a dribble move and you show him all of the techniques that are involved in this dribble move--let’s say the reverse pivot dribble, which used to be called the 'Pearl move' after Earl Monroe--after you're done and he gets that down pat, you're next job is just as important: where do you use it and when."

Friedman: "I did an article about Roger Brown, who played in the ABA, and he was known for his great first step, which was described to me by George Gervin and others. Gervin told me that what was great about Roger Brown's first step was that he was not using a lot of dribbles. He would extend his jab step past the defender's hip and then he would go. Does that fit in with what you are talking about in terms of knowing how to use the dribble?"

Carril: "Right--or even knowing whether you can drive or not. You can work with some guys for weeks at a time to get beyond the guy who is defending them and they can't do it. We have a couple guys we are working with on that and we say, 'Gosh, can't you get around this guy?' But they can't. I remember that from my high school days, when I was a high school coach. We worked like a son-of-a-gun to get this guy to drive beyond his man and he couldn't do it, even after a year or two.”

Friedman: "Is that just lack of speed or a lack of proper technique?"

Carril: "It's hard. It's hard. When you're teaching basketball it is like teaching algebra. Why do some of your kids get 90s and some get 60s or 50s? Why is it that you have a guy who is getting 60,65, you bring him in after school and you work with him and you give him the test--and he gets 65? The guy who gets 90, you never see him, you give him the test and he gets 90."

Friedman: "Why is that? Is it just talent? You can't get around talent at some point."

Carril: "That's right."

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:04 AM