INDIANAPOLIS, IN – If you have ever wondered what it is like to be an AAU coach with Eric Bailey and myself, this blog will sum it up nicely. Not only was this week fun and exciting for us, this week was also exactly what the mold for 2020 has been…a lot of miscommunication, figuring things out on the fly, frustration, ups, downs, and most importantly…hope. Like most sports, we can metaphorically compare them all to life. Whether it’s the grit on the football field, small success of baseball, and this past week – the tale of two halves of basketball.
If you know anything about our area, you know it’s made up mostly of small schools. This week would have been “Roses week.” A week most AAU programs throughout the nation look forward too, where we flock to Louisville, Kentucky to all compete in the nation’s biggest AAU Basketball Tournament under one roof, “TFN’s Run 4 Roses.” A typical year 1300+ teams would descend to the Kentucky Expo Center, which would be laid out with 79 full size basketball courts, seating for parents, baselines full of college coaches, media, and a plethora of retail companies up charging your standard t-shirts. There is always an aura to the week, anybody and everybody, that’s a somebody in girls basketball is there. As you can imagine, it takes months to plan….and as we found out, only a day to move to a completely different location… twice. With the Coronavirus peaking its ugly head and making its presence known to the world this past March, it changed the platform of the sports world.
For Eric and myself who attend and work the “Run4Roses” tournament, we had to move the location from Louisville to Nashville, TN at first which was back up plan #2. At the time Nashville was allowing us to utilize the Music City Center for our event as long as they were in Level 4 of reopening. Level 4 never happened. So here comes back up plan #3, rent out and utilize gymnasiums, sports complexes, and anything else that has a basketball court in surrounding areas of Nashville. Once again Corona had a different plan. Four days before departing for Nashville, the state of Tennessee held tight on its level 2 status, not allowing any large gatherings of more than 25 people in an area. So if you’re still following this, you can see how this would be a problem. All of the teams, players, and parents that are booked and ready to roll for the event, basically had the rug ripped right out underneath their feet. Thus creating backup plan #4 which was move “Run4Roses” to September and find a tournament/location where we can send hundreds of teams to, infiltrate a city in 96 hours, and run it without a single glitch. Welcome to Indianapolis!
July 5th – 8th: Nike Tournament of Champions Session 1 – Six games in three days, and I won’t talk about the 14 hour work days helping run the tournament, countless waivers that had to be signed over and over again and the mass amount of boneless chicken wings and caffeine that was consumed. Through all the chaos we decided to merge 5 or 6 players from each of our teams. This was mostly due to the fact we needed to ensure we had enough players. Not everyone was committed or had prior engagements. Finally it was time to play.
Day 1 – games 1 through 3: The first 2 games were rough, real rough. Actually, make it the first 3 games. It’s a learning curve for girls in our area at an event like this. You have teams that are commingled from hours away that can show up, play, and beat everyone without even blinking. If you’ve ever said “Yeah well that’s girls’ basketball” I hope you attend an exposure event. These girls won’t just tower over you, they will school you on the court as well. Now back to our team. We are made up of mostly players who tend to be role players on their team. The learning curve is very sharp, and most of the time it is spent trying to get them to get out of their own way. After a few 30+ point ass beatings, and a few coaching adjustments, we figured it out.
Day 2 – game 4: We are headed into OT. A one point loss, a complete coaching loss (yes I know all losses are coaching losses) but we turned a corner. We figured out rotations, Eric threw in two full court presses on the fly that counteracted what I would do with my group. You could tell a lightbulb went off in the players as well. The realization of “we aren’t as talented individually as these players, but we are gritty.” We truly started to embody the Youngstown way. It won’t always be sexy, but you’ll know we are here.
Day 3 – games 5 and 6: The games coaches dream of, shots fell, created countless turnovers, two 30 point wins (one of them being the team we lost to in OT), and as a coach all you had to do was stand there and clap your hands like Jason Garret did with the Dallas Cowboys for way too many years. Nike Tournament of Champions Session 1 final record, 2-4.
July 10- 12th: Nike Tournament of Champions Session 2 – I’ve never had a root canal before, but I Imagine the first 8 minutes we played in our first game was fairly equivalent to one. It was just painful, numbing, and annoying. Half way through the first half we are down 20-3. It wasn’t even being upset that they didn’t score but that they started to give up on themselves. So after some senseless yelling, mumbling to myself and vivid fidgeting, the girls cut the lead to 10 going into half time. It was the tale of two halves. We ended up losing by 10 after a great 2nd half. We cut the lead down to 6 with a little over a minute. Missed a couple easy looks, had to foul, and ended up on the wrong side of things. Message of the day…when you step on the court it’s go time. The next two games were fairly identical. Our pressure gave us easy lay ups, easy lay ups gave us confidence shooting the ball, we weathered their come backs, and we ended up on the right side of the score board.
On day two going into our 4th game we are sitting at 2-1 with a lot of momentum and everyone is feeling good about themselves. The 4th game was once again a tale of two halves. Up 10 at half time, and we just hit a wall; mentally and physically. A team we play 10 times I feel we beat 9 of the 10 times. It was one of those games in the 2nd half you could just the energy was gone. It was like watching a live version for the alien from Moron Mountain in Space Jam take the NBA player’s ability to play. We were just done. As a coach, there isn’t much you can say, sometimes you just cut your losses, have to fight through things, adapt and then overcome.
July 12th: Text message sent to the team, “Looks like we’re rolling with 5 – Be ready you’ll get plenty of PT.” Them: “Nice… What Court.”
The response pretty much sums up my team. Honestly, they aren’t the best team in any tourney but they are the closest team. We’ve added players, we’ve subtracted players, and they’d be the first to tell you, they don’t eat, sleep, or breathe basketball. Which is weird for someone who does like Eric and myself. But nevertheless, with five players we cruised to victory. It’s not the first time we’ve done it, and it’s probably not the last. Individually, you’ll look at them and see what looks to be average players, some of them better than others, some of them there because they know basketball will stop for them before others and they are enjoying the moment. Most times you’ll see us laughing and talking about Snoop Dogg before games, or whatever TikTok trend they are trying to accomplish. Not just 5 of them, but generally the entire team. They have an uncanny way of bringing the best out of one another, and ultimately that’s what this trip is all about.