Monday, March 23, 2009

Success...expected & otherwise (& other ramblings)

Congratulations to the 2008-09 Hubbertville Lady Lions basketball team. What a great season! Sit back and observe. 24 wins, tying the school record for wins in a season. Only 3 losses--twice to a 3A Winfield team which won 28 games and was ranked #7 in the final ASWA poll, and once to eventual state champion Hazlewood. Also, add a Northwest Conference Tournament championship, an undefeated Area 10 regular season championship, an Area 10 Tournament championship, a third straight regional appearance (2 Central and this year's Northwest), and a third consecutive year ranked in the final ASWA 1A Top Ten Poll. Not bad for a team that started the year with more questions than answers.

Don't get me wrong. I think all of us expected this edition of the Lady Lions to be pretty good. The key words being "pretty good." There was no way we could be as successful as last season after losing Jesi Mac, Bug and Nicole, right? Wrong. There's a panel on the outfield fence up at the softball field that tells the tale. Look for it next time you're up there, it says "Tradition Never Graduates." For those who need a translation it means this: when you pull on that maroon jersey, you are expected to win. No excuses, no "yes, but." Prepare, compete, win. Period. That's the expectation at the Hub. Every day. Every season. Every year. No matter who graduated, no matter who quit, no matter who moved to Bummelbanger, Minnesota, no matter who did what. In the famous words of Al Davis: "just win, baby, just win."

It's hard to imagine a Hub girls game without Brooke Everette on the court. The last time that happened was very early in the season in 2003. That's been awhile, folks. I can vividly remember sitting on the bleachers 10 years or so ago at my daughter Jennifer's varsity practice, watching this flying little munchkin zip by me dribbling a basketball about a hundred miles an hour. From one end to the other, right hand down, left hand back. Amazing. That was my introduction to Brooke the basketball player. Now it's 10 years later and I'm still amazed. 1,190 points, 503 assists, 580 rebounds, and 200 steals. Those numbers speak for themselves. But they don't say a thing about the other things Brooke brought to the table. Leadership, unspoken intangibles, and a gritty toughness that shone like a beacon. We're gonna miss you, kid.

Somebody else we're gonna miss is Tiffany Oden. What a zone-buster! In her 3 years as a starter, Tiff made 148 3-pointers. Not many players (boys or girls) average 50 3's a season. Time after time, we've been involved in a close 4 or 5 point game and Tiff would throw in a couple of bombs from downtown in less than a minute and suddenly, "put the chairs in the wagon, the singing is over." Like Brooke, Tiffany made the people around her better. Her accurate long-range shooting made it impossible to sink back and collapse on our inside people. Unselfish to a fault, Tiff had less ego than most great 3-point shooters. She was the ultimate team player and the finest long range ace at Hub since Tonya Mahoney. Thanks for the memories, kiddo.

The losses are huge; there's no minimizing the loss of our seniors. But the cupboard is far from being bare. We return what will be a tall, battle-tested group of experienced Lady Lions. Leigh Ann White and Brooke Hubbert, Taylor Benton, Katie Key, Whittley Haley-Ricks, Rebecca Cook and the Three Amigos (Jessie Bowles, Alley Norris, Alisha Marcum) are all coming back. That's a good blend of experience, size, athleticism and "want to." Add a lot of hard work and some leadership and this should be another excellent group for 2009-2010. And before I forget, let me thank someone else who won't be coming back next season: Lisa Pakkenberg. This junior exchange student from Denmark has been an absolute delight. Intelligent, friendly, polite and kind beyond compare, she has captivated everyone who has met her. She played in the first basketball game she ever saw and showed a real aptitude for the game. We're gonna miss you, Frugen. May success and happiness follow you back home and beyond. We're all richer for having known you.

Recently I've run across a couple of quotes from hall of fame coaches that have really stuck with me. The first was "If I've learned anything in my years of coaching it's this. Championships are won in the off season." --Coach Pat Summit, 8-time NCAA Champion. The other was from Coach Bob Knight, "Playing hard is a skill just like shooting, passing and playing defense. But if you don't play hard, none of your other skills are worth a plug nickel." I hope our returning Lady Lions will take these to heart and learn from them. Slogans and quotes are effective only if you find a way to translate them into hard work and results.

High school sports have changed dramatically in Alabama in the last 10 years or so. The days when you could just show up and be successful because you're gifted athletically are over. Even the junior high and elementary kids are working and training in the off season. There are several things we can do to improve our chances of success:
  1. Give 100% in your off-season workouts. Coach has designed this program to improve your skills, techniques and conditioning. Don't just go through the motions. Show up, work hard and be a leader. This is the single most important thing you can do to improve.
  2. Work on your own. This is where you can really improve your game. This is particularly true of shooting. Stop and pop, drives, off-the-dribble, free throws. 300 shots a day would be a good place to start. Work at it.
  3. Play some sort of organized ball. Church summer leagues and tournaments, park and rec games, or just a Tuesday night make 'em take 'em tournament at a school gym, church facility or a park. And don't forget we have an outdoor facility (sort of) with a covered court and regulation goals at our own Hub Pavilion. The weather is no excuse.
  4. Instructional videos. These can be very helpful if used correctly. The best I've seen is the series by the Better Basketball Foundation. Louisville Coach Rick Pittino also has some excellent teaching videos. Check them out online.
  5. Watch your TV. No, I'm not talking about Jerry Springer or Big-Fat Redneck Wedding. With the NCAA games, NBA and NBA Summer League games, Euro-League games, D League games, and high school games on TV virtually 365 days a year, there is no lack of opportunity to watch and learn. Look for stuff: what offense are they running, what defense, what kind of press are they running, how are they breaking the press, who's setting the screens and where, how did they get #20 so open on that 3 pointer, what out of bounds plays do they run, how are they shutting down this player who's been averaging 30 points a game? The questions and the learning opportunities are endless. Watch and learn. Watch and learn.
  6. Weights and fitness. Ladies, we need to get stronger. Particularly upper body strength. Do we expect or want you to pump iron to the point you look like the Bulgarian shot-put champion Iva Liftabuick? No. But we need to be stronger to the point that a good hard outlet pass doesn't take you, ball and all into the third row with the cheerleaders. Get a 10 lb. set, get a good program and get to work.
  7. Nutrition, health and general well-being. Go to the doctor and have regular checkups. Ask him or her for some paperwork on proper nutrition. A lot of this is just common sense. If you've got 2 people going head to head and one has had a pregame meal of a pork chop and mashed potatoes and the other had a Pepsi and a ding-dong, my money is on the pig and the spuds every time. While you're at the doctor, ask about B12 shots, flu shots, vitamin supplements. I'm not saying demand them, I'm saying ask about them. Your nearest GNC (Jasper Mall) can fix you up with an individualized daily dose blister pack if it turns out you have a vitamin deficiency. Take care of yourself. This is the only bod you're ever going to be issued.
Here's one last thing for you to think about. While you're sitting on the couch watching MTV, eating Pringles and sucking on a Mountain Dew, somewhere out there the girl you're going to go head to head with in clutch situations next season is in a hot gym, sweating. She's probably alone. Dropped off at a dark, quiet gym by her father after borrowing the key from her coach. There's nobody there to tell her what a wonderful job she's doing, nobody to praise her effort. That's not why she's there. She's there to become a better player. Why? Because she remembers how bad it felt to lose to you and your team last season. She never wants to feel like that again. She never wants to see you and your teammates celebrating at her expense again. She's made her decision. She's willing to do the work, make the sacrifices. How about you? Are you serious about winning or are you just one more of the pretenders?

The Old Gray Lion

This month's suggested reading: "The Winter of Our Discontent" by John Steinbeck.
Still relevant. Still powerful. Still a mirror in America's face.

This month's suggested movie: "Necessary Roughness"
Scott Bakula, Robert Loggia, Jason Bateman, Fred Dalton Thompson, Larry Miller, Kathy Ireland. One of the funniest sports movies ever made. PG-13. Some salty language.