ONE TIME AT BBALL CAMP….

No, there was no flute usage, it was not stuck, played, or used in any capacity. And if you haven’t seen American Pie, that will make no sense. Go back and watch it, it was hilarious, way back before Tara Reid became emaciated.

In a previous life I coached basketball for a living. Granted, I didn’t make a good living, but its what I did. As part of the gig of being an underpaid, overworked, (but always appreciated, my head coach was awesome, you’re not gonna catch me saying anything derogatory about him) young assistant basketball coach, I worked basketball camps during the summer.

Everyone knows the first rule of fight club is, you don’t talk about fight club. Well one of the primary tenants of summer camp is WHACSAC, also known as, What Happens At Camp, Stays At Camp. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to break that rule.

Easily my favorite camp to work every year occurred in the small town of Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. It was the best 3 weeks of the year for me. I called it spring break for coaches.

Sure it’d be a drag trying to sleep at night, 90 degrees, 70% humidity on the good days, no air conditioning. But it was 3 weeks of nothing but basketball during the day, and nothing but good times with great friends at night.

Its been 9 years since I’ve been back, and I still can’t hear Glory Days playing without thinking about nights at the Courtyard, or smell the salt air of the ocean without thinking about reading the Boston Herald with a Dunkins coffee overlooking the canal in the early morning…. usually hung over.

This wasn’t one of the high profile camps like Hoop Mountain with college coaches swarming the place, high priced rosters being sold, and generally being a modern day basketball meat market. In fact it wasn’t called a camp at all, it was a “Basketball School”. Which is very applicable as it is run by old school coaches, looking to actually teach the game of basketball.

Courtyard

Initially I had gotten the gig because my mentor is widely respected in New England and managed to get me in the door. It took me a little while before I truly gained my confidence and got my own voice, but once I did, I was pretty good.

Every week I’d start out the same, be a hard ass to start the week, and slowly let up on the kids. I always found it amusing watching other young coaches trying to be buddies with the kids to start out, and then having difficulty reigning them in later in the week when they were actually trying to get something accomplished.

The other thing I figured out really quick was how to adjust my rotations to compete in the daily games. As much as the party line is to improve your individual skills during the summer, and build your team skills during your team’s season, everyone worth their salt as a coach would rather win than lose.

In summer camp though, every kid has to play an equal amount of minutes, its not a starting 5 and then a bench rotation. You’d usually have 8 or 9 kids on a team for the week. You’d then receive a little sheet outlining how to play the kids an even number of quarters. It was real simple, idiot proof really. You’d number the kids 1-9 (In this example, we’ll assume there were 9 kids on a team). You’d then play kids numbered 1-5 in the first quarter, 6-1 in the second, 2-6 in the 3rd, and 7-2 in the 4th quarter, and if you went to OT, it was fair game (FYI, rule number 2 of summer camp after WHACSAC, is, if you, as a camp official, allow a game to get to OT, you’ve failed. If you need to go full Tim Donaghy and make a phantom call to keep the day on schedule, you do it)

On the first day of camp we’d get the kids together, run them through a series of teaching and skill enhancement drills before being assigned a temporary team. The kids would scrimmage, and you’d need to make a quick assessment of the players. We’d then meet up that night, and hold makeshift drafts. We weren’t drafting our own teams, but doing our best to make even teams. We’d go through and try to distribute the best ball handlers and post players to each team, as well as divvying up the best overall players. The goal was to make sure no team was in danger of going winless, and no team was going to roll over the others. While we all wanted to win, it was still summer camp, and we’re not cruel heartless bastards (allright, maybe I am, but that’s my cross to bare)

Once I got my teams, what I generally figured out was who was the best one on one offensive player. It didn’t always mean he was the best player, it meant that he least needed the structure of a team offense to go be productive. I would then go look to find the next best scorer, and surround him with a ball handler, and a post player to work with. Those were the guys where I’d be calling to run an offense through (you’d be surprised how quickly I could get the kids to pick up the basic principles of our college offense, sometimes a lot quicker than the college kids, I remember one year it got to the point that by the end of the week they were running counters and pressure releases like it was nothing, that was fun).

Using the 1-9 chart I outlined above, I would then take the best one of one scorer, and number him as number 6, or whatever number would most often put him in the position to dominate the ball with our weakest players on the floor. Most of the coaches would be using him as their best player and starting him with their other top kids. My goal was to be competitive with my starting 5, let the best scorer play with 4 other non scorers (because again, everyone needed to play), and let him just absolutely dominate the ball. I’d run isolations, high pick and roll clear outs, or just let him get it and go. His life was generally made easier, because he was playing against the other team’s lesser players.

Coach Bob Knight once said “Offense is not equal opportunity”. That wasn’t meant to say that if you couldn’t score you couldn’t play. It meant that your role may be to rebound, it may be to set screens, it may be to feed the post, but it may not be to get the ball and shoot. I’d make sure to accentuate the positives of the lesser skilled kids. Applaud their great screens, get fired up about a box out, give them a high five for a clear out cut, and always let them know that while the scorer was getting the glory, their contributions were appreciated. It served the purpose of both providing them with positive reinforcement for the behavior I was seeking, while also maintaining team harmony while one kid dominated the scoring.

Now, I’d love to tell you I remembered the names of all the kids that every played for me in summer camp, especially the good ones. Well, I can’t. I was talking one day to a kid ( I say kid, he’s a grown man now, married and coaching a high school team in New Bedford, Mass) that ended up being one of the better players in the region at the time, playing for the prestigious BABC AAU program, and going on to play at James Madison and then the University of New Hampshire. Apparently I had been his coach at camp. I was very honest with him, I don’t remember that at all. My motto had always been that if you were a ball player or a hot girl, I’d remember your name.

Here was a kid, that I had coached, at my favorite camp, and I didn’t remember him, but he swears I was his coach. The only saving grace was that it hadn’t cost me a potential recruit, he was way above our level (I was a Division 3 coach). The goals of being a young college coach working camp, besides being able to feed yourself, was to make contacts in the coaching realm, hone your skills, and identify potential recruits for down the road.

This brings me to another camp I routinely worked. Dennis Wolf’s Boston University Basketball Camp. Dennis is one of the best coaches I’ve ever “worked” with. His style, both in terms of coaching and public persona is not one that is flashy, but is full of substance. I liken his sense of humor to Bill Belichick, in that it can be a bit dry, and pointed, but when comfortable and away from prying eyes, can be downright hilarious. Aside from his personality, Dennis was also one of the best defensive coaches I’ve ever watched, I especially admired how he integrated his teams offensive style to best fit the defensive principles he was installing.

The social element of BU’s camp was different than that of being down by Cape Cod (aka, the cape). Where as down the cape, I was more of the young buck, hanging out with the vets listening to them swap “war” stories, at BU the nightlife was a lot of hanging out with my age peers, who happened to be college athletes.

Kamikaze

Bar none, the drunkest I ever got was at BU camp. (personal anecdote coming here), me and some of the players had ended up at an apartment off campus. One of the team managers who helped facilitate the camp had a few of us over. I can’t remember everyone that was there, but I know for sure my best friend from high school Krazy (remember I TRY not to use real names, unless its very pertinent to the point I’m trying to make) was there. There was one of our female counselors who I can now admit I was smitten with was there (she is now a world class yoga instructor, and I truly regret not having enough game to actually do anything about my crush), that I remember distinctly, I know the New Hampshire boys BC, and MC were there, and then of course the best long distance shooter I’ve personally met who ended up playing at Ohio State.

We had been drinking pretty well, I could handle a lot more back then. When I believe it was MC (I could be wrong on that) mixed a pitcher of Kamikazes. If you don’t know, you generally take a Kamikaze as a shot. Well, we had a funnel. And I was doing my best to be chill until Ohio State said, and I can still hearthe words in my drunken nightmares, “C’mon, you’re my irish boy, you gotta do this with me”. That’s when, partially to impress the future yoga guru, and partially to impress the boys, I funneled a pitcher of Kamikazes.

Well, I did not end up getting the girl. I can tell you I vomited outside the apartment, I can tell you we had to stop at least 2 more times on the way back to the dorms, and while I can’t tell you what floor we were on in the BU dorms that week, I can tell you I had to stop on each floor on the way up to our rooms to use the bathroom. That being said, I wouldn’t trade those times for anything.

Now, that whole brief history of my summer camp experiences is a fun anecdotal prelude to the point of my story. I mentioned that I had failed to remember coaching a future Division 1 ball player in his youth. That isn’t to say I forgot about all the future D1 kids I coached.

Dennis Wolf had his roots in New York. As a result a large portion of the camp was made up of New York kids who had come up with their high school coaches. Schools like McClancy High, or Archbishop Malloy High. Amongst those New Yorkers was also a young kid, no more than 9 or 10 at the time. His father had been a superstar for the BU Terriers back in the day, having led Mike Jarvis coached squads to the NCAA tourney. His number #11 hung proudly on the wall at Case Gymnasium. His name was Drederick Irving.

Kyrie as a kid

Now, I’d be lying if I told you I remembered Kyrie because I knew he’d be a future NBA champion, or reach the heights that he’s reached. It would be accurate to say that I remembered him because one, I had never heard the name Kyrie before, and I’m all but certain I had written his name down as Kyree. I remembered him because he was very very good, playing an age level up from his own, he was always a strong candidate for league MVP that week. I remember him because he was flashy, strong willed, and a pain in the ass. Qualities I associated with most New York City point guards at the time.

Now, summer basketball camps last one week. But I had the pleasure of coaching Kyrie for multiple years as he returned to the camp. I’m sure that is also one of the reasons I remembered him a few years later when watching a St. Patrick’s game on television. I recognized the face at first, before seeing the name that was very distinctive to me.

Thinking back, I can recall going over dribbling drills with the campers, and one of my pet peeves was the crossover dribble. The kids all had a tendency to just cross the ball over right to left in front of their bodies before moving forward, which was, and is a pet peeve of me. I distinctly remember showing Kyrie how I wanted it done, bringing the ball below the knee, back across your body to the opposite side before exploding through with your initial strong leg to create the seal against the defender’s hip. I have to imagine he had known what to do, and was just being a lazy kid (which, in his defense is what 10 year old kids do, even the future great ones), but immediately after showing what I wanted, he was doing it like he had written the text book.

The flip side, is I also distinctly remember losing my mind, when during a game, granted a it was a summer camp game, on a break, during a route, he did a 360 degree lay up for no reason, other than to showboat. You generally don’t bench a player during camp games, again, you’re using that number system, but I remember yanking him from that game so fast it’d make your head spin.

This brings us to the modern day. Kyrie is making news after it leaked that he’d like to make an exit from Cleveland. The narrative being portrayed is that he’s no longer in being Lebron’s younger brother, that he wants his own team.

Kyrie Irving

Well Cleveland, I’m sorry. I’m not saying that this is my fault. That would be extreme hubris. I was not that important in Kyrie’s development, if I was even a blip on the screen of his basketball career, I’d be amazed. A few weeks over a few years, at summer camp when he was an elementary aged ball player doesn’t exactly make me on the same level as Coach K.

But…. That number system I talked about. Where I’d take the best individual scorer, and surround him with other kids who couldn’t score, or at least weren’t looking too, who’d rebound, defend, and then pass the rock to the go to scorer. Yeah, Kyrie was always that kid for me. When he was on the floor, it was give him the rock and let him go. Yes he was younger than the kids he was playing against. Yes he looked like a tiny little Isaiah Thomas slicing through the lane against the bigger kids, but boy oh boy could he take the reigns and take over a game. In all fairness, he knew he was good. There was little doubt about that. And as much as a summer camp coach could, I tried to keep him in check, but again, its summer camp, not the Olympic tryouts.

So now here it is, fifteen or so years later, and Kyrie wants free reign again. He’s requested a trade, naming 4 teams as his preferred destination. San Antonio, Minnesota, Miami, and New York. I’ve seen reports questioning why he’d want to leave a championship contender for the perennial lottery dwellers New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Well, first of all, let me throw this out there, and I am by far in the minority on this one, but I see Minnesota as the bigger threat (if anyone can truly be called a threat) to the Warriors than either the Thunder or Rockets who have gotten headlines this off season. While the Thunder and Rockets acquired great players in Paul George and Chris Paul respectively, the Timberwolves went out and acquired an all-star in Jimmy Butler (along with former all star Jeff Teague) while also getting better just from the shear fact that Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns are a year older, and will have another year under the tutelage of Tom Thibedeau, one of the best coaches and teachers in the game.

But what do the Spurs, Knicks and Heat have in common? Kyrie would be able to dominate the ball. He’d be back in his role as #6 on my roster chart. In a position to not have to defer to anyone on offense, while being surrounded by guys designed to take the pressure off him to play defense or rebound. There wouldn’t be a Lebron James who needed the ball, or a Kevin Love sitting in the corner waiting for that pass.

As great as Kawhi Leonard is (and he is a beast), he isn’t what I would ever describe as a natural scorer. He’ll find a way to get his, but he wouldn’t be demanding the ball. He’d be getting put backs, cutting to the basket, catching and shooting. He wouldn’t be dominating the ball, or controlling the tempo.

In Miami, obviously South Beach is a draw, as is Pat Riley looming over everything, but look at the Heat roster. Hassan Whiteside is demanding the ball? Fellow Blue Devil isn’t a go to scorer. Once again Kyrie would have free reign.

And do I even have to get into New York? That’s home. And presumably Carmelo, for whom the ball would stop, is headed out the door when Kyrie would be coming in. He’d be looking at 3 and D guy Courtney Lee in his backcourt. Joakim Noah and Kyle O’Quinn doing the dirty work, and while Kyle Porzingis is a premier talent, to him, Kyrie would be the elder statesman, and as a non-wing/ball handler, Porzingis would be at Kyrie’s mercy as far as the tempo of the game.

All these scenario’s come back to Kyrie looking for the style of play I set up for him as a youngster, the ability to play whatever kind of offense allowed him to get his, with as little regard for getting teammates involved with scoring as possible.

So while I may not be willing to trade my summers as a young basketball coach for anything, and I am absolutely positive I didn’t have nearly the impact on a basketball great as this post may suggest, I will still say to the people of Cleveland, and Cavalier fans everywhere, I’m sorry, my bad.

  • Jason Sullivan
  • You can find me on Twitter @TopDucker
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