Saturday, August 24, 2013

PHO vs. SEA 8/23/13

I wasn't sure what to expect in this game to be completely honest.  In part...despite my defense of coach Corey Gaines in other forums...I really thought the advantage Seattle has over Phoenix in the past few years was mostly coaching superiority.

This is the professional level of the sport and match-ups matter more than they do at any other level.  Players see each other for far more than 2-4 years....this matters more than you may imagine.  Learning how to guard a player's tendencies is by far easier than developing a new offensive skill set.

I like the changes I see on the Mercury side of the ball from a defensive standpoint.  I think the players will tighten up as they learn what is expected of them and that the gaps we see from well coached teams will dissipate over time.  Offensively they are still a mess when faced with Indiana or Seattle.  They can probably beat the rest of the league handily if they are healthy and they follow their game plans.  Sorry folks...but those are the two teams that focus at least MOST of their efforts on shutting down the obvious scoring options in the game of basketball AND succeed.  They have the game plan and the personnel to give offensive teams headaches.

I, for one want to see this coach get a draft, a training camp and a full season under his belt.  He knows this game...that is why they are winning.  I want to see what he does when he understands the league and his competition.

Offensively for Phoenix...start the offense through Griner.  Let's she what she can do.  Have her focus on catching and raising the ball over her head.  No one will steal it there...she will have time to assess the defense and decide whether to score or pass.

For Seattle....uh...well...oh....hmmmm...listen to your coach?  He seems to have things figured out and your veterans are pretty solid on what to do.  So.... .... ... ... well... just play the game and have fun?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My once a year post?

I haven't posted much of late...I have said that a few times and the statement's level of understatement grows redundant.

When I started this blog so many years was just with a passion for the game that was looking for an outlet.

I still play...if you can call what I do on the court these days playing.  My basketball addiction just wasn't satisfied with the odd pick up game every couple of weeks, tickets to live, professional basketball (NBA & WNBA), NBA League Pass, college games on the ESPN channels and a steady diet of NBA Live or NBA 2K on my playstation.

My original tagline indicated that I was just a fan with no experience coaching or as an analyst.  Well my work here got me a regular gig analyzing women's basketball and writing about it throughout the year.  Around the same time I started coaching my youngest son in youth leagues.  That coaching led to coaching older kids in the same league.  That coaching led me to a job coaching JV basketball at the middle school level for the Seattle school system.  That job ended and my community youth coaching opened up a new opportunity to help out with a freshman boys team at the local high school.

I think at this point I have to admit that I have become a basketball coach.  I love it.  I love teaching the game at the mental level, and I have become passionate about teaching it at a physical level.  I have become meticulous about not just understanding the fundamentals but investigating every way possible to teach them.  Different kids learn in different ways...and I really want every child I work with to not only get better, but have fun while they take that journey.

I love it.  I love every minute of it.  I have stretched, grown and butted my head against my own limits so much in the past few years.  Every mistake has been tough...but they have each pushed me to do better the next time.  It has been a long time since I have had something that stirred that kind of passion in my life.

I had the privilege of coaching the same group of boys for three years...I watched them grow from a decent community team to a dominant team.  They lost more than half their games our first year and only one over the next two.  It was a truly unique situation...they were super smart boys who learned quickly everything that I tried to teach them.  While never being the most skilled or athletic as a team...they were usually the highest basketball IQ team on the court.  I still own that one loss in those two years...I made some mistakes in my lineup combinations and put far too much pressure on my point guard.

My middle school time was too short for growth.

However in coaching the high school level I have the new benefit of seeing these players year round.  We had a very frustrating season, ending with only four wins and really playing below our level of talent.  In the off season we have seen a remarkable transition in these players.  There are many differences between our summer season and our winter season...not the least of which is the new head coach...and the addition of some physically talented incoming freshman.  That aside, when I just look at the growth of individual players...they have made such strides...not just in their physical abilities, but more importantly in their understanding of the game and their mental approach.

This is thing that I am passionate about.  Sure, it is fun that our team is winning this summer...but what I like more is what I see in practice...what I see in how these young men behave in the flow of the game.  I am lucky to be part of a program that emphasizes character.  The coaching staff insist upon it.  The magic, though, is seeing the kids surrender...and in the end...embrace it.

I have gone on for many, many paragraphs now...but I think it is clear what I have been trying to say.  My passion for the game has not diminished...but my outlet has changed venues.

I won't delete this blog...I may occasionally post here.  In fact I have some comments on my last two posts...I was wrong that Clark wouldn't make the team...but right that she would be a valuable WNBA player.  On top of farewell to A-Rob sees vindication as she returns to the team this season.

It has been a brutal season for Storm fans.

No Bird, no Jackson, no Wauters.....NO LAST PLACE GUARANTEE FOR A HIGH DRAFT PICK.

The coach in me just nods his head and tips my hat to Brian Agler and the leaders he has put in charge of this team on the floor.  The fan in me gets really excited at wins in Key Arena and then bangs his head against the wall over the insanity.

I want to complain about so many things WNBA...and I will try to do so.  I don't expect many are still around to listen...and I won't make a commitment to keep up my posts.  Thank you to those whose still read...and apologies to those who always did but have moved on.

If you don't already know, Richard Cohen is doing incredible work tracking the WNBA over at .  Also, Swish Appeal has some of my favorite writers and people covering all things women's basketball.  Finally, while we all mourn the loss of Kevin Pelton to the giant of all things Sports at ESPN...your best source for Storm coverage remains with the Storm.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Alysha Clark

First, catch her blog over at the Storm site...

Alysha was one of the 100 senior prospects I followed in the 2010 NCAA season.  She was one of my favorite players, not just because of her leading the NCAA in scoring that year, but really for her overall game. Sadly, like with many skilled college players, she was a really strong but significantly undersized post.  The need to transition to a 3 was a big question for Alysha at the time, but even that was a stretch for her given her 5'10" height puts her smack between Sue Bird and Katie Smith and therefore more of a pro shooting guard size.

Clark was, statistically, my second best PF in the country, behind fellow undersized player Kelsey Griffin from the Connecticut Sun.  Griffin though, is only slightly undersized at 6'2".  She can still play the four in the pros if she relies on finesse and brains which has been demonstrated by Storm standout, Camille Little.  Of the seniors I rated at power forward that season, Kelsey is the only player who played a full season last year in the WNBA.   Howwever, Griffin only averaged 13 minutes and just under 4 points per game.  2011 Storm training camp participant Jacinta Monroe, a natural center, played four games for Tulsa last season, but she only rated 8th on my power forward ranking in 2010.

When I looked at Clark from a small forward perspective, she jumped to the front of the pack.  Essentially, if she were able to translate a similar performance at the SF position she would have been a very strong pro candidate.  Similar rated players at the shooting guard position for me that year were Monica Wright and Allison Hightower, both of whom have stuck in the WNBA.  Griffin was my example of the same rating at power forward, but I had no quality candidates at the point guard or center at a comparable rating.  Marissa Coleman and Danielle Gant were my similarly rated small forwards in the 2009 NCAA season.

Alysha's strengths that senior season were her shooting, her rebounding, her BoxScore rating and her RPI adjusted ratings for offense and WinScore.  Her rebounding was very high for a small forward which is not surprising as she was playing the post not the perimeter, but she also had a great Floor Percentage.  She was very effective at scoring when she was looking to score.  Even for a power forward, she was my fifth best rebounder, and given her size disadvantage that has to come from a combination of desire and timing much like Camille Little uses in the pros.  She also showed statistically as a decent defender, though admittedly, defensive statistics limit our real insight into her defensive skills.

Overall, I believe that Alysha still has a shot at the league, but I don't think Seattle is the right stop for her this season.  I suspect Victoria Dunlap at 6'1" and 6'2" Shekinna Stricklen simply offer similar skill sets with more length.

That said, I am happy to see one of my 2010 favorites in Storm green even if only for a few weeks.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A lot of goodbyes....

My blogging has been at a virtual standstill for a while now.  The first hit came when I took up writing for another online publication a few years ago, and then I took a promotion which required a lot more focus as I learned my new job.  Lately the problem has been that I have gotten out from in front of the computer screen with regards to basketball and out onto the court.  I have coached four boys teams from 2nd - 8th grade over the past five months.  My last team is in their mid-winter break...though I do have practice in two hours.  The amount of preparation, planning and mental/emotional effort that goes into coaching has essentially drained me of desire to write.  I have found that I have so much to learn that I have little time to write about my opinions.

However I did want to take a moment to write some thoughts.

I think every Storm fan knew that changes were coming this year.  Coach Agler essentially told us there would be changes after the first round loss to Phoenix last fall.

It is great that we have locked LJ, Sue, Tanisha and Camille into the franchise for a number of years.  They are core to both the performance and personality of the team.

It is fantastic to draw a complimentary talent of Ann Wauters caliber to fill out the post rotation.  Yes it helps ease the pre-Olympic absence of LJ, but ever more importantly it gives Seattle one of the strongest front courts in the league once LJ returns.

It is great that we get to keep a player like Katie Smith with her experience, skill, defense and winning attitude...she brings a lot to the team even when she doesn't score like she did when she was in her 20's.

I like the focus on youth with a #2 overall draft pick and an athletic, young forward like Victoria Dunlap joining the fold.  The team was getting older and filling the bench with unused youth has done nothing for the organization on the court.

However, we do have to say goodbye to great personalities, and great players as a part of this change.

Le'Coe Willingham wasn't able to bring as much to the table as many hoped when she came over from Phoenix, but she filled her role well, made few mistakes and was simply fun.  You could tell from the way her team acted around her, from the way she behaved on the sidelines and in the arena videos and you could tell from her interviews.

Swin Cash was a breath of fresh air for this franchise.  It was so much fun to watch a player of her caliber come back from injury and play at a superior level again.  Over her career she did what great players do.  She won consistently because she was a true baller.  When she came into the WNBA she had to convert from a post to a wing...and she did that spetacularly in Detroit.  When she came back from injury and the Storm needed outside shooting she shot her best percentage from deep of her career.  They will likely need something different from her in Chicago, and I guarantee that whatever it is they need, she will find a way to excel at it.  That is just the kind of professional that she has always been.  I teach my kids that character matters as much if not more than talent when they play for me.  Swin Cash had both in big doses.  I always ejoyed interviewing Swin.  She was always thoughtful, respectful and honest in her answers.  I don't remember ever getting the quick, canned response from Swin.  What she said in reply did not always make great copy, but she always listened carefully to your questions, gave it fair consideration and shared something true.

Ashley Robinson...

She has simply been loved by Seattle fans since she first donned the uniform...not all fans, but certainly by most of them.  Yes, she is lovely, but there are many players in the league that are lovely but don't generate the kind of support A-Rob has in Seattle.  One of the prize possessions I keep from my year covering the Storm for SPM is my recording of the two Ashleys.  At the 2010 media day, Ashley Robinson and Ashley Walker entranced the media crew with a natural, hysterical routine that could have earned them their own reality TV pilot.  That moment epitomizes, for me, why Seattle loved A-Rob.  Ashley is a joyous person.  I know her a little better than the average Storm fan, but not nearly as well as those she is around every day.  That said, I will go out on a limb an say that I believe she truly lives every moment with joy and that joy radiates from her.  You would be hard pressed to spend time with her and not be infected by that aura of joy.  It is not a feigned, goofy, happiness.  It is true, heart felt, and infectious.    I have met a few people like that in my life, but that is the feeling you get when you are near her.

Everyone knows she was offensively "challenged," and most would talk about her defensive presence.  Having coached for a few years now, I see her defense differently than I did when she first came to the Storm.  My opinion has improved as I have become more knowledgeable.  Defense is tough and it requires constant effort and focus.  Even the best players let their defense lapse simply because it can be so mentally and physically exhausting to play great defense.  A-Rob was a good solid anchor, and I think became even better at that role after backing up Yolanda Griffith, one of the best defensive anchors the Storm have ever had.  Coach Agler's defense is easy in concept...but brutal in execution.  Every player has to move on every movement of the ball.  You move a second or two late or to the wrong spot and a lane opens or a shot is freed up.  You do that too often and you won't get up off the bench much.

Those things are not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things though.  There will not be a lot of playing time behind Lauren Jackson, Ann Wauters and Camille Little in the post.  The reason that saying goodbye to Ashley hurts is because her absence will mean that radiating joy will be missing.  It will be missed in the locker room, on the bench, on the team bus, on the plane, at fan events and in the media sessions.  That joy was a bright reminded us that basketball is at its heart a game.  Games should be fun...they should fill us with joy.  Ashley's smile, her energy and her joy reminded us of that every time she was around.  That is what I believe Storm fans will miss.  That is what I believe the Storm players will miss.  That is what I know I will miss.

Monday, June 13, 2011

True Champion: Brandon Braun

Sports can be so many things to so many different people, entertainment, socialization, an escape, health...but for some it has even more value, a value I hope most of us do not ever have to experience.

Despite the fact that some may consider professional sports and the athletes who play them to be rather frivolous in the larger scheme of things, and they likely have a very good point. Yet, regularly, the biggest wish that terminally ill children have is to meet their sports idols in person. There may be something about the ability to focus on something other than their own battles that let's them just be a kid for an hour so, or perhaps feel an odd sort of kinship with these athletes pushing their bodies to achieve goals most people cannot hope to attain.

I don't have an answer for what the connection is, or why is as common and powerful as it has shown itself to be.

A little over a year ago, six days after his 11th birthday, Seattle Storm fan, Brandon Brauns lost his seven year battle with brain cancer. Brandon was a season ticket holder for the Storm, served as honorary captain and had the opportunity to meet with many of the Storm players over the years.

The strength and selflessness of this child had him organizing fund raisers from his hospital bed and creating a toy drive for Seattle Children's Hospital at Christmas only months before his final passing.

His family have continued in their son's tradition, turning their grief and love into hope for other children and families facing similar battles.

Most of us will not have to face the trials, the pain, and be required to show the strength and capacity for hope and love that Brandon and his family have shown. We can however honor that courage, strength and hope.

Brandon's family have created the Brandon's Goal Foundation and they are joining with the Seattle Storm to raise money for Brandon's Goal Foundation on the July 9th Storm game against the LA Sparks. You purchase single tickets for the game or purchase a four pack of tickets which comes with t-shirts and wrist bands.

I am inspired by this young man and his family and encourage everyone to support them.

Prior to the start of the season, Jayda Evans at the Seattle time asked each player to finish the sentence, "A champion is...." I look no further than Brandon and his mother to find my answer to that question.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Lynx @ Sparks 3 June, 2011

I caught this game last night on my DVR after taking four twelve year old boys to see the movie Thor.

At times Candace Parker and Maya Moore seemed a bit like the Asgardians in the movie as single warriors easily defeated dozens of frost giants apiece. Those two, offensively, are just so much better than everyone else on the floor. They both hit shots that no one else was going to hit, scored any way they wanted and just existed in a realm different than that of other players.

Those other players weren't slouches, mind you.

For Minnesota, Brunson rebounded the ball and scored baskets regularly, Lindsay Whalen muscled her way into the paint repeatedly, Taj McWilliams-Franklin scored inside and out while all ten players that saw game time scored. For the first half, it actually looked like the Lynx were going to win the game and they fought until the final minutes.

For LA, Thompson played as she has for the past 15 years, Noelle Quinn, Jenna O'Hea and Kristi Toliver caught fire in the second half, Ebony Hoffman fought for every rebound and every player in the game scored except Ticha Penicheiro. The veteran guard really struggled against the Lynx and the team looked better with both Natasha Lacy and Kristi Toliver manning the point. The Sparks made a big comeback with most of their starters on the bench and never relenquished their lead from that point on. Coach Gillom said her team was "11 deep" before the game and she played everybody except Jantel Lavender decent minutes. In fact with the exception of Lavender and Lacy, every player put in at least 16 minutes last night.

Maya Moore looked quite good and showed that she can score in the WNBA. Her percentages weren't that great, 41% from the field and 36% from deep, and I thought she took a number of poor shots, but she still put up 21 points in 29 minutes mixed with four assists, four rebounds and only two turnovers. I expect she will just get better from here as she learns how to play with her new team. The Lynx do need to figure out how to get their guards going, as Augustus, Wiggins and Wright are all better players than they showed last night. The talent glut at that spot and the clear emphasis on Moore may be causing these three talented players some mental challenges. The defensive breakdowns in the second half (a carry over from last season) and the struggle to score down the stretch made this promising team look less exciting in terms of potential success, though they will be fun to watch.

The Sparks would have lost this game were it not for the outside shooting spree the bench went off with in the second half. For a while there it looked like Quinn, Toliver and O'Hea could chuck the ball up from anywhere and hit the three. It gave them the W, but that shot won't be there for all three players every night. As improved as the Sparks look with regards to depth and the health of CP3, they still have a ways to go to make waves in the Western Conference.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Who is Lauren Prochaska?

Lauren Prochaska is an undrafted, rookie guard out of Bowling Green University in Ohio. She was recently ranked #26 on the list of the 50 best high school athletes in Ohio in the past decade. She was a four time All-Ohio selection out of Johnathan Alder High School in Plain City, Ohio where she ranked sixth all time in the state for scoring and holds the state career record for made free throws. At Bowling Green she was named Mid-Atlantic Conference player of the year and named on the MAC all-conference first team two years in a row. She is a well rounded player, leading her team in scoring and placing second in rebounding, assists, blocks and steals for her senior season. For that senior season she shot 40% overall, 38% from three and 91% from the free throw line.

My opinion: While her shooting may be impressive, I believe Prochaska will also be one of the first cuts made this week clearing room for the return of Sue Bird and Swin Cash to camp. The Storm are strongest at the guard position, and I don't believe that Lauren offers enough height at 5'11" to fit the mold of a swing player at the forward position where the Storm are currently thin.

Who is Courtney Ward?

Courtney Ward is an undrafted, rookie guard from Florida State. Ward was a key player at Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Alabama winning a state championship in her final year. She was a top 100 ranked player coming out of high school and had a solid career at FSU, taking ownership of the starting position midway through her sophomore season and serving as team captain in this past season as a senior. She played particularly well in the the last two NCAA tournaments. She led the ACC in assists in 2009-2010. She has solid shooting range and actually shot better from distance (40%) than she did overall (38%) her senior year at FSU.

My opinion: Ward will be among the first players cut this week. Whether she performs well or not, the Storm are very strong at the guard position with Bird, Wright, and Smith with Cash able to play the two guard in a bigger lineup as well. The Storm are in much greater need of strong swing players to back up Swin Cash, and Coach Agler has shown a preference for swing forwards that can play both forward positions.