Hello again everyone!
This weekend has been a very busy one for basketball junkies here in south central Indiana. The 2010 Adidas May Classic was once again held in Bloomington and in the surrounding counties, and many of the countries best high school basketball prospects came to participate. 219 teams total, spread out over 4 different age groups (high school seniors to be, juniors to be, sophomores to be, freshmen to be) and many different venues throughout Monroe, Morgan, Greene, and Lawrence Counties. Teams from all over the country were there, and many of them will be playing in NBA arenas sometime in the next few years.
This event has become a major event on the spring/summer circuit for youth basketball as the years have gone by. A coach from Michigan told me while chatting that only tournaments held in Cleveland (The Lebron James tournament), New Jersey, Houston, and Las Vegas were bigger. Millions of dollars generated in hotels, restaurants, stores, and other spending is a major boon to the local economy here.
Now, why Indianapolis doesn't make a major bid for a later in summer youth basketball tournament is beyond me. The Bloomington Adidas Classic, with so many games necessary, are forced to utilize gymnasiums of local boys clubs and junior high schools, just to fit the games into such a tight schedule. The marquis teams playing with some of the elite talent get as a reward to play in the new Cook Hall (sparkling new IU basketball practice facility) and Assembly Hall. That is and has always been a major perk for these young kids to strive for.
But if the CIB would have some initiative, they could blow my hometown out of the water. Not only are there more hotels and restaurants in Indianapolis, but the aproximity to a major airport would have to be a huge advantage, as would the fact that the NCAA headquarters are there.
The CIB, if they so chose, could hold the an AAU basketball tournament that would dwarf anything held here. Pick a date in July that doesn't conflict with anything, work with the NCAA to get a date that means college coaches could actually watch the games (D1 college coaches are prohibited from viewing kids outside their own high schools during May I think, and IU coaches weren't even allowed to watch games on their own campus or talk to any player this weekend until they were eliminated), and hold the best ran event in the country. Get television to show some of the games for the exposure, and use venues all over Indianapolis to play it. Wouldn't teenage players love to play at Lucas Oil Stadium, Conseco Fieldhouse, and Hinkle Fieldhouse?
Somebody somewhere needs to figure out a way to manage the facilities business better for the CIB. The Pacers organization apparently stinks at utilizing the building, which is why they want out of the responsibility. The CIB I feel should and probably will take the job over, but that will be a disaster too unless they use the building better that PS&E did.
A national championship of sorts for AAU basketball would be a great event, and it is one that Indy should be able to handle well. Time to suit up and compete with other towns to make it happen.
While this years event may not have brought an obvious future superstar to Bloomington like in years past, (like when Derrick Rose played), there were still many great prospects all around the area.
A few of the notable players I watched that impressed me:
1. Hanner Parea: Parea is a native Colombian, who is attending high school in North Carolina, and is playing for Indiana Elite. I could probably write an entire long thread about how that manages to happen, but I won't. No question, Parea is athletic stud, about 6'9 with unbelievable athleticism for a high school 16 year old. Not exactly a super skilled player yet, but I think he will become one in time. Parea was a soccer player before he took up the game. He is supposedly deciding between Baylor University and Indiana University. His team was so overwhelmingly big it was comical, as they also had 2 seven footers on their squad.
2. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera : DSR is a junior to be at Indianapolis North Central, the same high school that produced Eric Gordon. A very strong and athletic guard, he reminds me a bit of Chaunce Billups, though admittedly I only watched him one time. He is getting huge attention from every major school in the country almost. "Stocky, strong, tough, and a leader" is what his high school coach told a friend of mine about him. IU, Purdue, and Tennessee are considered the front runners.
3. Jeremiah Davis. Davis is a uber strong guard/wing from Muncie Central. He made the best individual move I saw all weekend, with a lightning quick left to right cross-over dribble to beat his man, then a stopped on a dime in traffic and leaped over a player to dunk and draw the foul. Davis is built like a Mack truck, reminding you a little bit of a very young O.J. Mayo.
He had 23 points in the game I watched, a 3 point victory of a really highly regarded team based out of Cincinnati filled with elite Kentucky and Ohio players. Not a great shooter yet, but is so big and strong that he doesn't have to be at this level. In my view he was the best player on the most talented team at the event, Indiana Elite Team Indiana.
Of course, great talent always doesn't make a great team, and in fact his team was upset in the quarter finals of this event, losing to a well coached team based out of New Albany, which had no major college prospects but played much smarter and well organized. Major upset loss for the tournament hosts.
Team Indiana also included major college recruits Cody Zeller from Washington, Yogi Ferrell from Park Tudor, and Marshall Plumlee from Warsaw, via a prep high school in North Carolina. IU commit Austin Etherington also plays for this team, but he was out with an injury, which in the end really hurt them against zone defenses, as they missed him spacing the floor.
I didn't get to watch many of the much younger teams play unfortunately, but I am sure you can find reports about some stand out players in those age groups online in the coming days.
I had gotten a look at Cook Hall previously, but this time with the venue hosting games I got to take a full tour of the facility. For those of you who don't know, this is the new IU basketball practice facility, which is a multi- million dollar state of the art building right next to Assembly Hall. For a basketball junkie or and IU fan, the building is really a must see.
Lots of homage to Indiana lore. Touch screens with pictures from past and present, a time line of coaches, uniforms, and great players from the past are all in the front lobby. On each corner of the main lobby set the men's basketball offices to your left, and women's offices to your right. Center of the room prominently displayed are all of the National Championship trophies, of which IU has won 5.
Oddly I thought, inside there are only 2 practice courts, one for the men and one for the women. Inside on the walls are posted the the words to the IU fight song. Between the 2 gymnasiums (which are replicated to be exactly like the main court at Assembly Hall) are the players lounges/locker rooms, the training rooms and team doctor's offices, and a giant state of the art weight room, supposedly on the biggest and best in the country. They also have some of the countries best video equipment I am told, though I didn't see any of that except for a locked door.
The building has 3 levels, you enter on the second. The access to the gymnasium floor is on the lower level. The second level gives you a balcony over look of each gym floor, sandwiched between that is another player lounge area. Upstairs gives you access to more IU glory, as they have even more of a "Hall of Fame" theme going on up there in a private room. Outside that they have roof access, which I would bet would be a great site for parties, cookouts, etc for big money cash donors when football and basketball season arrives.
There is a tunnel between the practice facility and the Assembly Hall, which I started to try and walk through before being stopped by event staff. Apparently the team will abandon it's traditional locker rooms and instead dress before games at the practice gym/players lounge, then make the walk through the tunnel to the game.
What made this event fun for me to be watching, besides the great hoops, was all of the basketball celebrities you normally see just hanging around.
Some of them just like being there I guess, others may have friends coaching or kids playing, still others happen to live in the area. Here are a few interesting people I saw around Bloomington this weekend:
1. Mike Woodson, IU great and former coach of the Hawks. I'm gawking around at Cook Hall, walking around the "Legacy Court", and stopped on a display on 1970's Indiana basketball. Undefeated season and national championship. Then I see a big picture of Mike Woodson, with a huge giant hairdo , driving to the bucket. I looked up from the display to look outside, and there he is, just standing outside talking to a bunch of kids.
Now, one of the best AAU teams in the country is the Atlanta Celtics, and they were in town this weekend, so I am guessing he may have had a son playing, but I never saw them play and no one I talked to seemed to know for sure. But it was pretty cool to see Woodson just hanging around a gym, unfortunately a crowd soon gathered around him so I didn't go to meet him.
2. Scott Skiles, coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and Bloomington resident. Skiles I don't think has any kids old enough to be playing but I am not sure. He lives in Bloomington anyway, so no surprise really to see him out and about. He was in the Assembly Hall, sitting alone when I saw him, trying to be inconspicuous. He is good at that, because unless you are sitting close it is hard to recognize him, as he looks a little different wearing jeans and a baseball hat. It didn't seem like he wanted someone to go bug him, so I didn't approach him either, other than to turn around and wave at him, as I was a few rows down from him.
3. Dan Dakich. Dakich was coaching his son's 15 under team all weekend. I am told his son is a really good player, and I wanted to see him play, but it was always in conflict with other people I wanted to watch also, so I didn't get it done. Dakich is a talkative guy, and I am sure that the kids playing for him are both well coached and well entertained by his wit and wisdom.
4. Jimmy Jackson. Ex pro player, of the Mavs and some other teams, great player at Ohio State. Jackson was there watching his son's team. Now working for the Big Ten Network, Jackson is an engaging personality. I did venture over to shake his hand and talk to him for a bit, and he was as friendly as you'd expect a tv guy to be. I think he may have been surprised someone recognized him actually, but as he was one of my favorite players back in the day I knew him instantly. I probably could have talked to him for hours, but his son's team was getting ready to start playing and I didn't want to be that guy.
5. William Perry. Most of us know him better as "the refrigerator" of 1985 Bears fame. I was tipped off by a member of the event staff that the "fridge" was there in the Cook building, so I tried to look for him while watching the games.
Perry was sick for a while, but he seems in ok health now. Still a large man, he sat in a folding chair along a side wall, more or less unknown. Now, one thing about being with teenage basketball players alot is that you realize how old you are. I told some of the players I was there watching that "The Refrigerator" was in the building, and they all looked at me like I was nuts....since they have no clue who he was. Then it hit me that it was 25 years ago since the "Super Bowl Shuffle". Where does the time go. Anyway, did get to shake his hand and chat a bit as he was leaving the gym floor after his son's game. Seemed friendly, but he was mad too, since they had lost a close game on a pretty questionable call at the buzzer. Fridge doesn't walk well, just sort of takes short steps like his legs hurt alot to walk. I felt bad that the gym he was in didn't have bleachers, and that no one else but me and a few adults seemed to know who he was.
One of the things I noticed this weekend was an apparently new trend of kids wearing giant chains around their necks with their name on them. Fridge had one of them too, "William" written in script (in gold I guess), hanging down about midway to his chest. Not sure why that is a cool thing to do but it must be, because I saw it a lot all weekend. I guess that would be handy if you hit your head and forget your name, otherwise I don't get it.
Still a cool guy to see unexpectedly. The 1985 Bears were one of the coolest football teams ever I think.
But the highlight of the weekend was my last celebrity to see, and the only one I spent any time with:
Mike Brown, Coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Coach Brown was in Assembly Hall late Saturday night as I was leaving. I had watched the 845 game with one of my high school players playing, and was leaving the floor and headed for home when I saw a guy standing up near the doorway who looked familiar. It took me a few steps before I figured out who it was, as he looks alot different in a t shirt and shorts and baseball cap than he does wearing an expensive suit and tie.
So, feeling froggy I guess at 10:30 at night, I decided to go talk a little to Coach Brown.
Coach was very very engaging and friendly, and seemed to like the company actually after what was sure a very stressful few days. He laughed alot and seemed to be in a great mood and happy to be out of the spotlight for a little while, hiding in a corner at Assembly Hall talking to a stranger he just met.
He doesn't know how things will turn out for him obviously, but he knows he has been given a special opportunity in life to have coached such a great player. Humble and engaging are the 2 words I'd use to describe him. He got lots of handshakes from people as they went by, though in this setting no one other than me I guess was surrounding him or wanting to talk long. If he is worried at all about losing his job, he didn't seem like it. I think he knows coaching has been good to him, and that whatever happens happens.
I didn't want to be rude and ask a bunch of coaching questions, but I did ask a few while I had the chance.
One topic we spent a few minutes on was assistant coaches. Brown got alot of criticism for his offensive game plans, and use of players on that end of the court. He mentioned that he really missed having John Kuester on the sideline with him, not so much during games but between games. Kuester is an offensive specialist, who while looks like a failure as a head coach with Detroit, is a well respected basketball mind that was mostly in charge of the offense in Cleveland in his tenure. In his own mind, Brown is blaming himself some (like all coaches do when they lose), and reflecting a little I think he knows he needs to upgrade his own coaching staff offensively to help him better. He blamed himself a little for not delegating enough, and to trying to do too much on his own and not trusting his staff. For all of those who feel he was out foxed by Doc Rivers and Tom Thibedeau, I think he feels that way too though he didn't come right out and say it.
I asked a little about how to improve as a coach, and got a story about how he travels each summer to visit with various coaches all over the place, just to get new ideas and concepts and to try and improve. He said one of the things he will probably do whether he returns as Cavs coach or not is to head to Europe to study some of their offensive ideas.
Not to get too much into the weeds here, but there is a lot of criticism of both Rick Carlisle and Mike Brown for some of their offensive plans in regards to angles and spacing on the floor for people. Some coaches think both these guys space the floor oddly, and make it tough to make passes by how/where they put people in some of their schemes. In particular when trying to reverse the basketball from side to side, some people in coaching think they do a poor job of creating ball reversal chances, and that their offenses/plays get stuck on the same side of the floor too often.
Those are the type of technical things he is looking at.
He has no idea what LeBron might do, or if he did he didn't tell me. He did tell me he loved working in Indianapolis, and has alot of good memories of our franchise. "You never know!", along with a big hearty laugh was the response I got when I told him that I'd love to see him back coaching our Pacers someday. I told him I thought his greatest strengths in coaching were building high quality relationships with players, and coaching the defensive end of the floor, both of which are lacking currently.
If he does get the axe, I think he will likely stay out a year or 2, watch his son play, and stay at home to re charge his batteries. I do think he'd be good on television if he so chose to do that. He doesn't seem like someone who is money hungry or attention starved, he seems very grounded, and happy, despite his current circumstances.
I didn't ask any questions about JOB by the way, or any other Pacer player.
I did tell him I coached at a country school a few minutes away from IU, and I am sure our players would love to have LeBron come and speak to them. The site of Lebron driving out to the sticks to talk to my small school country kids made us both laugh, but he said he'd pass it along....
Criticize if you will, but Mike Brown was one of the most engaging and personable coaches I've ever met, and is still considered a bright young mind in coaching no matter what you may read or hear. He has a great relationship with his players on a team that has substantial amount of egos and distractions, and he kept them focused all year long. Blame him for the series loss to Boston, and he'd probably agree, but one series loss doesn't make him a bad coach at all.
I defended Jim O'Brien in my last piece on here, and I still feel the same way. But considering his background, new experiences as a head coach, engaging personality, ability to coach the defensive end of the floor, and relationship skills with young and veteran players, and I'd drive JOB to the airport myself if Coach Brown became available and wanted to come here.
Next year basketball junkies, mark your calendars in March to come down and see this event for yourself, it really is a great hoops extravaganza.
As always, the above is just my opinion.