This year, the college’s sports teams have been inviting members of the faculty to serve as honorary “guest coaches” for home games. Last Sunday, I was informed that the men’s and women’s basketball teams had selected me for this weekend’s games against a conference rival. This meant that I’d attend practices and shootarounds, spend time in the locker room, and have a spot on the bench during the game. I was happy to accept, and the experience was enlightening.
I’d describe myself as a reasonably knowledgeable fan of college basketball — it’s kind of required when one earns a degree from the U of Kentucky. I attend as many home games as I can, both for the men and women. I’ve posted and moderated on a college hoops discussion board for many years. After spending the week with these kids and their coaches, what have I learned?
I don’t know a damned thing about basketball. There’s so much I just don’t see, and I wasn’t even aware that it was there to be seen. Seriously — even at the level of Newberry (a Division II school), I’m watching with an understanding of tic-tac-toe while these kids and their coaches are playing Scrabble. They’re reading bodies in motion, analyzing rapidly changing situations, and making decisions in real time while under physical stress. Dumb jock stereotypes notwithstanding, you can’t be stupid and play the game the way they do — the coaches won’t let them, and most of the coaching I saw was about making the correct decisions. Even accounting for the fact that a lot of the jargon was unfamiliar to me (different coaches use different nomenclatures), I was often overwhelmed even when I knew what was coming. The coaches are pros, with the deep understanding that comes with making a living in a field.
Another thing that struck me was how efficiently our coaches use their practice time. Everyone works constantly, and the intensity is palpable. The coaches see everything — and can go from kicking tails to patting backs (or vice versa) in an eyeblink.
Finally, I was impressed by the way these kids genuinely seem to care for their teammates. The chemistry seemed upbeat for both squads. The men’s coach told me that he has coached for 33 years, and that this was the best group of kids he has worked with. I believe him. (Of course, I already knew they were great kids — just check my downstairs.)
As for the games themselves, I’m pleased to report that we won both by comfortable margins, with the Spawn and Mrs. M watching the men’s game. I kept track of some statistics and trends during the women’s game, but basically limited myself to moral support when the men were playing. All the same, there were plenty of hugs, hand slaps, and fist bumps, and while it’s nice to retire undefeated, it was even better to see the kids happy. I’m honored to have been included in their week, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to see how little I see.