Never Daunted

In Indiana they feel about basketball the way Texans feel about football or Minnesota folks about hockey. They game wasn’t invented there, just perfected there.

Source.
“In 49 states it’s just basketball.” Nine of the 10 largest high school gyms are located in Indiana.

Which means virtually everyone has played the game, watched the game, maybe coached some 10-year-olds for a winter or two, which makes them an expert.

“I know everything there is to know about the greatest game ever invented.” Source

My side gig has kept me in and out of gyms for a long time. But it’s been probably 30 years since I’ve been in Assembly Hall to see a Hoosiers game. A friend and fellow alum passed along a couple of tickets last weekend, so Mrs. Dull and I drove 3 1/2 hours through the pouring rain see IU square off with Ohio State. The athletic department was putting on an alumni weekend with former players from the Final Four and National Championship teams lining the court. It was a treat to see guys like Damon Bailey and Landon Turner on the floor, but the highlight came when Alan Henderson was given the honor of addressing the crowd. For obvious reasons:

“We know how badly you all wanted us to win. But, trust me, we always wanted to win even just a little bit more than you wanted us to win. One thing I was thinking about coming in here was, if you do lose, the next practice is something you’re not really looking forward to. I remember walking into Assembly Hall, and almost wanting to sneak through like a ninja, so Coach didn’t see me, or anyone else, just get to my locker, tryna make it through, you know? So just keep in mind, these young men are competing as hard as they can, the coaches are doing the best they can do, so through the ups and downs of the seasons, I just want you to know how important it is that you all stay behind the team, stay as positive as you can, and just keep moving the ball.”

I love Alan Henderson. As a young broadcaster I got to call his final high school game, an Indianapolis Brebeuf loss to Glenn Robinson and Gary Roosevelt at the RCA Dome. The rivalry between the state’s two best big men continued as Big Dog went to Purdue, Henderson to IU where he led the Hoosiers to the 1992 Final Four. Henderson got a huge round of applause when he called Assembly Hall the best place to play college basketball in the country. But I think his aim was something else. I had heard that he went “off script” a little bit. The fans are a little down on Archie Miller right now. Like, “ready to help him pack his bags”-level down. You know how they say the most popular man in Chicago is the Bears backup quarterback? In Bloomington it’s the next IU basketball coach. They are all chasing the ghost of Robert Montgomery Knight. Since Knight was fired after the 2000 season, IU has had five coaches who have won about 58% of their games and made the NCAA tourney 10 times in 21 seasons. Despite his brilliance as a coach, Knight is a sad, petty, bully who has consistently refused to attend events at the university honoring his players and teams. But the fans look up and see the championship banners and judge every coach by that (unattainable) standard. Ask UCLA fans what it’s like to see the game pass you by, right?

If Henderson had all this in mind as he wrote his speech, it was the most savage two minutes in that building maybe ever. One of the state’s greatest players, a Mr. Basketball runner-up and NBA mainstay, put a statewide fan base on blast.

Watch a game surrounded by Indiana basketball people, and you’ll notice a few things. They definitely have opinions about the “right way” to play the game. Check what they cheer for – the 25-second defensive stand, the extra pass, the unselfish play, the kid who bypasses an off-balance shot in traffic to pull the ball back out top and reset the offense (“set it up!”). I swear when I heard someone yell “set it up” I wanted to walk down the aisle and ask them “set up what?” Like, diagram a play for me. Where are those guys supposed to be right now?

Source

I thought so.

And yeah, those are all good things. To be honest, the current team stands around a little bit too much on offense for my taste. But that’s not ’70s nostalgia, that’s the inability to be successful playing 1-on-5 every time down against modern-day Big 10 players.

I’ve been thinking about that speech a lot lately, thinking about it while I’m in the classroom and while I plan lessons and while I get ready to host my unannounced evaluation. And yeah, I think about it while I grade papers. Darryl Thomas was a member of the 1987 National Championship Hoosiers team, a Chicago-area guy and genuinely good person who died too young. At 6-foot-7 he was undersized at the position he was asked to play. But he showed up every day and had a hand in the greatest in-person basketball moment of my life, taking a low-post pass, sensing a double-team and kicking to Keith Smart in the corner for the game-winner against Syracuse:

In his book Season On The Brink, John Feinstein wrote that Bob Knight once put feminine protection products in Thomas’ locker as a comment on Darryl’s perceived lack of toughness. Later, Knight sat with Thomas and said, “Darryl, sometimes I think I want you to be a great player more than you want you to be a great player.”

Do I think I want my students to be successful more than they want themselves to be successful? Do my administrators want me to be a good teacher more than I want to be a good teacher?

I feel like sneaking into the building like a ninja some mornings, that is for sure. And if I do, I bet my kids do sometimes too.

During an interview I had an administrator tell me once “our students are the children of doctors and lawyers”. And yeah, they are. But thinking about that conversation later, I thought, yeah but they are also children of single moms who wait tables and work at K-Mart and dads who fix cars and grab their hard hat and steel-toes and work midnights at the mill.

As Alan Henderson might say, hey, these students are doing the best they can do, the teachers are competing as hard as they can, maybe it’s time to stay behind them and be positive.

Because when we do, this is the greatest job in the country. I might even have One Shining Moment before the year is up.

Lifetime Achievement

I stumbled across a release from the UNLV College of Education the other day, reflecting on the career of the school’s Math Learning Center Director Bill Speer, who just happened to be my Secondary Methods professor when I was working towards my teaching degree. He was president of the Nevada Mathematics Council at the time, and got me to my first (and to date, only) NCTM National Convention.

I recall at least an anecdote, if not a bit more, about each of my college math instructors. For Dr. Speer, it was a tale he shared with us of  “The Epiphany”. Five years into his teaching career, he had a student who was struggling with figuring square roots by hand. Dr. Speer walked him through the algorithm time and again, but the student eventually came back with a piercing question:

Why?

Dr. Speer recalls that question caught him a bit off guard. Until then, nobody ever really cared about why you did the steps. He sat down with the student and they figured out The Why together. He told us that moment changed the way he taught, forever.

That change culminated this year in the NCTM’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The UNLV release included a quote from the Dean of  the College of Education, Kim Metcalf:

“And there are tens of thousands of people who now teach a certain way, and hundreds of thousands of students who have learned or are learning math in a way that is the direct result of the work and research of Bill Speer.”

Woah.

I’m one of them. So if my students ever wonder why I “teach weird”, now they know who to blame. And I hope I always remember to take time to answer every time they ask “why?”


 

Meanwhile, in Indiana:

Damon.

He’s one of those people who is known by a single name. At least in this state. Bob Knight made a recruiting visit to watch him play in eighth grade (before recruiting middle schoolers was a thing). He’s Indiana’s all-time leading scorer amongst boys players, and he led his high school team to a state championship in front of 41,000 fans in the Hoosier Dome in 1990. He went on to become an All-American at Indiana University, leading the Hoosiers to the 1992 Final Four.

His son is a junior now, playing at the same high school and wearing his dad’s familiar number 22. So, you know, no pressure, right?

“I love basketball, and it’s a challenge,” he says. “I know people expect me to be like my dad, and I’m not my dad, I’m my own person. I think it’s a good challenge, and I like challenges. A last-second shot, I’m the one that wants to take it.”

Pretty level-headed 17-year-old, all things considered.

Meanwhile, here’s Damon on the whole thing:

“For us, we’ve just tried to teach them the right way to handle it,” Damon says. “There’s going to be a lot of good and a lot of bad that comes out of it. For every person that thinks you’re great, there’s going to be 10 people that think you’re not very good. That’s part of it, so just try to have fun playing the game. Basketball’s going to end for all of us at some point. It’s what you learn through the game that’s important.”

In front of us, Brayton is driving and finishing on the left side, using the rim to ward off 6-5 David Ejah of Fort Wayne Carroll.

“I’ve always told my kids: However good I was, and that can be debated, I don’t want them to be as good as me, I don’t want them to play like me,” Damon says. “I want Brayton to be the best player he can be, whatever that is. Whether you shoot it as well as anyone else, are as athletic, as big, I want you to go out and compete as hard as you can, and whatever happens, I’m going to be pretty happy as a parent.”

Damon The Middle Aged Dad
No big deal. Just the greatest scorer in state history sitting in the stands drinking coffee and watching his boy play ball. As one does. Photo via Jenna Watson of the Indy Star.

Isn’t that kind of what we all want, whether we are teachers or parents? Teach them right, sit back, and let the chips fall?

I doubt seriously any of my students will remember me 10 years from now. I keep connected with quite a few of them on social media, and I love watching them become adults handling their business. Whether it involves math or not.

I don’t have a learning tree like Bill Speer does. I’m halfway through my teaching career, getting ready to start Year 16 in a month or so. I’m closer to 70 than I am to 30. (Not by much, but still). I’ve probably taught a bit less than 2000 kids in that time. My influence? Minimal. But all my kids have gone on to do life the best they can. I can live with that. It’s a “small L” legacy, which is cool by me.

They aren’t their mom, or their dad, or their math teacher, or anybody else. They are themselves. Which is hard work, but also, pretty damn rewarding.

One day Brayton won’t be “Damon Bailey’s son”, he’ll just be whatever he turns out to be.

And that’s the real lifetime achievement.

 

One Day Doesn’t Define You

Alford Misses Part I

Alford Misses Part II
Alford once made 25 straight FTs in a semistate tournament game. But you know what? The NCAA’s ninth-leading free-throw shooter in history had a bad day every now and then. (Hoosiers: The Fabuous Basketball LIfe Of Indiana by Phillip M. Hoose) 

I teach at a school where we definitely keep score. In pretty much everything. Our kids, the ones that care, they already beat themselves up over their self-perceived shortcomings. They probably don’t need us riding them too.

If you’ve stopped by this space before, you know I am a sports guy. At this time of the year my heartbeat probably sounds a lot like the staccato dribble of a basketball and the squeak of Nikes on hardwood.

This past weekend was the regional round of the IHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament. Since 1911 kids across this state have advanced through four weeks of increasingly difficult challenges (sectional, regional, semistate, state). For the last 20 years the tourney has been split into classes based on enrollment. Thus Da Region had 8 teams competing in regional play on Saturday.

Thud.

The high school where I teach was one of those eight. A school famous for its methodical approach to shooting free throws, our team missed double-digit free throws in a game it lost in overtime to a team it had already beaten during the regular season. Afterwards, I imagine our kids were pretty down, beating themselves up, thinking about this play or that play they could have made better.

This morning, our coach tweeted a link to a newspaper story about the season-long improvement of one of our top players. It was one of our best shooters, but a player who had struggled shooting free throws in that regional loss. Who was probably feeling at least a little bit responsible, like he let his teammates down. But his coach was there to lift him up.

My man.

For folks who follow him on Twitter, it was pretty easy to crack the code. In a state that probably takes games played by 16-year-olds a little too seriously, here’s a guy publicly saying, “hey, you’re good. A few minutes of one game on one Saturday morning doesn’t define you.”

The walls of the gym at my school are ringed with the dates of all 52 sectional championships in school history. That’s tied for 10th-most all time in a state known for basketball. This year’s sectional was our first since 2011… when our current seniors were in 6th grade. But I don’t care if we win another one as long as I teach here. The boys basketball coach is the kind of teacher I want to be. I want him to coach our kids here until the day after forever.

I can’t add much. Except to say that I could do a better job of not harping on people’s worst moments or days. I think I’m pretty chill, but it seems like a reminder I needed. Maybe tomorrow I make a point of thinking about everything that is positive about the people around me. And maybe for my students, letting them know that one bad day or poor test score doesn’t define them.

Carry on, my son.

 

 

 

Coach ‘Em Up

In the coaching world, best practices filter down in a hurry, through coaching clinics or word of mouth. Everybody wants something more effective they can use at their own level.

Image result for basketball coaching gif
Coach K image via HuffPo

That’s true for sports and true for teaching (see: MTBoS Search Engine). Take an advantage and leverage it.

The question is, how transferable are some of those practices? What works for Tom Izzo might not work for your kid’s Boys and Girls Club Team. You gotta pick your spots, and meet ’em where they are. (Also, see MTBoS).

The last couple of years I’ve been helping to coach my youngest son’s middle school CYO hoop team. They are good kids, they like the game and each other, but we practice twice a week. Maybe one of our guys will play high school ball, tops. We’re not exactly Jordan’s Bulls or the Showtime Lakers or LeBron’s anybody. The kids mostly want to hang with their friends and have fun and maybe win some games (because winning is fun).

We mostly want them to learn a little about the game and learn how to be teammates and to grow as young Catholic men. And maybe win some games (because winning is fun).

We played a public school team last night, kids who practice every day and run the same sets the high school team runs and who shoot free throws the way kids have been taught to shoot in this town for like 70 years.

BF Valpo Method

 

They want to be Vikings. And it showed in the results.

Truth be told, we play some CYO teams like that too. Teams that are talented and well-coached and play with intensity for 24 minutes. Nothing we do works. We prepare for a press and still commit a million turnovers. We can’t be too mad at our kids. They do their best. The other team is just… better, sometimes.

Those games are super-frustrating.

There are teaching days that feel like that. I’m doing everything right, using the best practices (traditional & non-traditional) out there. And yet I can’t break through to my kids. Can’t reach them. Real talk? Some of them don’t want to be reached. And I go home feeling like I just got outscored 15-0 to end a half. The game’s over and there’s still two quarters left to play.

Image result for basketball frustrated gif
Deep breath.

But… I can’t be too mad at my kids. They’re good kids. They’re killing me slowly. But they’re good kids. They really just want to get out of school and get on with their lives. Unlike my ballplayers, they didn’t ask to be here. I wish they cared more. I wish they tried harder. Or at all. I wish they wanted to do well as much as I want them to do well. I wish they’d listen. Just a little bit. And then maybe they’d find out they’re better at this math stuff than they give themselves credit for.

Virgil Sweet, the coach who came up with the Valpo Method of shooting free throws, developed the steps because in order to get hired he had to prove to the school board he could improve the team’s fundamentals.

I’ve met some brilliant math teachers online, who willingly share their successes and failures. I’ve learned a lot from all of them: what works for me, and my style, and my students. What doesn’t. Someday I hope to meet the MTBoS version of Virgil Sweet. I think I’d take pretty well to his style of coaching.

Socks, shorts, 1, 2, 3… swish.