Niagara Falls coaching legend Pat Monti discusses building, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one

“I was a very strong-minded teacher, and the classroom just carried over to the court for me – it was my after-school classroom. If you talk to any of our super star players or any of our reserves, they’ll tell you that our program ran on structure, discipline and no nonsense!”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. A key part is hearing the stories and experiences of successful people. Like many kids, I dreamt of an early dream of playing basketball. That dream didn’t reach fruition, but the lessons I learned playing in Section VI, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s western-most section, laid the groundwork for me to go on to further my education and start my science career.

I’m working on a project chronicling my early basketball journey, and as a part of the research for that project, I’ve interviewed numerous Section VI basketball players and coaches from my era. On May 10, 2018, I had the honor of interviewing Pat Monti – a Western New York basketball coaching legend and the Architect of the LaSalle basketball dynasty – arguably the most dominant high school basketball program ever to play in the Western New York region. From the late 1980s to the late 1990s LaSalle was consistently in position to advance to the Final Four in Glens Falls and won numerous state titles – Public and Federation. More fascinating than the actual dominance of the program itself though, is how it was built – with solid point guard play, defense, and a crafty, determined and highly competitive coaching staff.

In part one of this two-part interview, Coach Pat Monti discusses his background, and how he built the LaSalle basketball program. The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Western New York basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Sections V and VI playoff programs by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones. Other articles and pictures were generously shared by Coach Pat Monti himself. Click on any of the images to enlarge them.

Anwar Dunbar: Thank you for this opportunity to interview you, Coach Monti. I’m working an ambitious writing project about my high school basketball experience – my first major success and failure lesson in life. While I didn’t play organized basketball beyond the 1993-94 school year, my high school experience at Hutch-Tech gave me the initial tools I needed to earn my Ph.D. in a STEM-field – not quitting during the hard times, dealing with adversity, finishing what I started, and so on.

In my project I also tell the story of the Section VI in that era – the prime of the LaSalle basketball dynasty – you can’t properly tell it without discussing the brown and gold – the LaSalle Explorers as you guys were the premiere program/team in our area for more than a decade. As a part of my research, I’ve reached out to several coaches and players, but talking to you may be my biggest interview of all. And with that we’ll start.

Where are you from and how did you get involved with the game of basketball?

Pat Monti: I’m from Syracuse, NY – born and raised. I’ve been playing basketball since I was about five years old. My Dad was a star athlete in all three of the major sports in high school before going to World War II, and I’ve always been into sports. I left Syracuse when I was 17 years old to attend Niagara University. Other than visiting family, I never went back. Right out of Niagara in 1968, I was offered a local teaching job. My wife to be was a junior at the time, so I took the job, and that’s basically where we spent the rest of our adult lives. We’ll be married 49 years this year, and retired to Naples, FL about 15 years ago.

AD: Describe your playing experience at Niagara University.

PM: It was on and off. As a freshman, I messed up my ankle for the first of many times, shutting that season completely down. Unfortunately, we had three coaching changes in the four years I was there. Eventually they brought in a coach I won’t name – we didn’t see eye to eye in terms of my abilities, so I continued my education but didn’t play hoops there.

I played some semi-pro traveling ball and I always knew that I wanted to coach. That’s why I got a teaching degree – a B.S. in Commerce which in New York State back in my day, licensed me to teach just about every business subject that was being taught in public schools. For most of my teaching career I taught: Accounting, Business Law, and Business Math – those were my three major subjects, but I taught just about every business subject that was in the curriculum at the time.

AD: So, you were in the classroom, and you coached as well?

PM: Oh yeah. I had grandiose ideas of being a Physical Education teacher, but science wasn’t my strength. I was going to do Accounting but realized that I couldn’t do it because I wanted to coach, and both seasons overlapped. I had a great counselor at Niagara who said, ‘Why don’t you try Business Education because you’re great with numbers and you have a great level-headed business-mind.’

Back when I went to school, there weren’t five and six-year plans like there are today. We finished in four years, so my senior year, I had to take a huge load. I graduated on time in 1968 and immediately wanted to coach, but not being a local kid, it was tough to get my foot in the door. They were looking for teachers back then, so I hooked on with Johnny McCarthy – the old Buffalo Braves coach who played at Canisius – he was the coach at St. John Neumann which would’ve been well before your time – right there on the Youngman Expressway near Main Street. I see the building is still there from the times I’ve gone by there.

That was my first year and I was the coach of his ‘Freshman’ team, and that’s kind of what got me started in my coaching career. I spent one year there and then I was fortunate to become the Junior Varsity (JV) Coach at Bishop Duffy – now Niagara Catholic High School. I coached three years of JV under Bob Laurrie whose son Mark Laurrie happens to be the Superintendent of schools in Niagara Falls – Bob was a mentor. When I got to LaSalle, the Head Coach was Matt Mazza who was legendary for his personality and everything (laughing).

I tried a few times to get the JV job at LaSalle even though I was teaching in the building. Eventually in 1972, I got the JV job under Coach Mazza, and then in 1975 our former Principal Bill Sdao who also became Superintendent, saw something I guess and at 29 years old I got my first head coaching job. I had it from 1975 until 2000 when the school closed.

AD: Wow.

PM: In those 25 years, we did some remarkable things. We started out with a program that really hadn’t done much – had a little bit of success I guess before my time. My three years as the JV coach I think we were 15-3, 16-2, and 15-3, so that should’ve led to the Varsity being decent I’d think if not really good, but unfortunately, they weren’t for whatever reason.

AD: In the late 1980s and early 1990s, our Yale Cup teams didn’t have formal JV programs across the board feeding the Varsity teams, but it sounds like the two Niagara Falls high schools did. Is that correct? What were some of the other keys to your success at LaSalle?

PM: It’s amazing what we accomplished from 1975-2000 in 25 years considering we didn’t have a ‘Freshman’ or ‘Middle School’ programs. It was really hard competing with the Lockports and the North Tonawandas – everyone else in the Niagara Frontier League (NFL) at the time because they were so far ahead of us in building ‘programs’. I was a very strong-minded teacher, and the classroom just carried over to the court for me – it was my after-school classroom. If you talk to any of our super star players or any of our reserves, they’ll tell you that our program ran on structure, discipline and no nonsense! I wasn’t a tyrant, but that was the only way I felt that I could build a winning program that would succeed year in and year out.

We won Section VI 10 straight times. Some schools never win a sectional. I think our 10 straight sectional titles, 12 out of 13 years is still a record for boys’ basketball in the state – I know it’s a record for Western New York for sure. From 1988 to 1997, we won Section VI and went to the Far West Regional all ten of those years, and we went to Glens Falls six times. In that ten-year span, our record was 226-22 which is over 90% in terms of winning percentage.

AD: So, it sounds like you ran a structured program. What were the hallmarks of your program? Were you a “defense-first” coach? It seemed like you guys created lots of turnovers and easy transition baskets.

PM: Well I think anyone who ‘pidgeon-holes’ themselves into one philosophy will never ever be doing service to their young student-athletes. Obviously, we played great defense. In that 10-year period, we started in 1987-88 going 27-0 which is still a Western New York record – I don’t believe anyone has been undefeated with that many wins. Some teams had more wins because they played more games than us, but I don’t think anyone went undefeated at 27-0. That was the year that we supposedly upset Christian Laettner’s team, but I honestly believe Nichols took us for granted twice. You’re probably too young to remember – when did you get out of Hutch-Tech?

AD: 1994. Was the Nichols School always a part of the NFL?

PM: You were probably in grammar school then. We had four high schools in Niagara Falls at one time: Trott Vocational, Niagara Falls, LaSalle and obviously Bishop Duffey which went on to become Niagara Catholic. In 1985-86, Trott Vocational closed and they enlarged LaSalle’s campus by building industrial shops, auto shops, a Horticulture area – they turned LaSalle into a multipurpose high school. We always had ten teams in the NFL, and it was perfect – you played everyone twice – you played 18 games and maybe you’d pick up a tournament or something and you played your 20 games which the state allowed back then.

When Trott closed, the powers that be didn’t want an uneven number of schools because you’d have one team having a bye every time the games were played. They looked around for a team to fill the slot that Trott left, and they asked the Nichols School to join the NFL which I thought was ridiculous. It was a private school now playing with all public schools – recruited from everywhere – we weren’t playing on an equal playing field.

AD: I was in middle school when Christian Laettner was at Nichols and missed seeing him and some of the other notable players of that time play. I first saw Trott listed in one of my sectional books but didn’t know what it was. How did the LaSalle program continue to build its dominance after winning the Class B State and Federation titles that 27-0, 1987-88 season?

PM: In 1988-89, we graduated four starters, and no one picked us to win the NFL. I think that because of the program and the way we played the game – we shared the ball and didn’t care who scored and we played phenomenal defense – that ten-year period, our average points per game given up, was less than 50 in the 200 plus games. So, our program was definitely built on defense.

It bothers the heck out of me when I see coaches who have a system and say, ‘This is the way I do it and I don’t care!’ I’ll give you an example. We were meeting a really good Lancaster team in the Class A sectional final at the Niagara Falls Convention Center in 1990, and Channel 7 interviewed them at their gym. We had a whole week in between finishing up the regular season and playing the sectional final.

I knew we were going to be meeting Lancaster and I knew that we could destroy them with our “Run and Jump” pressing defense because they were big and very methodical. I don’t think they ever saw our kind of pressure. I’ll never forget this – Channel 7 interviewed them the Wednesday or Thursday before our Saturday night game. Their coach had two of his better players with him, and I think Rick Azar interviewed them.

‘Coach you’re playing the five or six-time defending Class A Section VI Champion who has also won the State Championship a couple of times,’ Rick said. ‘How are you going to deal with their phenomenal man to man pressure when all you do is play man to man yourself?’

‘We play nothing but man!’ their coach said. To me he did his kids a disservice because we weren’t a great shooting team – he should’ve played zone against us. His team was big enough, smart enough, and probably athletic enough to play us zone, and probably force us take a lot of outside shots that we didn’t like to take. My thought even to this day is that I’d rather have a layup and a free throw than a three-pointer. I think too many people live and die with the three-point shot. I know it’s become ‘the thing’, but there’s no ‘mid-range’ game anymore. Everybody shoots threes or wants to dunk. No one uses the glass which is there for a reason. I myself am a lefty and I had great touch, so I used the glass like crazy – it’s there to help you. Anyhow, this Lancaster Coach had his kids slapping the floor like (laughing) –.

AD: Like Duke?

PM: ‘We’re going to play man to man,’ the Lancaster coach said, and I was thinking, ‘We’re going to come out and toast this team!’ I showed the clip to my kids because I’d taped it – I used it as fodder for them. The score was something like 37-15 at halftime. They pressed us full court Anwar. All I did was what I now call the “One-Breaker” where I had my point guard taking the ball out every chance we could after a dead ball. I had my twos and threes in the corner and my fours and fives at half court – basically it was ‘1-2-2 press-breaker’. When we passed it in to the two or the three which were both also guards who probably could’ve played the point – I’m trying to think if it was a Timmy Winn team or a Modie Cox team –.

AD: If it was the mid- 1990s then it had to be one of your Modie Cox-teams.

PM: We just passed it into the corner, and Modie shot up the middle and my fours and fives which were just small forwards both pinched in and it was a bounce pass and layup to either side. It was like a layup drill. They should never have been pressing us, and they shouldn’t have been playing us man to man.

So, going back to my original thought – you’ve got to coach your team to give them the best chance to win from game to game, and from opponent to opponent. You have to know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, and you have to take your strengths and weaknesses, and try to overcome what they do, and do what you can do. If I had to play zone, I would do it absolutely.

When we played Niagara Falls High School, they had phenomenal size and talent. See a lot of people don’t realize this, but from 1985 until 1999, we beat Niagara Falls 35 straight times. They always had more size than us, and probably more overall talent. They might not have had the guards, but what they also didn’t have was structure, discipline, and no nonsense.

AD: Wow.

PM: When I’d go to these clinics, coaches would ask, ‘Coach how do you do this year in and year out?’ I’d say, ‘Fellas, you have what they want.’ They’d look at me and ask, ‘What are you talking about?’ I’d say, ‘You’ve got the ball. If they’re not doing it the way you script it, then you take the ball away from them. You sit them down!’

See a lot of coaches are afraid to sit their players down or discipline them because they don’t think that they can win. But if your team has bought into the team concept, you can win. I’ve had players go down to injury in games we weren’t supposed to win, and we won because somebody else stepped up.

AD: Were there particular kinds of kids you were looking for?

PM: The good thing about our program was that because we didn’t have a Middle School program, or a ‘Freshman’ program, at least the state let seventh or eighth graders play JV or Varsity if they passed the physical fitness test which had parameters. You know what I’m talking about right?

AD: Yes.

PM: So, what I used to do was make sure that our LaSalle ‘Middle’ which fed our LaSalle ‘Senior’. I made sure that any seventh or eighth graders we used to watch at the Boys Club, the Biddy Leagues, or at the YMCA Saturday morning ball – if we knew that they were LaSalle kids, we’d invite them to take the physical fitness tests with their gym teachers and then tryout. There were years where my JV coaches hated me – there were years where I made them keep 21, 22 and 23 players on the JV teams even though you could only suit up, and put 15 names in the book.

I had seventh and eighth graders on my JV team so that they were basically learning our system way before their time. They knew what to expect. They knew that we were demanding, that we were structured and disciplined, and it was no nonsense – if you don’t like it, there’s the door, we’ll see you later! And that’s how all the great point guards like: Michael Freeney, Michael Starks, Carlos Bradberry, Modie Cox, Jody Crymes, Timm Winn, Terry Rich, and Dewitt Doss – all the guys who ended up starring at LaSalle, that’s the system they were brought up in.

AD: Wow. So, there was a LaSalle Middle School as well?

PM: Yeah LaSalle had a middle school on Buffalo Avenue which is still there. They now call it “LaSalle Preparatory Academy”. The biggest mistake I think the city ever made was closing our beautiful school – tearing it down within a matter of three months because this guy Benderson wanted that land for years. It’s now a plaza where there’s a Super Wal-Mart, and Bed Bath and Beyond, and every other out parcel you can think of.

AD: I want to come back to LaSalle closing but I have some more questions before we get to that. Between the 1970s when you started, and the late 1980s when you went on that 10-year run, what happened? Did it take you that long to build the continuity or just to get the players?

PM: Well, my first really good team was probably 1980 when Frank Rotundo was on the team. When Frank Rotundo my longtime JV Coach joined me in 1986 until the school closed in 2000, he did a fantastic job molding the young players into the LaSalle system. I also had a guard who went to Alabama State named Michael Freeney – his older brother Jimmy Freeney was a great player for Matt Mazza who I took over for. Michael kind of put us on the map in 1979, 80, 81 – he just had an incredible career for us. As a matter of fact, this story will tell you about the kind of program we built, and the attitude that our kids had.

We were playing in the Convention Center against Niagara Falls High School because with such a rivalry, they wanted to give everyone an opportunity to see the game – rather than playing it at our gym or their gym. Michael was an All-Western New Yorker. We were supposed to get demolished. Niagara Falls was very talented – very big and athletic – much more so than us and we were both battling for the Niagara Frontier League title.

The Tuesday before this particular game, we had a one game lead on them and we were playing Niagara-Wheatfield who was not very good. I think we beat them by 25 the first time we played them. We played at their gym and this is where I picked up this gimmick defense that I run. They played it on Michael Freeney who was averaging twenty something points per game. Their Coach was Doc Massoti – a good basketball mind – that’s where I got my gimmick defense, God rest his soul. He played this gimmick defense – people think it’s a “Box and One” but it’s not, it’s different. They held Michael to four points and he fouled out in the ugliest game I’ve ever coached and with a talented team. I think they beat us 45-43 – it was really ugly.

The next day – Wednesday or Thursday, we and Niagara Falls got to practice at the Niagara Falls Convention Center for our Friday night game. My kids were so aloof and goofy, and I just blew the whistle and said, ‘Are you guys kidding me? You just got beaten by a team you beat by 25 points a month or two ago. You’re playing Niagara Falls and you’re tied for the NFL title. The winner of this game wins the league and you’re going through the motions and screwing around? I know you’re at the Convention Center and you’re excited, but fellas we’ve got a job to do!’ I threw them out of practice. I said, ‘Get out of here! Good-bye!’

We came out Friday night, and we put such a whipping on Niagara Falls High School that had so much more talent than us. We beat them by 25 points. Michael had 48 points, and I took him out of the game five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Someone from the scorer’s table came over and whispered in one of my assistant’s ears who came and told me, ‘You know Michael’s got 47 points Coach.’ I said, ‘What?’ He was just so effortless, and I looked down to the end of the bench and he’s got his sneakers off. I said, ‘Michael put your sneakers back on.’ He asked, ‘Why Coach?’ I said, ‘I want you to score three more points.’ He said, ‘I don’t need any more points Coach. These guys don’t get to play much. Let them play.’ Those were the kind of kids we had, and the kind of culture we had.

In the second part of our interview, Coach Pat Monti talks more about coaching the LaSalle basketball program, the closing of LaSalle Senior High School, and finally what coaching has been like afterwards. Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy:

Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup, and State Tournaments
Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional basketball careers and coaching
Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on basketball camp
Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Life, Success, and failure
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

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Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Reflections on three years of basketball camp

“Basketball is our game and yours can be the same.”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. I originally published this series on the Examiner back in 2014. As a teen I dreamt of being a basketball player just like a lot of kids – a dream for which one must have lots of ability, drive, and luck to achieve. My experience turned out to be quite the adventure, and I didn’t formally play basketball beyond high school. The lessons I learned there however, not all of them happy and pleasant, helped me as I progressed into adulthood and into my Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career. As mentioned when I began reposting this series, I’m working on an ambitious writing project chronicling my early basketball journey in Western New York.

Initially I thought that I would simply republish the original series and let it go, but I’ve decided to add onto it as I continue working on my book project and ideas keep coming to me. Heading into the summer months this particular follow up installment will discuss what I learned from the three years I attended basketball camp. See if you the reader can pick up on the universal themes which transcend the great game of basketball.

* * *

“Basketball is our game and yours can be the same,” was the signature quote of the Ken Jones Basketball Camp – the camp run by Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones, my first high school basketball coach. As he told us students more times than I can remember, “I’m a student of the game.” He ate, slept and breathed the great game of basketball. Our basketball program at Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, NY was an extension of him and was unique in our league, the “Yale Cup”, during that sliver of time he coached there. He taught us the structure and fundamentals of the game which at that time were the hallmarks of only the area suburban and private schools. To learn some more about what the Yale Cup was like, see parts one and two of my interview with Buffalo basketball legend Jason Rowe.

What was also unique about our program at Hutch-Tech was that our coach ran his own basketball camp – the first and only one I’d ever attend. I first heard about the Ken Jones Basketball Camp as a freshman. Towards the end of the 1990-91 school year, a highly successful season for Hutch-Tech’s basketball program, Coach Jones posted fliers for the camp on the bulletin board near the coaches’ offices. I knew very few fundamentals of basketball as most of my play consisted of games of “Twenty-One”, also known as “Rochester”, and ‘pickup’ games on Buffalo’s playgrounds and at the William-Esmlie YMCA. I thought attending the camp would not only teach me more about the game, but it would also give me an ‘in’ going into tryouts the next year – something it may have in fact done.

I’ll point out here that my perception of attending the camp as an ‘in’ to get on the Varsity team was a flawed way of thinking. There were several peers who attended the camp and didn’t make the team during those years. For any prospective players or parents reading this, it’s very important for kids with aspirations of playing sports to understand that spots on their school’s roster should be, and must be, earned. Spots on the roster should be awarded based on skills and preparation – not some form of favoritism or partiality – both of which do happen in the real world at workplaces later in life.

I was blessed that my mother and father were able to come up with the $300 to $400 fee to attend the Ken Jones Basketball Camp, as not all of my peers could afford to go. Keep in mind that I went three of my four years in high school – again a blessing. Also keep in mind that there were several local camps in and around the city of Buffalo which I didn’t know much about; which in hindsight, I also wish I had attended. Later in life I learned that no matter what your craft is, learning from multiple teachers only makes you stronger and more formidable. Each year the Buffalo News actually advertised all of the area camps, and neither I, nor anyone in my immediate family ecosystem at the time, knew to look for them.

At this point I’ll distinguish between the two types of camps and if I’ve misspoken here, please do leave a comment below this blog post. According to what I’ve learned, there were two types of basketball camps; ‘Teaching’ camps which were designed to impart the fundamentals of the game, and also what I’ll call ‘All-Star’ camps – showcases for the nation’s top talent. These included the: Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and ABCD camps. These camps drew your future Division I and NBA talent. The documentary Hoop Dreams shows a snippet of the Nike Camp in the early 1990s where in that particular year, players like Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, and Alan Henderson attended. They were scouted by high-level college coaches like P.J. Carlissimo, Mike Kryzewski, John Chaney, Kevin O’Neil and others.

The Ken Jones Basketball Camp was a ‘teaching’ camp. In the early 1990s it was held at Hamilton College in north-central New York State. It drew kids from all over the state – some from the Buffalo area, and many from the Rochester area where Coach Jones used to coach before moving to Buffalo. There were also kids from the middle of the state and the Hudson River Valley. That was true for the coaches on staff too. Coach Jones had an entire lineup of coaches he’d either coached with, coached against, or in many cases had simply befriended along the way. In a way they were like a group of ‘Mob Bosses’ like in the movie Casino. Instead of organized crime though, they were all passionate about basketball. You could hear and feel it in the workshops they taught in addition to how they coached us.

“It’s a season of basketball in a session,” was one of the other signature quote from the camp’s brochure and it was true. It was one week packed with: workshops, drills, and competition. I’d never seen anything like it before. Towards the end of the camp there was a ‘playoff’ for each age group and an All-Star game for the camp’s best players. It was literally like a basketball boot camp. We had to be up at 6-7 am for calisthenics and stretching, and then breakfast to start our day full of games and drills/workshops. We were also supposed to be in bed at a certain hour each night. As promised, our muscles and joints were aching by Tuesday and Wednesday.

It was a very ‘organized’ style of basketball they taught us there – very different than the ‘street-style’ we played in Buffalo which involved mostly, “going up strong to the ‘hole’,” and usually watching your teammates dominate the ball on offense while everyone else stood around watching – ‘isolation’ basketball. As I was going into the camp looking to become a much better offensive player, I was very much surprised by the amount of time we spent on defensive principles and fundamentals.

I also noticed that some of the other kids my age were much more developed than I was in terms of their offensive skill sets and their overall ‘basketball-IQs’ – their basic knowledge of the game allowing them to know what plays to make offensively and defensively – instinctually in some instances. One teammate from my first year at the camp who was from Palmyra-Macedon (Pal-Mac) High School in the Rochester area stands out to me. We were the same age and similar height, but he had already developed a reliable 15-foot jump shot – something I hadn’t developed at that point as no one had emphasized it back home.

Interestingly, the best basketball I ever played was probably at that camp my second year. I think it was largely due to the players I got to play with. They weren’t selfish, ‘me first’ players. The guards were disciplined and they looked to share the ball. At the camp going into my junior year of high school, I remember regularly touching the ball on my team, and making the All-Star game at the end.

What I’m going to say next is probably the most important part of this piece. I didn’t know how to actually harness what I had learned from the camp, and make myself a better player. That is, I didn’t understand that simply going to the camp by itself wouldn’t make methe best player I could be.

Afterwards, it would take hours and hours perfecting those fundamentals, and then learning how to use them in actual competition. This is the actual “development” – something that takes time, focus and commitment. When I look back on those years, I also realize that I was also developing on my own. In a game like basketball, if you want to play at the highest levels, you have to not only develop yourself personally, but you also have to figure out how to coalesce and build chemistry with the group of players you’re going to be playing with in competition.

What I didn’t understand at the time was how to break out of my ‘comfort zone’. As you might imagine, the majority of the kids at the camp weren’t black, and as an inner-city kid I didn’t know how to blend with kids who didn’t look like me – befriending them and asking them to show me what they knew – also learning about their basketball and life experiences. Making new friends was encouraged, but I just didn’t know how to do it. This was also prior to the cell phones, social media, and the technology we have today, so I didn’t think to try to befriend and stay in contact with the other kids long-term.

Probably the last important principle I didn’t understand was that becoming a great basketball player involved combining the ‘organized’ and ‘street’ styles. The reason I played my best basketball at the camp was because I had become used to playing the ‘organized’ style. A teammate at Hutch-Tech likewise told me later that my game was ‘basic’, meaning that it was very technically sound and very ‘textbook’.

I thought he was picking on me as per usual, but he was right. It turned out that the great and transcendent players at any level could play within an organized team structure, but could also play off of pure instinct when necessary – creating shots for themselves or teammates, or creating key turnovers on defense – again all off of instinct. All of this takes any player time, effort and focus, and it should come from within the individual in order for it to truly bear fruit.

“Damn Anwar. You spent all of that money to go to basketball camp,” a classmate said to me as my junior year season fell apart due to injuries and grades. He was pitying me, and or gloating – I couldn’t tell which at the time. I wasn’t originally going to put this quote into this piece, but it’s a critical aspect of my book project because it underscores how peers view you when you’re setting out to do something of meaning and value. Some are happy for you, while some are waiting for you to fail.

And again, not every family had the money to send their kids to camp which probably created some envy. Some kids wanted to play on the basketball team and didn’t for whatever reason, and you don’t know how they’re viewing you and your opportunities until you yourself are going through a hardship of some sort. This also underscores the importance of having the mental strength I discussed in part three of this series.

And I think I’ll wrap this up here. As I’m working on my book project, all of the things I didn’t know from that time are coming to me – things those in my own immediate familial ecosystem didn’t necessarily know to stress to me at the time – things which the highly successful players are and were taught at those critical stages of their development. This piece is thus highly valuable of young players in those stages. I have a cousin like that right now who thinks she wants to be a basketball player. This piece is very much for players like her who are good on defense for example, but need to develop their offensive games to go to that next level.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part three: People, teamwork, mental toughness and leadership
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part four: Life, success, and failure
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional careers and coaching
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part four: Life, success and failure

This article was originally the conclusion of the series titled the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. As described in the opening piece, I’m working on a larger writing project regarding my high school basketball experience and what it taught me about: life, success, and failure. As I’m working on finalizing that project, more ideas are coming to me and so I may add to this series from time to time. Part four discusses some of the valuable lessons basketball taught me about how to be successful in life.  As with all of the posts in this series, this one also falls under my blog’s principle of “Creating Ecosystems of Success”.

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Basketball taught me that no matter what you set out to do, it helps to have a mentor who is experienced in your craft of interest. Someone who has been there already, knows all of the tricks of the trade, and the potential pitfalls, and can help guide you in the best possible way towards your goal is invaluable.

“Sometimes kids have to realize when a coach is trying to help them,” Coach Larry Brown said during his unsuccessful stint coaching Carmelo Anthony, Allen IversonStephon Marbury, and some of the other younger NBA stars on the 2004 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team. “Kids have to understand the difference between coaching and criticism. There is a big difference.”

One of the most important lessons basketball taught me is that when someone says something to you that may at first seem unpleasant or like they’re attacking you, it’s important to try to figure out where their words are coming from. Are they coming from a place of hurt? Are they coming from a place of genuine concern? Are they coming from a place of trying to help? Trying to figure out where people are coming from, and avoiding ‘Knee Jerk’ reactions can often save a lot of trouble later on for all parties involved. It can also lead to major successes and breakthroughs.

Basketball taught me that you have to know the leaders of your craft. On the court, you have to know who to model your game after to improve your own game. In other arenas you have to know who the leaders of your field are and how they got there. In graduate school, my thesis advisor stayed on me about knowing what was new in our field because it impacted our own research projects – it helped us not to, “reinvent the wheel,” as they say.

Basketball taught me that sometimes you have to lose before you can win. This is a hard concept to fathom, especially when the losing is taking place. In life, however, it’s often important to learn what not to do just as it’s important to learn what to do in key situations. Furthermore, there are usually very important lessons in every loss.

Basketball taught me that there are times in life when you have to go your own way, and leave certain people behind in order to achieve your goal. Examples are friends and relatives who don’t share your interests who can sometimes hold you back from achieving your goal. In other instances, they haven’t been to where you’re trying to go, and may hinder your getting there.

It likewise helps to associate with those who share your interests, and are trying to go where you want to go. If you’re going to be a good basketball player for example, you have to hang around with other basketball players. The same thing goes for learning to invest money, learning how to write, learning how to Salsa dance, pursuing higher education, etc.

In my playing days, it was often stressed to us that, “the game is 95% mental and 5% physical.” This relates to one of the biggest lessons that basketball taught me which is that whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, you not only have to be focused on your goal, but you also have to be mentally strong, as there will likely be unexpected obstacles to whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.

Just as on the basketball court, on the way to achieving your goals in the game of life, not only will you have to put in the work to master your craft, but you’ll also have to endure negative people or dream killers – sometimes the people closest to you telling you, “you can’t,” or, “you won’t,” or, “you’re not” – all disempowering words, but comments you’ll face when setting out to accomplish something of value. Many successful people derive motivation from disempowering words and naysayers, while unsuccessful people buckle and fold under such criticisms and doubts. With this being a basketball-themed post, Michael Jordan is probably the best example of this as his critics and doubters regularly served as his main motivators as he memorably described at his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“Your attitude determines your altitude,” my high school basketball coach Ken Jones told us regularly. In translation, your approach to a given situation will impact the outcome of that situation. We were fortunate that in addition to trying to lead us to victories, Coach Jones also wanted to develop us into the best people we could be. Likewise, in whichever activity a young person is involved in, the life skills taught are just as important as that particular activity.

This article will be continued in part four of the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part three: People, teamwork, mental toughness and leadership
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional basketball careers and coaching
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Buffalo Traditional’s Jason Rowe discusses his college and professional basketball careers and coaching

“Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the moment and take it seriously. Understand that every decision you make affects the next thing that you do.”

This interview is the second part of my interview with Buffalo basketball legend Jason Rowe. In the first part of our interview we discussed his background, and the run he and his teammates went on at Buffalo Traditional High School in the early- to mid-1990s in our city league, the ‘Yale Cup’ and postseason play. In the second part of the interview we discussed his basketball career after Buffalo Traditional – college, the professional level, and now his current experiences coaching in Western New York. The pictures in this post were shared courtesy of Jason himself.

Anwar Dunbar: It’s been documented that academics prevented some Yale Cup players from going to big time Division 1 schools. What kind of student were you at Buffalo Traditional?

Jason Rowe: I was a ‘Merit’ and ‘Honor Roll’ student. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to play. My parents instilled education in me from day one. My mother and father were constantly on me about grades. If my grades weren’t above a certain GPA, then I wasn’t allowed to play basketball. My father actually took me off the ‘Modified’ team at Traditional for half the season because my average was an 87% and not a 90% or better. So in no way shape or form would I say that Buffalo Traditional didn’t prepare me. No!!! My parents prepared me and instilled how important my education was.

AD: That’s actually a big deal. I saw that happen to a couple of players at Hutch-Tech. It seems that if your parents don’t set that high standard, you’ll do just enough to stay eligible to play and, in some instances, just walk that line of eligibility as I did in some classes.

When did the colleges start recruiting you? Were you a sophomore or a junior? Or were they looking at you as a freshman?

JR: I was a sophomore and it just blew up out of nowhere. I remember my first two letters were from Duke University and the University of Michigan. They were ‘generics’, but you couldn’t tell me that I wasn’t being recruited by Duke and Michigan.

AD: How did it feel?

JR: I thought I was the king of the world. Even though they were questionnaires, these were the guys that were on TV. These were Coach Steve Fisher’s (Michigan) and Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s (Duke) signatures right there so it was a big deal.

AD: Where did you end up going?

JR: Loyola of Maryland.

AD: Why did you choose that school?

JR: It felt like home. I got injured at the ‘ABCD Camp’ and a lot of teams didn’t know how serious it was. My back was just ruined. A lot of schools wanted me to sign ‘late’, but I didn’t want to sign late. My mentality is if you want me, you want me now. I didn’t want to wait for them to figure out if another kid was going to sign. I was second or third on a number of college’s boards, but if you say you want me then I felt like, let’s get this thing done. Let’s figure it out. I wanted to focus on my grades and winning the state championship, so I didn’t want to go the whole season with phone calls and distractions.

AD: So signing late is something colleges want you to do when they’re unsure of your health?

JR: All schools have a list of about five to ten people at your position, and it’s in order of how much they want them. I was two, three, or four on a couple of lists, and I wanted to be their number one. If they wanted me, I wanted to make it happen. I didn’t want to wait for someone else to not sign for them to want me. In my brain, that meant they didn’t want me.

AD: So it’s kind of like dating (laughing).

JR: Exactly (laughing).

AD: What were the biggest adjustments you had to make from playing at Buffalo Traditional to playing on the college level and being away from home?

JR: I had family in Maryland so being away from home wasn’t an issue for me. The biggest issue for me was learning the point guard position because in high school we didn’t have any plays. In college now it was about game management – knowing what’s a ‘good’ shot, knowing what’s a ‘bad’ shot, and how to keep your teammates happy. There were so many things that I was lacking that I had to pick up very fast.

AD: Interesting. So when you were at Buffalo Traditional and an opponent threw up a ‘2-3’ or a ‘3-2’ zone defense against you, how would you all approach that if you didn’t have plays?

JR: We knew what to do whether it was running a ‘Motion’ play or a ‘Pick and Roll’. We felt like we were so talented that we could figure it out anyway. We had athletes, ball handlers, big men, and shooters. We had everything so we could chuck up a shot, and with Adrian, LaVar, and Damien – someone was going to get the rebound (see part one of this interview). We could get a three-pointer if we needed it – enough of us could shoot three-pointers. It was sort of like ‘fool’s gold’ because you could get away with it at the high school level, but at the college level, that’s not how it works.

AD: So in college you had to learn how to play the point guard position from more of an Xs and Os standpoint.

JR: Yes, I had to learn how to play basketball.

AD: Did you play all four years?

JR: I played three and a half. I left halfway through my senior year due to grades.

AD: When I was an undergraduate, I do remember sitting in my dorm room one day and seeing Loyola of Maryland on ESPN, and seeing you suited up in your green and white uniform. What did you major in?

JR: Elementary Education.

AD: Did you just encounter a hard series of classes, or was it just juggling being a Division 1 student-athlete?

JR: There was a lot going on in my personal life and I didn’t know how to handle things.

AD: At any point did you dream of playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA)?

JR: Yes, for a very long time. For anyone who plays basketball long enough, that’ s going to be a dream – especially someone who studied it, watched it, and idolized players in the NBA.

AD: In any of your years at Loyola, did you guys make the ‘Big Dance’ (the NCAA’s Men’s College Basketball Tournament)?

JR: The one basketball thing that drives me crazy to this day is not experiencing the Big Dance. Anything else that goes on in basketball is fine, but not playing in the Big Dance drives me insane.

AD: How did you go from playing at Loyola of Maryland to playing professional basketball overseas?

JR: It was through an agency. My college coach gave me a ton of agent letters – dozens and dozens of them and I literally went through all of them, researched them, and figured out which one worked best for me. I literally had an interview process with a couple of agencies and picked an agent that would best help me to further my career overseas and further my basketball career in general.

AD: So you must have done exceptionally well at Loyola for agents to have wanted to sign you.

JR: Prior to my leaving school, I was actually projected late first round and late second round going into my senior year in the NBA Draft. When word gets around, you’ll have agencies calling.

AD: What kind of numbers were you putting up? Were you putting up ‘Triple Doubles’?

JR: I’m trying to remember – my senior year, I was around 25th in the country in scoring, 15th in assists, and 3rd in steals. In my junior year I was 2nd or 3rd in steals, and in my sophomore and senior years it was similar.

AD: What was it like playing professional basketball overseas? Which club or franchise did you play for?

JR: I played in 11 countries for 18 teams. I played 15 years and I don’t regret a thing. It was beautiful.

AD: Wow. So this was all over Europe?

JR: I’m going to try to do it in order. I played in: Cyprus, Israel, Poland, Argentina, France, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Ukraine, and Morocco.

AD: So you were playing against home-grown European players, as well as players from the United States too? Which names come to mind?

JR: Yes. When I was in Turkey, I played against Allen Iverson. In Italy, I played against Danilo Gallinari and Khalid El-Amin. In France, I played against Hollis Price. C.C. Harrison had a big name. I played against Rudy Fernandez when I was in Spain. Lamar Odom signed to a team in Spain, but he didn’t play that night. Manu Ginobli, Marco Bellinelli – I played against those guys. I played against Troy Bell who I’m still friends with. I played against a lot of people.

AD: I remember you posting a picture of you playing against Allen Iverson, also known as ‘The Answer’ on Facebook. What was it like playing against ‘A.I.’?

JR: There’s two sides to it. There’s the ‘wow-factor’, and there’s the competitive part. The wow-factor lasts about five seconds. I walked on the court and I remember looking at him. He’s not bigger than me – maybe an inch taller. His arms are super long and I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘Wow, this was once the best player in the NBA.’ He was for sure one of the best players in the world, and he was no bigger than me. And then it was like, ‘Alright jump ball let’s go.’ It literally happened that fast. You’re in competition mode and you don’t ever want to let your opponent see a weakness. While it was a blessing to be able to share the floor with a Hall of Famer and an icon, the competitiveness kicks in and it’s like, ‘Okay you’ve got to go to work.’

AD: There was always some controversy about whether or not he was 6’.

JR: He’s not 6’ (laughing).

AD: Okay, we’re almost done Jason. One of the common themes in my interviews with some of the former Yale Cup players is wasted and underdeveloped talent. The Buffalo News actually wrote a series of stories on this during your junior year at Buffalo Traditional. With players like you and Damien Foster taking your basketball careers beyond the Yale Cup, what are your thoughts on the challenges of our city league and that era? We didn’t have a solid Junior Varsity program like the suburban and private schools, and most of our ‘league’ games were immediately after school. There were just so many differences between what we had versus the suburban and private schools. Talk about that.

JR: I think that’s a valid argument. Our games at Traditional got moved to 7:30 pm because they were so popular. Being a coach now myself, I do think the development is completely different. I’m in a private school right now – Bishop Timon. The things that I have access to, public schools don’t have access to, and what you said was perfect regarding the development of a Junior Varsity team. Having access to the gym and being able to develop my kids in a particular type of way that public schools don’t have access to – I think it’s unfair, and because of that I think you see the difference between public schools and private schools. One is structured and one doesn’t necessarily have the same structure, because they’re not allowed to do certain things. Because of insurance or whatever the reason is, you see this big difference immediately, and in terms of athletics, I think something needs to be done about that.

AD: Is that something the School Board would have to address?

JR: Yes, because from my understanding, the biggest issue is insurance. That’s what I was told. I’ve always wondered why some schools have access and other schools don’t. It’s unfortunate because for a lot of these kids, athletics is their way out of their toxic situations. So why not have things in place for them to look forward to? If they know that there is an adult or adults who are there in the gym to help develop their minds and bodies to give them a place of peace and tranquility, why not do that? Why not develop these everyday life skills, instead of having these kids with nowhere to go, and no access to anything, and now they’re doing something they don’t need to be doing? I would love to sit in on one of the meetings and get to the bottom of why these things aren’t happening.

AD: I’ve heard you DJ at Dennis Wilson’s Oak Room, but you’re coaching now yourself at Bishop Timon. After your long playing career, how are you enjoying coaching?

JR: I love it. To be honest, coaching wasn’t something I was looking forward to – I just wasn’t into it. I don’t like stress – the yelling and the screaming. I’m actually a calm coach, and my kids think it’s hilarious. I don’t yell and I don’t scream and yet I know how to get my point across without demeaning or belittling the kids. That works for me, and I relate to my kids the best way that I can and it’s working for our team. We’re having huge success this year. I’ve tried to take my experience from playing for four different coaches and meshing everything together to come up with my own coaching style.

AD: So you’re not a ‘yeller’?

JR: No, not at all, and I get that from my mother. I just give the kids a look and they know when I’m serious or something wasn’t done right. I also demonstrate – I get in the practices and in the drills because I think it’s pointless to tell the kids they did something wrong and not show them the right way. That works for me, and now the kid doesn’t make the same mistake twice. I’m very, very hands on.

AD: How are the kids today different from 20 years ago?

JR: I do training as well, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of hardworking kids. I think the era as a whole is more concerned about how people view them as opposed to actually getting into the gym and working. I think kids are worried about rankings and social media ‘likes’. Granted it’s a 20-year difference. We didn’t have a phone to let the world know we were in the gym working out, so their mentality is different because they have access to different things. My kids know that when it’s time for practice and training, they have to shut their phones off. When it’s training time give me an hour, and when it’s practice time, give me two hours. After that you can do you what you want to do, but lock into this and we’re fine.

AD: That’s true. We didn’t have Facebook or YouTube twenty years ago.

JR: In the first week of practice I told the kids, ‘Do not worry about polls. Do not worry about rankings. They don’t mean anything. Polls are just a bunch of people’s opinions of who you are. Being ranked No. 1 in November doesn’t mean we’re state championship material.’

AD: Does that mean when you are at Buffalo Traditional, you guys didn’t look at the Buffalo News weekly ‘News Cage Poll’ to see if you were ranked over Cardinal O’Hara, Burgard or John F. Kennedy?

JR: Of course, but as a retired player, a coach and a trainer, I understand that those don’t mean anything. You still have to go out and perform, and do what you need to do.

AD: Is there a difference between the kids you have at Timon versus what you would have if you coached in the Buffalo Public School system (BPS)?

JR: No. I was doing training and I had BPS kids. What works for me is that I respect them and they respect me. Fortunately, I played basketball a long time and I can help them get to where they want to be in terms of this game. Because of that I’m able to keep their attention for an exceptional amount of time. I’ve gone where they want to go, so if was in the BPS I don’t think it would be a big issue.

AD: Is there anything you would change about your playing days?

JR: I would say not failing out of school, finishing my degree and my senior year at Loyola of Maryland. Otherwise, I enjoyed every single time I stepped onto the basketball court – high school, college, rec-center, international – every good game and bad game – I wouldn’t change a thing in terms of my basketball career.

AD: For youngsters aspiring to play basketball or to achieve any other life goal, what advice would you give them?

JR: Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the moment and take it seriously. Understand that every decision you make affects the next thing that you do. When I left school, it affected me possibly not being drafted which led to me going overseas. And I’m grateful to have gone overseas and to have played in fifteen countries, learned so many things, played against so many people. I was able to accomplish so many things and see the world with a basketball which is something I never thought would happen.

But I didn’t understand the effects of decision making. You’re a kid and you think you’re invincible. You leave school, but you don’t understand how much of a domino effect it is, and how one decision affects everything that you do afterwards. It can alter everything in your life, so my advice to youngsters is to really understand the decisions that you’re making with everything you do in life.

AD: Yes, one injury, a violent crime – anything can change your future. I’m sure you saw ESPN’s 30 for 30 about Benji Wilson’s life. He was the No. 1 high school player in the United States in 1984, was on his way to being a college star and then a professional basketball player. And it was all taken away just like that over a stupid argument with two guys on the street he didn’t know, and who had nothing to lose themselves.

JR: When I was in high school I didn’t go out. When I was at Loyola, I didn’t go out to a club until maybe my junior year. I was afraid of losing my scholarship due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I went to dorm parties, but I didn’t want the club scene. I didn’t want it.

AD: Well Jason, thank you again, and I really appreciate your willingness to talk about your life and playing days. Whether you know it or not, you are royalty, at least as far as I’m concerned. What you guys did at Buffalo Traditional was big and in your successes, you touched a lot of lives – not just at Buffalo Traditional, but also for the rest of us at the other schools – seeing that those types of things could be done and giving everyone else something to shoot for. It was something for the entire area to be proud of – to say that you were there, and that you played against Jason Rowe, Damien Foster, and the Buffalo Traditional Bulls (click on the image below to enlarge it).

JR: You just said something very important, which was that we touched lives. At the time you don’t understand that, but that’s why I also said for the youngsters to be mindful of their every decision because you never know who is watching. That was something that I learned later on in my career – to be mindful, to be in the moment, and to appreciate each moment. There is nothing wrong with stepping outside, smelling the air and saying, ‘Thank you.’ Don’t get caught up in getting flashy rings, a Range Rover and all of those things, because all of that can be taken away from you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part three: People, teamwork, mental toughness and leadership

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part three: People, teamwork, mental toughness and leadership

This article is the continuation of the series titled the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. Part three will discuss some of the valuable lessons I learned about people, teamwork, mental toughness, and leadership – all of which have implications for succeeding in any group mission and functioning on a team – key aspects in the workplace and in all relationships.

An important life lesson basketball taught me is that people come and go in and out of your life for any number of reasons. In workplaces, there are always going to be people who are unhappy, distraught and discouraged. They may feel that they’re not being used enough, used properly, or are just being overlooked – sometimes for someone who is favored by management. There are always people who feel passed over for promotions that they just knew that they were qualified for, or entitled to get.

In other instances they may feel that they aren’t being given the chance to succeed. This can lead to frustration and even quitting altogether. Once they’ve quit, they may even try to convince you to do the same, but if you’re content where you are, you have to stay and continue to press on in your current station. Malcontents can become cancers that poison their teams. This is something that goes for both platonic and romantic relationships as well.

Regarding teamwork, basketball taught me that the most talented team doesn’t always win, which is always fun to watch when it happens (but not to experience firsthand). When the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons beat the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA Championship, they weren’t the more talented team. They were an assembly of interchangeable parts that no one else wanted. They were able to put their egos aside, played together unselfishly, and they bought into a common philosophy while the Lakers fought amongst themselves, and allowed their egos to divide them.

Oh, and speaking of selfishness and unselfishness, just as in basketball, it’s a lot more fun to play with unselfish players than it is to play with selfish players. The same goes for coworkers, friends and significant others. When you feel as though someone is willing to share, respects you, and has your best interests at heart, you tend to want to do more for them. When you’re working with someone whose only concern is their own self-interests, it makes for a difficult partnership.

Basketball taught me that whenever you’re setting out to do something of meaning and substance, you have to be mentally strong as you’ll have to endure criticism and doubt – often from people who are on the sidelines watching. Sometimes it’s because they aren’t doing anything themselves. Sometimes they wish they were doing what it is you’re doing. In some cases they wish they had the opportunity to do what you’re doing. Whate9ver the case, mental strength allows you to keep going through it all.

Basketball taught me that, being a part of a distinct and visible group (like the basketball team) will put a bullseye on your back, and people will ‘gun’ for you even if you haven’t done anything to them. Later in life you may become a: Doctor, a Lawyer, a Division Director, a Manager of some sort, the President of the United States, or even just someone with a lot of responsibility. Once you achieve that level, people will inevitably watch and scrutinize your moves and you have to be ready for that.

“The team, the team, the team,” legendary University of Michigan Head Football Coach Bo Schembechler stressed to his team in one of his most famous pre-game speeches. Schembechler was a wise Coach who came to realize that each player was different, and needed to be motivated differently. Basketball likewise taught me that for any team, whether it’s two people or ten, solid leadership is paramount for any long-term and continued success. Strong leadership can be the difference between members of a team coalescing and becoming their best selves, or falling apart into bits and pieces.

Lastly, not every leader leads the same way. That goes for: athletics, government, the corporate world or any other arena in life that requires teamwork. I didn’t understand this aspect of leadership as a teen on my high school basketball team. Then, a couple of years ago I watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary titled I Hate Christian Laettner – a story about Duke University’s most storied college basketball player, and arguably the best college basketball player of all time whom few people outside of the Duke fan base liked – his teammates included.

It turned out that Laettner was a bit of bully towards teammates – particularly Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill who resented him at times. There was a method behind his madness though. It was his way of challenging them, making them tougher, and pulling out their best play. Sometimes leaders just want to see how driven and mentally strong you are, and how you’ll respond under pressure. Rising to the test ultimately creates a much, much stronger team.

This article will be continued in part four of the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part two: Life lessons

This post is the continuation of the series titled the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. In part two, some of the important life lessons basketball taught me will be discussed. Some of these lessons will come from or be related back to author Charles J. Sykes’s book, 50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School.

The biggest lesson basketball taught me is rule number one from Mr. Sykes’s book, “Life is not always fair. Get used to it.” The game taught me that even though you can spend hours upon hours dreaming and preparing for a goal of some sort, an unforeseen calamity can come along and snatch away that goal. For me that calamity was an injury, but in the real world it can be anything, and often times it isn’t fair.

Basketball taught me rule number four from Mr. Sykes’s book, “You are not entitled.” Putting in your time at a job or even your degree level does not guarantee you advancement in your career in every case. Coaches and supervisors are usually looking for the most talented person (s) and will usually show favor to that person at the expense of others, regardless of seniority. So it’s always important to put out your best and not expect things because you’ve been there for a while.

Basketball taught me that sometimes other people’s decisions can affect your life for better or for worse. Sometimes people don’t consider the consequences for everyone else when they make decisions and do certain things. Whether it’s a teammate, a relative, a coworker or even a significant other, sometimes decisions are made that adversely affect the team, and its times like that that you realize another difficult life lesson; there are some things in life that you have no control over, but you have to deal with the consequences somehow. This relates right back to the first life lesson.

Rule number ten from Mr. Sykes’s book states that, “Life is actually more like Dodgeball than your gym teacher thinks.” He goes on to state that, “It comes at you quickly; it requires alertness and skill; the outcome is unpredictable; the weak can sometimes overcome the strong; it involves elimination and has both winners and losers.”

Likewise and easily relatable to rule number 10, basketball taught me that not everyone plays fair and many people seek to gain any advantage they can whenever they can, especially when the referee is not looking. The same is true in the adult world. People have different concepts of what is fair and ethical and can surprise you when they do things to you that you wouldn’t do to them on the job and in relationships.

Lastly, basketball taught that hindsight is 20/20. Often when you are in the actual game or life situation, you make decisions and react based upon what you’re seeing and experiencing in that particular moment. However when the game is over, and you have a chance to look back at the film and what you might have done differently, everything looks so much more clear. It’s the exact same way in the game of life.

This article will be continued in part three of the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction
Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup, and State Tournaments

“Our goal was the win the State Championship. It was my personal goal and the team’s goal as well. When you have that goal, you get that ‘tunnel vision’.” 

One of the key principles of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. A key pillar of creating them is hearing the stories and experiences of those who have made it to where we want to be. Like many kids, an early dream of mine was to play basketball. That dream didn’t reach fruition, but the lessons I learned playing in the Buffalo Public Schools’ ‘Yale Cup’ high school city basketball league laid the groundwork for me to go on to further my education and start my science career.

I’m actually working on a project chronicling my early journey, and as a part of the research for that project, I’ve interviewed numerous Yale Cup players from my era. On February 2, 2018, I had the honor of interviewing Jason Rowe – a Buffalo basketball legend who sits on the ‘Mount Rushmore’ of Yale Cup players with the likes of: Trevor Ruffin, Ritchie Campbell, Marcus Whitfield, Curtis Aiken, Ray Hall and Cliff Robinson. Jason spearheaded Buffalo Traditional High School’s ascension to the top of ‘Section VI’ basketball, leading his Bulls to the ‘Far West Regional’ each of his four years, and then to State Tournament in Glens Falls, his final two before winning it in his senior season. In part, one of this two-part interview, we discuss his background, and his storied playing days at the Buffalo Traditional High School.  The pictures in this interview come from an archive of Section VI basketball assembled over the years from issues of the Buffalo News by my first Coach at Hutch-Tech High School, Dr. Ken Jones.

Anwar Dunbar: Thank you for this opportunity to interview you, Jason. I’m working an ambitious writing project about my high school basketball experience. It was my first major success and failure life lesson. While I didn’t play organized basketball beyond the 1993-94 school year, my high school experience on our team at Hutch-Tech gave me the tools I needed to earn my Ph.D. in a STEM-field – not quitting during the hard times, dealing with adversity, finishing what I started, and so on.

In my project I also tell the story of the Yale Cup in that era, and you can’t properly tell it without discussing the Buffalo Traditional Bulls as you guys were the premiere program/team. As a part of my research, I’ve reached out to some of the other Yale Cup players to gain insight to what it was like playing at Bennett, City Honors, Kensington, Riverside, and others. But to talk to you is like talking to Jordan (laughing).

Jason Rowe: That’s a lot of pressure (laughing), but I’m happy to help out.

AD: Okay, so let’s start. As you know, the Buffalo News wrote extensively about you in the early to mid 1990s. They particularly talked about your father, Jerry, and your Uncle Lester being very influential in your development as a basketball player. At what age did you start playing basketball? Did they put a basketball in your crib as a baby?

JR: It’s funny you should say that because that’s literally the story I was told. When I came home as a baby, there was a basketball hoop on the wall in my crib and my father used to pick me up and have me dunk the basketball as a kid.

AD: Was your father a basketball player?

JR: Yes. He played locally, but he didn’t pursue it at a higher level. My uncle and I were the ones who were fortunate to go on to play in college, and to make some money from it.

AD: So you would describe your upbringing as being similar to that of a Stephon Marbury where basketball was literally in your family?

JR: Yes. All of the males in my family – myself, my uncle, my father, and James Rowe my cousin, who was an athlete at Lafayette High School. He played football, basketball, and I believe he ran track too. My brother, Jeremy, played football, basketball, and he ran cross country at Buffalo Traditional. My whole family was athletic.

AD: When you were playing middle school basketball, were you already in camps and clinics?

JR: I went to the University of West Virginia’s basketball camp as a kid. I went to the local camps at Canisius and the University at Buffalo. I was actually at Georgia Tech’s camp the moment Kenny Anderson got drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA). As a kid I was a huge Kenny Anderson fan, and that’s why I wore number 12 in high school.

AD: Were there any other college and professional players that you looked up to?

JR: Jordan, Isaiah and Magic were the guys that I idolized in the NBA. In college I looked up to Kenny Anderson, Jason Kidd and Chris Jackson. Locally, I looked up to my uncle, Trevor Ruffin  (pictured to the left), and Ritchie Campbell. I looked at them and felt like I could do something. They were guys I could watch every day in a ‘hands on’ type of way. Trevor grew up across the street from me and he was like a ‘big brother’. He played at the University of Hawaii and he went on to the NBA, but I didn’t look at him that way. This was the guy who, when he was in the NBA, would pick me up to go work out with him. We had that type of relationship where he was my big brother, and I was going in the house and watching TV with him.

AD: Were you familiar with some of the other Yale Cup and Section VI stars who came before you like Ritchie Campbell and Marcus Whitfield?

JR: I grew up watching those guys so I idolized Ritchie, Nigel Bostic, and Marcus Whitfield. I vaguely remember Ray Hall. My experience with him was in the summer leagues. But as far as the big name guys who were in the Yale Cup, I knew them because my cousin, James, was eight years older than me. So he grew up in that era and took me to those games because he played at Lafayette. I was able to get my experience watching those games as well.

AD: Did anyone in your circle talk about Christian Laettner?

JR: I heard stories about Laettner, but I wasn’t around him that much. I was at that infamous game between Nichols and South Park where the fight broke out, but I was too young to remember it.

AD: Being at Traditional for middle school, what made you decide to stay for high school? Is that just what the students did there?

JR: I wanted to have my own name. Traditional was home for me. They had some success leading up to that time and I knew everyone on their team. I wanted to be a part of that, so for me it didn’t make sense to go anywhere else.

AD: Yes, every year Coach Joe Cardinal’s teams were making deep runs in postseason play – a couple of times to the State Tournament. Did you and Damien Foster plan to attend Buffalo Traditional together, or was it a random decision?

JR: We grew up in the Masten ‘Boys Club’. The basketball circle is very small. We became friends and started playing there together. I want to say that he was going to go to McKinley first, but he decided to come to Traditional and it definitely worked out for everyone involved.

AD: For me, you guys came out of nowhere. I wasn’t in the ‘basketball circle’ you described, and I didn’t know who you guys were. Thus, the first time I saw you play was when you guys came to play us at Hutch-Tech in January 1993 and smacked us 96-73. It was right after Cameron Calvin died, and it coincided with the University of Michigan’s storied ‘Fab Five’. We had an all upperclassmen starting lineup and getting routed by you guys like that was a backbreaking loss for the players and our coach. I watched it all unfold on the bench due to an injury, and I even looked at the tape numerous times afterwards in awe. Play after play, you guys just made it look easy. Many freshmen are scared in Varsity competition, but you guys looked so fearless. What was your mentality as a freshman?

JR: It’s funny that you mentioned Michigan’s ‘Fab Five’. If you pull up the videos and pictures of us at Buffalo Traditional, we mimicked the Fab Five – the big shorts and the black socks. My mentality personally was to be the best ballplayer I could be. I grew up around Trevor Ruffin and my uncle so inside the home, the pressure to succeed was one of the things that drove me personally. I was fortunate enough to have that basketball success around me – my big brother was an NBA player, and my uncle was a legend who played Division 1 basketball and then overseas. So when you walked into that house you had to bring something to the table. You can’t just sit there and say, ‘I had 10 points today.’ You had to win convincingly and put up some numbers. As a team and as freshmen we were happy to compete and do well, but I don’t think we knew how good we would become and the success we would have. You’re 14 years old and you want to win, but you don’t really understand how far it can take you.

AD: I imagine you guys caught a lot of teams like that. Riverside won the Yale Cup the year before, and if I recall you all beat them. You had two seniors on that team, Andre Montgomery and Jeff Novarra, along with you younger guys. How did you guys blend it all together?

JR: I was in the school so I was familiar with Andre and Jeff already. They were instrumental in our success my freshman year. Jeff was our shooter, and Andre was like our ‘Draymond Green’ – he was undersized, but he could do a little bit of everything. They were very good leaders.

What also helped us was that a lot of us played together outside of Buffalo Traditional. We were always at the Boys Club – myself, Damien, Damone White, who unfortunately has passed away – we were always together playing. It’s kind of like we weren’t surprised because we knew how each other played and our mentality. No one else really knew. We knew how to compete, we just didn’t know we were going to knock off so many teams and make a name for ourselves. We just wanted to win.

AD: As you know, whenever you experience a high level of success, you’re going to have critics as well. I’m sure you guys heard similar chatter, but one of my teammates at Hutch-Tech once told me about how your Coach, Joe Cardinal, would just go into his office and read the newspaper while you guys played ‘pickup’ basketball during practice every day (laughing). What was the Traditional team like? Was it a thing where Coach Cardinal just put the ball in your hands and let you go or was there more to it?

JR: Coach Cardinal was very honest when he would say, ‘I’m a gym teacher, and I don’t know much about basketball in terms of coaching.’ Because he was so open and honest, and didn’t try to hide that, it actually made us closer. He wasn’t lying and trying to be something he wasn’t. He was the most personable coach I ever played for because he had our backs and we knew that. In terms of Xs and Os, no he wasn’t that knowledgeable so it’s no surprise that we didn’t learn certain things.

In tight situations, he would tell us to, ‘run a pick and roll,’ or something very basic – nothing complex. Fortunately for us, we were able to beat a lot of teams by a lot of points, so there weren’t a lot of tight games. When the games were tight I was able to use some of the things my father and uncle taught me.

AD: Were there any other coaches on that staff that made a difference?

JR: Ellis Woods, who was the coach’s best friend. They were cut from the same cloth, and were very open and honest with us about what they did and didn’t know. We would run through a brick wall for both Coach Cardinal and Coach Woods. They could relate to us.

AD: My junior season was cut short due to grades, an injury and not knowing how to deal with adversity, but I kept my eyes on what was happening in postseason play. I remember watching the news at night and seeing your team march all of the way to the Class C “Far West Regional”. You guys beat Starpoint, Newfane, Portville and then top-seeded John F. Kennedy 71-67 to win the Section VI Class C Championship as mostly freshman and sophomores. Some kids never made the sectionals at all, and the core of your team won yours as freshmen and sophomores. What was that ride like?

JR: Our goal was the win the State Championship. It was my personal goal and the team’s goal as well. When you have that goal, you get that ‘tunnel vision’. We used to say, ‘Get to Glen. Get to Glen. You’ve got to get to Glens Falls.’ That’s where the State Championship was held. For some time the Buffalo teams were having a hard time getting past the Rochester teams in the Far West Regional. We wanted to get past Rochester. For us, we had a lot of confidence because we played against the top notch competition in Buffalo. We were confident enough to get past Buffalo’s competition and we just had to beat the Rochester teams. It was step by step.

AD: It was the Marion team in your freshman year and the Mynderse team in your sophomore year you faced in the Far West Regional – were they bigger? Were they better?

JR: Everything. I think what we lacked is what they exploited. They had the structure we didn’t have. They were big and physical, and they just outworked us. I cried a lot after those two games. I shed a lot of tears. They were well deserved victories for them.

AD: Unfortunately, I didn’t go to that Mynderse game which was at UB’s Alumni Arena, but I did see the highlights and recognized one of the guys Damien Foster was jawing at after hitting a three-pointer. I played with some of those guys at the ‘Ken Jones Basketball Camp’ – my coach’s camp which a lot of Rochester area players attended. I imagine just seeing the clash of styles must have been amazing.

JR: You had this fast paced team versus this half court, slow it down type of team – two completely different styles of basketball.

AD: Yes, you guys were clearly more athletic and more talented. I imagine they were patiently working the ball on offense, and slowing the game down.

JR: They were physical. I remember them being very physical.

AD: So you guys beat Lyons in your junior year in the Far West Regional 74-71, you willed the Bulls to victory against Mechanicville in the state semifinals 81-72, before matching up against Elton Brand and Peekskill in final game. What was the key to beating Lyons? Had you guys just been there two years and you were ready?

JR: I would say that it was the pain of losing in the Far West Regional those first two years and not being able to get over the hump. We felt like it was our time and we wanted that victory more than anything else in the world. Lyons might have been No. 1 in the state that year too, and for a team that was easily motivated like us, we’d had enough.

AD: Your team went on to suffer a heartbreaking 94-85 loss to Peekskill in a public state final game, and then you graduated veterans Adrian Baugh, LaVar Frasier and Jimmy Birden who were featured in the Buffalo News during the playoffs that season. Was it hard to get back to the State Tournament the next year? Or did you and Damien just not miss a beat?

JR: It was hard in the sense that it’s just not easy getting there period. But in terms of remaining focused and knowing that the State Championship is what we wanted, the mental part wasn’t hard, but the physical part was hard. You have to play 20 games just to get to Glens Falls – that’s just getting there. The game by game process was hard, but the mental aspect wasn’t difficult. When we lost to Peekskill, I remember telling the Buffalo News before I walked off the court, ‘We’ll be back,’ and I meant that.

AD: I imagine all four years were fun, but was there one that stood out above the rest? Was it in your senior year when the team won the Class C State crown 62-48 over Mechanicville, and then the Class C Federation crown 92-71 over Collegiate of New York City?

JR: Yes, that was the year that we won. It was fun, but it was also bitter sweet, because I remember when we won a lot of us were crying tears of joy, but we also understood that it was over – our run was over and that it was our last game together. Our team was very, very close.

AD: As I mentioned earlier, you guys lost the three seniors from your junior year, but you still had a strong supporting cast which included guys like: Damone White, Darcel Williams, Jamar Corbett, and Darnell Beckham.

JR: To me Darcel was our ‘X-factor’. We had a good team. We had guys graduate in different years, but everyone stuck together during that time so we already had that bond and that chemistry. So by the time Adrian, LaVar and Jimmy graduated, the other guys were ready because they already had experienced playing in big games. That’s why, in my senior year, we were just running through teams. It was insane.

AD: You and Damien were talked about synonymously – Damien Foster and Jason Rowe, Jason Rowe and Damien Foster. What was Damien like? Did you guys have to talk about who was going to get the last shot? Who was going to get the majority of the shots? Was your chemistry just natural?

JR: I had two personal goals going into high school; I wanted to get 1,000 assists and I wanted to win the State Championship. So passing the ball – I didn’t have an issue with that, and fortunately for us, we blew so many teams out that it was never an issue regarding who got the last shot. There is no issue when you’re up 10, 20, or 30 points – we won so many games convincingly that we never argued about who was going to get the last shot. Again, I wanted the assist, so on fast breaks I’d throw the ball backwards to set up someone else.

AD: Talk a little bit about the Bennett game in your junior year – the 69-68 thriller where you guys lost to the Tigers. Periodically, I still see guys talking about it on Facebook. Did you overlook them?

JR: We didn’t overlook anyone. It’s hard to overlook teams when you go into their gyms and their teams have pep rallies. We knew every team was gunning for us. We knew that we were going to get everyone’s best shot so we came ready to play every single game. That night Bennett played well. It’s a great game and I actually watch it from time to time. It was a great game.

AD: Were there any other players that you especially look forward to playing?

JR: I liked playing against LaSalle’s Tim Winn, Burgard’s Jeremiah Wilkes, Cardinal O’Hara’s Ryan Cochran, and Turner/Carroll’s Malik Campbell. We were all friends. We would play against each other one day and be friends, and then completely hate each other on the court the next time. We were all very, very, very competitive. When you have competitors competing at that high level, it just makes for some great basketball.

AD: In your junior season, the Buffalo News also wrote a piece actually comparing you and Tim Winn as you two were the top two point guards in Western New York. If I recall, he actually hoped to team up with you in Empire State Games at one point. Did your two teams ever match up allowing you to go head to head – Buffalo Traditional vs. LaSalle?

JR: Tim was hurt when we were supposed to play. That was a game everyone was looking forward to, and he had sprained his ankle the week of the game in practice.

In the second part of our interview, Jason and I discuss his basketball career after being a Buffalo Traditional Bull. I want to thank Jason for taking the time out of his busy schedule to participate. After completing this interview, I realized that there are other historical significances to what we discussed here, beyond the basketball court. Just as the city of Buffalo has changed since the early 1990s, so has its school system. Two schools that were a part of our Yale Cup of the early 1990s no longer exist. One is Kensington High School. The second is Buffalo Traditional High School where Jason played. While the building still sits there on East Ferry Street, it is now the home for the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts.

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one: An introduction

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. I originally published this series on the Examiner back in 2014, and with ‘March Madness’ upon us yet again I’ve decided to republish it. As a teen I had dreams of being a basketball player just like a lot of kids – a dream one must have lots of ability, drive, and luck to achieve. I didn’t play basketball beyond high school, but the lessons I learned on my high school team – not all of them happy and pleasant, helped me as I progressed into adulthood and into my Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career. I’m actually working on an ambitious writing project chronicling that journey. The themes of that project are captured in this four-part series.

* * *

Dr. Ken Jones my high school basketball coach was a true student and scholar of the game. In addition to teaching us as much as he could about the fundamentals of basketball, he was also interested in the psychology of sports and wanted to teach life skills to his players. He frequently told us, “As much as I want you guys to become good basketball players, I also want you to become good people.”

Right around the time of tryouts one year, he gave all of us an article from USA Today titled; The joy of victory is why sports exist, by Jeff Riggenbach. While the author argued that the main reason for competition is the thrill of victory, he also stated, “One of the principal reasons we like to see kids get into sports in the first place is what they can learn from the experience right?”

Important lessons they learn include:

• How to set a goal and work toward it
• How to coordinate their own efforts with those of their teammates
• How to achieve and maintain the flexibility to respond to the ever-changing moment
• Making quick alterations in plans, strategies and tactics

He continues, “These are lessons that would benefit anyone, not only on the playing field or court, but also in business, politics and every other sphere of human life. To learn these lessons, you don’t need to win, necessarily. But you do need to want to win, and you do need to try with all of your might to win.”

Though unable to play even pickup basketball these days for medical reasons, the game is still frequently on my mind; the Xs and Os, the strategies, and the longing for that feeling of competition. Most importantly the many lessons the game taught me about life are always fresh on my mind. With March Madness upon us, this next series will discuss the lasting lessons basketball taught me about life, people and success, and how those lessons have translated into the adult world.

Some of the best memories of my life were my years on my high school basketball team at Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, NY. Similar to some of my teammates at that time, it was an experience that didn’t go exactly as planned. Even though it had its share of heartbreaks, it was also a molding experience for me and those experiences have continued to play out throughout my life well after high school.

The players and arenas have changed with every new experience, but the themes and lessons have translated into adulthood. Learning about dribbling, hook shots, and proper defensive techniques were fun, but basketball taught me so much more. It taught me about the most important game of all, the game of life.

Even for young people who don’t go on to play big time college sports, participating in high school interscholastic athletics can be a very rewarding experience which can impart important life lessons. Most of these lessons will translate into the adult world, the workforce and interpersonal relationships. This series will therefore be a reflection on the lessons basketball taught me and how they’ve translated into my life, my career and my many relationships with people along the way. The lessons will be broken up into the following categories:

• Life lessons
• People, Teamwork and Leadership
• Success in life

Many of these lessons are universal and could be gleaned for example from the documentary Hoop Dreams, a very moving film for me which tracked the high school basketball careers of Arthur Agee and William Gates in the early 1990s. Though their basketball careers were much more successful than my own, their experiences, trials and tribulations were similar in many ways to my own.

This series will be continued in part two of the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

 

Michigan loses to Ohio State 31-20: Reflections on the 2017 game and the season

I’m going to try to keep this short as I’m still processing the Michigan Wolverines’ 31-20 defeat at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Late into the night I could still see John O’ Korn’s fateful final interception in my mind. As opposed to going into a play by play discussion of what happened in the 2017 matchup, I’m just going to reflect on the game, and the season in addition to some of what I saw on Twitter from our following the game.

Regarding of the game, I was pleased with the maize and blue’s effort despite the outcome. Honestly my hope going into the game was that we would keep it close and respectable, and not get blown out. I know that’s not a high bar, but based upon how this season has gone, having a chance to win was what I wanted, and which is right where we were at the end. After the Wolverines went up 14-0, I was feeling good – even optimistic that we were witnessing a miracle though in the back of my mind, I knew that Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes would eventually throw some haymakers of their own which is exactly what happened when J.T. Barrett gashed our defense and ran into the endzone for their first score.

I also knew that there would be some miscues and mistakes here and there such as when Rashan Gary had J.T. Barrett wrapped up but somehow let him get away for a first down. There was also Quinn Nordin’s extra point that got blocked which I felt would come back and bite us eventually. Unlike the 2016 game, I thought the officiating was fair. Speaking of J.T. Barrett, when he went down, I thought for a brief instant that their offense would lose something, but that wasn’t the case as Dwayne Haskins entered the game and continued marching the Buckeyes up and down the field with his arm and legs. It looks like the Buckeyes have Barrett’s replacement for next season unfortunately.

After the game, as you might expect there was a little bit of everything on social media. Buckeye fans, and fans from other schools mocked the Michigan Football program,3 and called Head Coach Jim Harbaugh “overrated.” The Michigan fan base was split as it always is – some crying about how unacceptable this game and the season were, and others saying that it was a tough season but the results were unexpected. Some inevitably compared Coach Harbaugh’s record to Urban Meyer’s and Nick Saban’s – particularly that they had won championships in their third years. There was a little bit of everything.

Regarding the Michigan fan base, I proudly fall in the latter group. I started off this year with tempered expectations and anticipated some growing pains. Michigan fans must first consider that our football program lost a lot of seasoned and experienced veterans from last year’s team as described in my summary of the Maryland game. Those players had suffered their fair share of heartbreaking losses like yesterday’s and were eventually better for it. Also consider that our young team was riddled by injuries this year at key positions mainly on offense which is the one unit that struggled the most this year. Both Wilton Speight and Brandon Peters went down with injuries. Tarik Black who looked like he was going to be our deep threat, went down early changing the whole chemistry of our offense. In the middle of the season, our stable of running backs started to show signs of wear and tear as well.

In most sports but particularly in football, young players need time to grow, evolve and develop confidence and toughness, and I hypothesize that we’re going to see a much, much stronger unit next year – one that will hopefully win its rivalry games and shut everyone up. We should particularly have Grant Newsome back who blew out his knee early last season, and who will give us a much stronger and deeper offensive line which is a major key to Coach Harbaugh’s offense. What will probably have everyone’s attention going into the 2018 season though will be the quarterback position. It’s going to be to an intense competition the likes of which we haven’t seen since Tom Brady and Drew Henson.

Earlier this evening, ESPN reported that Wilton Speight is going to transfer to another school likely leaving a quarterback 9competition between Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey. Brandon Peters looked very poised and in control of our offense before getting knocked out against Wisconsin. Some fans such as one of my buddies want to give the job right to McCaffrey. Speight’s departure makes it much easier on Coach Harbaugh and his staff though the decision will be a critical. With both Peters and McCaffrey being young guys, Michigan will likely have continuity and stability at the quarterback position in the years to come barring injuries – something we haven’t had under the Coach Harbaugh’s tenure thus far. Either way, there’s no place to go but up for the Michigan Wolverines, and I think Jim Harbaugh is the guy to take our football program to the top, despite the clamoring by the critics.

GO BLUE!!!! Thank you for taking the time to reading this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

John U. Bacon presents his new book Endzone to Michigan’s D.C. Alumni Club: A look back
Michigan defeats Maryland 35-10: Two weeks until the 2017 Ohio State game
Michigan beats Florida 33-17: a recap of the maize and blue’s 2017 season opener
The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten officials, and the College Football Playoff
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

If you liked this post, please do click the like button, leave comments, and share it. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. You can follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and you can also follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

John U. Bacon presents his new book Endzone to Michigan’s D.C. Alumni Club: A look back

I first heard about Author John U. Bacon as a graduate student at the University of Michigan where I regularly listened to ‘The Ticket 1050 AM-WTKA‘. I heard all of the latest news and commentary on Michigan sports on that station, and it was a lot of fun listening to it all, especially during football season. I later found that John was a fixture at the University serving as a faculty member, and as an Ann Arbor native he had a deep knowledge of the history of the University of Michigan’s athletics – particularly its storied football program. John U. Bacon has authored numerous books about the program, its coaches and players, and the world of big time college football in general. In 2015, the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington D.C. hosted John who presented his latest book Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football. The book chronicled the ascension of the football program, its descent into perhaps its darkest time, and then its magical return solidified by the hiring of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.

I originally published this piece on the Examiner in November of 2015. We were deep into Jim Harbaugh’s first season – weeks after the heartbreaking loss to the Michigan State Spartans at the Michigan Stadium best known to alumni (such as myself) and fans as the “Big House”. With the exception of a graduate transfer from Iowa named Jake Rudock, Coach Harbaugh inherited Brady Hoke’s players and had begun implementing his own culture. Three years into the rebuilding of the program, we haven’t made it into the College Football Playoff (CFP) yet, but the maize and blue is much better off than in the years spanning from 2007 to 2015 – the eight-year stretch that John U. Bacon chronicled in Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football.

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“When you’re selling Michigan Football, you’re selling one of the most fundamental things that humans have to offer: the need to be together, to stand for something, and to stand in the same place,” said Mr. Bacon, discussing his latest book, with his signature comedic energy and exuberance. “Michigan Football stands for a set of values. The Redskins don’t! The Bears don’t! The Dolphins don’t!”

On October 29, 2015, the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. hosted a book signing by Mr. Bacon. The event took place at Squire Patton and Boggs, and started with registration, followed by an initial book signing. He then gave a detailed discussion of the genesis of his latest book, followed by an overview of its story.

“It’s actually stunning how badly things were going for the Football program, and I’ve never seen the dominos fall into place so well and for a story to come out the way that it did,” Mr. Bacon said describing what led to his writing Endzone. “The inspirational part of the book which I hope the readers get, is that to me, this is Michigan’s finest hour. The Students, the Faculty, the Alumni, the Letterman, the Regents, all of these people recognized Michigan values and sought to restore them and I think that’s the ultimate story.”

“If you’re running Michigan athletics, yes, you have to have sound business practices. However, you also need to understand that the reason the thing exists is that the people see it as a religion and not a business, and that’s a fundamental difference between the Redskins and the Wolverines,” Bacon said, discussing the magic behind Michigan Football.

Endzone chronicles the ascension of the University of Michigan’s football program spanning from its earliest days unde9r Fielding Yost to its recent golden age under Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr. He then discussed how the magic of the program was lost in recent years, due to poor administrative, business and political decisions made off the field that, negatively affected the product on the field and support of the program. The book also discusses the current re-ascension of the program with the recent hiring of Jim Harbaugh, one of the program’s legendary quarterbacks and most celebrated figures.

John U. Bacon has become the official Historian of the Michigan Football. He has authored numerous books, many capturing the history of the University of Michigan’s storied football program, and the current state of college football including:

Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football;
Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football and;
Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership.

Endzone is not only a chronology of Michigan Football, it’s also a story of how not to run a business,” said Erik Ruselowski, Treasurer of the DC Alumni Club during the introduction. Following the discussion, Mr. Bacon finished signing books for the 100-plus attendees who purchased all of the available copies of Endzone that evening.

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I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan towards the end of Lloyd Carr’s tenure as Head Coach of its football team. My first year was actually Tom Brady’s senior season and the inaugural year of the controversial Bowl Championship Series (BCS) – the predecessor to the CFP. Coach Carr’s teams were talented and competitive but in the new era of the BCS, he was unable to recapture the magic that carried the Wolverines to the National Championship in 1997. During that stretch there were always two to three losses that took Michigan out of contention. Our fan base began calling for his head and ultimately they got the coaching change they wanted. They also got several things they didn’t want or anticipate. As Mr. Bacon describes in Endzone, there is a lot more that goes into a college football program than what you see on the field on Saturdays, in the bowl games, and at the NFL Drafts.

Since publishing Endzone, Mr. Bacon has published two more books: Playing Hurt which he co-wrote with ESPN’s John Saunders, and The Great Halifax Explosion in which the story’s main hero is the University of Michigan’s first hockey coach. To learn more about John U. Bacon his books, and speaking engagements, go to: www.johnubacon.com.

A special thank you is extended to the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. for allowing me to cover John U. Bacon’s visit in 2015. Thank you also to John U. Bacon for chronicling the history of Michigan Football’s vast and storied history. If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy:

Michigan defeats Maryland 35-10: Two weeks until the 2017 Ohio State game
Michigan beats Florida 33-17: A recap of the maize and blue’s season opener
The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten Officials, and the College Football Playoff
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

The University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. hosts many events throughout the year for its alumni, in addition to its sports game watches, for which the University and its alumni are well known. If you are a University of Michigan alumnus in the Washington, D.C. metro area and would like to keep up with the club’s events, please go to www.umdc.org. GO BLUE!!!!

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