Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Different things to different people

“The coaches at some of the other Yale Cup schools thought I had an unfair competitive advantage because of the intramural program I started at Hutch-Tech!”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. I originally published this series on the Examiner back in 2014 and have subsequently began adding to it. 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’ve started working on an ambitious writing project chronicling my early basketball journey in Western New York.

If I’m able to get my project published, one of the things that will be special about it is that it’s a story involving real people. The project has required me to do multiple interviews. It has been both an interesting and fun experience. As noted by well-established authors like John U. Bacon, who has written numerous books on Michigan Football, some people are open to being interviewed and being characters in book projects, while others are reluctant. Some agree and then drop out of contact, while others are difficult to contact. As a writer I now understand why some names must be changed in the final story.

I consider my breakthrough interview to be that of Jason Rowe, which led to interviews with others, and I want to thank everyone who participated; some of whom I’ve never met personally. My interview with Jason was followed by an interview with Coach Pat Monti and then his star guards, Carlos Bradberry and Tim Winn. It’s been a fun ride with at least one more big interview on the way, so stay tuned.

One of the key figures in my story is Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones, who was the Head Coach of the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team during my freshman, sophomore and junior years. Before he passed away at the end of 2018, Coach Jones told me that he was okay with being a character in my story. In my piece about his basketball camp, I discussed Coach Jones, what I learned from him and what he meant to me.

That was just my perspective though and I discovered many other points of view on Coach Jones in my research. I actually started learning of other peoples’ views of Coach Jones in my junior season where I hit some personal adversities. My struggles, in part, contributed to our team’s struggling and spiraling out of control that season. During my personal storm one classmate sought me out one day and told me that he disliked Coach Jones because he had ‘cut’ his brother years earlier. It was then that I realized that there were many backstories to Coach’s tenure at Hutch-Tech in addition to the successes he experienced my freshman year.

“Most of the time, when somebody is giving you orders and instructions, if you’re not emotionally ready – if you’ve got your mind on the wrong part, you’re not going to try as hard. You’re not going to be into it. You’re not going to absorb as much,” said a player I’ll call “Curtis” about Coach Jones in my interview with him. Curtis was the ‘engine’ that powered Coach Jones’ 1990-91 city and sectional championship team. He said a lot of powerful things during our interview, but this quote very much applies to the relationship between coaches and players, much which I experienced myself, or witnessed with teammates.

One of the cool things about working on a project where you’re interviewing multiple people is that you get to hear multiple points of view. Amazingly, my interviews for The Engineers revealed that Coach Jones was multiple things to multiple people. While there was a group of us who held him in high reverence, appreciated his teachings and the mentoring he gave us, he had several detractors as well. Again, he was multiple things to multiple people. His detractors fell into three groups, some of which might surprise you.

The first group consisted of some of the other coaches in our league called the “Yale Cup”, which was the league for all the Buffalo Public Schools. For those readers unfamiliar with the Yale Cup in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it consisted of fourteen schools. Three schools that no longer exist today are: Buffalo Traditional, Kensington and Seneca Vocational High School.

The Yale Cup was a poorly funded league which lacked a Junior Varsity (JV) program at all its schools to properly prepare its players for Varsity competition. Coach Jones and the Buffalo News called this a “feeder system”. The result was a 14-team league where all of the teams were run differently, and where all the coaches had varying levels of experience and interest. This led to drastically different levels of coaching and attention to detail. Some of the Varsity coaches (Coach Jones included), ran an informal JV program for no extra pay simply because there was a need for it.

We also played in outdated and antiquated facilities. Many of the gyms in the Yale Cup league looked like antiquated factory storage rooms with peeling paint and old industrial smells. Most of our gyms had solid white backboards without ‘break away’ rims. Only a few of the courts, like those at Grover Cleveland and McKinley for example, had ‘regulation-size’ courts with the proper dimensions. Our old little gym at Hutch-Tech was more of a small box than anything. Someone I interviewed recently jokingly said that Performing Arts’ gym resembled a bit of a bowling alley.

“The coaches at the other schools thought I had an unfair competitive advantage because of the intramural program I started at Hutch-Tech,” Coach Jones said during one of our interviews. He shared a lot of things with me that I didn’t know as a teen and probably wouldn’t have understood. There were so many layers – so many things happening at once surrounding the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team in plain sight and behind the scenes. The same is true for Coach Jones’ two immediate successors who I’ll keep anonymous at this time.

One of the hallmarks of Coach Jones’ tenure at Hutch-Tech was his intramural program. The program was for all the boys in the school so that everyone could get taste of competition and where a champion was crowned. More specifically, it allowed Coach Jones to scout the talent in each class. It wasn’t something he was doing for extra pay, but instead it was something for the students and for the school.

“Some of Jones’ players played angry,” a former player also from Coach Jones’ city and sectional championship team who I’ll call “Pep”, said jokingly. My interview with Pep might be my favorite of all of the interviews I’ve done simply because I could hear that he was having so much fun talking about his playing days. In any case, Coach Jones’ second group of detractors were surprisingly on some of his rosters.

Before getting to Hutch-Tech, the program looked like a utopia from the outside. My research though revealed that there were several conflicts and perpetually hurt feelings involving some of Coach Jones’ players. In some instances, there were personality conflicts. In other instances, there were players who felt they had to prove themselves repeatedly and in general felt unappreciated. Some players felt that they didn’t play enough, and others didn’t play at all though they were given roster spots.

The third group of detractors were outside of the team, but in the student body. The individual who stands out the most for this group is the classmate described above, but there were others. The reality in life is that there are winners and losers, and there usually isn’t enough of everything to go around. This particularly applies to a basketball team where a coach can realistically keep up to 18 players, while only being able to play 8-10 regularly.

In short, not every kid at my school who wanted a roster spot got one, and there are any number of reasons for that. I may write another teaser-piece just on the criteria Coach Jones presented on his ‘invite list’. That’s right, during his tenure, you couldn’t just come out for the basketball team, you had to be invited. This cut a lot of kids out of the picture from the start even before having a chance to show him they could dribble the ball, make baskets, play defense or even run one of his offenses.

Why does this all matter? Like the entire story, it was a sample of what was to come throughout the rest of my life in college and then in the adult world. For some of us who earned roster spots and submitted to his coaching, Coach was father figure, a mentor and a leader. Others on his teams felt like his whipping boys and even underappreciated. Other students didn’t feel like they were given a fair chance to play. Some didn’t like his fundamentals-based way of teaching the game. Some of the other coaches in our Yale Cup league thought he was cheating.

This is why interscholastic sports are good teachers going forward in life. Two of the things you learn about in addition to your sport, are people and leadership – neither of which are easy aspects to manage. As a leader, whether it’s a coach, a college professor, a clergyman or a supervisor, not everyone sees you the same way. Depending on our backgrounds, our values, our individual natures, and where our minds are in seasons of our lives, our experiences with that person will vary, and in many instances, vary greatly. It’s also true that because we may see a given person differently, our truths may be different.

Whether it was the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team, my research lab in graduate school, or now within the government agency I work in everyday, there were always individuals charged with leading larger groups or teams. Some people within those teams possess different levels and proficiencies at their crafts. All possess different levels of emotional intelligence. Some are better communicators than others, and some are just better team players than others.

“If I could go back, I would be just as demanding, but more understanding,” Coach Jones said to me several times during our talks. He knew that he drove his players hard and demanded a lot from us. He also concluded that he could’ve been a little more understanding of each player and what they were going through as each of us came from different homes and had different life struggles in our teens.

“If you look at that team that almost made it to Glens Falls, Coach Jones let that team do a lot, but that was all earned. He said, ‘Hey, I’ll let you shoot a three-pointer or a long jump shot outside the offense because I know that we’re playing good enough defense that we’re going to get a possession back,” said a former teammate named “Chris” who played under Coach Jones for four years. Chris was a captain on our team in my sophomore year and a true leader. Some of Coach Jones’ critics thought he was too restrictive and controlling of his teams, particularly on offense.

“When I went to college, I played Division III at the Coast Guard Academy. I didn’t play Varsity, but instead played on the equivalent of our JV squad. We played against a bunch of junior colleges and prep schools. I’ll say that I was able to shoot the ball a lot more,” Chris said. “I look back though, and I think if we were able to play defense like we did in high school, we would’ve been able to keep up with a bunch of those teams. So, shooting the ball wasn’t always the best policy.”

I’ll probably write another teaser-piece just talking about the program Coach Jones created at Hutch-Tech, but for now I’ll just say that if done right, while it can be rewarding, coaching isn’t easy. You must not only have to know your sport and its evolving nuances, but you must also assemble a team of players, develop them and get them to buy into a common goal. That isn’t easy as coaches must also play psychologist, in addition to a quasi-parent in some instances, especially for kids who don’t have fathers or who come from tumultuous homes.

This piece isn’t unique to Coach Jones. He was my coach. If you read my interview with Jason Rowe, Jason stated that while his Coach, Joe Cardinal, was highly scrutinized, his players loved him. Ironically, even though Coach Cardinal was highly criticized, his Bulls coincidentally made deep runs in the post-season play most years. The same is true for Coach Pat Monti who led the LaSalle basketball dynasty. During his 10-year run of dominance leading the LaSalle Explorers, there were numerous critiques about him and his program from the outside. Talking to him and his players on the inside was completely different though.

The first picture used for this post is the schedule for the 1989-90 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pepsi-Cola of Western New York used to create cardboard schedules for the area high school teams in addition to hosting the Al Pastor Memorial Basketball Tournament for a select number of schools. It was Coach Jones’ second season at Hutch-Tech. I was an eighth grader looking to go into high school and was learning about Coach and his teams through my brother Amahl who was a sophomore that year and his Hutch-Tech yearbooks.

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

Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Niagara Falls basketball legend, Tim Winn, discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Niagara Falls basketball legend, Carlos Bradberry, discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Niagara Falls coaching legend, Pat Monti, discusses building, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
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 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. Please visit my YouTube channel entitled Big Discussions76. 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.

Finding Your Team

Two of the key focuses of my blog are Financial Literacy/Money and Business/Entrepreneurship. One of the key aspects of building your business is building your team. You have to find the right people to put the team possible together. The following contributed post is thus entitled, Finding Your Team.

* * *

Your business has become, let’s face, it something like your baby. You are extremely protective of its growth and well being and are determined to see it succeed. And it’s this protective attitude that makes it so hard for some entrepreneurs to let go and relinquish some control. This plays out, more often than not, when it comes to hiring extra members of your team particularly those first hires.

In this blog, we take look at how to go about hiring for the first time and why you should let go, just a little bit for even greater business success.

Plan For Success

Whether you manufacture physical goods such as safety railing systems or sell your creative skills and talents as a service, you will have planned for growth and been prepared to expand as your business goes from strength to strength. The hard part is admitting that you now need help but you know that if you want your business to carry on its present trajectory, you’re going to need to hire someone in.

The first thing you’re going to need to do is set aside some time to figure out exactly what role you’re going to want your new hire to play. Think as specific as possible. Avoid vague headings, such as ‘admin duties’ and instead pinpoint exactly what will be required. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to find someone with exactly the skills and experience you are looking for.

Alongside your job description, you’ll also need to create a person specification document. This moves away from just the role the person will take and centres more on the skills and personal qualities a candidate should bring. You’ll be focussing in on both their hard and soft skills.

The Interview

If you have limited experience in interviewing people, then this part of the process can be almost as daunting for you as it is for the interviewee. Stay calm, professional and friendly. You want to see that your candidate can perform well under the pressure of an interview but that doesn’t require a good cop/bad cop routine.

Keep an open mind, the role of an admin officer might be easily filled but when someone brings some soft skills outside the remit such as a proven record in negotiation techniques, you might want to use this to your business advantage further down the line. Candidates who perform well on paper may not do so in person and vice versa.

Image from Pexels

Trust Your Gut

If you interview someone who seems like the perfect person but you just don’t seem able to connect with them, that feeling is perfectly valid and should not be ignored. If your business is small and you’re going to be spending quite a lot of time together then finding a candidate you click with is vital for operational success.

The same can be said for a candidate who may have only ticked the basics when it came to the job description but shows a strong ability to adapt and learn and who you can see fitting into the ethos of your business.

Build In Some Wriggle Room

Whoever you hire you want to be sure that they are fully on board with your vision for the company and share your overall goals and short-term objectives to reach that end point. With that in mind, it’s perfectly valid to build in a six month, or less, probation period agreed to by both parties. At the end of this period, either party can step away from the role for whatever reason with no recriminations.

If that does happen, then taking some time to learn what went wrong and why is a crucial part of the learning process and will help you to avoid making the same mistakes again.

When you’ve made the right hire once, the subsequent times will become easier and easier as you figure out how to make the recruitment process work for you and become more discerning at narrowing down the right candidates.

The benefits of building a strong team are tangible. Having people on your side who share your determination and drive will give you a real boost in productivity and should help to take some of the load off of your own shoulders. Being the boss might not be natural at first but when you’re all pulling in the right direction, you’ll be glad you made the decision to let go a little of the responsibility and allowed others to help take the strain.

Interface: Creating A Computer Literate Team

Three of the focuses of my blog are Financial Literacy/Money, Business/Entrepreneurship and Technology. In today’s digital age, computer literacy is critical to working on any staff in any organization. It therefore becomes very important to create a computer literate team. The following contributed post is thus entitled; Interface: Creating A Computer Literate Team.

* * *

(Image Source)

As time goes on, computers are playing an increasingly central role in the work which businesses have to do. With most of the data your company uses being stored on machines like this, and all of the software you need to do your job having to have them to run, it’s impossible to avoid filling your offices and back rooms with devices like this. Of course, though, it isn’t enough to simply have the hardware. Along with this, you also need to have a team of people who all have the skills to do their jobs. To help you in achieving this goal, this post will be exploring the steps which have to be taken to make someone computer literate.

Learning

This all hard to start with some learning, as these sorts of machines aren’t exactly easy to use when you first get started. Thankfully, there are loads of companies out there offering basic computer courses in a range of different topics. This makes it possible to tailor the learning your employees go through to the work which it will be applied to when all is said and done. There aren’t many fields out there which allow you to be so specific.

Practice

Practice is important when it comes to learning anything, and technology is no exception. If your employees don’t have computers at home, they need a chance to have some fun and explore them properly while they are at work. Nothing is scarier than the unknown, and this can quickly be wiped away once your team all know how they’re supposed to do their jobs. Of course, this is the same with most of the tools your company uses.

Confidence

It’s easy to become worried about using computers when you’re told that viruses are dangerous, files can be lost, and the machines are fragile. While all of this is true, though, it doesn’t mean that they will break when you’re using them for normal jobs. It’s worth working hard to make sure that your employees have the right skills when it comes to computers, but it’s also crucial that they feel confident enough to use them.

Support

Finally, as the last area to consider, it’s time to think about the support your teams can get while they are working. There is nothing which boosts confidence more than knowing that you have a professional waiting to give you a hand whenever you need it, and outsourced IT support has become a huge market because of it. Of course, though, you need to read plenty of reviews before choosing a company like this, as they will all offer different levels of service.

With all of this in mind, you should be feeling ready to get started on the time you put into building a computer literate team for your business. A lot of companies struggle in this area, finding it hard to know where to turn when their teams are bad with these machines. Of course, though, this never has to be the case, especially when you’re willing to put some time into making it better.

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.