Tag Archives: basketball

Ball Hogs and Blowhards

Anyone who knows anything about me will know why I'm writing about a Freakonomics blog post that uses basketball to help explain why meetings are long – I love hoops and hate long meetings. From the post:

On the surface, ball hogs and endless meetings might seem unrelated.  Research, though, indicates that players chucking shots at a basket and people prolonging a meeting with endless comments may actually be a function of something similar.  Specifically, how do we know someone is “competent”?..

A couple of years ago Cameron Anderson and Gavin J. Kilduff published a studyexamining how people in meetings evaluate each other.  Obviously we would like people in meetings to think we are competent.  And one might think, the best way to get people to think you are competent is to just be competent.  But that is not what Anderson and Kilduff found.  In a study of how people in a meeting – a meeting designed to answer math questions — were evaluated by their peers, these authors f0und (as Time reported) that actual competence wasn’t driving evaluations:

Repeatedly, the ones who emerged as leaders and were rated the highest in competence were not the ones who offered the greatest number of correct answers. Nor were they the ones whose SAT scores suggested they’d even be able to. What they did do was offer the most answers — period. 

“Dominant individuals behaved in ways that made them appear competent,” the researchers write, “above and beyond their actual competence.” Troublingly, group members seemed only too willing to follow these underqualified bosses. An overwhelming 94% of the time, the teams used the first answer anyone shouted out — often giving only perfunctory consideration to others that were offered.

This makes so much sense to me. I can't tell you how many times in my life I've been on a team with superior talent, including the guy who's obviously the best player in the gym, only to lose handily.  It happens because too many guys view themselves as the best shooters in the gym, so they make bad decisions about when to shoot because in their mind them shooting a bad shot is better than a less gifted player taking a good shot. Ask any basketball coach in the world and he'll tell you the good shot from an average player is better than a bad shot from a great player.

As far as meetings go, who among us hasn't been stuck in a meeting with a blow hard who thinks he knows everything and somehow convinces others in the room that he does? Anyone who wonders what's wrong with any company need only find the conference room and hang out for a while. It won't take long to identify the problem.

Ball hogs and blowhards – hate 'em both.

Saving the ACC from Itself

Dan Collins shares a great plan to help the ACC restore some of its historic luster:

But there’s still a way to retain the rivalries that have made the league what it is—or at least what it was before expansion. I wish I could say the idea was mine, but really I stole it from my buddy Al Featherston, the long-time ACC writer and historian. Like is said in songwriter circles: amateurs borrow, but professionals steal. Featherston’s proposal is to divide the conference into seven-team divisions, as is done for football. That would allow at least most of the rivalries to remain intact.

Each team would play teams in its division twice, of course, for a total of 12 games. And each would play the teams in the other divisions once, for seven more games. That’s 19 games, if my public school education hasn’t failed me.

The one flaw in the system could become its biggest selling point. The seven games against the other division would leave some teams with 10 home conference games and others with only nine. That is, unless one of the games against the other division was played at a neutral site.

So the way to make it all work for everybody—the fans, the media, the league and of course the television networks—would be to set aside a long weekend between mid-December and Christmas when all 14 ACC teams would congregate at a neutral site. One year it could be Greensboro, the next Atlanta, the next Charlotte, and the next Madison Square Garden. And over those three days the odd game against the other division could be played. It could be marketed and sold as an Early Bird Special of what fans can expect to see over the next 2 1/2 months and it would build up tremendous energy and enthusiasm at a time of the year any league—even the ACC—could use all it could get.

Pro Basketball Coming to Camel City

The American Basketball Association has three expansion teams slotted for North Carolina and one of them, the Triad Tre4 Cheetahs, will call Winston-Salem home.

One item of potential interest to a few guys down at the Y: tryouts for the three teams will be held May 21 in Durham. Registration is $125, but hey, dreams don't come cheap these days.

I don't know if they play with the red, white and blue ball of Dr. J's ABA, but they do have some wacky rules like the old ABA did.  My faves:

  • Four points for any shot taken from the backcourt.
  • Players can stay on after picking up a sixth foul, but each subsequent foul they commit leads to a free throw and ball possession for the other team. Basically it's unlimited technicals for "sixth foul" players.
  • 3-D Rule – I've read it once and I can honestly say it makes the NFL's QB rules seem straightforward.

Could be fun to watch.

The Heel from Dumfries

I ignore UNC hoops as much as possible.  Why?  Because I live in NC and am surrounded by Carolina fans in much the same way a day old bologna sandwich left on the counter overnight is surrounded by roaches, especially if those roaches happen to pregame with chardonnay and brie and cry like babies if someone says something mean about their baby blue uniforms.  

Anyway, my shunning of all things Heels is the reason why I'm just now realizing that UNC's latest phenom Kendall Marshall hails from the same small NoVa town that we lived in the 10 years before we moved to Winston-Salem.  Dumfries has produced some nice players over the years including Rolan Roberts (Va Tech/So Illinois in the 90s) and Cliff Hawkins (Point guard for Kentucky from 00-04).  FWIW, I like Marshall's game; too bad he has to play for the wrong team.

Krzyzewski, Izzo, Williams, Larranaga

Winston-Salem Journal sportswriter Dan Collins had a sit down with Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman to discuss the tough (to say the least) season that WFU's basketball program is enduring.  Collins used his blog to share a bunch of the Q&A that couldn't be squeezed into the article that appeared in the paper, and I particularly liked Wellman's answer to the question, "You're well-versed in college basketball. Do you see parallel among cultures of successful programs? In other words, do the teams that keep getting to the Final Four, are there parts of their culture that you see as consistent?…What are those?"


 First of all they have a great coach. If you look at the Final Four teams for the last six years, and they all do certain things very similar. Mike Krzyzewksi, Brad Stevens, Bob Huggins, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, Jim Calhoun, Jay Wright, Bill Self, John Calipari, Ben Howland, Billy Donovan, Thad Matta, John Thompson, Jim Larranaga, Bruce Weber, Rick Pitino at Louisville. They’re all really outstanding coaches who have great coaching ability and have great relationships with their players. They’re different relationships with their players. If you look at Bob Huggins and compare him to Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams, it’s totally different. But it’s a relationship that gets those players to play their hearts out for those coaches. Their attention to detail is beyond anything that you could imagine, to the point where maybe the greatest coach in the history of college basketball – I think we’ve got a couple of great ones in this conference, but I think everyone looks at John Wooden and it would be difficult to argue with that. Remember what he used to do in his first practice? He had the players sit down and he showed them how to put their socks on. My goodness. You talk about attention to detail. Jeff is doing a good job with those types of details. You look at our team today, there’s a certain way he wants them to wear their uniform. How important can that be? It’s very important, because that’s what he believes in. How important is it for us to conduct ourselves in a certain way on the floor? Remember J.T. the first three he made in one of the first games? And there was quite a celebration by J.T. when he did. J.T. isn’t doing that anymore. Jeff’s idea, and strong suggestion to the players, to get out of yourself and into the team, or into your teammates is becoming evident. It’s more and more evident every practice and every game. So those types of details are going to be the building blocks of this program. They’re important. To some they might be `That’s incidental. That isn’t important.’ But we think it’s important. Jeff thinks it’s important. That’s why those details are being covered on a daily basis. (Emphasis mine).

I think Wellman makes a great point with the quote, but I also think wanted to highlight that one of the coaches he mentions is George Mason's Jim Larranaga.  Mason's only made one Final Four but I'd argue that Larranaga's built one of the better programs you'll find at a "mid-major" school and I think it's high praise for him to be included in Wellman's list of coaches who have built a great culture.  

Also for what it's worth, and that ain't much, I'm much less pessimistic about Wake's medium and distant future than other fans seem to be. The next couple of years probably won't be great, but I do think that if they can keep the current crop of kids around through graduation and add one or two strong recruits the program could be back in the top half of the ACC in three or four years.

Here's a fun fact for you: the season that Mason made the Final Four (beating Michigan State and UNC on the way) they lost in overtime at Wake Forest.  

Ish Getting Some Minutes

I stumbled on this article about one of my favorite Wake Forest alums, Ish Smith, who wound up his college career last spring.  He went undrafted, was picked up as a free agent by the Rockets, was third on the depth chart at his position, and now thanks to injuries to the guys in front of him is playing some real significant minutes and handling himself well so far.  That's great news for a guy who proved himself to be a class act during his time at Wake. 

Losing Steps

I've played basketball my whole life, and like anyone else over the age of 30 I've lost a step.  To be honest now that I'm midway through my 40s I've lost more than one step, but that doesn't stop me from dragging my old carcass out of bed a couple of times a week to play pre-dawn hoops – something I swore I'd never do before I aged into bladder-induced early morning awakenings.  Of course my mother is aware of this, and like my wife she finds my love of a young man's game rather foolish, which is why she emailed me this poem from Stephen Dunn:

Losing Steps

It's probably a Sunday morning
in a pickup game, and it's clear
you've begun to leave
fewer people behind.

Your fakes are as good as ever,
but when you move
you're like the Southern Pacific
the first time a car kept up with it,

your opponent at your hip,
with you all the way
to the rim. Five years earlier
he'd have been part of the air

that stayed behind you
in your ascendance.
On the sidelines they're saying,
He's lost a step.

You can read the rest here. Truth be told I didn't have much of a step to begin with; one of the advantages of being naturally slow of foot and without the ability to jump over a phone book is that my game has always been predicated on overcoming my lack of athleticism.  Still, getting even slower is no fun.

Experimenting with Pro Sports

Here's a very interesting article about the NHL's R&D program:

The truth is, such a mess would be improbable at best on Bettman’s watch. Under him, the NHL, sometimes under fierce criticism, has become perhaps the most research-friendly of the major professional team sports leagues in North America when it comes to the conduct and rules of the game. It wasn’t always so. In 1998, when the league had a Fox TV contract and arranged for a Las Vegas IHL game to be played in a four-quarter format, the experimentation was met with catcalls. The improvised research and development camp held toward the end of the 2004-’05 lockout was viewed as a desperation measure.

But the more carefully planned R & D camp held last month has mostly been welcomed and applauded. The scrimmages, held at the Maple Leafs’ practice facility on Aug. 18 and 19, featured some jarring, Martian-looking innovations. The players—who were, in an attention-getting wrinkle, mostly top junior stars eligible for the 2011 draft—road-tested everything from two-on-two overtime to shallower nets to having the second referee view the play from an elevated off-ice platform. On day two, viewers were confronted with the bizarre spectacle of the traditional five faceoff circles being replaced by three, running up the middle of the rink.

Such an exercise is unique among the staple North American sports. If major league baseball’s powers-that-be ever got a notion to play experimental games using five bases and four strikes, they would surely do so on a closely guarded Pacific atoll.

My roommate in college once stated that the NBA would be infinitely more interesting if they put circles on the floor at various places between the three point lines and were rewarded with higher points the farther away the circle was from the basket.  So if you hit a shot from beyond half court you'd get six points.  I laughed at first, but the more I thought about it the more I liked it.  Actually I thought that you could set up zones in between the three point lines (circles being a little to easy to guard). I really think it would bring about the rise of the "designated heaver" which might keep some old guys in the league much like the designated hitter does in baseball.

Oh, and don't get me started on baseball.  Anything they can do to keep me awake past the third inning would be welcome.