Record 28: Sacramento, Friday, July 5th, 2013. Night.
The locker room is a church at halftime. Winning or losing, it doesn’t matter. It’s where we come together for reassurance. For motivation. Hope. At least, this is what I’m told I should believe.
There’s the smell of sweat. Old Spice. Axe body spray nonsense. Cedar from the open window. But this is all familiar.
Tonight, there’s a sting in the air. Something sour in the space between our heads and the cement ceiling. My players, the kids, they’re sucking air in a desperate way, with hands on their heads. I can see resentment in their eyes when they look at me. If they look at me.
Most halftimes I can hear the boys swearing under their breath. Condemning me. Furious that they have to spend weekend summer nights in a stale gym playing exhibition games with the community college teams. And I can’t say I blame them. They’re teenagers. They’d rather be on the internet or out with girls somewhere. But tonight, I have to fight every urge to yell and berate the guys. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to yell, or single someone out if he’s doing something wrong. I have to build them up, and not put anyone down.
Tonight, we’re down by 40 points. The guys know I will have nothing positive to say, despite their parents’ and the school’s requests. I want to win some games next season, and these guys still don’t know how to run a basic motion offense. They play man-to-man defense when I insist on a zone. They don’t listen. There’s a mutiny.
“All right fellas. Take a seat.” I say to the guys. “Drink some water. Sit down.”
They drink Vitamin Waters and Gatorades.
“So. How do we think it’s going out there?”
No one responds. They just stare at me. Coldly.
“We’re not running the offense, are we, guys?”
Cold stares. One guy shakes his head ‘no.’
“And it’s not working, is it? The other team is up by 40 points. We’re just out here, dribbling around and making selfish plays.”
“Come on coach.” Our starting point guard whines. “We’re trying.”
I wince, then I say: “Do or do not. There is no try.”
The guys look at me with blank stares.
“You guys really don’t know that quote?”
More blank stares.
“And anyway, you know…” I start to say.
“Don’t fucking do this! You do this every halftime! Tell us to just run the motion and we’ll just like magically come back or whatever, and it never works!” The point guard says. “You think we wanna lose every exhibition game? Cuz we don’t. So give us something that works.”
I clear my throat.
“You guys haven’t run the motion once tonight. Do you mind if we at least give it a try?”
“It never works. Give us a different play.” Says the point guard.
“Yeah.” Says the center.
“Anything else.” Says the power forward.
So I draw up a Kansas play for our O2. I explain it thoroughly on the dry erase board. The guys nod their heads, and I think they’re getting it.
“That’s not gonna work.” The point guard says.
“Why won’t it work?” I ask, frustrated.
“Because the other team is too tall.”
The guys all nod in unison. I clip the lid back onto the dry erase marker, and throw it at the point guard. It hits him in the face.
“What the hell!? You can’t do that!” He screams.
“Sorry.” I say. But then, “You know what? No. I’m not sorry.” I gesture to the point guard. “You need to show some respect for your coach. This is not a democracy. I’m the coach. I’m your leader. You have to do what I say.”
I pace back and forth, stewing, before I:
“…we don’t know that quote, coach.” The point guard says.
“It’s my quote!”
I stop pacing and face the teenage players.
“You know, you guys suck.”
This gets their attention. The point guard rolls his eyes.
“Logan,” I point to our six-foot-four inch center. “You average 2 rebounds a game. You’re a foot taller than everyone on this team. That’s not acceptable. How many times have I told you that you need to box out as soon as a shot goes up?”
I turn to Caden, our shooting guard.
“Caden, your field goal percentage is 18%. But you’re 80% from the top of the key. The motion we run is designed to get you that shot.”
Caden scoffs. “My percentage isn’t 18%.” He says, and high fives the point guard.
“I keep track of all the stats. They’re posted on the team website, which you clearly haven’t checked.”
I turn to Ethan, our small forward.
“Ethan, you don’t hustle. At all. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you move faster than a light jog.”
Ethan smiles, proud, and nods. I turn to Jackson, our point guard.
“And Jackson, you don’t do anything right. You can’t handle the ball. You average 15 turnovers a game. Other schools’ coaches have asked me why I let you start, and I tell them the truth: his parents begged me. I’m ashamed to say that I gave in, but I couldn’t stand to see your mother cry. And I thought, you know, this kid could be good. If he works his ass off every practice, studies the plays, and practices his ball control, he could. I’ve tried motivating you. I’ve tried…”
The buzzer rings from inside the court. The teenage players all leave. I sigh, then pick up the dry erase marker, and throw it in the plastic trash bin by the door.