Pete Strobl, author of “Backspin,” talked about playing nearly a decade in Europe, what motivated him to write his book, the impact his book has already had and he gave Jack Armstrong some props.
My new head coach was Jack Armstrong. He was proof that you can take the guy out of Brooklyn but you can’t get the Brooklyn out of the guy. Keep in mind that my only exposure to the East Coast mannerisms had come through the Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro films I had watched late at night. Keeping up with Coach Armstrong’s speech cadence was tough at first because it was so entertaining. I felt my mellow West Coast vibe slowly dissolving and knew it would be a challenge to keep up with his pace mentally, as well, as physically.
Armstrong was a hard-working guy and a real throwback to what I imagined a barnstorming coach in the fifties might have been like. The one thing about him I learned to count on was his consistency. Well, okay, two things: his consistency, and his extraordinary flair for showmanship. Before we had played half of my first season I realized that he was on a first name basis with every other referee in our conference. The way they went at each other, I got the impression they had all grown up on the same block and had been arguing streetball calls since they were kids.
During the very first game of the year, an official made a call that rubbed Armstrong the wrong way. He executed a move worthy of an Olympic shot putter. No, to be precise, it was much more like an expert hammer throw. He exploded out of his chair, spun around, tore off his suit jacket in mid swing, and before he came around again, the jacket had landed in the third row behind the bench. It’s a good thing Armstrong wore slick-soled dress shoes on game days, because if he had tried that move in sneakers he would have torn his ankles out at the roots. The referee walked over, soothingly put his hand on Jack’s shoulder and explained the call from his vantage point. Armstrong, accepting his jacket from the outstretched hand of a beaming Niagara fan, penitently nodded and patted the ref on the back as if to say, “Oh yeah, well when you explain it like that I can see how you could have blown the call.” I’d seen coaches lose their cool trying to play to the refs many times, but they were just as likely to cross the line and end up listening to the rest of the game from the locker room. My new coach had a real knack for timing his outbursts. And I had never seen anyone with Armstrong’s astounding recovery time.
Later in the season we found ourselves fighting to win a close game that would keep us on pace to have Niagara’s first winning record in nine seasons. With less than a minute left on the clock, Coach Armstrong called our last timeout and we huddled around him to get instructions for what would be our final offensive possession. One of the assistants shoved the dry erase board into his impatient grasp and he was practically writing up a play before the marker touched the board. The marker darted furiously back and forth across the board as he improvised our first, second, and third options on the fly. It was remarkable the way Coach Armstrong’s mind worked. Even more remarkable, all of us, to a man, stood and nodded as if we had a full and complete understanding of this amazing play that not one of us could actually see. In the excitement and gravity of the moment, Jack had scribbled away the entire timeout without realizing he was using a dried out marker. But a small detail like that wasn’t going to prevent us – all of us – from pretending we knew exactly what we wanted us to do. With fire in his eyes and his mouth foaming at the corners, he screamed, “Are you ready?” We answered with a resounding “Let’s go!”
We went on to win that game in the final moments. I don’t know if the play we ran had anything to do with Jack’s invisible ink act but I’m certain his intensity in the timeout is what got us the win. And it’s a good thing it did, because I wouldn’t have envied the person that put the spent marker into Armstrong’s hand if we had run out the final seconds of the game bumping into each other and acting like Jack had just drawn up an invisible play.
Rus Bradburd talked with me about his new book, “Make It, Take It” and why he hung onto this book idea despite having to put this book idea on hold while writing his first two books. He talked about how this book was a way for him to reflect on his experience coaching college basketball, the recent problems involving Rutgers and what it was like to construct a character with serious character flaws but one that you couldn’t help but root for.
This evening I had the chance to chat with Aaron Torres about his new book “The Unlikeliest Champion.” We talked about the writing process, the challenges he faced during the writing process, what parts of the process have been rewarding , and he gave his case as to why this book would make a great Christmas gift.
Here’s the link to order the book. You can also contact Aaron directly via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want a signed copy of the book at no additional charge.
I’ve been playing basketball since I was in elementary school and coaching since I was in high school, so it’s tough to find a book on coaching or skill development that catches my attention.
I usually dig through a handful of books each year with the hope that I can add a new drill or improve my coaching in some way but there are times when this becomes a tedious routine. Adam Filippi’s new book “Shoot Like The Pros” managed to capture my attention while providing me with a handful of drills that I’ll use while coaching my team next season. He was able to use his 10 years as a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers and funnel all of that information into a book that is easy to read for everybody from coaches to players just starting to play the game.
After reading his book, I was able to reach out to Adam and talk with him about Jerry West writing the foreword to his book, the importance of the mental aspect when developing your shooting technique, he explained how he would improve the free throw shooting of Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal and a wide range of other topics from his book.
What did it mean to you when Jerry West agreed to write the foreword to your book?
Jerry West is no doubt the greatest basketball personality in the history of the game. His opinion is the most influential of anyone’s in the NBA…. and it’s always his honest opinion. It was the biggest honor to have one of the people I admire the most write the foreword.
But, it also meant that the book was that good, as Jerry, being the ultimate perfectionist, would’ve been honest and critical enough to tell me if it was not worthy.
When Phil Jackson is quoted as saying, “The best book on this topic I have ever read,” what does that mean to you?
I was kind of surprised! I had never had long conversations with Phil during my 10 years with the Lakers, so I didn’t even know how he would react to me sending him a copy of the manuscript. When I received his testimonial via email I was driving…. I had to pull off the road and it took me a few moments to realize how powerful his words were and how they would boost the book’s credibility. He is the greatest sports coach of all time… and I am grateful for his contribution.
A lot of times the mental aspect is neglected so I loved how you wrote an entire chapter on this. Besides mental visualization, what are some of the mental aspects of shooting that players can work on?
I believe that proper practice will lead to developing a “shooter’s mentality” and confidence. After you build proper technique, you will instill muscle memory in the motion through constant repetition: the more automatic your shot is, the least you will need to “think.” Over-thinking while shooting is often what distracts or inhibits players during games, so you want to avoid that mental frame.
Also, young players need to realize and accept the fact that even great shooters miss nearly half of their shots! If it’s a good shot and within your range, you should take it!
Speaking of the mental aspect of shooting, why do big men like Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal struggle shooting free throw? is it a physical or mental thing? If you were there shooting coach, what tweaks would you make to their free throw shooting?
It would be unfair to “rip” some of the bigger players for their struggles at the foul line. We have to remember that their larger hand size makes them grip the ball different. Just try shooting a volleyball!!! In addition their wider shoulders, especially in Dwight’s case, may not allow them to have an ideal alignment with the rim. They need to make some “natural adaptations” to their shooting techniques. Whoever is coaching these type players has to understand how to “personalize” a shooting technique that fits each athlete. Improper mechanics will lead to poor results, which then will affect the mental approach and confidence.
What tweaks would I make with Howard and Shaq? Well, unless you have the player in front of you, you may not get the full picture, and may think you have the obvious solution….but from what I see with Dwight – First, I would try rotating his body and feet very slightly (something that I do not recommend for most players although many pros have developed this method) to find a better alignment; then I’d force him to extend his feet more and extend elbow at eye level, and finish with his chest, head and shoulders slightly forward…even if he has plenty of strength in his upper body, his rhythm is out of synch and very stiff, so focusing on extending his entire body smoothly is key. I also would like to evaluate how well he sees the rim, as I always see him tilt his head slightly to his left which could affect his release. In addition I’d quicken his routine, as he does too much thinking which just increases the mental pressure on each shot.
Shaq actually has a little touch and you can see it on his turnaround. His hands are huge, but he also has a flexibility problem with his right wrist so he can’t cock it back at all as he grips the ball… this forces him “throw” the ball without any arc, so it has poor chances of dropping even if he is focused. I would definitely decrease the space between his fingers a bit in order to make his hand smaller on the ball and determine how he can “feel” it better. His foul shooting will always be deficient, but no doubt if he had been committed to practice he could’ve reached an acceptable percentage despite his limitations.
How have you used your years or being a scout and coach to write this book?
I love the combination of scouting and skill development. They complement each other great. This approach has led me to personal improvements in both fields. Scouting is the BLUEPRINT to player development: you evaluate the athlete inside out, find his strengths and weaknesses, so you know what to work on and what to perfect. My formation as a professional scout and just being a good observer has been a huge reason for me developing into a skills coach… All the knowledge that I acquired during this entire process led me to writing the book.
Even with your vast knowledge of the game, what are some things you learned while writing this book?
Great question and point. When I finished the book, even before approaching a publisher, I told my wife. “Even if the book doesn’t get picked up or just becomes a guide for my players, I feel that I have improved my knowledge and methodology so much….so it’s already been helpful.”
The project took me exactly two years (from my first words until seeing it released) and during that time I continuously came up with new ideas, concepts, progressions and drills… but also changed my mind a few times regarding some aspects of the skill.
Writing the book was like getting my Master’s in “shooting development”. A great learning experience, that also boosted my confidence in what I am doing.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book? What was the most rewarding aspect?
It has been the most challenging project I’ve ever had for sure. The easiest part was what I had anticipated being the hardest: finding a publisher. It was picked up on its first attempt, which automatically told me that it was a good book!
Organizing the content, and then paging the diagrams and photos for my 1st official rough copy to present to people was hard work, but overall writing the book came easy to me. I really felt I was very prepared while I was putting it down on paper (initially I just thought I was writing an article for a coaches magazine… but just couldn’t stop!).
The last couple months before going to print was very stressful: choosing the right NBA photos, getting the players’ quotes, making final corrections and most of all reviewing the proof pages over and over with the editor, maybe finding a new little mistake or phrase that suddenly didn’t make sense.
I am hoping the rewards are still in front of me. I didn’t start this project for a monetary reward, I just saw it as an opportunity to better myself and to put myself in a position to be able to be even more involved with the game I love…. Camps, clinics, more visibility.
When famous NBA people or even friends praise your job it is nice, but even more when you receive emails or calls from total strangers that have enjoyed your work and want to tell you. All these aspects have been already rewarding… but when I opened my mail, and had the published copy finally in my hands …. It was a great satisfaction!
Good luck to everyone, enjoy the book!