Book Excerpt From “Backspin” By Pete Strobl

BackspinCover

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.

This was an excerpt from Backspin by Pete Strobl. Copyright 2013 by Pete Strobl. Reprinted with permission from The Scoring Factory.

Indiana Pacers Basketball Is Back

“Pacers basketball is back.”

Those were the words of Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel following his squad’s series-clinching win over Orlando in the first round. Now, with the Pacers holding a 2-1 series lead over the Miami Heat, it certainly seems that Vogel was right.

Indiana placed 29th in league attendance during the regular season, but fans turned out in full force Thursday to help the Pacers defend their home court advantage. A sellout crowd of more than 18,000 provided a spark that led to the Pacers 94-75 Game 3 victory. Each fan received a gold t-shirt upon admittance, creating a vibrant aesthetic force to compliment the verbal one.

“It was the best building I’ve ever been in for basketball,” Vogel said following the win. “It was the best crowd I’ve ever witnessed.”

Seventh-year forward Danny Granger agreed.

“With all the gold, I was almost blind,” Granger said of the thousands of gold t-shirts in the stands. “I haven’t seen it like this since I’ve been here. We’re just thankful so many fans came out to support us.”

Granger is the longest-tenured Pacers player, having been selected by the team in the first round of the 2005 NBA Draft.

The Game 3 win came one day after president of basketball operations Larry Bird was named the 2011-12 NBA Executive of the Year. With the distinction, Bird became the first ever person to win league MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year honors.

“Larry [Bird] got Executive of the Year because he put together a team that likes to play together and share the ball,” center Roy Hibbert said. “That’s how we roll.”

Indiana’s unselfish, team approach to the game has yielded impressive results.

The Pacers finished the season with the fifth-best record in the league, with the franchise enjoying its most successful regular season since 2004. Despite the success, Indiana has been out of the national spotlight for much of the season, playing just one nationally-televised game during the regular season.

“We don’t need credit from the media to know what we can do,”  guard George Hill said. “As long as everyone in this locker room believes that we can win and everyone is on the same page, that’s all that matters.”

Indiana will attempt to take a commanding 3-1 series lead when it plays the Heat tomorrow afternoon.

The Pacers are confident that they can beat Miami.

“We felt confident when we found out we had the match-up with Miami,” second-year guard Paul George said. “We felt confident that we can win it all if we stay playing together.”

And while the Pacers themselves believe they can make a run at a title, there are still many skeptics who doubt the team’s chances.

“The way we’re playing—how hard we’re playing and the intensity we’re playing with—they’re going to have to believe at one point,” Granger said.

Krzyzeswki At 2012 USOC Media Summit

Ask Team USA Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski the reasons behind his decision to lead the charge to London and you’ll get a straight answer.

“To have the opportunity to coach your country’s team is hard to even dream about,” Krzyzewksi recently told the media. “I had a great experience in international basketball in the eighties and in ‘92 I was an assistant with the dream team, so when I was given the opportunity to coach our Olympic team I jumped at it.”

Krzyzewski, who is expected to step down from the role after the upcoming Olympic Games, faced the press on Tuesday at the 2012 USOC Media Summit in Dallas.

One of the subjects that was bound to come up was the ACL injury to Chicago Bulls Guard Derrick Rose. The tear in his knee ligaments not only called a halt to his season but ended his chance of representing the US in London.

“I love Derrick,” Coach K boasted. “I think he is a great man. He helped us win a World Championship in Istanbul, he’s our starting point guard and I thought he grew a lot from that experience. He’s somebody that, in the future, I know will part of an Olympic team.

“He’s a team player, no one pushes the ball down the court any quicker than he does, he can be an outstanding defensive player and my heart goes out to him. It was a big loss for our team and hopefully the surgery he just had, one or two days ago, will prove to be very successful.”

The discussion also turned to how the 12-man roster will shape up. USA Basketball was already given an extended deadline to name their squad because of all the injury problems they are going through, so have until July 7 to get a confirmed list to FIBA and the IOC.

Lamar Odom, of the Dallas Mavericks, recently expressed his desire to become part of the Olympic roster.

“Lamar has been part of our pool, and all the guys who have competed are in equity,” Krzyzewski said of the decision making process. “He was our second-leading scorer in Istanbul and we would not have won the World Championship without him. I think, for most players there are certain things that can happen throughout their career; they’re not playing well or they’re hurt and we’ll get a chance to determine his status once we bring him in for training camp.”

Another part of an Olympic tournament that arouses great interest from the media and fans alike is which players will emerge as on-court leaders.

“Each team has a core group of leaders that you have to identify,” said Coach K. “Your key players have got to be the leaders. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were unbelievable for the Olympics; Chancey Billups, Lamar Odom and Kevin Durant were outstanding for the World Championships; and we have a chance to find out where that leadership comes from again in these Olympics.”