Friday, March 20, 2009

NCAA Tournament-Hoop Dreams

This is the time of year when every basketball fan, novice or fanatic comes out of the closet to get involved in March Madness. We've already seen some very exciting games in yesterday's 1st round. It seemed timely to me that I write this article as it is also the time of year which bridges the gap between the recently finished high school season and the open of the Club Basketball Season. As most of my audience are families that dream of playing college basketball it seemed like perfect timing to recount our story.

Firstly, I'd like to thank all the high school and college coaches that I've been blessed to get to know over the years. Contrary to what many people believe there does not have to be a lack of respect between the high school coach and the club coach. (If there is, that's a very good sign that your child is not in a reputable club program.) We should be working together to help kids get the best opportunities in life as well as in the game of basketball.

A QUALITY high school coach is responsible for training a player during the majority of the school year. He has access to gym time, and is likely acquainted intimately with the player's academic situation. There is nothing like the pride of representing your school and being "big man/woman on campus".

On the other hand a QUALITY club program should be well organized, have a code of discipline for it's players and ensure that the kids have an opportunity for EXPOSURE to recruiting services and college coaches during their "second season".

When the club and the school coach have a mutual respect for each other's role it helps the player and family maximize the opportunity to live out the dream of playing at the collegiate level and ideally to subsidize/pay for the player's education.

(Below; From left to right circa 2003 is Pflugerville's Bryan Beasley (Rice University), a young Chris Paul then at Wake Forest, and Pflugerville Connally's Chip Ivany (UT-San Antonio)

It's hard to believe almost 7 years have gone by since Chip & Bryan were at Five Star Camp in Pittsburgh and I had the chance to coach Chris, and guys like current Kentucky star Jodie Meeks. The boys were sophomores in HS and the recruiting process had not hit them yet. The kids were two years away from what would be my first graduating class of players with the Texas D-1 Ambassadors. Quite honestly, I didn't know if they were good enough to get the chance to play in college.

Turns out that they were, but I'd like to share my observations along with our family's odyssey (hopefully for your enjoyment) but also a sense of reality as to how tough and competitive it really is as you and your child chase your hoop dreams.

In the fall of 2006, after completing a high school varsity career where he scored over 1200 points my son did not have a D-1 offer. His ego was bruised and like most kids out of high school the question was, "What now?" The answer was Junior College. On the recommendation of a good D-1 coaching friend of mine Chip landed a scholarship at Hill Junior College (TX). There are typically two types of kids who go the JuCo route. The first, are boys like mine, who have no academic issues but are simply not ready physically for D-1 (About 20% of the kids) The 2nd are guys who have either/or grade or personal character flaw issues. JuCo is their last hope, to reinvent themselves as model citizens and to get their academics in order. (80%)

If you think it's the best players who are playing in college and even the pros, you are sadly mistaken. I have personally seen kids with more talent in their little finger never play past high school because they could not be accountable for their actions, keep their grades in order and be people of character. College basketball is a BUSINESS. Coaches feed their families based upon the perfomrance of players. They do not need extra headaches or someone who will embarass them and cost them their jobs.

After a year at Hill JuCo, Chip was ready for the D-1 route. As an academic qualifier out of high school he did not have to spend 2 years at the JuCo as the academic casualties do. As a family, we narrowed down his options to 5 schools and hit the road to visit the campuses. UT-Arlington, UT-San Antonio, University of New Orleans, South Alabama, and the University of Florida.

Needless to say the possibility of walking on at Florida to play for Coach Billy Donovan was incredible. (The thought of me paying out of state tuition was not real appealing The facilities were top notch, and while we were there Chip worked out with several of the Gators who were selected in the NBA Draft a couple of days later. PROBLEM: Even though my son was a GOOD student, he was not a GREAT student. I was shocked to find that Florida's admission standards were incredibly competitive and that he was on the cusp of being admitted. If he had ONLY worked harder in high school to raise his GPA to 3.5 instead of 3.3. A door closed for my son that day and he was heartbroken.

However, God has a plan. He ended up at South Alabama. They had an incredible season going 26-7 and receiving an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Chip got to play in 13 games but most of his contribution was behind the scenes as he studied the opposing team's offensive sets for 2 hours the day before playing each opponent & then had the responsibility to run it in practice so the team mates who were starters were as fully prepared as possible when they faced the opponent the following day. Make no mistake about it, college athletics are a 25 hour per week J-O-B. Is this really what you want to do?

Below: Top left: Chip Ivany #42 South Alabama, Top Right: South Alabama live on CBS as they receive word of their at large bid to the 2008 NCAA Tourny. The kids go crazy and start texting. Bottom Right: Chip with the Texas D-1 Ambassadors in Las Vegas

I got in my car and drove 800 miles to the NCAA Regional in Birmingham, AL. It was an exciting game for almost all of the 1st half and then Butler University proceeded to knock down 16 three pointers and after 8 months of hard work, the South Alabama kids dreams died and the Butler kids dream lived on. As a father, I cried with my son when it was over.

Below: (Excuse the poor picture.) Chip's Sunbelt Champions & NCAA ring. A momento for a lifetime.

From August 11th to May 5th my son could not get home. The schedule simply didn't allow for it. Even the token break at Christmas time lasted just 30 hours before they began practice again on Christmas Day at 7PM. Back to work on Christmas Day!

After the year ended he and I sat down and he said he wanted to come closer to home. The coaches at South Alabama treated my son like family. We will forever be indebted to Coach Ronnie Arrow. My son still talks on the phone a couple of times a week with him & the USA staff. Chip is now completing his
redshirt season at UT-San Antonio. The dreams of a 2nd straight NCAA Tournament appearance died last Sunday when UTSA lost the Southland Conference Championship Game to Stephen. F. Austin. Once again, one kids dream die, another's live on.

Chip will make his final resting place at UTSA. He'll finish his degree on time and be working on his Master's degree in his 5th and final year. His goal has become refined, to be a college coach. He'll be a graduate assistant at a D-1 school shortly thereafter. He already has promises from several prominent coaches to become part of their staff. Is this how his dream was envisioned when he dropped 27 points v Boerne while leading Pflugerville Connally to the Texas UIL Regional Final? Doubtful. But that's the twists and turns this game can bring for you. Do you make lemonade out of lemons, and learn to redefine your goals?

In wrapping it up, I wish all the kids who aspire to be a college basketball player the very best. Understand that you'll be faced with a mountain of hard work. Basketball as you know it will never be the same. It will be a job. Adversity will face you. Maybe you'll be homesick, maybe you'll have grade issues, or perhaps the coach who recruited you gets fired and the new staff barely acknowledges that you exist. Are you ready for that?

I hope you've enjoyed one family's insight into the college basketball world. Best of luck as you follow your hoop dreams. If I can be of assistance to any of you, do not hesitate to contact me.

Coach Max