Friday, December 25, 2009 early Christmas gift!

Happy Holidays everyone! I write this entry on Christmas Day, enjoying some relaxation time with my family. I feel blessed in many ways...not only with my own family, but with 13 young men who have worked hard to be 4-0 heading into the break.

Heading into week two of the season, we hosted St. Clair and Marysville. As you all know, we were coming off an extreme emotional high after beating Warren Mott at their gym the previous Friday. Many of you may recall that last season we opened up at St. Clair and were beaten at the buzzer in overtime...a heartbreaking loss to begin the season. It was after that loss that I realized the importance of preparedness. Because it was the first game of the season last year and I was new to the league, we had no film on St. Clair and no idea of anything they would do. We simply were not prepared. Had I been able to better prepare the team for that game, we win by 10. That said, we have film on everyone this season and we began the week watching film on St. Clair. We quickly discovered that they live and die with the 3 point shot. On the film we had, they shot 25 three's and were definitely capable of hitting a majority of them if left open. We focused on that in practice and made sure we dialed up our defensive intensity on the perimeter and harrassed their shooters. We did a decent job early on guarding shooters and jumped out to a 13-2 lead. But any good coach and team will adjust when they are down and they added a perimeter screen from their big man and St. Clair's best shooter proceeded to knock down 3 consecutive threes to cut it to 13-11. After a heated timeout, we closed the period out on a 6-0 run to finish the 1st quarter 19-11. Unfortunately we could not shake them and we only led 27-24 at the half.

The focus of my pregame and halftime speeches revolved around the word "letdown". After a big win like we had, playing a team not as talented, there is plenty of possibility for a letdown. These kinds of games are trap games and last year we let them get to us. We would beat the best team in the league then lose to the worst. These kids cannot do that. We cannot have letdowns if we want to be champions. Coming out of the locker room, the kids responded. We jumped on them and did it quickly and aggressively. We held them to 4 points in the 3rd quarter and scored 19 ourselves to blow the game wide open heading into the 4th. Overall, we outscored them 33-14 in the 2nd half and won 60-38. I was happy to see the kids respond and do what we did not do last year...close a team out big! We must have that mentality and continue to ratchet up our effort so teams know that they are in for a dogfight.

Joe Baker had a big first half for us and ended the half with 22 points on 5 three pointers. He finished with 27 pts and 9 rebounds. Rob Feeman chipped in with 11 points and 5 rebounds, Garrett Matthews - 8 pts, Dom Davis - 5 pts, Steve O'connell - 3 pts, Tyler Marwin - 2 pts, Steve Hoffman - 3 pts, Aaron Schachinger - 1 pt.

After the St. Clair win, we had one day to turn around and prepare for Marysville, a team that beat us by 25 at their place last year. I spoke to the kids about heading into the break 4-0 and having many days of rest ahead of them, hoping they would jump on Marysville early and get out on a high note. We did just that, holding a 16-8 advantage after the 1st quarter and heading into halftime up 36-14, after outscoring them 20-6 in the 2nd. When you are up big like that at halftime, it is often a hard speech to give in the locker room. The kids see themselves up 22 and on pace to put up 70+, all the while holding a team under 20 in a half and are thinking they are playing the game of their lives. Believe it or not, and this may be hard to believe, I felt like our effort was around 80%. I do not want to sound unappreciative of what they were doing, but I know this group and I knew they had a lot left in the tank. So we tried to challenge them to find that and remember what this team did to us last season. The kids didn't completely respond to that but they did what they had to do and won the game 67-44. It was a good win and again, a win we had to have and should have.

During our gameplanning process, we discovered that they were not good ball handlers at all and wanted to really put as much pressure on their guards as possible. We knew they wouldn't do that well if we did that. With that said, we decided to change our starting lineup a bit and go with a smaller, quicker starting five so we could maximize our pressure. We were able to do that because of their lack of interior presence or threats. We started Matt Cawley in place of James Steffen and whether that worked or not, I'm not completely sure, but I definitely think it gave us a little spark in the first quarter.

Dominic Davis is our best perimeter defender and can really make it difficult on opposing guards when he wants to. It isn't easy to constantly be the guy who has to guard the other team's best player but the beauty of Dom is that he wants to. He happily accepts that challenge each game and that is what is called "accepting your role". Dom has many roles but that is his most important to this team and he does a very good job of it. It does not often get recognized but it is arguably the most appreciated by a coach. For example, versus Marysville, Dominic had to guard Matt Dado who averages 17 points per game and shoots the ball about 60% of Marysville's possessions. At halftime, Dado had 0 points. If you are wondering how we got up by 22 at the half, that is a big reason why. If Dado doesn't score for Marysville, they lose. Dom did his job great!

Joe had another big game and if it weren't for being up so big in the 4th and him not playing almost all of that quarter, he would have scored 40...he finished with 29 pts and 6 rebounds. Rob Feeman had 10 pts and 6 rebounds, Dominic Davis - 8 pts, Steve O'connell - 8 pts, Garrett Matthews - 4 pts, Steve Hoffman - 3 pts, Aaron Schachinger - 2 pts, Tyler Marwin - 2 pts, Cody Lehman - 1 pt.

After 3 games, are stats are as follows:

Overall field goal % = 40%
Three point field goal % = 34%
Free Throw % = 77%

Our overall FG% needs to get to 45%. Our 3 pt% is pretty good (considering we were 2-18 in our first game...eek!), any team who shoots 35-40% as a team is doing ok. 77% from the free throw line is great! That will win you games...which it already has against Mott. It is very important. If we can keep that over 70% for the season, that would be a dream come true. We still have plenty of work to do, but we're doing ok.

Joe Baker - 23.25 pts per game (50% FG, 34% 3's & 85% FT) - 8 rebs per game
Rob Feeman - 8.25 pts per game - 4.5 rebounds per game
Garrett Matthews - 6.5 pts per game
Dom Davis - 6 pts per game
Tyler Marwin - 3 pts per game
Steve O'connell - 3 pts per game
James Steffen - 4.5 rebounds per game

I am incredibly proud of what the kids have done thus far. Right now, has them ranked 18th in the state in Class B. Things like that are exciting to see and these kids deserve it. Now is where things get a little tougher. We play Cranbrook in our own Christmas Tourney at 5:30 on Tuesday the 29th. On the other side of the tournament you have two tough teams in Shrine and Hazel Park. We will have to play well to beat any of those three teams. After the tournament we jump right into conference play hosting Lamphere on January 6. Many picked Lamphere over us in the conference and they have one of the leagues best players in Kelvin Toma, who scored 43 pts in a game last week. They are better than what we have seen and will pose a great challenge for us. I am excited to get back at it and truly see where we are at. We have the ability to win the tournament and head into the new year 6-0, but we'll need our best effort. The kids will be rested and hopefully their best is what we will get from them.

Thank you all for your support and have a wonderful holiday!

Go Trojans!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Great start!

As Monday came, the different emotions started to set it for the season. We had been working hard for 3 weeks and it was finally game week. From nerves, to being anxious, to the makes the clock move slower than you want...I was ready for Wednesday on Monday. I promised our boys that this season, no matter what it takes, I will have them as prepared for each game as I possibly can. Part of that plan is having tape/film on every team we are going to play before we play them. The problem is that sometimes it is hard to find able volunteers to video another game for us because they want to be at our games, but we always manage to figure out a way. Being that we opened up on Wednesday vs. Marine City, it allowed me to drive to Marine City Monday night (they opened vs. Algonac Monday) to scout/film them myself. We sat down behind Marine City's bench and I pulled out the camera to start filming, and guess what? Yep, it wouldn't work. I couldn't get it to work for anything. So I ended up taking about 5 pages of notes and it was enough, I thought, to have us prepared. A few of the players wanted to go with me, so I had a car full that went to see Marine City play. Needless to say, we did not leave Marine City Gym overly impressed. As I prepared a game plan for Marine City Tuesday to go over with boys, I found it somewhat easy. Marine City didn't do anything complex at all and I knew if our kids played hard, we would win. We knew everything they were going to do, what it was called and who was going to do it. The kids opened the season with a bang and played extremely hard in my opinion. We were tough on the defensive end. Kids were diving on the floor, sacrificing, giving everything they had to get the win. Our perimeter players (Rob, Dom, Joe, Matt, Garrett, Steve) gave the Marine City guards fits with the intensity of the defense they were playing. In the locker before the game, I told the kids that there was no doubt in my mind Marine City would do something "gimmicky" to stop Joe...and sure enough they did. They played the entire 32 minutes in a "Box and 1" defense. A Box and 1 is a defense where 4 players play a 2-2 or box shaped zone defense and the 5th player face guards the other teams best player. It can be effective, especially if the player being face guarded gets frustrated and starts forcing things. Well I thought it was step in the right direction for us. I thought Joe did a very good job of keeping his composure and not trying to do "too much". He ended up with 16 points, which is very respectable when the other team is doing everything in their power to stop you. When a team goes Box and 1 on you, it is the ultimate sign of respect. Especially the first game of the season. Joe handled it well. Meanwhile we had numerous other players step up to help him out. Now, did we shoot too many 3's in the first quarter and half.....YES! We are a good shooting team but we went 2-14 from the arc in the first half. I'll chalk it up for first game jitters, but we needed to settle down a bit and get the ball to the basket. We only shot 4 threes in the second half and slowed down the offense...I would have loved to score 60 and win by 30 but we did the right thing and didn't run the score up on them. We had four players play significant minutes Wednesday for the first time on the varsity. Tyler Marwin, James Steffen and Steve O'connell played their first varsity games and did a pretty good job overall. We have a long way to go, but they did ok. They all played hard, and that's all I ask. Specifically, Steve O. did a great job with his intensity on his perimeter defense. Matt Cawley didn't play many significant minutes last season on the varsity, but that will be changing this season. I put Matt in in the 1st quarter to do what he hard, tough and aggressive and he didn't let me down. He did a great job. The scoring went as follows: Joe Baker - 21, Garrett Matthews - 7, Rob Feeman - 5, Dominic Davis - 7, Tyler Marwin - 4, Matt Cawley - 2, Steve O'connell - 2, Steve Hoffman - 2.

Prior to the game Wednesday I announced to the team who the team captains were. I had the team vote for their peers and I was proud of how they voted. They did the right thing and I thought it was only fitting to have the 4 returning seniors as captains: Rob Feeman, Dom Davis, Garrett Matthews and Matt Cawley. I am proud to have them as our captains!

After our 21 point win to open the season vs. Marine City, I told the kids in the locker room that we did something we didn't do last season. We beat a team we were supposed to beat and we beat them bad. Everyone knows how much I love my team from last year, but we struggled to put teams away and always "made it a game", even losing some we shouldn't. Wednesday was a good sign, we put them away in the 3rd quarter and kept our "heel on their throat".

Unfortunately for us, we only have 1 day between most games, which gives us very little time to prepare. So immediately following our game Wednesday, our JV Assistant Coach (Brian Litwin) returned from filming Warren Mott and handed me a tape before I left the gym. We had Warren Mott on the schedule Friday night at their place. Warren Mott returns every starter from an 18-2 conference championship season and state rankings. They start a 6'6" 250 lb. kid who is headed to Penn State next year on a football scholarship and a 6'7" player who will play college basketball next year somewhere. They have 3 quick 6'0" guards with experience, so we had our work cut out for us, as they anticipated going 20-0 this season and making a deep run in the playoffs. I went home and immediately started breaking down the tape and cut it to a DVD. I watched it 4 times to make sure I knew their tendencies. I had film session with the boys that afternoon before practice and we went over the scouting report. I told the boys that each time I watched Mott on tape, I looked at them as weaker and weaker. I thought they were fake...everything they did was fake and with little toughness and energy. I knew we had a chance. Most people probably didn't think we had a chance at all...we lost by 30 last year. We got the kids prepared and ready to go and I felt they felt confident. I told them in the locker room before the game that from the most sincere depths of my heart and soul, I truly believed we can beat them. As long as they knew that and believed it themselves, I knew we would be in the game and have our chances. I also told them that I knew for a fact they didn't scout us and probably had no game plan for us...but we were going to make them have to adjust to us....they had to worry about us! As we tipped off and started the game, I had a feeling it was going to be a game...I saw no fear in any of my kids eyes. They didn't care how big they were or how bad we got beat last year, they were ready. We may have been the only 14 in the gym that thought we had a chance.

By the time the 1st quarter was over, it was a ball game...they didn't know what they were in for. We lead 11-8 and we had them running. We were prepared for everything they did and you could tell that they had know idea who we were just by how they matched up with us. The kids were playing their hearts out already and giving me everything that they had. Joe lead us in the first quarter with 7 points and we subbed in Matt and Tyler in the first quarter to spell the starters and they kept the momentum going. James Steffen had to come out early after chipping his tooth, but he was ready to go back in the 2nd quarter. By halftime, we had the momentum and they had to adjust to us. Any good coach makes adjustments at halftime and I talked to the team about what I thought they would change, specifically taking a big man off Joe and putting a guard on him. Joe had 12 at halftime and we were leading 21-20 thanks to Garrett's smooth free throw shooting at the end of the half to put us back up 1. Man that kid can shoot a free throw! When we came out in the 2nd half I was stunned to see that they did not make 1 singular adjustment. I was shocked. So with that said, we continued to do what we were doing, with a few adjustments of our own, specifically sending Rob down to the post because of a mismatch. Rob took advantage of it and was tough as nails down there. We got up as much as 9 in the 3rd quarter and there was no doubt our boys knew this was our game to lose or win...not theirs. By the time the 4th quarter came, they switched to a man to man full court press to get back in the game and it worked. They hurried us into some turnovers and next thing you knew, it was tied. With under a minute to go, we had the ball at their end up 2 and I called a timeout. We ran a set play and Garrett threw a baseball pass to Rob that was about 1 inch too long and Rob couldn't get full control of it and missed the layup. That would have been the nail in the coffin, instead we fouled the 6'7" kid and he made both free throws. With :30 left they got the ball back and with 7 seconds they passed the ball to the big fella at the elbow and he went to shoot a jumper. It looked like Rob blocked his shot clean and they called a foul....he made 1 free throw. We had 1 timeout left and called it with 5 seconds to go. We had to go full court, which makes it tough, especially if the other team plays back on defense to prevent a deep pass. Dom got the inbounds and dribbled twice before lofting the perfect pass to Joe on the sideline. Joe went at the basket and they fouled him obvious call. Now there was 1.5 seconds left, both teams out of timeouts and our 90% free throw shooter at the line. Now let me back track, Tyler Marwin was in most of the 4th quarter because of his free throw shooting...he is about 80% and he made two huge free throws and had an even bigger offensive rebound put back. Joe stepped to the line for his two and I am quite confident neither free throw even hit the rim. We're up 2! They heave a desperation and game over! What a huge program win! That team may not lose again this year and we just dominated them. We lead the whole game and they didn't know what hit them. The kids were engulfed in emotion and I was overcome myself. By the time I got to the locker room, I couldn't fight back the tears and I all I wanted them to know was how incredibly proud of them I was. All 13 of them. They'll never forget that win, nor will I....never! One of the best feelings of my life. Joe finished with 21 and 7 rebounds, Rob - 9, Garrett - 7, Dom - 4, Tyler - 4 and James - 4.

Wednesday we did what we were supposed to do...Friday we did what weren't supposed to do and it feels great!

This Tuesday we're home vs. St. Clair and Thursday home vs. Marysville before our Christmas Tournament. Thanks for being there Friday and we'll see you all this week!

Go Trojans!

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's game week!

It has been three weeks since we embarked on our 2009-2010 basketball season. There is no question the boys have worked hard. I give them a tremendous amount of credit, it is not easy to practice 18 out of 21 days with great effort and energy...they have done it. I mentioned in my previous post that when you have to "beg" a team for effort, that makes it tough. With this team, there is no begging, they understand, they get it. We have great senior leadership with kids who have been there before....Rob Feeman, Matt Cawley, Garrett Matthews and Dominic Davis. I'm proud of what they have done already. Great character kids are easy to coach, and those four have character that is second to done.

Today (Monday, December 7, 2009) begins a very important week. We open our season with a conference game right out of the gate - Wednesday, December 9 at home against Marine City. We split with Marine City last season...1 win, 1 loss. Marine City has a reputation for physicality and toughness, so we will need to be prepared for that Wednesday. Fortunately for us, they open their season tonight, so I will be in their gym to scout/tape them so our kids will be as prepared as possible. There is nothing like showing the kids tape....when they see it on film, they believe it. Both for ourselves and for our opponents. We will scout/tape each team we play at least once so we will have our kids as prepared as they can be for each game...that's my job! We should have a slight leg up on Wednesday in terms of preparedness, because Wednesday is our first game and Marine City will not be able to scout us. That will help. We then go to Warren Mott on Friday night. I'll send someone out to scout/tape them Wednesday so we can see what they will do. Last season Mott won their conference and finished 18-2 and they return everybody! They are anticipating a big season, I'm sure. They start seniors 6-7 and 6-6 that are both good players. We're anxious to take another shot at them!

We have scrimmaged three different teams in these past three weeks: Bloomfield Hills Roeper, Allen Park Cabrini and Royal Oak High School. Scrimmages are great and not great. They are great to see what things you need to work on but they aren't so great because they aren't always true. By that I mean, your substitution patterns aren't normal and you're preparation isn't there for the other team, among other things. With that said, we have to do it so we can see our weaknesses and improve upon them. I love these kids, but we have plenty of weaknesses, based on our scrimmages. We did "OK" against Roeper and Cabrini (3 way scrimmage at Roeper day after Thanksgiving). We did win 6 out of 7 quarters that we played, but that isn't a good gauge. One thing that we are obviously missing this season is that senior leadership and size in the middle. We lost three senior post players in Mike Spring, Anthony Banules and Mike Forsythe. They rebounded hard and did everything they could in the paint. Now our experience is on the perimeter, so we are a bit undersized and vulnerable under the basket. What we will have to do is use the advantages we have on the perimeter to counterbalance that. We will not be big, but we will be tough outside and we will play to that strength. With Joe, Dominic, Rob and Garrett, they all can score and have to be guarded, which is rare in our league. In order to be successful, we have to rely on our bench as well. I have been very pleasantly surprised by the effort and good play of Matt Cawley and Steve O'connell. I tell the kids all the time, I don't care if you can shoot or dunk or look cool doing it...if you give me great effort and toughness, I'll find you minutes. Those two are doing just that. They come to play hard everyday and are doing what they need to do to help our team.

So, I'll be updating this blog each weekend so you have a snapshot of the previous and upcoming week and how we are doing. Thanks for following us and we'll see you in the gym

Go Trojans!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hoops season is finally here!!

It has finally arrived. Basketball season is finally here!! The fall athletic season was an exciting one, with our Trojans winning the conference championship in both football and soccer. Now that the snow is about to fly, that must mean it's time to get the basketballs out. We had great summer and fall workouts and the kids worked hard in the gym.

As many of you know, Monday, November 16 was the first day of tryouts. We had 57 kids tryout across the entire program: 21 varsity, 16 JV and 20 freshman. I am excited and encouraged with how many young men want to be a part of the program, but with that comes some tough decisions. Having numbers that large requires that we have to make cuts and that is never easy no matter who it is. We had tryouts on Monday and Tuesday and had the team solidified by Tuesday night. This years varsity team consists of 14 players: Rob Feeman (12), Matt Cawley (12), Dominic Davis (12), Garrett Matthews (12), Jawuan Thompson (12), Mike Griffin (12), Steve Hoffman (12), Joe Baker (11), Steve O'connell (11), Tyler Marwin (11), Cody Lehman (11), Aaron Schachinger (11), Eric Thompson (11), James Steffen (10). Wednesday night at 6:30, we began our journey together, embarking on a season with much promise and hopefully plenty of excitement.

I am extremely excited about the 14 young men who make up the Trojan Varsity Team. It is a group of young men with phenomenal character and great leadership qualities. When I took this job 18 months ago, I told the administration that I will build this program with great character kids, and I have been fortunate enough to be able to do that both last year and this year.

We had a great week of practice and there is one thing that makes for a great practice and a great team: EFFORT. We had a great week of effort, the kids worked very hard. As a coach, it is never fun to have to beg players for effort...well I don't have to beg these kids. I can feel their urgency each time they are in the gym. I feel as though they are on a mission, they understand what they can be and are already pushing themselves harder than they ever have. Last year I could not have been more proud of a group of kids than I was with our team, but I get a different feeling from this years team. They know me, I know them and we are in this thing together...for one bring Clawson its first conference championship in basketball since 1995, yep - 15 years! We're on a mission!

Friday, November 20 we had our first ever "Team Building" overnight. We practiced until 8:30, had some pizza (courtesy of Kathy O'connell...thanks Kathy!) and sat down in the library for a team building session. We ended up sitting in that circle for two hours. The kids talked about why they play basketball, who they want to dedicate their season to, what inspires them, and who they respect the most in this room. I will be the first to tell you that it got emotional and deep, but it was incredible! There is no doubt we are closer as a team because of it. We found out things about each other that most never knew. I will tell each and every parent of those 14 young men that they should be incredibly proud of what they had to say and who they had to say it about. They spoke of parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, teammates and friends. They spoke of love and respect and pride for family. They spoke from the heart and didn't hold back. I am very proud of what they said and how they handled it. After the team building session, we headed back into the gym for some fun and very little sleep. We woke up in the gym, unzipped our sleeping bags and practiced in the morning for an hour, then headed home. It was no doubt a success and I will do it each and every year. I have attached 10 photos from our "Team Building" night and most were taken the morning after...enjoy!

We enter this week with much to do and prepare for. We have Thanksgiving to be with our families and enjoy their time. We get right back after it with a scrimmage at Roeper on Friday. It will be a good gauge of where we are at and what we need to work on.

Stay tuned for weekly Trojan Hoops updates and a great season! Thanks for being a fan!