Monday, July 11, 2011

What better way to spend a birthday?

Many of you might remember that for my 40th birthday, my lovely wife, Colleen, allowed me and "Iowa" Tim to travel all the way to Grinnell College, birthplace of The System, to attend two games in December 2009. Well, my actual birthday is July 11, but where can you find basketball the way it was meant to be played in July? Ordinarily, you can't, which I why I celebrated my birthday that year by freezing my buns off amongst the cornfields of Iowa, watching System creator David Arseneault and his Grinnell NCAA Division III men's team do their thing. It was a wonderful trip, something I will never forget.

Well, I have another memory to add to that list. Coach Evan Massey and his girls' team from Galesburg (Ill.) HS are in Chapel Hill, N.C., for Sylvia Hatchell's basketball camp at the University of North Carolina. I already had squeezed an extra day of vacation, so with Monday free, I ventured up the road about 85 miles to catch the Silver Streaks in action. And I had so much fun at their 8:15 a.m. game (yep, that's right, A.freaking.M, way too early for hoops) that I drove back home to pick up Colleen and my daughters, Emily and Libbie, so they could get a chance to see what Coach Massey has done with The System in Galesburg.

Wow, what a day. Yes, I was disappointed for the team when they lost a close one in the morning to Parkwood HS from Monroe, N.C., a team that finished 25-3 last season, and felt even more so when a very solid team from Arizona held on for about a 10-point victory. Yet summer camp games certainly shouldn't be all about winning, or any about winning, really, and Coach Massey and assistant Andie Allison reflected that in their court-side demeanor.

There was quite a contrast in the opening game. At one point while play was ongoing, Coach Massey was leaning on the stands and polishing off some type of breakfast bread (Muffin? Bagel? Not sure) along with his cup of coffee. The Parkwood coach was standing near mid-court, waving his arms and imploring his team to find a way to get the ball in against the Galesburg pressure. He also had eight players total on his roster, played one of them hardly at all and left another one sitting out the entire game. Meanwhile, the Streaks rolled with 13 players (two were injured), and everyone essentially got equal playing time. Which method do you think will build depth and team chemistry, all while giving each girl her money's worth at the camp? Gee, I wonder.

In the second game, the sideline comparison was even more drastic. Coaches Massey and Allison calmly gave instructions and encouragement, and the coach from the Arizona school stalked around as if she was Brenda Frese, the women's coach at Maryland (for those of you more familiar with the men's game, think Kansas State's Frank "Crazy Eyes" Martin). The referees had to ask this coach to get back on her side of halfcourt! Pretty crazy.

Here are some other tidbits from my wonderful day with the Streaks:

- The entire team couldn't have been any nicer to me, Colleen and the girls, and that includes Coach Massey's son, Allen, who sat with me during the first game and patiently answered my questions about who was doing what. He did all this while keeping stats, and you can tell he has a sharp basketball mind.

Before the second game, Emma Junk, a rising junior who is out with a stress fracture, came over to introduce herself and immediately made Emily and Libbie feel comfortable. She took them out to meet the team, then invited them to sit on the sidelines for the second half with everyone else. What a neat thing for someone Emma's age to do.

And when we left, everyone made a point to smile and thank us for coming. I guess Coaches Massey and Allison don't deserve all the credit, but someone sure is doing right by these young ladies.

- Coach Allison is a fan of The System. Having played for Coach Massey at Galesburg, and later at Knox College, she has seen varying styles of play, and she likes what she sees from the Streaks' version of this breathtaking style of play.

"It just builds such a great feeling of 'team,' of camaraderie, for everyone," she said. "It really has stuck with the players, and I think everyone still is excited about what we do. The teams we face in the conference all know what we do and they prepare for us, but they're preparing to do this twice a season. We do it all year."

It also is easy to see that the players respect Coach Allison and look to her for guidance. What a great asset she is for Coach Massey.

- The System is hampered by the rules of summer camp games, with a small court, running clock and haphazard officiating. Still, it is a wonder to see when it clicks, and Galesburg did plenty of that. The quarters run so quickly that it is difficult to see the full effect of the "melt down," when the other team falls apart, yet it happened at least once in both games. It was easy to see the opponent's were gassed and looking for rest, yet the Streaks kept coming on offense and on defense.

- I had a chance to meet guard Paige Klinck's grandfather, who traveled with his wife up from Lake Oconee, Ga., to watch. He formerly lived in Galesburg and had seen Grinnell face hometown Knox College, so he was somewhat familiar with The System. Still, you could tell he enjoyed himself, and Paige did both her grandparents proud with a spirited effort in both games.

- I've already addressed the disparity in playing time for the Streaks and their opponents, but it bares repeating. I was able to go to team camp during my high school playing days and felt fortunate to get some run. Imagine being that player for Parkwood who sat out an entire game! Now, certainly, she could have been injured or held out for some other reason, even though she went through warmups with no problems. Still, I can see why the coach might have done it. He probably figured she wasn't going to play any during the season, so why waste time on her in the summer, right? Hopefully, we all see the idiocy of that reasoning. Some System coaches call their brand of hoops the "No Child Left Behind Style of Basketball," and nothing could be more true.

- It is so hard to single out player for her individual effort (mostly because I'm not entirely sure of everyone's name), but I did want to give a shoutout to point guard Jessica Lieber. I loved watching her push tempo throughout her shifts, always looking up to advance the ball a little bit quicker. She has a nice touch on 3-pointers, as well, and a nose for the ball on defense. Look for a big season for Jessica.

I wish Coach Massey, Coach Allison, Emma, Paige, Jessica and everyone else the best of luck during the remainder of their stay in my state. Hopefully, I will get a chance to visit Thiel Gymnasium to watch a real game at some point. I know Emily and Libbie will be up for the trip, since they already have plans to build a snowman with their new pal, Emma.

Keep doing your thing, Streaks.

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