Having seen some growth within our interactions, our approach to practice and where we positioned ourselves as a team over the course of the season I felt a sense of calm. This is to say that I wasn’t worried about the outcome, rather how we presented ourselves in our final outing of the season. I wanted this final dance to be a true representation of who we were, what we had worked on and how we saw our individual roles.
I had spent some time planning for the game, scouting the opposition, looking back over our first match up to identify lessons learnt and where we could improve. The activity was a reflection of my growth as a coach and accessing the available information as a means of preparing our approach to the game. We hadn’t changed much of what we did all year, we pressed, we ran and we pressed. It worked for us, was simple and afforded our scorers opportunities in spots that they were familiar with. Our mantra had become simple, ‘shooters shoot – drivers drive’ and the players had bought into it with great effect.
I arrived at the venue with plenty of time to spare, I briefly spoke with the opposing coach and one of the referees before greeting the many parents and grandparents that had made the journey in support of their basketball son or grandson. In many ways it already felt like the biggest game of the year, the outcome wouldn’t change our final position in the league, they would finish top and we would finish behind them. This being said, it was a chance to beat everybody at least once, to demonstrate our growth and show that we were worthy of a second place finish.
The ball went up and in what had become our typical start, we got off to a flyer!! We went up 9-0 in what seemed like seconds, everything was working well for us. We moved the ball through the first eight and the second eight seconds diligently, shifting the defence and punishing them for failing to recover. Our own defence was swarming and suffocating, forcing numerous turnovers and our tempo was upbeat, determined and at a pace. If anything, we found ourselves somewhat shocked by the degree of success within our performance and neglected to acknowledge our emerging foul trouble and the reality that at some point they would make a run of their own. More importantly, I wasn’t sure that I was ready, that I had planned for the unplanned! We finished the quarter up 17 – 10, excited, energetic and ready to walk out of the gym winners.
The second quarter would not be as easy, however, we continued to play good basketball, moving the ball, ourselves and their defence to good effect. I rotated players in to and out of the game, praised their efforts and challenged them when they attempted to lower their heads following a ‘call’ or a turnover. Did we find ourselves on the end of some ‘calls’ that didn’t go our way? Yes, and we began to sink into a blame game! I quickly tackled their thinking, explaining that it didn’t matter, what was important was how we felt with what was handed to us. They continued to fight hard, to try to ignore what they was as the injustices, but what, in reality, was nothing more than a perception call, and often a good call. We finished out the half tired at 26.
We eventually lost the game 53-50, having had possession of the ball, down 1 point and 21 seconds remaining on the clock. I had called a timeout, set up the play (something that we worked on a lot) and was confident that we would get a shot off…we didn’t. We then committed a foul, sent them to line and went down 3 with 11 seconds to go…still a chance!! Again, we set up our play, established what we wanted only to see our efforts blocked before ever really leaving our hands. Had I made two poor choices? Was there a better approach? In hindsight I think so, this was the element of my game that did not carry confidence as its friend. A more strategic coach may well have done a great deal more with those 21 seconds, surely more than I was capable of.
The players left the court distraught, they had no need to, they had taken the best team in the league to the last 21 seconds, given them a fight and challenged their dominance. I was so very proud of t heir efforts, of their fight and of everything they had accomplished this season. 21-3 was nothing to scoff at, they had achieved their collective goals, played some very good basketball and most importantly of all, they had grown as young men!!