Basketball’s Eye in the Sky

Basketball as we know it is changing before our eyes! Zach Lowe from has been following the NBA’s plan to install complex data-tracking cameras that will track movement of every object on the court including players, referees, and of course, the ball.  Although expensive, this new innovation will impact the game at all levels as less sophisticated systems will work their way down from the professional level.  Let’s take a closer look at this quasi-Big Brother approach and how it will affect the game, but also consider the merits of an eye in the sky for each of us in our life and faith.

BASKETBALL – Too Much Information?

About ten years ago, I watched an up and coming men’s coach completely reconstruct a fallen program at our school.  All of us in the athletic department were amazed, enlightened, and at times disturbed by the micro-managing way he took control of every detail. It was truly an eye-opening experience.  One such detail involved using a camera to control and direct the body language, focus, and team spirit of players on the bench. Once a player’s demeanor was exposed and shown in film sessions, the behaviors of players on the bench changed immediately!  It was even used to evaluate the intensity and loyalty of fans sitting in the prime seats near the home bench! While I understood it and even now check our bench behavior on film every once in a while, it made me a little uneasy.

I’m a tad uneasy about the NBA camera systems as well.  I’m curious and anxious to see all the information it can provide and know that people a lot smarter than me will find trends and keys we never had before.  Improving officiating certainly is a plus, as positioning and effort can be evaluated instantaneously.  Information about player reactions to loose balls and rebounds will tell us a great deal and using physical measurements of release points, arc, and spin of the ball when shooting will provide incredible teaching points.  As Zack Lowe outlined, these and a whole host of other aspects of the game can be scrutinized like never before and more than likely, the game will be changed.  Just look at how expanded statistical analysis is changing modern sports in the fashion of Moneyball.  

So, it’s all a good thing, right? Why am I uneasy?  Is it because I don’t like change? Is it because I feel like I’m back in high school reading about Big Brother?  Or does it feel like we’re ignoring the soul of the game – you know, the intangibles like heart, handling emotions, and building unselfish attitudes.  I guess I’m not sure how having so much information from the cameras and stats will truly affect the parts of the game I love most.  I’m going to keep an open mind and I’m going to adjust.  If all the new stuff will help us win, I’m all for it, but at the same time I don’t want to ignore the soul of the game and that’s where my true focus will remain.

LIFE – You’re being watched!

As a college graduate, my first position took me to the great state of Texas – where everything is big, including the cockroaches!  While dating my future wife, a frequent feeling of being watched came upon us while watching movies in our apartments.  We’d get this bizarre feeling that somebody was watching us and usually after a few moments, we’d sense movement around us or above us and she would shriek when we located a roach peering at us from high on the walls! That feeling sticks with you!  These days, cameras seem to watch everything we do at traffic lights, in shopping malls, and in schools and it’s completely understandable – it helps us feel more secure. Does it change behavior?  Do you think twice knowing that you’re being watched?  Can a camera monitor your thoughts or motivations?  I’m amazed at what people will still do, even though they know they may be seen on camera, so does it really change behavior?  Once again, I’m a tad uneasy.  I know there’s some merit in the security of camera-technology, but I’m still sorting out my feelings about Big Brother.

FAITH – God’s surveillance system is the only one that works!

I’m thankful that God doesn’t need a high-tech camera system.  I’m thankful that He sees every angle and every aspect of my life.  Many in this world would fear that notion – the idea that God sees everything and stands in judgement of all that we do, but you know what?  It’s not a new innovation!  It’s who God is.  After all, He created us and He cares for us:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13)

And while God does see all of our faults, mistakes, bad intentions, and sin and has every right to judge our actions, for me there’s comfort and security in that.  Unlike the NBA cameras, God sees my heart and my soul.  He knows my weaknesses and knows my failings and because He sees it all and still loves me, I can have a relationship with Him that will improve my life and walk with Him!  When I realize that no thought or action is hidden from Him, I give in to His guidance and to His promptings, not by gauging statistics and trends, but my leaning on His guidance and truth.

then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart) . . . (1 Kings 8:39)

So Big Brother and the NBA are trying to watch more, but God sees everything and I like that . . .


The Big Flop: When Competition Compromises Integrity

I was disheartened this week after a conversation with a friend who says he’s had it with sports in our culture – at all levels, not just the pros. A former pro athlete and parent of three high school athletes, he’s upset with the “end justifies the means” mentality in sports today and how it affects our society. The reports and allegations of athletes and coaches ignoring, bypassing, and breaking rules are nothing new. They’re only reported on daily by a hyper-competitive media. Our moral compasses are besieged by Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, and now, the Oklahoma State football program as outlined in Sports Illustrated. Even more disturbing, though, are the responses like “Every program in the country is doing it” or “As long as you win . . .” and “Some people are just above the rules.” We see the big headlines, but don’t we often ignore and overlook the small indiscretions that pave the way for the big ones? Let me share some of my experiences in college recruiting and take a look at the seemingly harmless act of flopping on the basketball court. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

BASKETBALL – The trouble with flopping

In our sensationalized society today, it’s easy to think that everyone is breaking or bending rules.  We see talented athletes, with God-given strength, speed, and agility, do almost anything to get an extra edge.  I was reviewing clinic notes and found a page that referenced a thirty minute discussion from a well-known college coach about teaching players to flop when attempting to draw a charge – how to scream, how to flail, and how to hold.  That was twenty years ago, (I’ll withhold the name of the coach to protect the guilty), but here’s the issue.  I left that clinic thinking I needed to get better at teaching players how to flop.  I left there thinking that everyone else was teaching it and that my teams would be at a disadvantage if I didn’t teach it, too.  Now, for any coach who has been on the other side of a gullible official’s call at a critical point in a game, I hope you can relate.  This one bothered my compass.  It’s just not right and as a coach, I don’t want to coach that way.  I’d rather spend my time focused on proper positioning, beating a player to the spot, and selflessly giving up your body.  THAT, I can feel good about.

Now, for the lighter side.  Take a look at these flops!

So, what does the ethics of flopping have to do with major NCAA violations and PED scandals?  Those things just don’t happen suddenly – just like a kid smoking his first joint doesn’t set out to become a heroin addict, coaches and athletes don’t just decide on a whim to commit major infractions.  It’s the pattern of “flopping” that leads to the big stuff.  Some may say it’s a slippery slope, but I hate that term because it seems to rationalize bad decisions that are preventable.  Here are just a couple of incidents where I got sucked in thinking if others are doing it, it must be acceptable and that in the struggle to compete, I needed to do them too:

– High school coaches with highly successful resumes ignoring association rules for allowable contacts and practices with their players.  There are those who will entice their community to hop on board with these actions, because that’s the way you run a winning program and if you want your kid to be a part of it . . . well?

– In my early D-I recruiting days, the seating areas at summer events were often limited and not restricted as they are today.  College coaches were routinely surrounded by players and coaches, but not allowed to have any verbal contact.  After witnessing a Hall of Fame coach embroiled in a recruiting battle for one of the top five players in the country carry on a conversation with that player through a variety of means like playing the telephone game with a younger sibling of the player, talking to the player by appearing to talk to her assistant, and writing notes on a program, I was convinced that I had to do the same to get one of the top 250 players – and so did all the other young coaches sitting in those stands.  After all, the coach was a legend.

– And at all levels of recruiting, I find myself in the same predicament as every other coach – dealing with negative recruiting.  That one never seems to end as you can read about in Chris Johnson’s post about Negative Recruiting.  I don’t have space to write about all the situations I’ve been in where the temptation seemed so justified!

 FAITH – Dishonoring weights.

The Book of Proverbs is not a list of rules or commands from God, it’s a clear guide to wise living in a difficult world.  The proverbs provide advice for living a life that brings you closer in step with your Creator.  Breaking man-made rules like traffic laws, NCAA rules, high school association rules, or even the rules of basketball, has consequences, but also reflects our character.  Solomon gives great advice for competition, work, and careers in today’s world by reminding us:

The Lord detests differing weights,
and dishonest scales do not please him.  Proverbs 20:23

It may not seem like it connects, but a merchant cheating a customer with creative weighing techniques is similar to coaches and players ignoring and bending rules to their advantage.  And justifying your actions for the sake of competing has implications in the rest of your life!

LIFE – Quit flopping!

Take a look at your own life – not just basketball.  Are you bending rules on the job?  Taking advantage of other people?  Justifying your own indiscretions?  Studies show that cheating on high school and college campuses is becoming an epidemic – how ’bout you?  Do you give in to the pressure to compete?  Are you flopping?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Preseason Conditioning: Ferreting Out the Gray Man

One of my least favorite words in the English language is mediocrity.  I don’t like to say it and I don’t like what it means.  The idea of something being disappointingly average conjured up strong images as this week we addressed a new crop of players vying to be members of our Division III basketball team. It doesn’t matter at what level you compete, if you don’t put the effort in, you’ll find your self being mediocre.  As we begin our preseason training, we have many new faces – new to the team and new to the school.  It’s an exciting but challenging time.  Our first hurdle for players to climb in their desire to make our team will be pushing themselves to improve their conditioning.  Much of that is physical, but more importantly for our team, preseason condition sets the tone for the unity and selflessness we strive for – we can’t compete with mediocre teammates.  And, as will talk about today, God doesn’t want mediocre Christians either.

LIFE – Nasty, lukewarm water!

I shared with many teams my distaste for mediocrity and the life-long image that sticks in my brain, as I shared before in an article about Apathy.  There’s nothing more disappointing than lukewarm water when you’re desperately thirsty, or for that matter, chilled to the bone.  We ache for it to be refreshing or invigorating and when it’s not, it’s disappointing – even a bit nasty.  That’s what mediocrity is like and what’s most revealing is that it doesn’t take any effort to make water lukewarm. Just let it sit and that’s what you’ll get – lukewarm mediocrity.

No Easy DayDuring my summer of reading, I picked up a book written by a U.S. Navy Seal called No Easy Day. While it details the mission to find Osama Bin Laden, it also provides a glimpse into the training and testing required to be a member of the highest level within the Seals commonly known as Seal Team Six.  Our players are not training for the Seals, but I found an interesting takeaway.

During the nine-week evaluation process, many of the candidates drop out on their own or they’re cut through an intense evaluation process, but the final cuts become increasingly difficult.  Hidden in the survivors are those who have the talent and have the ability, but their commitment to the group is often hidden.  To find those who are not willing to think beyond themselves, the evaluators seek to “ferret out the gray man” – those who will detract from the unity of the unit, even though they have all the ability and talent.  On a weekly basis, candidates are asked to rank the group with a Top 5 / Bottom 5 approach.  You see, the difficulty of the training and the evaluation process will make it clear who is really on board.  Being mediocre, lukewarm, or gray in your work, in your friendships, in your family is a miserable place to be, isn’t it?

FAITH – God doesn’t want gray men either!

When you truly live in God’s grace and commit your life to Him, this idea should make a lot of sense, but isn’t it hard?  We give our lives to him, but many of us don’t live it.  We try to do it on our terms, only living our faith when it’s comfortable. That’s gray.  That’s lukewarm. It’s mediocre.  We’re told in simple terms what God thinks of that in Revelation 3:16:

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

BASKETBALL – The value of preseason conditioning.

At Marquette, I had the chance to work with one of the best strength coaches I’ve ever been around. Scott Hosopple is tough and demanding, and he understands the mental and emotional value of team building through conditioning.  Scott transformed both the men’s and women’s teams at MU, moved on to work with Kentucky basketball, Florida football, and now has the challenge of helping Charlie Weis turn around the football program at Kansas.  When Scott worked with our players, not only did they get in top physical condition, but they learned how to think outside themselves.  Consider Scott’s list of Benefits of Strength Conditioning for basketball players.  Included in the list are communication and team cohesiveness.  Getting players to depend on each other and trust each other helps us discover which players are gray and lack the willingness to be great teammates.

When things are tough and when the work is demanding, most of us tend to focus only on ourselves.  We think about how hard it is, how much we hurt, or how we can cut corners. That’s the default set that we all have – that’s mediocrity.  You have to do more than show up.  And here’s a little secret – you may not be a great player and you may not have great athletic ability or the speed, stamina, or strength of other players – but each of us can be a great teammate!  My encouragement to players and teams involved in preseason work right now is to ferret out the gray man and do more than just show up and get through your workouts.  Use your workouts to become more than just conditioned.  Use them to become a great teammate!

“The greatest compliment to any player is that he or she is a great teammate. We can’t all be great players but we can all be great teammates… Great teammates choose to commit fully to the team’s goals and understand in the big picture what is required of each individual.”
Jay Bilas, ESPN Analyst and Author of Toughness