Book Review Of Hard Work

For many Kansas Jayhawks fans in April of 2003, Roy Williams leaving KU to replace Matt Doherty at North Carolina felt like insult to injury. The Jayhawks had just ended a beautiful 2 year run of Final Four finishes, but had failed to finish the job on both trips. Bad shot selection and a costly time out violation cost them in a heated game against the Juan Dixon–led Maryland Terrapins in the 2002 tournament. It was a disappointing way to end the season; especially being the first team to go undefeated in Big 12 conference play.

Despite losing two critical big men the following year (Drew Gooden to the NBA draft and Wayne Simien to a shoulder injury), the Jayhawks got back to the Final Four and almost overcame a poor first half and poor free throw shooting (they shot 11-31 from the charity stripe) only to come up short. Not only did they lose the National Championship by a mere 3 points, but they lost two of their storied players to graduation in Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich, and on top of that they lost their head coach. It was a tender time for the KU faithful.

Hard Work puts this time period–and Roy Williams as a whole–in perspective. It is a touching and honest tale that gives us insight into what makes him tick. Williams discusses his family background growing up in Asheville, North Carolina and we follow him to his decision (inspired by his own high school coach Buddy Baldwin) to pursue a career in coaching during his junior year in high school. From there, he goes on to attend the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he plays on the junior varsity team and watches the Dean Smith run practices during his free time; sitting high in the bleachers while taking notes.

Through hard work and determination Williams pays his way through school by taking odd jobs until he finally graduates and finds a job coaching high school, while maintaining his connection at UNC–a connection that pays in dividends as he takes a pay cut to become an assistant coach for Dean Smith. It is Roy Williams who has a hand in recruiting such notable players as Rick Fox, Sam Perkins, and the GOAT himself, Michael Jordan.

After ten years of hard work for coach Dean Smith (a KU alum), that Williams leaves for Lawrence, Kansas (not without a great deal of hand wringing) after another UNC alum, Larry Brown leaves for an NBA job.

I picked up this book hoping to get some insight into the Lawrence to Chapel Hill parallel, and the coaching pipeline that started with Dean Smith. Unfortunately, Williams does little romanticizing about his time in Lawrence. It almost feels like he left Chapel Hill only for the sake of building his resume for when it was time to take over for Coach Smith. There are very little off the court details to his time in Lawrence, and I couldn’t help but wonder if taking the KU job helped him feel closer to Dean Smith and Larry Brown, having understood the culture surrounding both basketball programs.

Most of the details about his time in Lawrence involve recruiting and learning the ropes as the head coach of a major program. Although Roy Williams is a coaching legend, Hall of Famer, and one of the most decorated men to ever pick up a clipboard, there was a time when he faced a great deal of scrutiny. Despite going to two Final Fours in his first four years of coaching (Kansas was ineligible for post season play due to violations during the Larry Brown era), the media loved floating around the narrative that Roy couldn’t win the big one. No matter how talented the team, each season ended with Williams at a press conference crying into the microphone. It was an image I got used to seeing as a teenager in middle and high school.

Considering how tough it was at the time to get big time players to come to Lawrence to play basketball (players like Jason Kidd, Tayshaun Prince, Harold Minor, Thomas Hill, and Jimmy King all passed on coming to Kansas for various reasons–Larry Brown almost left the program in 1987 because he was afraid he couldn’t get big time recruits to come play there), one has to consider how well Williams performed his job as head coach at Kansas. Despite some good recruiting eras, the only Williams recruited player to come out of KU and go on to be a stud in the NBA was future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce. At their professional best, Scot Pollard, Raef LaFrentz, Jacque Vaughn, Gooden, Hinrich, and Collison (who almost went to Duke which means Carlos Boozer might have been a Jayhawk, YUK!) were really good role players. Even now as the coach of UNC, despite already having won 3 national titles (narrowly missing out on a fourth because of a Villanova buzzer beater two seasons ago), San Antonio Spur, Danny Green happens to be the best NBA player to ever play for Roy at Chapel Hill.

Before picking up this book, I wasn’t sure what to think about Roy Williams. As a kid, I couldn’t tell if his  “aw shucks” demeanor and Huckleberry Hound accent was corny or earnest. I always found his emotional press conferences endearing. Most of the time, he talked about how badly he felt for his players, and often spoke of the disappointment that he couldn’t win them a championship.  Hard Work was a revealing read however, and there is a simplicity and self awareness about Roy Williams that you don’t find with many coaches of big time programs. Many high profile coaches come off as smug, pompous and self righteous, or at their worst, fast talking hucksters and pimps.

As for his coaching, there is no doubt what kind of legacy he will leave when he finally decides to hang it up. He is not even 70 yet, but I don’t get the sense he is ready to rest on his laurels. UNC is the kind of basketball program that sells itself, and he doesn’t have to work as hard to get big time recruits to come to Chapel Hill. Years ago, I was wondering if he was close to retire from the stress of running a big time program. Now I understand that Coach Williams enjoys the challenge and its part of his competitive nature to scream and yell on the sideline as if every possession were the last. It took lots of hard work, but it feels like Roy has cracked the code, and he may win another four or five titles when its all said and done.

And for those Jayhawks fans who were upset back in 2003, it looks as if things worked out for both parties. Williams’ replacement, Bill Self has created his own legacy in Lawrence, winning 14 straight conference titles, and took KU took a title by his fifth year of coaching (defeating a talented North Carolina team in the Final Four on the way to that championship). Kansas fans can hang their hat on jump-starting the UNC program by giving them their storied coach in Dean Smith. Coach Smith returned the favor by sending pupils Larry Brown and Roy Williams back to Lawrence to keep the winning tradition alive. But if you think about it, Williams grew up in Asheville, married his wife while being a student at North Carolina, cut his teeth as a coach at Carolina, and even though his son and daughter both went to Lawrence High School; they also both attended school in Chapel Hill (his son Scott won a state title at Lawrence High and went on to play for Dean Smith while his daughter was on the UNC dance team). KU fans should have seen the move coming a mile away. Coach Williams was always a Tar Heel; he was just on loan to Kansas until the program needed him again.

 

BM

 

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

 

 

Book Review: John Feinstein’s A Season Inside

Growing up, I used to see John Feinstein on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters and think that he looked like the dude that Demi Moore married for his monies in the Dead Right episode of “Tales From the Crypt.”

I first ran across one of his books in college when a hoops junkie friend of mine kept A Season Inside on the base of his toilet. I’d check it out on the occasions I needed his restroom to poop. I knew Feinstein was a writer, but had no idea he wasted a whole season following around that jerkfaced, bigoted bully of man, Bobby Knight, his subject for the book, A Season on the Brink. I’d give it a review, but that would mean I had to read it first. No thank you! #Hardpass

Feinstein’s writing in A Season Inside embodies every corny white sportswriter from the 1980’s as he travels across the country following various programs during the 1988 college basketball season. Every trite basketball cliche that you could possibly list makes the cut in this book. If I took a shot of Patron for every time Feinstein uses the adjective “articulate” to describe a black athlete, I’d still be too drunk to write this post.

There are moments in the book where I can’t tell if I’m reading non-fiction or one of those sports novels I would get as a middle schooler from the Scholastic Book Club. Feinstein was so intent on setting up a scene that he even purports to know what everyone is thinking in real time. Fortunately the book doesn’t always read this way (imagine reading four hundred plus pages of this type of nonsense), and it wasn’t complete shit. But I heavily skimmed through this one stopping only to read about the Duke, Kansas, UNC and Arizona chapters. It is easy to forget that Villanova was once a Big East powerhouse back when Rollie Massimino was pulling the reins as the head coach. Other notable cameos through the book are:

  • Navy’s David Robinson waiting out his obligation to Uncle Sam so that he can suit up for the San Antonio Spurs.
  • Larry “pound for pound” Brown yelling at senior All American Danny Manning on their way to a championship season. At one point Larry Brown is found contemplating if it is even possible to compete for a national title in a town like Lawrence. Also of note, KU teammates Kevin Pritchard and Milt Newton go on to become NBA general managers, as well as assistant coach R.C. Buford. Also on the KU coaching staff at this time, the infamous Alvin Gentry.
  • Current Jazz head coach Quin Snyder reportedly getting abused throughout the 1988 campaign, further enhancing his legacy as a basketball buster. Teammate Billy King would become THE Billy King who would go on to become the Brooklyn Nets GM, and we all know how that will turn out.
  • The late Dean Smith somehow getting through the brutal ACC league without a legit point guard and his best players being J.R. Reid, future Bulls forward Scott Williams and Rick Fox (of Party Down fame).
  • Rookie underachieving head coach Rick Barnes in his first year at George Mason
  • Late NC State Jim Valvano only a few years away from giving his infamous “Never Give Up” ESPY speech, and subsequent death.
  • The beginning of Lute Olson’s peak coaching years at the University of Arizona, with many juicy Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott anecdotes (anyone else Judd Buechler and Tom Tolbert?).
  • The infamous Billy Tubbs making his coaching bones at the University of Oklahoma with a solid crew of Mookie Blaylock, Stacy King, and Harvey Grant.

 

John Feinstein is a cornball, but I appreciate his attention to detail. His game notes must’ve been impeccable because he was able to recall various moments and sequences throughout multiple runs in the games he attended. Although this book is way too long (again; over four hundred pages), it is worth a good skim through–especially if you are a University of Kansas fan.

The amount of time Feinstein spends on teams in conferences no one gives a fuck about really bogs the reading down. But I think if you are a fan of the game (especially the NBA), it is interesting reading to go back and revisit the college careers of guys whose careers were washed ages ago, but continue to act as ambassadors of basketball as we know today.

 

BM

 

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

 

 

 

Book Review: Life Is Not An Accident

You may have heard the cautionary tale about former college hoops phenom, Jay Williams and wondered how the hell could someone throw away such a promising career by doing something as reckless as owning a motorcycle. Well if you read his memoir, Life Is Not An Accident, the book will answer every question you’ve ever had about the man.

The book begins on the day of his accident and then works backward (kind of like a movie—upon writing this, I immediately pictured Michael B. Jordan playing the role of Jay Williams). Williams had just finished his rookie campaign and had barely gotten used to NBA life before the abrupt end to his playing career. Unlike Bobby Hurley, another legendary Duke point guard who managed to salvage a couple of years playing despite his own life threatening vehicular accident (car crash), Williams never played in the league again.

The memoir then follows back towards the twists and turns that dog Williams all the way through rehab and his post NBA career, detailing the mental anguish he felt from self-directed guilt and anger. Sandwiched between the details surrounding the accident and his journey to becoming one of ESPN’s best basketball analysts, are tales of various on the court and off the court experiences by the 2002 Naismith Player of the Year.

Most notable are:

  • Scoring 9 of the 11 points in a pickup game while being guarded by J.J. Redick.
  • His recruitment as a high school player and his unrequited desire to be a UNC Tar Heel.
  • His collegiate battles against the Maryland Terrapins;including this unforgettable game.
  • Playing with Shane Battier, Chris Duhon, Carlos Boozer, and Mike Dunleavy Jr.
  • Being on the Bulls with Jalen Rose and Jamal Crawford.
  • Losing the stamina and quickness that gave him an advantage over other college studs.
  • A brief career as an agent that included an unsavory recruitment process of Kevin Love.

 

After a successful rehab stint that involved relearning how to walk, Jay Williams discusses his unsuccessful comeback attempts and his head space immediately following the wreck. Painfully honest, Williams gives an unflinching account of his addiction to pain-killers and being suicidal period.

The most pivotal moment of the book comes when Williams realizes that the self-pity and neurosis that led him to his post-injury depression may have been the same factors that led him towards that fateful bike wreck.

Williams finally gets to a point where he decides to start embracing the things still in his life, instead of mulling  over the things that he (seemingly) threw away in his costly accident. It is here where he confronts his insecurities and demons head on, and turns his life around.

Although not Pulitzer material, this memoir is well written and insightful into the pressures some players deal with the moment they realize they have an opportunity to achieve their wildest dreams. Even the most fervent of Duke haters can empathize with the on the court wins and off the court losses of one of college basketball’s most decorated players. I give this book a B+.

BM

profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

A Book Review: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History

As promised, we’re doing a review of the FreeDarko book, The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. If you missed the review on their other project, “Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, you can read that post here.

In 2010, this collective, self described as a movement that “crawled out of the muck of a fantasy league message board”, returned with an illustrated encyclopedia that will satisfy any and all basketball nerds.

A few fun facts that I learned from reading TUGTPBH:

  • We all know that a Canadian named Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball while living in Springfield, Massachusetts.What I did not know is that basketball developed from a Canadian schoolyard game called “duck on the rock.” The premise of the game was to use a ball to knock a small rock (the duck) off of a larger rock. A person would guard the “duck” and apparently the best way to get the ball past the guard was to arc it. inaismi001p1
  • Up until 1937, teams would perform a jump ball after every basket was scored. Can you imagine how slow the tempos of those early games were? People complain about the constant starts and stops inherent in American football games, and that baseball is too slow, but my guess is if they hadn’t adjusted the jump ball rule, there’d be no NBA today. You’d probably be watching a bunch of black athletes dominating on the soccer pitch.
  • Josh Smith’s mother was an R & B singer named Paulette Reaves (I’m telling you these guys are thorough), who was famous for songs like “Do It Again” and “Flesh”, and Ralph Sampson had a daughter who grew up to be neo-soul singer India Arie.

What is also cool, is learning about the fringe novelty teams that barnstormed America which helped popularize the game. In addition to the Harlem Globetrotters (akin to seeing the circus in many people’s opinion), there were the Rens, the first All Black team to win a world title in any sport.

The All-American Red Heads was a group of red headed women (some natural, some dyed) who played up 200 exhibition (six on six but with men’s rules)games during a seven month season. They started by driving around in a station wagon, but eventually moved up to limousine status. Their popularity waned by 1973, which was when the colleges were finally forced to implement sports teams for women.

In addition to learning how the NBA was created (a merger of the NBL and BAA), the book breaks down milieu of each NBA decade, starting with the early Celtics dominance, and finishing with the dynasties of the Lakers and Spurs.

This book was published six years ago–right before Lebron James made the infamous “decision” that would help him achieve full “Lebron” status. I wonder if in four years, Bethlehem Shoals and company will add an extra chapter to account for this current decade.

We haven’t seen an  NBA Finals without LBJ since the 2010 Lakers-Celtics 7 game extravaganza. Even then, FreeDarko wrote about James, that “amazing is a continuous state.” This observation hinted at what the future held in store for Lebron and the game of basketball.

The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is the kind of thing that it is to be absorbed rather than consumed. The density of the material forced me into a chapter per sitting regiment (in which I finished over the course of a month). This book isn’t for everyone. If you’re the kind of person who would rather read a book written by a Swedish guy obsessed with spies, then this isn’t the book for you–in fact what are you even doing on this site?

I’m not saying that this book is a must read, but it is a must own. Just put it on your coffee table, and within a few days your life will become infinitely better. Trust me on this one.

BM

 

Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Boys Among Men

Don’t sleep on this guy just because he looks like Eli the Rapper’s older brother. Jonathan Abrams is one of the best NBA writers in the game right now. He asks the questions that somehow escape other writers; creating story angles that provide different player narratives than the ones most mainstream outlets whiff on. Also, did I mention that he is thorough?

Jonathan Abrams is a USC graduate (boo!) who worked at both the L.A. and New York Times. When he wrote for the now defunct Grantland, he would pop up with a feature on players like Harrison Barnes, Andre Miller, Zach Randolph, J.R. Smith, and Greg Oden, or write about random journeymen like former Jayhawk great Thomas Robinson, Paul Milsap, and other players who find a way to fly under the radar of the national media.

It was always exciting to see his columns pop up on the Grantland homepage because you were guaranteed a quality piece (not always a guarantee on that site) on a player that would make you reexamine the way you originally thought about them. Abrams even had me halfway considering not hating on Austin Rivers, a guy who was a perennial “Buster of the Week” nominee the past 2 NBA seasons. That’s how good of a writer Jonathan Abrams  is.

At least once a month I’d hit someone with the “Abrams has done it again” text after reading one of his “Oral History” columns; the most notable ones being the “Malice at the Palace” and Lakers-Kings Western Conference Finals. Word on the street is that he is currently  working on an oral history of famed television show, The Wire.

“Abrams is the rare reporter who unearths new details about the most famous prep-to-pro stars, like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, and tells the complex stories of those who didn’t make it in the NBA. A must read for any basketball fan.

Earlier this year, Abrams blessed the game with his book, Boys Among Men, an examination about the “Prep-to-Pro” phenomenon that started in the 70’s and hit its apex  in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

Abrams opens this examination with a chapter that reflects on players like Bill Willoughby, Darryl Dawkins, and Moses Malone; players from the 70’s who made the jump when the NBA was operating under a different financial landscape. Rookie contracts weren’t the financial windfall that the 90’s players landed (indirectly leading to an NBA lockout in 1999) and the risk was much greater for these prep pioneers who made the jump for various reasons.

Abrams goes into great detail about the situations that each Prep-to-Pro player faced when making their decision. Whereas Kobe Bryant (who people forget was a late lottery pick who had to prove himself) came from a privileged upbringing, guys like Amare Stoudemire and Lebron James came from impoverished backgrounds.

Abrams interviews general managers and other front office heads who were behind the scenes of these historic drafts. They detail the reasons why players like Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, and Kobe Bryant succeeded in contrast to players like Korleone Young, Kwame Brown, Leon Smith, and Lenny Cooke, who didn’t quite pan out. There are no what if’s in these books, because the why’s are all laid out for the reader.

One of the biggest questions that gets raised (but isn’t quite answered) is if the rules the NBA implemented to keep high school seniors from declaring for the draft are fair. For players experiencing economic hardships, these rules seem harsh–especially for those players who are equipped to handle the process as mature adults. Despite the cautionary tales of the players who should have gone to college (or overseas like Brandon Jennings), it seems to me like the rules were implemented to save the NBA owners from themselves.

After the success of Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, the pressure to not miss again on young, but high level prospects,  was just as immense as taking a flyer on a high school player and blowing a year’s worth of draft picks. On the surface it seems like an unconstitutional rule that could be fought by the NBA players union (especially considering the league instituted a rookie cap after the first lockout in 1999).

Jonathan Abrams does extensive interviews throughout, with players’ family members, AAU coaches, friends, and agents and gives a behind the scenes look at what happens on draft day for these franchises and the young players they are taking. The book lends a better understanding of the various factors that go into a player’s successes and failures, and sometimes the only thing separating this outcome is a little bit of luck.

Sometimes it is a matter of landing on the right team and getting a support system that isn’t there for some players; whether that be coaches, other players, or “sponsors” who happen to work within the organization. While sometimes it is matter of performing in front of the right people at the right time.

If you’ve ever wondered why a guy like Tyson Chandler is still in the league as a veteran while Eddy Curry was not able to live up to his “potential” then this is the book  for you. Boys Among Men gets an A + . Hiring Jonathan Abrams was a HUGE get for The Bleacher Report .

BM