The Depth Chart

I read an article one time that said a point guard will make over 200 decisions in any one game.  I believe that stat.  The best point guards I have ever coached were smart kids that had the ability to make an immediate decision.

That may sound easy, but how many time have you been given the choice of two restaurants to eat, your answer is, “I don’t care.”  It’s a lot easier to be indecisive than to be quick and definitive.

I don’t know a decent coach that is indecisive.  A coach has to make a million quick decisions each season.  There is one thing that a coach can take their time on is players’ decision about their rank on the team.

I’ve always said it’s easier to pick the starting line-up than the bottom five.  I usually played eight players a lot of minutes.  Players nine and ten on the depth chart had have something special about them.

The top eight players would usually get between 20 and 30 minutes of playing time each game.  Sometimes nine and team would get 15 to 20 minutes each game, but if injuries, foul trouble and safe point margins were not in our favor, those two players may see five minutes or less playing time.

On the surface, it seemed those players were getting jerked around, so I usually picked young players to fill those roles, the type of players that were just happy to get on the floor.  Sometimes that even backfired.

My last year of coaching, I had a freshman from Omaha.  She started a couple of games, but eventually settled into the nine, ten player role.  I also explain what it means to be in that position, but I pretty sure some players don’t want to believe they could be in that position.

I thought the player was happy, but later I heard her dad had called the athletic director about his daughter getting jerked around, just like I had described at the start of the season.  College athletic directors don’t listen to playing time complaints and I never heard about it until after the season.  I really liked the kid and never expected that behavior.

Maryville has two senior that are in that position.  Alex Bean’s strength is long-range shooting and Jakob Gray, a fierce rebounder and defender in the paint.  This pair has played limited minutes leading up to the season finale against Savannah.

No one would criticize either senior if they had quit.  Bean is headed to Benedictine for baseball.  Gray is playing football at Truman State.  They would surely benefit if they concentrated on those sports during the basketball season, but they stayed on the basketball team.

The two rivals were locked in a tight game until about halfway through the second quarter.  Enter Gray and Bean.  It’s not easy sitting for a quarter and a half and getting thrown into the game, but it didn’t bother Bean.  Seconds into his appearance, he nailed a three-point field goal to give Maryville a little breathing room.  He hit another three moments later.

Gray was doing his part.  On defense, he was a rim protector.  On offense, he was a stand-out on the offensive boards and hit a couple of crucial shots.  By the time they left the game, the Spoofhounds had a double-digit lead and weren’t threatened seriously again.

I don’t want to under sell the roll of the top eight players.  They have been good all season, enough to win 19 games.  To win number 20, they needed a boost from the two players that never knew how much they would play each night.  I was really proud of how Bean and Gray had kept good attitudes and contributed when called on.

If a player is listed below 10 on the depth chart, it’s almost a certainty that their only playing time will come on blow out wins or specialty situation where they might have play defense late in games to take a foul.

I’ve always praised people like Amy Altman, who choose not to follow her dad’s advice to quick.  Even though she knew she wouldn’t get much playing time, she was determined to contribute.  The end of the bench can be filled with contempt, but not with Amy Altman there.

Then there was Tanesha Fields, who had gone from starter to the end of the depth chart.  It was her ability to stay positive to be a major factor in the 2004 MIAA Conference Championship game.

That leads me into a personal experience with the depth chart.  When my son, Sam, was in eighth grade, there were 28 boys out for basketball.  Matt Houchin, the coach, had an A and a B team.  Sam was on the B team.  No arguments from me.

As a freshman, Sam still played but the team had been whittled down more than half.  Many incoming freshmen had seen there wasn’t much playing time available so they chose not to play.  Sam would see playing time in blow outs, but he looked forward to the time he did get to go on the court.  He enjoyed the practices and the time playing while training.

Sam loves baseball and I suggested it might benefit him to not play basketball and concentrate on baseball.  He rejected his dad’s advice and went out for basketball.  He saw a little playing time and once in a while played for the freshmen team when they were short of players.  Still, the playing time he did get meant everything to Sam.

I didn’t even suggest he not play this year.  His year started late until he was medically released from a summer surgery just before Christmas.  Sam was one of the last three players to see action in blow-outs.

I continued to tell him that being the last player to enter the game does have responsibilities.  I would bring up Amy and Tanesha from my past teams.  His only complaints came when he did get many reps in practice.  The playing time he did get meant more to him than the time a starter plays.

By now, only five players remain from the 28 players that came out for eighth grade basketball.  Two of them, Jalen Sundell and Jake Woods are in the top eight players on the depth chart.  Peter Kempf and Zach Patton had good junior varsity seasons and suited up for varsity.

Maybe all five will be back next year, but the odds are against it.  There are a million pressures on high school seniors.  What makes me proud is Sam is willing to take on that role at the end of the depth chart for his senior year.  I am just of proud of Sam as I was of Amy and Tanesha.

Sam loves basketball and he loves being a part of Matt Stoecklein’s program.   His brief appearances will still mean a lot to him and maybe he can carry out his responsibilities to help the Spoofhounds win a game or two, even without playing a minute.  There’s a role for everyone, you just have to recognize what it is.

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