Every basketball coach has many, many stories about parents with unreasonable expectations. They can be unreasonable about what they think their son or daughter can accomplish and unreasonable about the individual potential for their own kid.
The one I will never forget is a letter from a parent of a daughter that had only one hand. It was a birth defect and the only effect it had on her daughter was at the end of one arm there was no hand. Despite that handicap, the daughter had overcome a lot and was in our rotation of players.
I was under the belief that the parents were proud of their daughter. I thought they were appreciative of the chances I had given the one-handed player. I was very wrong.
After one successful season where her daughter averaged about 10 minutes a game, I receive a letter from the mother. At first glance, it was a congratulatory letter, but suddenly changed.
Mom accused me of playing only the team drinkers and intentionally leaving her daughter on the bench since she didn’t party. She even signed the letter and drew a champagne glass with bubbles coming up. I guess there was one more handicap she had to overcome; sobriety. I still have that letter today.
Once in a while, you get lucky. There are some reasonable parents out there. In one of my best teams at Doane College, I had a great combination of players that included Tracee, Gina, Erin, Jess and Mari.
Tracee’s dad once told her to read the writing on the wall, but blamed an injury, not the coach for lack of playing time. Gina’s parents had the toughest job since Gina spent a lot of time coming off the bench. Gina tore her ACL late in her senior year, but the parents never stopped following us in person.
Erin’s mother had a reputation for expressing her opinion against the coach. I was warned unnecessarily. Erin’s mother was one of the best parents I ever had. Jess’s mother was the real character. Early in Jess’s career, I would receive letters from her mother with subliminal messages that weren’t poorly disguised. During Jess’s senior year, her mother, an art teacher, made impressions of all the players and coaches on separate blocks of wood. She made sure mine wasn’t real flattering, but I just chalked it up to lack of material for her to work with.
There was one more player with great parents. Mari was an All-American point guard from the Chicago area. Her dad had been a long-time assistant at Proviso East High School, an inter-city school. One of his favorite players was Doc Rivers. Doc sent a personal message to Mari’s mother when her father died.
Mari’s parents and two older brothers had gone to a private college in Wisconsin. Mari was the rebel. She showed up at Doane College during spring break. A snowstorm was roaring outside during her campus visit. I heard decided the moment she left campus that she would be a Tiger. Her dad was disappointed, but supported her.
He could have been the most critical parent I ever had and been right. Here was a career coach that now had to drive eight hours to see his daughter play. He knew more about basketball than anyone in the gym, including me.
Instead of criticism, I never heard one suggestion or one disagreement from him in Mari’s four years. We tried to play some games close to Chicago, too. Mari’s mom was an unbelievable cook, which the team and I took advantage.
I was never warned more than to look out for Cliff, the father of my point guard Trudi. Trudi played a few years before the previous group. One legendary story about Cliff was how he motivated his oldest son. Trudi was the youngest kid in the family.
As the story went, Cliff was disappointed in his son’s play one night. When he got home, he made the young man go out and shoot on their outdoor court. When the son was tired of shooting and cold to the bone, he found the house door locked. He thought that was part of the lesson and spent the rest of the night in the hay in the barn.
At Cliff’s funeral a couple of years ago, the real story came out. Cliff wasn’t quite as tough as the story tells. In truth, he didn’t know the door was locked. He fell asleep and was much more comfortable than his son in the barn. A legend was born that night.
Cliff turned out to be one of my best friends during Trudi’s four years at Doane College. At Christmas of her freshman year, Trudi was averaging a reasonable eight points per game. I was fine with that, but not Cliff. He promised me Trudi would spend her Christmas break in the high school gym. I guess he got a key after about causing frost bite to his son.
Trudi came back and finished the season in double figures. She is still one of the all-time leading scorers at Doane College. Cliff also took care of that nagging weight gain experienced by most freshmen. When Trudi came home after her freshman year several pounds heavier that her playing weight, Cliff told me Trudi’s mother was making a lot of salads. Cliff must have been a master of nutrient, too.
That takes us to this year’s Maryville boys’ basketball team. Last year, Lawson had eliminated the Spoofhounds in the Sectional game. Again this year, we faced Lawson in the same game. Maryville led most of the game, but Lawson came charging back late in the fourth quarter.
With about 17 seconds left, the officials called as jump ball as John Zimmerman was trying to split a double team. It was a very questionable call, but it didn’t hurt since we retained possession.
On the inbounds pass, Lawson fouled before Maryville could in-bounds the ball. For some reason, the possession arrow stayed with Maryville. I was doing color on the radio and had no explanation for the listeners.
Later, I found out the real story. Early in the season, the Maryville Junior Varsity team had the same situation. Terry Olgesby was at the game and recognized the situation. He discussed it with his senior son, Trey, who is a starter on the Maryville team.
Trey was near the Lawson bench where the jump ball was called when he heard a voice he recognized a voice. All it said was, “Arrow.” Trey knew immediately what it meant. The voice was his fathers, who is very high in the NCAA DI officiating ladder.
The rule I didn’t know and I’m not sure the three officials knew was the possession arrow doesn’t change until the team actually takes possession. Since Lawson fouled before Maryville could establish possession, the possession arrow was supposed to stay with Maryville. Trey talked to the officials who agreed with him. The possession arrow was changed back to Maryville.
Did that make sense? Don’t worry if it didn’t make sense. As it turned out, there were no more jump balls during those last 17 seconds. Don’t be fooled, though. Lawson now knew they had to foul, that a jump ball would do no good. A voice of wisdom had a positive effect on the game.