Dog Days

The term Dog Days has been around a long time.  It means the time in July and August that are the hottest in the summer.  Baseball uses the term the more than other sports since that time is in the heart of their season.  Probably, the person who invented the term thought it’s so hot outside, even a dog wants to stay inside.

Many basketball coaches use that term for a part of the basketball season.  The Dog Days of the basketball season has just begun.  You need to be part of a program to really understand how a sport like basketball could possibly have Dog Days, since heat is definitely not the problem.

For a college basketball team, you are fully into preseason basketball drills when Labor Day arrives.  Baseball is just coming out of their Dog Days, but basketball Dog Days are still at least five months away.

October 15 is a significant day for most college programs.  That’s the first day of official basketball practices.  Almost everyone is ready to lose the preseason drills and get to some real basketball.  The pick-up games are over.  Now, the real fun begins.  Basketball is still at least three-and-a-half months from the Dog Days.

After a month of official practices, everyone is excited for the first game of the season.  Every team in America is undefeated.  Every team in America has high hopes for their season.  Within one game, half the teams in America know they won’t remain undefeated.  Basketball is still two-and-a-half months from their Dog Days.

For about a month, teams play non-conference games.  Some teams play up a division for the guarantee money.  Some teams play down a division to build their record.  Some teams, like the Northwest Missouri men’s team play tough competition.  They know where they’ll be in February.

Many teams travel during this month.  Personally, I run college basketball events in Hawaii.  It’s a great trip but it takes either a lot of fund raising or a big donor.  Some teams find the beaches in Florida of California.  Puerto Rico and the Bahamas will host tournaments.  Basketball is still a month-and-a-half from their Dog Days.

NCAA II teams like the  Bearcats have a mandatory five-day break over Christmas.  Just as the Christmas tree is starting to lose its needles, it’s time to hit the basketball court again.  While the campus is virtually empty, the basketball teams get ready for the grind of the conference season, which probably started in December before finals.  Now, basketball is only one month from their Dog Days.

By February 1, the Dog Days of basketball has arrived.  Most teams have had its ups and downs.  There have been times when most teams have felt invincible and other times coaches have wondered if they will ever win another game.

That’s what’s so amazing about the Northwest Missouri State men’s basketball team.  Only two teams in NCAA II is undefeated, Northwest and Bellarmine of Kentucky.  If Thursday is any indication, the Dog Days isn’t going to have much effect on the Bearcats.

Only the coaches know for sure, but don’t assume the long grind hasn’t affected an undefeated team.  I once had a team at Doane College that was 30 -1, clinched the conference championship and was ranked fourth in the nation.  This was before the NAIA broke up into two divisions.

I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to screw up a good thing.  I should have acknowledged the Dog Days and done something.  As it turned out, I turned a blind eye, hoping the drudgery of the season would go away.  That was one of the bigger coaching mistakes I made.  We lost our last two games to finish 30 – 3 and didn’t even make the post-season tournament, even though we were ranked seventh nationally.

Coaches have ways of coping with the Dog Days.  Steve Tappmeyer, the Northwest men’s coach during most of my 13 years at the school, had a day where the team put away the basketballs and got into spring training mode.

Steve would bring out the whiffle ball and bats.  He would divide up the squad and have a game of whiffle ball right in the gym.  Steve pitched and he was great.  Tapp loved baseball and he must have been a good one.  He could make the whiffle ball dance. He would laugh as his players struggled to hit it.

It always had a positive affect on his teams.  This coach, known for his hard-nosed approach to defense, would turn into that sand-lot kid for one day of practice.  It would be just what the team needed, and you would see a new, relaxed team on the court.

I tried the whiffle ball game once, but it wasn’t like the men’s game.  As it turned out, I could do much with the whiffle ball but through goffer balls.  Almost everyone on the team hit home runs and it got boring.

One of the best books about a basketball coach I’ve ever read is Season on the Brink.  It’s John Feinstein’s depiction of one season in the life of Bob Knight and his Indiana Hoosiers basketball team.

When he felt his team getting stale, Knight showed up for practice in full fishing gear.  He compared fish to the team’s opponents, casting out on the floor and describing strategy to catch a fish and relating it to his team.  It worked and the team went on to win the Big 10 championship.

Personally, I tried different things to break up the Dog Days.  Since whiffle ball wasn’t the answer, I usually turned to food.  Once, I stopped practice early for a “Taco Tuesday.”  I had my manager buy about 100 tacos and brought them right into the gym.

However, the most popular Dog Days break-up was Sunday-Mondays.  I spelled that wrong.  It should have been Sundaes-Mondays.  I would bring the team into the film room before practice.  When they got to the room, they would find a couple of flavors of ice cream and all the topping to make any type of Sundae they wanted.

Legendary Northwest tennis coach, Mark Rosewell, really liked Sundae-Monday.  It wasn’t the Dog Days of the tennis season, but Mark would join us at the coaches’ invitation.  I couldn’t wait until the film and food session was over.  The coaches got the left overs.  I love ice cream.  My Dog Days would melt away.

I don’t know if Northwest men’s basketball coach, Ben McCullum, has anything planned for this year’s Dog Days.  After scoring 111 points Thursday night against Pitt State, other coaches may use the line that was made famous in the movie Harry Met Sally.  It had nothing to do with basketball, even though Harry was an NBA official.  The line is, “I’ll take what she’s (they’re) having.”  The Dog Days look like good days for the Bearcats.