Monday, November 24, 2008
Setshot in the Chicago Tribune!
The article can be found here.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Careers: A 73 year-old college basketball player!
There is video of Mink practicing with the team here and here. While the whole thing seems kinda gimmicky, and it's clear from the video that Mink is not really on the same level as his juco teammates, you've got to admire the guy's moxie. The Roane State coach says he hopes to get Mink some minutes during garbage time in blowouts. Setshot will be eagerly awaiting those YouTube clips.
A fantastic quote from the coach: "Our weakness last year was experience; I think I've taken care of that.''
The best part of the video is near the end, when Mink's teammates ask him to come to a party. The coach discourages it because, he claims, Mink will need to stay in top condition to continue practicing and playing. And then Mink calls his wife to ask if he can go, and she says no. In response, the coach praises Mink's "support system at home." I love that:
a. He is asked to go to the party.
b. He wants to go to the party.
c. His coach does not want him to go to the party.
d. His wife does not want him to go to the party.
e. He apparently needs a "support system" to keep him from making reckless decisions.
**UPDATE 11/4/08: Mink scored 2 points in his first game! Video here.**
Friday, September 26, 2008
Race: Losing anonymity
I'm not sure if I like it or not. On the one hand, I have been able to more effectively develop a rep in my regular game because people remember me as The Talky Asian Guy Who Plays Ball Here. On the other, I have noticed that defenders are better able to get in tune with my moves. That is, because I am more memorable, they learn my tendencies and tricks a lot faster, which is a pain in the ass for an aging baller who's losing a step.
In certain ways, this reminds me of my playing days as a teenager in upstate New York. Back then, most Asian kids didn't play ball and I was viewed as a comical aberration. In fact, the guys in my local game simply called me "Chino," which was totally racist, but I liked it because it made me feel like I belonged. Even in NYC, when I played on a court with mostly Hispanic guys in the days before Yao Ming and the emergence of global hoops, the other players called me "Ichiro" (as in the baseball player) because he was the only Asian athlete they knew of. I liked that too.
But now I'm old and not looking to be the belle of the ball anymore. I just want to play, have a good time, and work off the three donuts I ate for lunch. Anonymity has become more important to me and yet I've found myself in a place where I can't have it. I'm considering playing in whiteface.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Politics: McCain panders to aging ballers
Setshot knows better. Palin (number 22 in the photo) was actually chosen to draw the politically powerful aging baller community to the GOP in November's election.
Democratic candidate Barack Obama is well known for his love of pickup hoops, even at his advanced age (47). YouTube is filled with clips of Obama balling on the campaign trail. (Check out this excellent mixtape.) Clearly, Senator Obama has the skills to
But what about Governor Palin? Apparently, "Sarah Barracuda" (her high school hoops nickname) played point guard on a state championship squad from Wasilla, Alaska, but there is scant evidence that she plays anymore.
Nice try McCain, but the aging baller community is too savvy for that. Despite our temptation to support a cute former high school basketball star, we're going to stick with our man Barack, who continues to find time to play the game, and has even proposed building a court in the White House.
As always, Senator McCain, the ball doesn't lie.
Friday, August 08, 2008
Careers: Being old and new, part 2
Things are coming together basketball-wise here in Denver. I've found a pretty good Sunday afternoon run and I've also started to play a little at my new school's gym. The games there are good exercise and fairly fun, but they've definitely highlighted the fact that I am significantly older than most players on a college pickup court. Luckily, I look young and can pass for a student-type, but as we have said many times on this blog: it's not how old you look, it's how old you feel.
Yesterday I was at the school gym shooting free throws by myself when what appeared to be the entire women's basketball team rolled in. I wasn't sure what to do, so I asked one of the players if they were practicing. She said that they were just playing pickup and that I was welcome to join in. I ran with them for a couple of games, but pretty much stayed out of the way and kept quiet. The players were really nice, but I felt like I was intruding and I absolutely did not want to be the doofus who tried too hard to impress all the ladies. After a while, some regular joes—mostly college-aged—started to play on the next court over. I told the women I was chatting with on the sidelines that I was going to "go play with the civilians" and one of them replied "yes, you should." Very subtle.
Eventually, the civilian game got enough players for full court and we started to run. It was a decent game and I was one of the better players on the court, so feeling outclassed or out of place were not issues. But during (and between) games I noticed that the other players seemed to be taking the outcomes very seriously—often criticizing teammates for defensive lapses and poor shot selection. Losing players seemed to be genuinely upset as they sat and waited for next game.
Now that I'm an older player, it's easy for me to forget how important everything seems to younger guys, and how, so often, basketball outcomes stand in for their larger senses of self worth. I've played so much pickup ball in my life that every outcome—from the most devastating loss to the most unlikely victory—has happened to me a million times. Don't get me wrong, I'm competitive and I always play to win, but the disappointment of getting smushed on the court does not linger emotionally for me any more. I know that there will always be another game, and that all wins and losses eventually fade into obscurity. To me, what matters the most is one's reputation as a competitor and a sportsman.
After games, I would go and shake hands with every person on the other team, telling them that they played well (whether they had or not) and that the game was a lot of fun (whether it was or not). Many of the young guys actually seemed surprised by this—like you're not supposed to commiserate with the enemy or something, and that "fun" is not really what pickup ball is about. It reminded me of how much my perspective on recreational hoops has changed over the years, and that for younger guys, victory and personal performance seem far more important than camaraderie and sportsmanship.
So while I will continue to play at the school gym because it is close and convenient, I'd like to find a group of older players to run with. I may look young, but man, I feel old.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Careers: Being old and new
I've been in Denver about two weeks now and I still haven't found a decent game. One reason for this is that it's incredibly hot—like record-breakingly hot—so no one is playing outdoors.
Yesterday I went to a rec center near my apartment and found a few guys shooting around. We all shot for a while and then made an awkward transition to two-on-two. The game was pretty good. My teammate, incredibly, had played basketball for my alma mater. He was a terrific player with a deadeye jumper and seriously polished moves around the rim. Our opponents were also quality players. One was a high-school kid who claimed that he almost broke the state record for three-pointers. I'm not sure I believe that, but he was indeed a very good shooter.
We won a couple of games—mostly because my teammate was unstoppable. I played pretty well, repeatedly posting the high school kid up and tossing in various old man shots (he hated it and was despondent about being "shitted on"), but after two games I was done. The altitude just destroyed me! Each game was to fifteen, and by eight I was begging for the end. By fifteen I was clutching my shorts, gasping and unable to speak. I should have expected this, as I've routinely been running out of breath while performing strenuous tasks like climbing stairs, walking to the store, and petting my cat.
So now I'm facing a sorta-Catch-22. I want to find some full court games to play in, but I'm not sure I'll be able to keep up because of my sea-level conditioning. However, the only way I'll get into mile-high shape is to play in said full court games. And the whole dilemma is irrelevant if I can't find any games to actually play in.
I'll keep you posted on the Denver Old Man Pickup Hoops Scene, and if anybody out there knows of good runs in the 303/720, please let me know.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Women's basketball star returns to action—at 50!
Wow! While Setshot has previously
Monday, May 19, 2008
Tips: Kareem 's advice to players over 40
Recently, I was directed to this entry, in which he gives some solid advice to ballers over-40 who want to keep runnin' with the young-uns. In so doing, Abdul-Jabbar touches on issues that have become Setshot staples: lack of respect, diminishing abilities, and increased injury risk, to cite a few. I'd recommend reading his post, which is pretty brief, but if you need further brevity, here's a summary of Kareem's advice:
1. Lift weights.
2. Stay in shape and keep your cardio conditioning up.
3. Specialize more in your play.
By the way, that's a vintage photo of Kareem giving me basketball advice in the 1970s. He was demonstrating a technique called "Kermit Washington style."
Monday, April 28, 2008
Relationships: The poisonous player
Have you ever played in a game in which there was one person who just ruined it for everyone else? In my favorite weekly pickup game, there is a guy who comes semi-regularly and poisons the whole atmosphere. Old School and Hops both play in this game, and they will agree that this guy (I'll call him "the Idiot") is a serious problem.
The Idiot is actually a good player. He is in great shape, works hard on both ends of the floor, and has a versatile game. Unfortunately, he is also psycho-competitive and talks constant trash. Now, I'm not opposed to a little trash talk, but the Idiot takes it way too far. His banter is not at all playful and he invariably upsets someone to the point of fighting (usually verbal, but it has escalated beyond that). He also likes to denounce his opponent after his team wins—in my opinion, a form of unbelievably poor sportsmanship. I'm the type of guy that normally recoils from conflict, but a couple months ago I got into a screaming fight with the Idiot because he was being such a jerk to one of my teammates that I couldn't hold my tongue any longer. In fact, the Idiot pretty much gets into a fight with one or more players every single time he plays. (If you're wondering if I'm doing any racial coding here, it should be noted that the Idiot is white.)
I think that the crux of the problem is that the Idiot's style is totally out of sync with the culture of the game. His never-ending belligerence shuts everyone down emotionally and saps all the fun out of playing. I've played in games where this kind of behavior would be slightly more appropriate, but the game I'm talking about is a "nice guys" game. The same people come out every week. We all know each other and for the most part, genuinely like each other. The games are very competitive, but the governing code of the court is to be considerate, friendly, and a good sport in both victory and defeat. Trash talking is kept to a minimum, and when it's done, it's without malice. That's why the Idiot stands out so much. His poisonous attitude is just a total wrench in the works. Last week, to the shock of many, one of the nicest players in the game lost his temper and yelled at the Idiot: "This game is normally so much fun—except when you're here!" The rest of us were thinking the exact same thing.
The basketball court is one of the few venues in polite society where strangers can come together and compete in a casual way. Everyone has a right to show up and play, but when games develop a regular cast, as ours has, there is a tendency to want to exert control over the playing roster. However, there is no easy way to exclude someone like the Idiot from participating. We hoop in a public park and abide by the rule that if you show up and call next, you play next.
So Setshotters, what can we do? Is there any way to discourage him from playing? And when he does show up, how can we minimize the effects of his poisonous personality?
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Strategy: Psychological tactics for aging ballers
I think of many of these psychological strategies as "precedent setting." That is, they are things that I do early in games to establish a pattern that my opponent believes will continue. Later in games I may abandon them, especially if they have already accomplished the desired result.
1. I run harder when I sense my man is winded. Early on in games, especially the first game of the day, I often run out of air, only to regain it when my lungs adjust and I get a second wind. When I think my opponent is on his "first wind," I make it a point to run my ass off for a few plays, even if it kills me. I also do a lot of curling around screens because my man will have to expend energy to get over and catch me. The payoff can be great, as players will make defensive adjustments to my sprinting—such as giving me more space and switching more often on screens. I won't (can't) run this hard for the whole game, but my defender doesn't necessarily know that. One of the most common things I hear opponents say about me to their teammates is "he runs a lot." This is sort of true, but it's partially due to advertising.
2. Early in games, I box out hard on every play if my man is bigger than me. I don't want to deal with bigger opponents in the paint. I'd rather compete on the perimeter, where I'm more likely to have an advantage. So what I do is set a precedent by boxing out aggressively at the start of games. Again, I won't necessarily do this for the whole game, but I find that most pickup players don't really like to deal with this level of effort, and at the end of games, I almost always find myself guarding on the perimeter, no matter how big my man is.
3. I talk to imaginary teammates. What I'll do is call for a screen that isn't really there, pointing to a spot on the floor and yelling "Screen! Screen here!" to the empty air. To make it even more convincing, I open my eyes as wide as I can and nod, just like I would if I were really asking for a screen. If I sense that my defender has shifted in anticipation of the screen, I'll drive the other way, having been given a few extra inches of space. A similar trick is to yell "Post up!" to an imaginary teammate (or even a real one), hoping that my defender will drop off to guard the entry pass and give me space for a jumper. I did this last week, sticking a 15-footer as my young opponent fell back to double our center. As we were running back up court, my defender rolled his eyes, extended both his middle fingers and screamed "Yo f*ck you Jeff!" I loved it.
4. If my defender is watching me instead of the ball, I follow a nonexistent shot with my eyes. Try it. Just make your eyes and head do a parabola—like you're watching a jumper in flight—and see how often your defender will turn to look for it. (Make sure no one is dribbling at the time. The sound gives the trick away.) It's a great opportunity to run away from your man, and after you do it a couple of times, he'll start to get confused about when your eyes are lying and when they're telling the truth. He may even lose out on rebounds because he'll keep looking at you when a shot is actually in the air. More importantly, it will annoy him.
A related tactic I use is looking at the floor and acting nonchalant when a long pass is coming to me. My defender will be relaxed because it doesn't seem like anything is going on, but I'll suddenly wind up with the ball in my hands, racing towards the basket. I learned this one from John McPhee's book, A Sense of Where You Are, about Bill Bradley's playing days at Princeton. Bradley was reported to have outrageous peripheral vision (he could look at the floor and see the ceiling), and he did these kinds of tricks all the time.
5. I pass early and shoot late. Early in games, I try to play "true point," focusing on ball distribution and offensive flow. I'll be aggressive, but I'll mainly drive with the intention of dishing. On the perimeter, I'll mostly look to reverse the ball to the weak side, trying to make the defense to rotate and adjust. What I want to do here is make the defense forget about me as a shooting threat. Later in the game, however, I'll ramp up my shooting because I'm usually getting more space from my defender. I have a fetish for taking shots with the game on the line, and I think that this strategy gets me better looks during crunch time.
Setshotters, if you'd like, share your own psycho-tactics below.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Seriously, Barack Obama is a baller
Can he be President, like, now?
What's more, he wants to build his court over a bowling alley that Nixon commissioned. Out with the exclusionary, imperialist Alley of Shame and in with the Obama Hardwood of Racial Harmony!
Setshotters, here's the real question: How are we going to finagle ourselves a pickup game on President Obama's court? Could it be as easy as showing up and calling next?
*Update: Great footage from HBO showing Obama playing pickup ball. He looks pretty good, but clearly can't go right at all. Thanks to our friend Sully for the link. And another clip from friend and Jazz fanatic Matt. Sweet passing!
A news article about the Obama Court is reprinted below.
Basketball court in White House future?
By Bob Kravitz [Indianapolis Star, April 1, 2008]
Many years ago, President Richard Nixon had a small bowling alley built in the White House.
If Sen. Barack Obama is elected president, he will replace the bowling alley with something more suitable to his tastes: a basketball court.
"There's not only a chance (that he'll have one built), but it's a guarantee," Obama said Monday on WFNI 1070 The Fan.
When it comes to basketball, Obama knows his stuff. During a 10-minute conversation, he talked about his NCAA bracket -- well, what's left of it. He talked about his days as a high school player in
"I tried bowling (Sunday) in
As a high schooler, Obama wore No. 23. "I was No. 23 before Michael Jordan was 23," he said with a laugh.
He described himself as "a slasher, a three, maybe a poor man's Scottie Pippen or Tayshaun Prince -- a guy like that without as much talent.''
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Psychology: Scouting in pickup games
I really enjoy scouting other players in pickup games, but I feel sort of alone in this. Not only do I find it hard to get others to talk about player tendencies and good counter-strategies, but many people look at me like I'm a nutcase when I start developing scouting profiles of opponents. And it's not like I'm doing Sabermetrics or anything out there, I'm just saying stuff like:
"He can't shoot with his off hand. Force him left."
"He's really out of shape, so you should run."
"He always spins to the middle."
"He won't shoot from beyond 12 feet."
"Watch his hips. That's where he's going."
Sometimes I engage in more psychologically-oriented scouting, like:
"He's mentally fragile. If you show some toughness in the post, he'll shut down and stop playing hard."
"His ego is bigger than his game. Let him shoot and freeze his teammates out."
I love this stuff because it takes the game beyond the physical aspects of play and introduces interesting strategic and psychological considerations that can be exploited. But again, it's hard to find players who are willing to have these discussions with me. Don't get me wrong, other players are usually gracious and they listen to me ramble, but no one ever seems as enthused as me about this facet of the game.
I think that part of it is laziness. Many people just come for recreation and exercise, so they don't feel that they have to engage the game at this level--fair enough. Some other players just don't possess enough basketball knowledge to have these discussions. But I think that there are some, particularly alpha male types, who think that the game is really truly about physical dominance, and that if you can't beat the other guy with your game, you don't deserve to win. Thus, there is no need to talk about the strategic stuff. Just get out there, bust your man's ass and walk off like a stud.
Or maybe I'm just going about it wrong. Maybe I have to introduce scouting insights more gently and not seem like I'm taking the game so seriously. Whatever it is, I'm not going to stop scouting at the gym. Not only do I believe it to be effective, but it's really a lot of fun for me.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
The Midrange Game
Saturday, February 09, 2008
A lot of things happened between 1988 and 1989. Regan became an Ex-President. The Berlin Wall fell. Jack Nicholson terrorized us as the first artist to work in the medium of homicide. The world was introduced to the musical genius of Milli Vanilli, with the release of "Blame It On The Rain." Things were clearly changing for the better.
Yet basketball shorts lagged tragically behind the times, with dire consequences for my basketball career. During the 1988-1989 school year, I, due to a lifetime of maternal oppression in the realms of candy, sugar cereals, and miscellaneous junk food, made a habit of saving my lunch money and using it to purchase a Hostess apple pie (480 calories, 22 grams fat), a package of ding dongs (368 calories, 19 grams fat), and a box of Gobstoppers (400 calories). Instead of the corndog.
So, naturally or unnaturally, my thighs became Clintonesque. And, proud as I was to have made the JV squad (it should go without saying that this was based on my height alone), I was mortified about the prospect of my pasty, broad thighs being appraised by a female audience. I found that the best way to avoid exposure was to maintain a more or less seated position. My coach was happy to oblige me in this regard.
When the exigencies of the game (or, more likely, a democratic impulse) demanded my participation, I was forever tugging at my shorts instead of keeping my hands up on defense. I picked up a lot of offensive fouls and led the team (perhaps the league) in three second violations (to go along with my 0.5 ppg). All because of my shorts.
Eventually, I left the team, never to return to organized basketball. But then! Later that year, the hemline on the Fighting Illini final four uniforms made a noticeable advance toward the knee. There were subsequent (cough! Dook cough!) retreats waistward, but this territorial acquisition was finally solidified by Michigan's Fab 5 two years later.
Sadly, it was too late for me. I was the basketball version of the East Berliner who was caught attempting to escape days before the wall came down.
On the other hand, these guys are certain to come away with better memories of their JV experience.
But then, they don't have to wear nuthuggers, do they?
*Still, things might have been worse if the Edmonds Tigers had gone with what NC State was wearing at the time.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Girls ain't nothing but trouble, part 2
Lately I've had another girl problem. There's a 17 year-old girl who plays in one of my regular pick-up games and SHE IS A BALLER. She's only about 5'5" and maybe 110 pounds, but she is fast like the wind and never runs out of gas on the court. She literally goes full speed on every single possession. She's also got a sweet jumper that she does not hesitate to stick. I'm guessing that she is a star on her high school team but I've never actually asked. Now don't get me wrong, she's not better than me, but I'm twice her age, bigger and stronger, and have been playing ball for 20 years. While she's not a dominant player, she's smart and hardworking, so she gets her share of open looks and invariably drops a few points in every game.
Guys who play with talented women will be familiar with my dilemma. And as one of the quicker, smaller guards in the game, I am often called on to check her. In principle, I don't mind this, as she's a good player and I respect her game. She is not the problem. The other guys in the gym are the problem. If she scores or makes a nice play, a chorus of ignoramuses will let loose with something along the lines of "Oooooooh, she DID you. Ooooooooooh." And if I actually step up, play defense and steal the ball or block her shot, I get this: "You're a bully." Of course, when it's time to match up, none of those guys want to guard her. I think they rightly see the situation as no-win and act accordingly.
Anyone else recognize this Catch-22? It bothers the hell out of me. I mean, a good player is a good player, right? The girl I'm talking about is better than many of the male players in the gym, but if one of the less-talented male players schools me, it's not an issue. If the girl scores on me though, dudes act like my penis just fell off.
In my experience, this problem goes away after a talented female player becomes a regular in the game and the regular male players begin to ignore gender and focus on ability. It definitely helps if the talented woman has humiliated multiple male regulars, as this normalizes the general impression of her skill level. In other words, she becomes one of the guys. One of the best pick-up players at NYU was the star of the women's basketball team, a fantastic scoring forward who went on to play professionally in Europe. She was the quintessential normalized female pick-up player because she was so talented that no one could really be blamed when she did something great (which was often). But even in this case, where pretty much everyone knew about her killer game, I would often hear some snickering from the peanut gallery when she scored.
What's up with this?