Welcome to “Follow the Wildcats.” This recent basketball season I did my best to keep an accurate journal of the center-city high school basketball team for which I was the first-year head coach. “Follow the Wildcats” is a compilation of many stories, told through the lens of the Wildcats’ lives. Names and identities of people and places have been changed in deference to the people involved. But all of these stories are 100% true. Everything happened. Boy, did it ever.
“That kid is legit!” Coach Williams had his chin pulled back to his chest and bugged his eyes out as he looked at Coach Anderson and me. Tony had just scored an unimaginable lay-up, floating through the air passed his teammates, dipping his shoulders back and forth and he shifted the ball left and right, letting the ball go quickly, as it spun awkwardly off the backboard, caressing the net, and then landing on one foot. “He’s a potential all-state player, for real.”
Coach Williams hadn’t seen Tony play in the fall league, hence his shock and awe. Tony was showing us all by how good he really was at this game. Even better, his teammates were catching on to his infectious pride as he strutted down the court.
After just our fifth practice, players like Ayo and Tony were already establishing themselves, talking to their teammates and helping the coaches teach drills to the players who were less experienced. We could now run all or most of the drills we planned for practice, and the boys were getting used to the daily routines. They put their practice gear on before touching the basketballs, they stretched as a team before practice started, counting aloud in unison, and they became accustomed to our team-oriented talks every day before the first whistle.
Leaders started to emerge, too. When a player didn’t know what he was doing, Tony, Ayo, or Terrell would shout out instructions before any of us coaches could. Overall, it was extremely positive, productive and lively, and the coaches were unanimously happy. Basketball was the structure these kids needed, I thought to myself, we can turn this thing up a bit!
With just one practice before our first scrimmage, and two weeks before our first game, the Wildcats were starting to form a personality as a unit. I could see that they were talking to each other more often during school, hanging out in the cafeteria, talking about practices and the great moves they had made or the sprints they had run, it was clear, too, that they understood they were on a TEAM. I could see they were more aware now of my visits to their class rooms to check on them, and many of them took to stopping into my office to talk about the upcoming practice. The unity that is so, so vital for a team’s success was slowly growing.
Our first test was just two days away – the Wildcats’ first scrimmage.
COME BACK SOON FOR MORE FROM “FOLLOW THE WILDCATS!”
NEXT UP: Two Steps Forward…