Vladivostok Clinics Close and an Encore for a Russian Concerto Pianist...Wow!!

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Tuesday Evening, April 21...Well, finished the clinics here in Vladivostok in fine fashion again as the coaches were very appreciative once again for Coach tom's visit ala Lee Larson, former Clackamas Girls Basketball Association Volunteer coach (Oregon)...We wrapped up this afternoon's program with an observation of a high school basketball tournament in the gym where we held our clinics the day before and earlier in the morning...We finished the morning program with an assignment: what to look for when "scouting" a team...I presented as suggestions examples of how a coach could assess the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent by first watching how serious or not the teams were in warmups...Were they making their layups, shooting more 3's than game shots in the offense, shooting FTs, focused, serious, etc.? Then when the game begins, what type of defense are both teams employing out there, and what 2 players are the "feature" players in both teams' offense, because most teams have "only" two legitimate scorers in high school, universally, unless of course it's a powerhouse/stacked high school team...Next we discussed how the players come off the court and where they sit on the bench: close to the coaches so they can hear what he's thinking, saying and knowing that at some point the coach WILL put him back into the game...or...does he retreat with shoulders shrugged, slowly stepping towards the end of the bench? You see, I have this theory, that ALL players who demonstrate a selfish attitude when substituted and CHOOSE to act out before God, Flag, Cheerleaders, Mom, Dad and Grandparents that "woe is me, I'm NOT playing now and I don't like it...", they are about as ready to go back into a game like a cooked turkey tryin to fly out of the pot...No way, Jose', will ANY player who displays this type of attitude has any chance to redeem himself or herself when they make the Team Game of basketball personal...Give me 10 kids who cheer for one another, are eager to encourage their teammate when he or she is struggling and the coach is focused on the game and forgets to "touch" the player with a kind word or pat on the back to absolve any guilt the player might feel at the time...Now I know there are high school coaches out there who would disagree with me about that last statement, but the fact is, KIDS are KIDS and they NEED to be reinforced with positive constructive comments, NOT dirty looks or discouraging comments that finish the competitive courage of the player for the rest of the game...It's the same EVERYWHERE in the world of amateur sports, trust me, I've seen enough games to comment from experience...On to the game...

The game: One team is from Blagoveshenk (where I took the train for 72 hours roundtrip) and now they too were on that same schedule TO Vladivostok...the other team was from Harbansk, about halfway between Blago and Vladivostok...So, you have one team that took a day and half to get here, and the other team 18hrs...NOW this should be an interesting "warmup" to watch, as they both arrived on Sunday evening, they could have even been on our train...Anyway, I missed the warmups due to an interview I had to do but was able to "catch" the opening tip and watch the next 4 qtrs...Evidently, Blago was not ready to play prime time as they could not make their layups early or late in the first half, plus they had no answer for a very very talented 15yr. old 6'5" Brockman-Halogen type athlete...Imagine watching a kid who plays both ends of the court with the heart and passion of Jon Brockman and KNOWS how to dominate with a simple rebound outlet downcourt pass for a layup; has an incredible first step off an upfake on a jumper that would make any Radar Gun on WSP (Wa. State Patrol) pitch at such a high level you'd think he was speeding INSIDE a gym...yeah, that impressive...I was so intrigued by his play after 5 mins. I told Victor, my translator, that this young player has a chance to be very special someday...Anyway, all the "bad" things that you cringe at when watching a poor team struggle which Blago was doing here before us, were unfolding play after play, missed layups, no transition defense, poorer half court execution on offense and defense, etc...and NO, the two coaches of this high school team DID NOT attend my clinic last week in Blago...to bad, we coulda helped them a lil bit, I think...Back to the young Kirilenko-motor player from Harbansk: I just had to meet this kid after they won by 30...and I did...and he speaks English very well after studying it for the last 5 years...he just turned 15 last month...Anyway, his coach, a volunteer of 27 years experience, and a veteran youth coach who developed two players for Russia's National Men's Team, attended both days of my clinics here in Vlad, and we became "newest" best friends...Little did I know how well a model of coach he was until watching him in action...very positive, played all his players throughout the game, and generally demonstrated a demeanor that would inspire any level player...

Clinics Wrapup: so we met after the game and discussed what we saw and all agreed that the other team could not stop nor have an answer for the talented Big Player from Harbansk...We discussed how timeouts have to be towards making adjustments and not finger pointing as was the case with the other team's players and coaches, frustrated for sure, but worse was the dejected, downtrodden body language as each player yearned for the last seat at the end of the bench and mind you this bench has 20 chairs!! Visualize 2 coaches sitting close to the Scorer's Table and then about 12 chairs separating them from their players...yeah, THAT bad...The conclusion was the other team DID NOT prepare even in warmups, as they missed layups there and acted tired already BEFORE the tipoff...Yikes!! We then watched a DVD production that Lee Larson produced through his foundation a couple of years ago when I accompanied him on a humanitarian basketball clinic in the Northern Highlands of Guatemala, San Marcos de Atitlan...I wanted the coaches to see how in other parts of the world how coaches are taught, how young players play and how much fun both players and coaches have when involved in an activity such as basketball...It was an interesting response by the coaches, as they could not believe how happy the players appeared and how they just kept playing through airballs, turnovers, no complaining or making excuses or finger pointing and then finding out that the coaches there are also volunteers and had never had an NBA coach come to teach them also, similar to the Vladivostok coaches here...They wanted to know the "level" of talent there also, as they really couldn't tell one way or another...I told them that the players were mostly under 6' tall and the girls under 5'...they laughed at that and I told them it was true...they still laughed...so much for "leveling" with them...

Closing ceremony: gave the coaches certificates again and we exchanged hugs and handshakes and pleas to "come back Coach tom...", I told them I was, next Wednesday for a day...then back to Seattle...got a laugh out of that one...you know me...Anyway, I was pleased overall with what we accomplished and learned anew once again...I really really love these volunteer coaches, they truly wish to learn new drills for skills and proper teaching methods...I had one coach comment to me in front of the other coaches that he had  "never met a coach like me before in his life...that I have been to Moscow and attended coaches clinics there and outside Moscow, to learn from the best, yet they would keep their distance from us, never greeting us like you, or asking us for questions, caring about what we need for our teams...", and then asking me if all American coaches are like me, which I kindly replied not in the NBA today, although you might find several that would sign an autograph, but I'm not sure they would take the time to "ask" you how they could help you with your team...I said there are college coaches who would help them and gladly answer questions too...Guess the egos of being a "Pro" coach allows one to have a unseen "moat" around his persona...Bob Hill, former Sonics coach would NOT fit that category whatsoever, nor would George Karl, as they both enjoy discussing the game with coaches at any level...not surprising, they're both teachers...Pop from San Antone might also take the time and Larry Brown also...D'Antoni also I believe...Nate Mac too if asked...so I guess that leaves about 25 coaches left who may not take the time...I challenge ANY and ALL NBA coaches to forget their itineraries when doing international clinics and literally "sit" with the coaches and listen to their questions as opposed to teaching without listening...just a suggestion...

Piano Concerto later that evening: well, I just experienced a Vladivostok cultural happening: a Moscow Philharmonic Conductor who also moonlights in his hometown as a Concerto Pianist...He lives in Vladivostok in the "off season" and plays on occasion when he is available...what a Master he is...Michail Aekadyev...he is probably in his late 50's, but let me tell you this: he is a MASTER!! Wow...he gave us Bach, Lidst and Taichovsky...and let me tell you, I don't know what a C-Minor is when it comes to music, but I gave Mikey an A-Plus for his effort and demonstration...Wow!! Plus he got enough flowers from local fans to open a Florist for a week, and enough kisses from adoring females that would make Hugh Hefner jealous...I mean this gentleman has such a graceful hands coordination on the keys that I marveled continuously in awe...Shucks, I have a hard enough time trying to play Jingle Bells for my Grandson on a piano...As I watched him, and thought about how he has "arrived" in his career, being a Maestro in one of the World's most famous Philharmonic Orchestra's, yet, he chooses to continue to "play" from his heart, sharing what he loves most, music...now THAT is passion and soul combined...I learned many lessons tonight being entertained by this talent...This all came about by the Consul General's office offering me a ticket to attend along with Avi Dede, Voice of America broadcaster visiting Vladivostok and another Far Eastern city on behalf of the State Department...He lives in Arlington, Virginia...

On to another Far Eastern Colder City: Yakutia...tomorrow evening I leave for Yakutia...one week of clinics there...Mr. Tom Armbruster and his wife, Kathy are joining me for this trip...Supposedly we'll have 60 volunteer youth coaches in attendance for the weeklong program...I am really excited about this next clinic, although I was told that it is still very very very cold there...Good thing I brought my Roooskee Bearhair hat...you know the ones that Krushev used to wear back in the day...I have a nice black one...fits well too...shucks I LOOK like a comrade now, what, with my goatee and all...Okay, I'm off to bed, it's after 1am again and I'm beginning to feel a little tired...thanks for taking the time to read my stories...all the best, have a safe week...Coach tom

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