I just flew over the Cuckoo's Nest...

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Thursday evening, October 18, 2007...8:11pm...Just when you think life is a puzzle, you find out why there is a night and a day...a yen/yang...bad/evil...rich/poor...happy/sad...rain/sunshine...crazy/sane...to be or not to be...THAT is the question here...whew!!

This morning, I received a telephone call from, Pancake, my esteemed translator whom I have adopted already...I nicknamed him a long time ago, "Shortstack", because he is all of 4'8" tall, and the most incredible young person I've met, besides the players on the team...Talk about someone who "sees" no evil...speaks no evil...and hears no evil, Pancake is "da man"...no question about it...So, back to this morning...he calls about an hour before we normally leave for the gym and practice each morning...He tells me that: "My Coach tom, this is Pancake, the new General Manager wants you to lead the practice this morning and he will meet with you this afternoon, okay...thank you..."...I said to Pancake: "Whoa Nellie...slow down, he wants me to "WHAT?"..."please lead practice this morning as he would like to meet you this afternoon before afternoon practice..."...I started laughing and Pancake says, "Coach, why do you laugh?"...I tell him that he informed me last night that I am no longer the Head Coach and will be replaced by Coach Gao, former Head Coach of the Jilin Tigers in '03 when they finished in the Top 3, and haven't been back since to Playoffs...Pancake then said, "Coach, this is China, we do things differently here, I know, but this is what I was asked to translate and tell you his wishes..."...I said, no problem, Pancake, I am professional and will do what is asked of me until I am not asked anymore...

Practice: so, I get to our van and there is Steve Castleberry and DaJuan sitting in the van to wait for me, along with the Asst. coach, the new one, Coach Chong...So, I get in and tell the two Americans what is going down this morning and that I am coaching the last practice today...They both were shaking their heads and wondering what in the world is going on...Keep in mind, that I chose to invite them both the night before to my visit with Pancake, as I wanted them to experience how to accept bad news and react to it, as opposed to panicking and going off...It was a great experience for them to learn from, one that will eventually happen in their own professional lives...So we arrive safely, "Dale" was in quiet, almost cautionary driving consciousness, which is scary in itself, BUT we never heard a "honk" from any opposing drivers...Once inside the gym, I prepare the practice plan, which I ended up changing anyway, only because of a surprised guest who showed up unexpectedly...I bring the team together before we start, as I always do, and tell them that this experience as their Head Coach over the last several weeks has been the most wonderful teaching/coaching experience I've ever had the pleasure to represent...I also compared this "sudden" change and displacement by the new GM as something that was inevitable since I had not met him personally and therefore did not know his intentions, but expected same...We had a tremendous practice session, Folks, let me tell you...As we were warming up, there was a gentleman sitting on our sideline bench, observing quietly, unsuspecting to say the least, and I ask Pancake who this person was...He replies and tells me quietly: "It's our new Head Coach..."...I immediately go over and introduce myself to this gentleman, and ask him if he would like to meet the team and take over practice...He quietly replied, "no thank you" and asked if I would please just go through my practice sessions so I can observe these players for the first time...I then said "if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask me, Coach..."...He thanked me and then I went to work...What happened over the next 2 hours was an incredible exhibition of effort and hard work like you wouldn't believe...the players busted their prime flanks like you wouldn't believe...wow...then towards the last 30 mins. of practice, I always work on our presses (2) so we continue to develop "read/react" tendencies that will happen once we implement the tactic in a game...So, here we are working hard, and I decide to go over and explain to the new Head Coach what we're doing now, and how I will use various combinations to help our alignment etc...Here is where I "flew" over the Cuckoo's Nest: he tells me, "Coach Newell, this is a very good press you have designed and I think we should cooperate together and work with the players this season..."...Now I am confused, on the one hand, I hear from Pancake that the GM is going to "make me happy back to the USA" and now from this new Head Coach, that he "likes" me and my defensive tactics...AND wants me to teach him about the game this season...Now, this is where it really goes freakee deakee on me: I've been asked by the new coach to stay and my translator, Pancake, is going nutzo as he is confused by the offer and what he knows in the front office...I tell him that he is not the one to worry and be distracted, nor am I...I told Pancake that this is the crazy world of amateur sports and don't forget it...

Post Practice Partum: after saying goodbye and thank you to the players, I hugged each one and told them how much respect I have for them because of their effort over the last several weeks...As I was leaving a couple of players got teary eyed and thanked me again, privately...One was Stretch, the most improved player on the team, according to Pancake...the other was DaSen, 19 yr. old who works so hard in practice at both ends of the court, and yet goes into a deep deep funk IF he misses more shots than he takes...They both thanked me for being their teacher...Now I am getting emotional, good thing I was wearing my sunglasses at the time...It was then that I had an epiphany about what I was really here to do: and that was to teach...teach the proper fundamentals and of course the disciplines necessary to succeed in life...Pancake informs me after practice that I will receive a phone call regarding the meeting time and place with GM and owner...It's established and now I am prepared from a quiet sleepless night, to meet with the "powers that be..."...So, everything is seemingly in order, and now I await my "fate" from the owner and GM this earlier afternoon...I get a call from Pancake: "Coach, this is Pancake, ( I know I know), and the owner tells me that he will meet with you and the new GM to discuss your future..."...Hmmm, I ponder to myself, intrigued by the comment and translation that we've just received, and figure my interest in this meeting is gaining Big Mo (momentum), and I better get "ready"...Believe me, my bags were packed and I was ready-teddy to leave Changchun City until I heard an unbelievable "plea" from the owner and request from the new GM: "Coach tom, you have been very professional and have worked very hard with this team, and I appreciate all you try to do for me and Jilin Tigers...I made decision last week to change position of SunJun, GM to become VP of my management group, and bring in the former GM of Jilin Tigers...SunJun did not accept this offer to stay and learn about the business side of this club, and chose to resign...I was sad for this to happen...he is a very great person...now, I am hoping that you remember in Hawaii when I first met you, that I asked you to be my Head Coach here in Changchun...Now, I ask you to please stay and help our new Head Coach and GM bring the Jilin Tigers to the Top Division again in the CBA...The new GM has something to say to you, now..."Coach tom, I heard many good things about you and your teachings from the players and people who watch team practice...you have much experience and this team has little, but we can build a strong team together...Coach Gao came to me after watching your practice this morning and wishes for you to be his top assistant and help to be successful with the Jilin Tigers team this season...we honor your contract, and ask you to consider how you may help Coach Gao and the team...would you consider this offer?"...I told them both that I was brought here by both the owner and SunJun, to help teach this young team proper fundamentals and rid them of bad habits as well as improve their defensive understanding...I am confident that the foundation has been established, that similar to an architect, I am happy to present the team to the new GM and Head Coach so they may add their finishing touches as they see fit...yes, I will be happy to help the Jilin Tigers as their top assistant coach...thank you..."...Well, folks you shoulda seen the smile on the owner's face and his excitement with this news...he says that I am the 4th person in the "boat" that can help pull an oar and make the boat go faster..."...I was getting ready to ask Pancake "where" the boat was going, but knew it wasn't the right time...We all shook hands, and I went back to my room and called Dajuan Tate, one of our two American players, and said: "yo, I ain't leavin which means I still get to teach you how to play 1 on 1 defense and helpside defense!!"...D was ecstatic, to say the least...So were the players an hour later who saw me and wondered why I was back after saying goodbye...They all were happy to hear that I accepted the offer to help with Coach Gao, and Wang Bo was more than happy, knowing that I was going to continue to help him develop his footwork and game...

My first practice as assistant coach: it went well, I think...I wasn't ranting and barking on defensive reminders, settling in on observing and listening to the new coach's Chinese voice inflections...He is very clear in his words and explanations, as myself too, only his "style" is less exhorting...I like to use humor a lot and poor Pancake has the hardest time knowing the difference between a joke and reality...I now am absolved from ever having to make him labor over my musings...and reflections...The practice was a hard working session and the players did not disappoint the coach at all...He had the players broken down into two courts, I had the "Bigs" and the other assistant had the guards...It was a good session for me, as I got to bang the doo doo out of the bigs with a Pad that is used for that purpose...I love hittin "C-Berr" (Steve Castleberry) with the Pad, one because he LOVES contact and really does a great job with his balance, pivot-to-the-basket move, and sets a perfect model for the other players to execute...I love this kid as he really sets the tone for work ethic on this team along with Cash and Wong Bo...We did a 3 on 2 fastbreak/defensive combo drill and fortunately, no one got hurt...That drill is one of the most overrated full court drills in basketball, trust me...I seldom have seen at ANY level two defenders waiting in the paint to challenge 3 lane players in transition and something good come out of it...in fact, I have seen and experienced first hand, 3 NBA team implement this drill and watch several players get hurt and then we would have to take a break and move on to something else...Seriously, next basketball game you watch, mark down on paper the number of transition plays where 2 players on defense are standing and then reacting once the ball gets inside the 3 pt. line...seldom if at all...I love combo drills, trust me, but only if they lead to conditioning and skill development that carries over into games...

Postscript after "flyby" : I'm fine, nothing has changed per se, other than I am not the HC anymore, which I have/had no control over anyway...Now, I get to continue with my work, even more defined now, as I can connect individually with each player's skills, whereas as a Head Coach, you don't have that luxury as you wish you might have...So now I have to unpack my freakin bags, hang clothes in the closet and get excited again that I can wear my new "threads" this season...whoopeedoo!! I will be sure to send a pic of this nice suit I got last week...One day at a time now, I guess...I'll just do whatever I can to help this team back to respectability...been there done that, and it's an easy role for me to fulfill...Less I forget: here's to a BIG SHOUTOUT to C-Berr's Moms, Barb, who loves to read this "blogit' of mine or should I say she takes two advils and THEN reads it...hah...hi to all, thanks for your support and reactions of late...you guys are the best...also huge "props" to my family who have learned through the international years with me, to expect the unexpected, and that it truly "is what it is and you roll with it one way or another..."...Dang these callouses (sp) were just about "healed" from my Greek and Japan experiences...no, I am happy where I am, although I miss my family and grandson, Carter and his family as well as my friends in Seattle...Hey Larry Stoneman, thanx for your email, Brother...you too, Big D...and of course the Jorgs...much love and peace in your daily lives, Coach tom

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