Basketball coaches balance sportsmanship, player development in early-season mismatches
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
by The Palm Beach Post
When Inlet Grove High took the floor at Atlantic High last week, junior Alia Joe Coleman believed her team had a chance.
When Inlet went down by 20 points in the first quarter, she had her doubts. It wasn't long before she wished she was back on the bus.
Coleman scored a team-high four points while Atlantic raced to a 70-7 win.
That blowout loss was stunning, but it may not have been the most eye-popping result of the week. On Monday, Pahokee beat Forest Hill 60-16. That same night, Dwyer, by far the area's best team, beat Santaluces 100-14.
Every girls basketball season has its share of unfair fights. They become rare come playoff time - on average, all of last year's eight FHSAA finals were decided by 10 points - but things can get ugly in November and December, when rebuilding teams are finding their way.
Sometimes, they find their way into a tiger's cage.
It's nearly impossible for Santaluces (0-6) and Inlet Grove (0-4) to compete with Dwyer, which boasts three Division I recruits and a roster of year-round travel players; speedy, hungry Atlantic or any of the area's top teams.
"It goes in cycles," Dwyer coach Jeryl Akins said. "Maybe every three years you'll find a team that has its girls together for three years. They're killing someone who's getting a new team."
That was Dwyer against Santaluces, which graduated eight from last year's roster of nine and has just two players with more than two years' playing experience.
"I have a totally new team," said first-year Santaluces coach Horace Smith, 23. "I don't mean new to me. I mean new to basketball. If we're in school, we're in first grade. They're timid, very nervous."
In those games, feelings are treated delicately. Pressing is a dirty tactic. Zone defense is preferable. Only seldom-used reserves should think about driving to the hoop. And if you knock an opponent over, help them up.
In 2003, the FHSAA instituted a running clock in basketball to help avoid blowouts, but that may only slow things down a little. In the interest of sportsmanship, Akins said he instructed his players to hold the ball against Santaluces to waste time. They still cruised to an 86-point win, with his bench players making jumpers.
"I just looked around and the score kept going up," Akins said.
In last week's 59-point win over Santaluces, Suncoast coach Kelli Erianne didn't pull her team back entirely. Her reasoning: since teams only have 18 to 22 regular-season games before district tournaments, game experience is valuable.
"We pressed in the first half," Erianne said. "Not because we wanted to be evil, but because we worked on it for three straight days in practice. It was time to implement it in a game. Players only have so many chances to play."
Suncoast junior point guard Capri Winn wanted badly to blow off steam after starting the season 1-3, including a 40-point loss to Dwyer. Against Santaluces, "We wanted to prove we're a good team," Winn said. "But I understand it's sportsmanship. Obviously we're going to win, so it's not fair to keep pressing."
With the FHSAA shuffling districts every two years, teams usually agree to two-year contracts with non-district opponents. So why not beg out of a would-be blowout? Barring several injuries or a severe dip in turnout, many coaches use tough losses as teaching experiences.
"I'm trying to teach them you can't complain about it," Santaluces' Smith said. "You may have a day where nothing goes right. You've got to have amnesia."
So far, first-year Inlet Grove coach Jamarra Robinson has lost games by 51, 40 and 63 points. Seven of her 10 players are basketball newbies. She's thankful for Coleman, the only player with more than two years of playing experience.
"These girls, they want it, but they don't know how to get it," said the 23-year-old Robinson, a former point guard at Centennial who played in college. "When we sleep, those guys are working out. How do you think Dwyer got so good?"
In part, by taking their lumps.
"When I first got here in 2004-05, my teams were pretty weak," Akins said. "I've been on that end and said, 'Girls, let's just get through this.'"
Back then, he thanked those other teams -- like Santaluces' Smith now appreciates Dwyer.
"Now I don't have to tell them to work hard in practice," Smith said. "They do it on their own now."