My basketball coaching record is perfect, and I don’t expect that to change Saturday. After a 22-year hiatus, I’m “coaching” the South Men’s College All-Stars in the Arkansas College Basketball All-Star Game at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. Joining me on the bench is legendary University of Arkansas sharp-shooting guard Al Dillard, who 20 years ago helped the Razorbacks win the National Championship.
I’m confident our group of players from the smaller schools in the state will run past the North, comprised mainly of Arkansas and Arkansas State players, and coached by Northwest Arkansas radio personality Ched “The Ugly Uncle” Carpenter and Dillard’s former teammate, Clint McDaniel. The South is the obvious underdog, but more on that in a moment.
In the spring of 1992, my then-14-year-old brother informed me the older brother of one his teammates ditched the traveling team he played on. A tournament approached, and they needed a coach. I gladly chipped in, and guided my brother’s team to the tournament championship. It was a combination of a wide-open, freelance offense I emphasized combined with their ability to hit shots. A press, we ran on the varsity squad, also worked well.
Not a bad coaching debut, but it was the last time, since I started coaching five-year-old soccer this spring, that I’ve coached.
I knew since I was in fifth grade I wanted to be a journalist. It started as a dream to be a TV sports anchor or sportswriter and narrowed to sportswriter by my freshman year at Northwest Missouri State. If anything, I have always been prepared, so before I enrolled in college I thought about what my career path would be if for some reason I didn’t like journalism (I knew those chances were slim).
My backup plan was to teach high school history and coach varsity basketball. That plan went unused but was confirmed as a solid backup by a history professor who tried to get me to change my major after I aced an extensive research paper the first semester of my freshman year and by my school’s head basketball coach who was impressed by my practice plan and philosophy in his coaching class.
He went as far as to promise to land me an assistant coaching job at a junior college upon graduation. That was appealing, but I had racked up two years as a student reporter and knew sports journalism was my true love.
Years later I wondered what might have been when then-Arkansas-Monticello coach Mike Newell told me if he got into Division I coaching again, he’d try to hire me as an entry-level assistant. I was flattered, but knew my wife might have protest if I tried to move her across the country to pursue a low-paying (even more low-paying than journalism) coaching job.
My hoops knowledge comes from years of consuming myself with it. I watched games, highlight videos and read stacks of books as a kid. Even though I was barely an average player, I had a knack for the Xs and Os and great knowledge and love of the game. Perfect for being a coach. It’s that passion that has helped me relate to Newell and other coaches in my journalism career.
When All-Star Weekend organizer Byron Jenkins asked me to served as a media coach, it really was a dream come true. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to come out of the locker room go over to the bench, shake hands with the officials (and later berate them) and try to win a game in front of a big crowd. Saturday, I’ll have my chance.
I don’t care that this is technically an exhibition game. The score is being kept and a trophy is on the line. I know our team will play to win, and Dillard and I plan to coach to win. I have a binder full of set plays I’ve dug out and plan to use.
Dillard will give a crash course in the 40 minutes of Hell pressure defense, and we are off to the races.
By early Saturday evening I hope to have led yet another underdog squad to victory and keep my undefeated record intact.