Category Archives: Wisdom

A First Time, and Hopefully the Last Time…(2013 U17 team)

It is with great aggravation that I write this piece today.  I spent the end of May bragging about how much my boys had turned the corner individually and as a team.  Perhaps even more importantly, as a group I would now call “men.”  I also cautioned the group that they would have to earn and live up to that title throughout the course of time.  June is a month of slack as a general practice in AAU ball.  There are no tournaments and thus many teams separate for its entirety.  Not the U17 MML squad of 2013 though and we started strong with our entire group minus 2 at the first June practice.  At that practice, the team made a committment to me as the coach, to the team, and to themselves to do whatever it took in June to have success in July.  They sealed that committment by writing a plan inside a book that I wrote and had published under a poem called “What is Success?” 

Unbeknownst to me, that would be the team highlight of June.  Slowly members’ attendance dwindled at practices.  Those who did attend will attest that they were some of the best and hardest practices we had all in an effort to improve.  10 players turned to 5, which turned to 3, and even 2.  At the last practice, I had more new players that wanted to join the team come (3) as those who were on the team (2).  It was at that point I began to re-evaluate the merits of our July schedule that was planned.  A trip to Indianapolis, a trip to Grand rapids, Fort Wayne or maybe even Chicago had to be considered, then reconsidered again.  I had to look at the players that fell bu the wayside without as much as a text to the one coach that gave them a legitimate shot in AAU to play and IMPROVE.  I really don’t care about kids that quit; frankly, I only ever want players that want to be Lakers to be there.  However, the excuses for missing began to mount; excuses that I know would not be given to a high school coach that likely has not invested nearly the finances in them as MML did.  MML is and will continue to be built on everything opposite of what opponents of travel ball complain about.  We honor God, we work hard, we have respect for ourselves, the game, and each other, and we do not circumvent the rules.  I was forced to examine if this team in particular had lost sight of those ideals.

Consequently, I did everything I could to avoid the fate that I have to present today.  As a unit, we did not take care of our fiduciary responsibility, nor our responsibility as a team or band of brothers.  We showed that we were not ready to carry the mantle as men though a few may have been.  For the first time in MML history, I have decided to cancel the entire month of July’s schedule.  For those who may not know, college coaches will tell you that July is the most important recruiting month on the calendar bar none.  That means that I had to choose to eliminate that time for MML that could literally change the futures of the players involved.  That was not an easy choice, but one that had to be made.  After years of unity and operating at a level of excellence, the responsibility placed on this group this year was too much to bear for them. 

I honestly feel terribly bad.  Nothing about me wants to give up on any group of young men.  The reason why I have done this for so many years is the potential impact it can have on ushering necessary changes in players’ lives.  But I cannot look at myself in the mirror if I give to the group what was not earned.  Somehow we have gotten the idea that someone owes us something and become an entitled group.  Well, it is my responsibility to burst the bubble of that false sense of reality.  I post this in the hope that those that read it on this team will wake up and also as a point of consideration for those coming up through the program.  This team was given custom uniforms, custom socks, time in two gyms for free, and a plethora of time from leadership.  In return, they gave excuses, reasons, elite attitude, and lack of appreciation.  That is not nor will it ever be acceptable for the Mid Michigan Lakers, period.  Not now, not ever.  Unfortunately, the lesson had to be learned the hard way this time.


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MML U17 Spring Session Recap

2013 Camp Darryl/ Silver Division Champs

2013 Camp Darryl/ Silver Division Champs

I remember doing the recap last spring and thinking I did not know when I would again be so happy to do it.  At the time I believe we were 27-7 and feeling good about the majority of our performances.  We had a title in our first tournament and a second place finish to boot.  Much of that was expected based on the talent and chemistry we believed we had (although we lost a huge piece due to injury in the second tournament).  This year’s team honestly gave me heartburn thinking about it after our tryouts.  We had gone from only one person under 6’0″ last year to no one over 6’3″ this year.  I remember thinking that I knew some of the kids could play, but that being a .500 team would be an accomplishment with the size disadvantages we faced.  But what I didn’t know was that these guys were hungry…

Hard practices, a lot of teaching, and a good helping of discipline brought this group together as they seemed to gel as each tournament went by.  Some didn’t make it to this point; an unfortunate bump in the road to success, but also creating opportunities for others to step up.  Those who perservered saw the light at the end of the tunnel to continue to grow brighter and brighter.  The reward of running toward that light was a 5-1 showing and susequent silver division championship run at the Camp Darryl/ Classic in Kalamazoo. 

We played the first game in that tournament with 6 guys.  We were up by only 4 points at halftime, yet we won by a final margin of 29 with Amariontez Ivory-Thomas (Tez) scoring 36 points to lead us.  There were games when some didn’t play well, but others quickly jumped in to fill the void for them.  In every game we were clearly overmatched in terms of height (and it wasn’t close), but the team decided that it would not be the thing that stopped them.  In our only loss, a 24-point deficit was chopped to 6 before losing by 9.  The comeback showed the heart that would carry us the whole tournament.  In the semifinal game against BBC Select, Tez had a first half for the ages.  I believe he missed one shot the entire half, prompting the opposing coach to try a gimmick defense to stop him and then even question his eligibility (that he was a senior) because he was playing so well.  When they singled him out, he found his teammates unselfishly.  The team learned how to win in that type of pressure-filled game as Tez finished with 27 points and Marquavian Stephens (Marq) dropped 20 to notch an 8-point win.

The championship game versus the Macomb County Cougars was one to remember.  It was as fast-paced as any game I  can remember coaching in the 21 years I have been doing it.  The action was unreal as again our two tallest guys were giving up 5-8″ each on the opposing team’s big men.  They were attacking us down low, while we were attacking them with speed and outside shooting.  Tez again carried us in the beginning, but it may have been a shoe change by another player that brought the title home.  Last year’s MVP (and the only Laker to have his jersey retired), JD Tisdale, was there serving as my assistant coach when he noticed Marq looking uncomfortable.  He said to me, “…he [Marq] can’t jump.  It looks like his shoes are hurting him.  I will give him mine to play in.”  He did that and whether or not they felt any better I have no clue, but Marq played like a man possessed the rest of the game.  Torandis Mack bounced back from an ankle injury in the semifinal to attack the basket with force en route to 14 big points.  Jamil Demps added 13 points and his usual suffocating defense.  Marq led the way with 25 points, while Tez threw in 23 and led us again in rebounding.  It capped off a great all-tournament team performance from Tez (the only one to make the team from the silver division) where he averaged 25 points and rebounded well above his size.  Marq also had a great tournament and should have been an all-tournament team selection in my book as well.  He frustrated teams all weekend, some even suggesting that he play football because he was that tough.  Kelvin Weston earned a starting role and showed why as he was part of a defensive perimeter that was outstanding while also chipping in scoring when needed.  Jacob Littles, Fred Toins, and Mike Kimball knocked down a few three-point bombs and Jacob continued to lead us defensively as he has done all spring.  He must have rubbed off on Fred because he displayed defense that none of us knew he had!

We have won titles before in Laker history, but this one was really special because no one could have expected it at that point.  It capped off a spring that saw us finish April/May with a 14-8 record (.636) with a 7-2 burst in the final two tournaments of the spring.  As we move through the school season of June, the guys left even hungrier for more success which I am sure their high school coaches will appreciate.  I even had one player ask if we were practicing on the holiday (Memorial Day)!  The answer was “no”, but I loved the fact that he wanted to.  I am extremely proud of what this team has done so far, but the present is far from the end result.  They all wrote June plans for July success (pictured below) as they realize the importance of not having a letdown in effort.  The July ncaa-certified session will bring more challenges and more opportunity to show coaches and scouts what the Lakers are made of.  The boys that I started with in April have grown into men and are better on and off the court for it.  They rose above disappointment in Lansing to win their very next time out.  Discipline and sacrifice in practice, workouts, games, social media, and sometimes friendships bring rewards in future endeavors.  I am excited to see where this group goes in July and into their senior seasons.  I believe there will be some surprised coaches out there…


The fellas writing June plans for success in July

The fellas writing June plans for success in July

Spring Record: 14-8

Best Finish: 1st place silver division of Camp Darryl/ (Tez all-tournament team)

Spring MVP: Amariontez Ivory-Thomas

Spring All-Defense: Jacob Littles/Torandis Mack/Jamil Demps

Spring Most Improved: Kelvin Weston

Spring Heart Award: Marquavian Stephens

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Don’t Call it a Comeback

Out of the throes of adversity can arise amazing stories of perseverance, resolve, character, heart, and a number of other things related to those ideals.  Recently, the MML U17 team faced some adverse times in their most recent tournament in Lansing, but through it all I was reminded of a story that came full circle in that same weekend.  A story of trust, timing, and temerity.  One of a spark of faith through one that reached far beyond what he could have imagined.  A story that now includes a 35-point, 12-rebound performance that seemed unlikely if not impossible at the time.  The story of MML’s own Marquavian Stephens.

A bit less than two years ago, Marquavian was an up-and-coming freshman basketball player at Swartz Creek heading into a promising sophomore campaign.  On a Wednesday night (which also happened to be the night before his 15th birthday), Marq and a number of members of the team were having one of many open gyms at the school.  In an otherwise normal break in the action on the sidelines, surrounded by his friends and associates, he collapsed, the victim of the results of an arrhythmia that he knew nothing about.  Thanks to God and the quick work of the basketball and volleyball coaches, a defibrillator was used to artificially restart his heart to the correct pace.  The story that was told on the news later and in the newspaper detailed the events, but none told of the faith I personally witnessed with him in the time that followed.

After getting a call from another MML member that was there, I immediately started looking for updates and answers, but most importantly began to pray.  With the help of social media, many gathered to share thoughts of hope and prayers for healing for a kid that had seemingly not had a negative confrontation with anyone.  Even with all of that, on his 15th birthday he and his mother heard that he would likely need to have a pacemaker inserted into his chest cavity to regulate the beating of his heart due to an abnormality that went undetected until that point.  While it would necessary to maintain his life, it would also spell the end of his playing career before it really got started.  When I heard it, my heart sank.  When I shared it with other members of the program, there was a similar response.  But I learned you cannot measure the heart of a warrior.

Days had passed, tests had been run, and doctors had gone from pacemaker, to no surgery needed, and back to the need for a pacemaker.  It was grueling for those on the outside so I can only imagine what he must have felt like having his hopes raised and dashed seemingly daily.  I remember just praying that his mind would be okay and this setback would not cause a cloud to come over him.  After all, he faced death head on and won.  The only time I saw Marq in the hospital in Detroit was when I was driving back from Toledo with a fellow teammate of his that had asked to see him.   Marq asked him where he had been and I found it challenging to hear him tell Marq that he had been visiting a college for basketball knowing what he was going through.  However, Marq seemed to light up when he heard that.  Then he said something that blew me away although I know he had no intention of doing so.  He said, “Yeah, I’m going to be doing that soon.”  I wondered had he not heard his own diagnosis.  Then I wondered if he really believed it?  All I know is I left the room that day amazed by his faith and resolve while going through it and a bit embarrassed by the lack of my own as an observer.

The next day, the doctors found the issue that had been ailing Marq and it was determined that no pacemaker was needed to be installed!  When the call came to me, I immediately thought back to what he had just said in that hospital room a relative short time before that.  If a young man could be so confident in his statement, how can we not be?  How much smaller was  what we went through in that tournament to this in the grand scheme of things? 

Marq’s performance in our first game referenced above reminded me of this story and how far he had come.  When adversity presents itself, I think about how strong he was through it all.  I am reminded of the explanation of faith that my pastor, Dr. Lonnie W. Brown gave us; Faith is- F- Final A- Authority I- Impossible T- Things will H- Happen!  Indeed the final say so was out of my hands, or Marq’s, his mom’s, his team’s, his supporters’, or anyone else’s hands.  God had the final word on that issue at that time.  Saturday’s performance marked the culmination of a long road back.  It was not his first game back, but it was certainly  the greatest recent example of his potential as a basketball player.  It’s not the end, but just the begining for him as well…

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NCAA Certified…

Hello all, we are entering into what is termed a “live” weekend for college recruiters and many will converge onto Grand Rapids at the Storm Classic.  Here are some things to remember and keep in mind as we go through this weekend and any other certified events we may enter:

1.  “NCAA Certified” is not french for “do my own thing”.  Believe me when I tell you that you can quickly lose the interest of coaches and teammates by trying to do too much selfishly.  No one is telling you not to score and not to put your best foot forward, but that means continuing to play for the teammate next to you.

2.  During these weekends the college coaches will be asked to use different entrances and exits than the players due to the fact that they can watch but not have direct contact with you.  In other words, don’t go running over to speak because you Coach Izzo or someone like that.  They will also have designated seating/standing areas that are off-limits to players and family.  You will see some of the lower level (JUCO, D3, etc.) coaches have a bit more access, but your job is simply to be the best for your team.

3.  There is a NCAA limit on the number of games you can play in a day during these tournaments so they will almost always span 3-4 days (depending on how well you do).  Be prepared, but more importantly have your parents prepared.  Extra time means extra expense for food and lodging.

4.  You WILL HAVE TO watch a NCAA video at EACH certified event.  It is annoying and repetitive, but just deal with it please.

5.  Remember that your first line of travel is yourself.  Then is your teammates.  Only as a last resort should you be contacting coaches and/or administrators for travel to a tournament.

6.  You are being evaluated at all times; how well you prepare before the game, your attitude on the floor, attitude on the bench, body language, leadership, etc.

HAVE FUN!!!  Having more coaches around is exciting, but remember that basketball is still a game and even coaches want to see you enjoying it and not stressing out under pressure.

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Tough vs. Strong

Jared and I were having a discussion recently and the topic of toughness arose.  We talked about the idea that even the smallest guy on the basketball court can often be the toughest.  I decided to just write a little of what it really means because it is an area that the Mid Michigan Lakers need to improve in.

Merriam Webster defines tough as “characterized by severity or uncompromising determination” and “marked by and absence of softness or sentimentality.”  Nowhere in those two definitions did I find the word strong.  It did not describe size, shape, or muscle tone.  But what it did hit on is a mental ability to flush out the surrounding circumstances and press on no matter what happens in any situation.  It speaks to a lack of being negatively affected by every little adversary and caught up in one’s emotions. 

That same dictionary defines strong as “having or marked by great physical power” or “having great resources (as of wealth or talent).”  As you can easily see, these definitions lead us to understand that strength can be obtained with or without mental fortitude.  Strength is about what you have at your disposal (power, money, influence), while toughness is a description of what’s inside you.  In other words, strong may be what you are, but tough should be who you are and thereby more important.

Lakers, these are the types of things that happen to us during the course of games, that is, the opposite of tough.  We get knocked down and stay there for minutes.  We miss a shot and sulk coming back up the floor.  We make a mistake and look over at the bench instead of making up for it on the other end.  We get hit on the hand and hold that hand as if it was broken the next six trips down the court, or until you get the ball in your hands again (which ever comes first).  I am not saying some of the things don’t cause us physical pain.  Certainly it hurts to get knocked down on a hard floor, catch a stray elbow, or absorb a shoulder to the chest.  But how much tougher would we look if each time that happened we popped up off of the floor as fast as we could and smiled through gritted teeth?  How would the opponent feel if they came at us as hard as they possibly could and we acted as if nothing happened?  What boost would it be to your teammates to see you deflect the hurt you may feel to show that true determination?  How much longer would your coach be apt to leave you in the game if you covered each mistake by making to good plays on the opposite end of the court?  How much better would it look to a scout or college coach if you hustled back after each missed shot, pass, or dunk?

There were two examples that stood out in my mind of toughness in last night’s NBA contest between the Heat and Celtics.  Rajon Rondo was the smallest guy on the floor in almost every situation, but yet still had a dominating performance.  On one play on particular, Lebron (6’9″ 270 lbs.) posted the smaller Rondo (6’1″ 186 lbs.) late in the game.  Instead of conceding to Lebron’s physical strength, Rondo held, reached, wrapped his body around, and pestered Lebron into a jump ball situation.  Yes, he fouled him, but it likely wasn’t called because of the sheer effort he showed in fighting for that ball while being nearly outweighed by 100 lbs.  Similarly, what nay have closed the game for the Heat may have been Dwyane Wade’s drive and finish through the Celtic’s “enforcer” Kevin Garnett.  KG pushed and pulled him the best he could, but Wade finished at the rim anyway and took the foul.  The great thing is he jumped right up off the floor, said nothing, but glared at KG to let him know that foul had no ill effect at all on him.  Had he said something, he may have been assessed a technical foul, but his actions said all he needed to say.

The opposite of those examples would be for Rondo right after that jump ball he caused and they reclaimed possession of the ball, he drove into the lane for a reverse layup.  He was hit on the forehead by Wade, but no ref blew a whistle for a foul.  Rondo laid out on the floor as if he was shot and had not just gotten away with fouling on the other end himself.  The result was 5 vs. 4 for Miami and Udonis Haslem getting an easy dunk.  Wade had a two play brain fart when he gave up an open 3-pointer to  his man and threw his hands up in disgust, then threw an errant pass leading to a steal and basket for Rondo on the very next play.  He compounded his initial error by trying to do too much and made another.  That 5 points was enough to give Boston the lead and momentum at the time.

The point here is that it makes no difference how big, fast, strong, or tall you are when it comes to your tenacity and toughness.  Be a tough-minded player on the court at all times.  Believe me, your offense will struggle at times.  You may struggle defensively against a guy who is very skilled or just having a career game (Rondo).  Your jump shot may not be falling for you in a game.   You will make a bad pass or decision at various points in a game.  However, there is ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE for not being tough!  If you are injured, by all means stay down until help arrives.  If you are hurt, get up!  I have seen guys with torn ACL’s get up and jog off of the floor after the injury just because they didn’t want the other team to have the satisfaction of believing they hurt him.  That much toughness is extremely rare, especially today, but if you take an elbow try not to act like you have 8 broken ribs when all you are is bruised.  Cover your own and your teammates’ mistakes in the game and they will then cover yours.  It is at that point, you can really be called a true “team.”

— By Marcellus C. Miller

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