Where my first year of basketball was inspirational, the second year was a dud. Several of my teammates walked away from the game after that season. We were blessed with probably the lousiest coach I ever had. He couldn't play himself, he didn't know anything about the game and I'm not even sure he liked the sport. I'm not sure why he volunteered for the job. It made for some really poor performances and made a group of decently skilled players look bad.
I'm not sure what book he got his strategy and basketball knowledge from but we got to be his guinea pigs. Lumpy, Henry and I were labeled centres and were told we were rivals for the same position. I think that was the coach's first big mistake.
We kicked off the season with a surprise 50 – 35 exhibition victory against the senior girls team. The older girls usually won this school tradition. We overcame questionable strategy and three players came to the fore. My best friend Chuck and I dominated while we were on the court and Lumpy looked really good with the second unit. When the dust settled anybody with any basketball smarts would have known that our team had four logical starters. Chuck at point guard, Pete at the other guard position, Lumpy at either centre or power forward and me at centre or power forward. That of course was not how our coach saw it.
Lumpy and I played all of two offensive series together during that entire season. The coach put us on the floor together accidentally and quickly took me out as soon as he realized his mistake. The team we were playing were grateful because the two of us together were unstoppable. How could a coach not figure that out?
The following year we got ourselves a new novice basketball coach for the school's junior team. Lumpy and I got to compete with Lumpy's older and bigger brother Jay. Henry was tired of riding the pine and dropped out of the picture. This season we got to play with a seniority element added as well. “The Farmer” was the team's started power forward, six foot three and totally inexperienced but older. He was a riot in the locker room but not much of a player. I don't know how Lumpy felt about it, but I was quietly annoyed because both Lumpy and me would have been far better in that place.That wasn't the only issue with the team but I'll leave those stories for another time.
Finally in our third year “Torpedo Head” came to our rescue. This coach was another novice, a funny looking geography (or history) teacher. He didn't look like our saviour at the start. He liked basketball though and could think for himself. Laying out his grand strategy at our initial practices raised a lot of eyebrows. Big Jay had moved on to the senior team and Lumpy and I were joined by a younger player Pegels. We still would compete for the same position. Same old with a weird offensive scheme.
That weird offensive scheme lasted one whole quarter into our first game of the season. We were down 27 – 12. Torpedo Head knew his scheme was a flop and then did something that was either a stroke of genius or desperation. He put Pegels in at centre, me in at power forward and Lumpy in at small forward, playing all three centres together. Chuck and Pete anchored the back court. For the opposing team Pegels and I looked confusingly alike. Same size and build, same colour hair, same colour eyes, only I'm right-handed and Pegels is a southpaw. Mix up who you're guarding and you'll cough up an easy bucket. Lumpy was just too strong for his opponent. That big first quarter lead slowly dwindled as the five of us got used to playing together. Pegels missed a free throw after time expired and we lost the game 73 – 72. By the end of the season, instead of being the lousy team we were predicted to be, we matched the school's best junior team record in history.
Good coaching makes that much difference.