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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday Cardinal Couple -- Checking the Calendar


( Jeff McAdams gathers his calendars, his electronic devices that track and record, a sundial, celestial star chart and a few IPA's to bring you news today for the future and also discuses the exploits of a certain Rez Baller.) 

A Flourishing Finish

As the WNBA season comes to a close, Shoni Schimmel finishes it off with a Rez Ball-esque flourish by capturing the WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

In helping drive her team to the number one spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Shoni put up 24 points against The Phoenix Mercury along with six rebounds and three assists.  She tallied 13 points and nine assists against Tulsa, and finished off the week with nine points, two assists, two rebounds, and a steal against Connecticut.

Imagine what she'll do when she really gets going.

Mark Your Calendar

September 9th is the annual matchup between UofL and UK in Volleyball.  We're hosting this year, at the
KFC Yum! Center, and UofL is shooting for a Kentucky volleyball attendance record.  This is a big goal, and one that we'll all need to come together to accomplish.

Kentucky and The KFC Yum! Center already hold the fourth largest attendance for an NCAA Volleyball match ever, from the 2012 NCAA Tournament Championship match, with an attendance of 16,448.  So that is the mark to beat.

The match is at 7 pm, and its a Tuesday night, so start planning now to come out and hopefully be part of another record setting crowd downtown.

Other Calendar Dates

While we're highlighting calendar dates, I want to bring your attention to August 29th.  We've certainly talked about it on the Cardinal Couple radio show on Saturdays, but I want to be sure to highlight it here on the site.

This is a multi-sport day, all home openers, with Field Hockey kicking off the festivities, and their season, at 4pm at Trager Stadium with a match against St. Louis.  Following Field Hockey, a walk down Floyd Street should still give you enough time to see the start of Women's Soccer at the official debut of the Lynn Soccer Stadium with a 6pm first kick against Ole Miss.  Following the women's game, the men get their shot at the new turf with a scheduled 8pm start against Maryland.

We here at Cardinal Couple will, of course, keep you apprised of dates and times of approaching competitions, but I wanted to put these two out there early to make sure people had time to plan and get these important dates on their calendars.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday Cardinal Couple -- Erin Boley, E-Town getting a lot of attention


- 2016 prep star Erin Boley getting a lot of love

(We feature an article today that was run a few days ago in the Elizabethtown News-Enterprise newspaper that was written by Ryan O'Gara. Erin Boley has narrowed her lists and everyone is waiting...thanks to Jenny for finding) 

THE RECRUITING GAME: Identifying the right fit (08/10)
Posted:  08/09/2014 11:26 PM
It’s Thursday evening, less than 48 hours since Erin Boley returned from Nike Elite Basketball National Championships in Augusta, Ga. — one of the top tournaments on the summer AAU circuit.

In a conference room at The News-Enterprise, her phone is resting on a table with the screen facing down — a rare break for a device about to get a lot of use in the near future.

On this night, Boley has a phone call set up with Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. Earlier in the week, she spoke with coaches from each of the other six schools on her list — Kentucky, Louisville, Notre Dame, Tennessee, UConn and Vanderbilt.

Tuesday was not only the last of her eight days in Augusta — it was the end of the viewing period for high school players, meaning coaches can talk to recruits by phone, but only through a third party like a coach.

High school  is less than a week away from starting again, but the Elizabethtown junior is already all business. With her dad, Scott, essentially serving as her manager, they are already in the process of setting up in-home visits, which start Sept. 9
It’s all part of the dizzying recruiting process for high-profile recruits. Former John Hardin football player Matt Elam’s recruitment received national attention last year and ended with a commitment to Kentucky. Now, it’s Boley’s turn to step into the spotlight.

* * * * ************************************************************************************************

Boley can remember where she was when she got her first offer: sitting in the parking lot before a softball game, waiting for her teammates. It was from Western Kentucky, and she was in eighth grade. She started getting recruiting letters in seventh grade and saved all of them at first.

At the time, schools didn’t realize Boley would blossom into a 6-foot-2 forward and one of the premier prospects in the country — ESPN’s HoopGurlz ranked her the No. 8 player in the Class of 2016 — but it was a pretty good gamble.

Less than three years later, Boley has too many offers to count — between 50 and 60, she says. When she first started getting offers, she printed up logos of them and kept them in chronological order. She doesn’t do that anymore.

“It’s crazy. It’s hard to believe sometimes, but it’s also a good thing,” Boley said. “It makes me feel good about myself. It’s a little flattering.”

Before the home visits, she can get unlimited calls, texts, emails and mail starting Sept. 1. And that means right at midnight, Boley’s phone probably won’t stop buzzing for quite some time.

The process really gets going with the home visits. Louisville coach Jeff Walz wants to have breakfast with the Boley family the morning of Sept. 9 to make sure he gets to make the first impression. Others take the opposite approach.

“We’ve had a few people say they want to be the last one because then you can tell them that’s where you’re going,” Scott said. “It’s reverse psychology. They want to be first or last.”


When David Tapley started Kentucky Premier five years ago, he had two things in mind: Take care of kids in Kentucky and take care of their parents. He didn’t see any of the top girls’ players in Kentucky playing on the national stage, and as a result, they weren’t being seen as much as they should.

Tapley got Boley to join the program the first year, and it’s taken off from there. When Elite’s top team, which features Boley and Elizabethtown senior Reauna Cleaver, takes the floor, there can be several hundred coaches in attendance. The program has had 70 kids go on to play Division-I.

A normal day for Tapley consists of anywhere from 20-50 phone calls from college coaches. Sometimes, they have lists of 20-25 players from his program they want to talk with. Tapley’s reputation among college coaches has grown so much, college coaches call him about players from other programs. He’s become an important middle man in the recruiting process.

“For instance,” Tapley said, “if (Louisville coach) Jeff Walz calls and says ‘What about this kid?’ If I know the kid isn’t very good, I’ll say ‘Are you nuts? Come on, you’re better than that.’”
The reason coaches trust Tapley’s opinion so much is that he’s always honest with them. If a player isn’t good enough to play at a given level, he’s going to be up front with the coach.

This way, Tapley’s word carries value. When one of his players is deserving to play at a big school, Tapley vouches for them and coaches listen.

Tapley has numerous stories about how his influence landed girls a scholarship. He has relationships with many of the head coaches and lead recruiters in women’s college basketball, and therefore a lot of power — even if that’s not how he sees it.

“I don’t look at it like that,” Tapley said. “Somebody said that to me once and I told him we’re in it for kids. If I’m in it for the power, I become an idiot like so many others. There is some power, though. I can agree with that.”


Last fall, it was as if the Lady Panthers were holding their own scouting combine. Coaches flocked to Elizabethtown to see not only Boley, but teammates and Division-I prospects Darien Huff and Cleaver as well.

Sometimes there would be as many as 40-50 coaches at these individual workouts run by Lady Panthers coach Tim Mudd, who would typically make them more challenging to fit in as much work as possible in the limited time the coaches get to observe his players.

“I always generally tell kids that such and such coach is coming tomorrow,” Mudd said, “but last year was such a large group that they got so used to working out in front of the coaches that they knew someone would always be there.”

Mudd tries to emphasize to his players that recruiting is a business and coaches’ livelihoods depend on being able to get good players. There’s probably no one who has come to realize how much of a business it is as much as Mudd, who coaches use as a middle man like they do Tapley.

“The big thing is when you have athletes being recruited, it’s time consuming,” Mudd said. “But I’ve always looked at it as part of it. I’d much rather have it this way than not have anyone call. I’m very fortunate to have these types of players in the program who have developed enough to play at the next level.”

The national powers like UConn, Notre Dame and Stanford typically go through Tapley. But the local schools, like Kentucky and Louisville, value establishing a relationship with Mudd in hopes he’ll funnel more of his players there in the future.

All of the schools on Boley’s list had coaches there during the two-week period, but it wasn’t just them. Boley’s recruitment has given her teammates the chance to showcase themselves in front of schools like Butler, Cincinnati, LSU, Memphis and many more.

“A lot of times you’ll get college coaches to come watch kids, and then they see someone else they like,” Mudd said. “I’ve seen a lot of kids get scholarships who were coming to watch someone and see someone else for first time.”

When the next wave starts to get recruited more heavily — like sophomore guard Jada Stinson — they’ll be more comfortable performing in front of coaches. Oddly enough, it’s the younger girls who the coaches aren’t interested in that are the most nervous and awe-struck when someone like Geno Auriemma walks through the door.

Above all, a coach’s job is to advise. Mudd spent 3 hours one day this past week talking with Boley, and all the veteran coach wants to do is share his past experiences with a family going through the process for the first time.

When Elam was debating between Kentucky, Alabama and Notre Dame, John Hardin coach Chad Lewis was with him every step of the way. Lewis accompanied Elam on all of his visits, which led to spending most weekends away from his family. And that’s on top of the long hours it takes during the week to run a team. Elam took four unofficial visits to Alabama alone.

“The biggest demand for me was time away from my family,” Lewis said. “My wife was very understanding. My kids were like ‘You’re going again to wherever?’ But at the same time, I may never get that opportunity again — to go visit the Alabamas, the Notre Dames, all the schools that I actually had a chance to see on the inside and see how the program actually was run. That was a really neat experience.”


When Boley initially made her list public July 1, she was getting ready to start an AAU practice. One of her coaches was basically serving as her secretary as she already had three coaches who wanted to talk to her about it. Coaches were calling Tapley to find out why they weren’t on the list.

Boley didn’t make the list for attention, but rather to narrow her focus and lessen her load come September. With so many offers, she couldn’t keep fielding requests from schools she had no interest in attending. What she didn’t expect was that after she made her list, some schools not on it weren’t deterred. Duke, LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma — to name a few — continued to pursue her as if the list didn’t exist.

“Lists don’t mean anything. Until you commit, (coaches) won’t stop,” Tapley said. “Even when you commit, they still won’t stop. Once you sign your national letter of intent, they’ll finally leave you alone.”

And coaches will find any way around the rules. Coaches aren’t allowed to mail recruits directly until next month, so when Boley was named Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year, they sent Mudd letters with ‘Congrats to Erin’ on them. Mudd, of course, would show Boley and the letter’s purpose was served.

Some of the interactions can be pretty cool. Walz sent a text to Mudd a few years ago that said, “We’re about to run out onto the floor for the Final Four, and we want Erin to know we’re thinking of her.” Last month when former Louisville player Shoni Schimmel was the MVP of the WNBA All-Star game, Walz texted, “Did Erin watch Shoni in the WNBA All-Star game? We produce pros. Is Erin next?”

Other occurrences have surprised her, too. When Elizabethtown was playing in Florida last season, Tapley texted Scott during one of the games to tell her that Erin picked up an offer from TCU — a school the Boleys had never talked to nor even knew was interested in Erin.
“That happens all the time,” Tapley said. “For example, really good mid majors will say, ‘If Erin Boley wants to come here, she has a scholarship.’ That blew Scott away. Scott will say she doesn’t have an offer, and I’m like, ‘Scott, come on!’”


Perhaps the most challenging part of the process is figuring out coaches.

Who can you trust? Everyone puts on their best face during a recruiting visit, but what are they really like behind closed doors? Both Mudd and Tapley acknowledged there are college coaches out there who might not have the player’s best interest in mind. Some coaches will negative recruit, meaning they speak poorly of other schools in order to make their school look better. Surprisingly, it’s not just lesser programs which partake — even some national powers will engage.

Boley has taken so many unofficial visits and observed so many college practices she feels like she has a good handle on it — but she can never be sure. Boley has a great relationship with one Tennessee assistant coach because the coach has recruited Boley from the beginning, all the way back when the coach was an assistant for Kentucky.

“Some people like that, I can trust,” Boley said. “But I don’t know about head coaches sometimes. Sometimes I have to take word from other people, like my Premier coaches and Coach Mudd. I have to take it from their adult standpoint because sometimes I can’t see it.”
Boley has visited all of her schools unofficially and every school looks great on the surface. But how does a recruit really read between the lines, past the fancy tours of facilities and past players and coaches hyping the school to no end?

“I would say the biggest thing is the relationship with the coach,” said Ivy Brown, the former LaRue County player who won Miss Basketball last season and is now playing at Western Kentucky. “You’re going to be with them four years so you have to be able to trust them, go through whatever with them.”


Boley can handle people joking with her about how much greater Louisville is than Kentucky, or vice versa. She can handle people telling her that passing up a prestigious academic institution like Stanford would be insane, or that she’d almost surely win a national title if she went to UConn.

That’s not really pressure. Pressure is eventually having to tell six of these coaches ‘no.’ It’s something she’s dreading.

“It felt like you were breaking up with somebody when (Matt) made his decision because I developed relationships with these coaches, and Matt did too,” Lewis said. “It was hard for Matt to tell Alabama ‘no’ because that was his second choice. He didn’t want them to feel like he strung them along, because he didn’t. Relationships are developed when it goes for that long period of time.”

The schools that can tell they probably aren’t in the top two or three have started to get snippy, Scott said, and are starting to apply a little pressure. Elam had set a date to announce his decision, but that didn’t stop Notre Dame from essentially giving him an ultimatum and demanding an answer weeks before his decision date. They wanted to know if Elam would be coming because if not, they had to move on to other recruits.

The same might happen to Boley.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those schools force her hand on where she wants to go,” Lewis said.

Scott joked that by publicly saying ‘yes’ to one school, wouldn’t that be like saying ‘no’ to the six others? Erin quickly squashed that idea.

“There will be some that deserve a call from me saying ‘thank you,’” she said. “I just want to thank them for the time and money they put in to recruiting me.”

Does she already have an idea who the ‘yes’ will be?

“There’s an order in my head, but I haven’t put it out there,” Boley said.


It’s a few minutes after 8 p.m., and Boley finally turns her phone over and checks her messages. She finds out the call with VanDerveer is set for 8, so she’s a little late.

“I need to call her,” she says with a hint of urgency in her voice. Before she’s even out the door, she has VanDerveer on the line.

Boley had planned to take her five official visits in the spring and probably make a decision next summer, but it’s looking more and more like she’ll verbally commit before her junior season begins in December. The Lady Panthers are serious contenders to win a state title this season after losing in the final last year, and Boley wants to enjoy playing with her friends. The recruiting process has worn her down.

“I think it’s looking more like (committing) earlier because of the high school season,” Boley said. “I don’t know, I might — it’s possible. Sometimes I think it would be nice to get it done and have nothing to worry about during basketball season.”

For now, Boley keeps grinding along, each day a little closer to the madness finally ending.

Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Cardinal Couple -- Women's Soccer falls to IU


- IU tops Cards in exhibition game

The Indiana Women's Soccer program got the 2014 schedule underway on Saturday night with an exhibition game against Louisville at Bill Armstrong Stadium. With teams shuffling players in an out throughout the game, both teams were looking to try different things before the season gets underway next week.

"We talked in the pregame, and really all week, that we were really not concerned with the result tonight," Indiana head coach Amy Berbary said. "We were looking to see if we could execute some of the concepts and style of play that we have been working on to this point in preseason." The result on the scoreboard after 90 minutes show that the Hoosiers defeated the Cardinals, 1-0, on a goal by Abby Smith in the 80th minute, with the assist going to Jordan Woolums. "The positives from tonight are that we got a lot of players in the game and we had some people in some different positions," Berbary said. "I think that gave us, as a coaching staff, a good picture of what some of the players can do."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday Cardinal Couple -- Is it time to start giving college credit hours to college student athletes?


- Play for credit hours? 

- Radio today

- Show Monny the money

With the recent academic fraud issues surfacing at Notre Dame, I started thinking about the role of the student-athlete in college. A young lady may accept a partial scholarship to play softball at a certain school. Over the next four years, she will put in thousands of hours each school year practicing, playing in games, travelling with the team and doing public service, promotional and charity work for the team and University. 

How many credit hours will she receive towards graduation?


When I attended school, we were required to take (2) classes in physical education. I chose badminton and golf. I got 2 credit hours for considerably less work performed than the fictional softball player listed above. I haven't played badminton since and I gave up golf 10 years ago.  

Would it be that bad of an idea to grant (3) credit hours per semester to a student-athlete that participates on the softball or rowing or football team?

3 hours per semester, 2 semesters a year, 4 years. 24 credit hours...or about 1/5 needed toward a bachelors' degree. 

The student is definitely spending more than 1/5 of their total college stay in the field and is also helping raise revenue for the university by being a member of a squad that may raise money for the university by paid admissions to events, NCAA appearances or television revenue. 

While it is probably true that most individual athletic programs operate in the "red" instead of the "black" much money does the history or biology major bring into the university (besides tuition?) 

Make it pass/fail to simplify it. (I can't imagine Jeff Walz at the end of the semester trying to decide if Emmonnie gets a "A" or "B" grade).

Third and fourth year college students get credit hours for independent study classes. Is taking your team to the NCAA Regionals enough to warrant 3 credit hours? Or working on your mid-range jumper 4 hours a day? Chemistry students do lab work to advance their knowledge and skills. Can sinking 100 free throws be classified as lab work? 

Your thoughts? 


CARDINAL COUPLE RADIO broadcasts at 11 a.m. today. We'll review the happenings in hoops, field hockey, soccer and we have a nice segment from Karen Ferguson Dayes on women's soccer. 

Join us...won't you?




A couple of years with Jeff Walz can pay some huge dividends. 

Monny Niamke is the latest WBB Card to sign a pro contract...signing with Lyon Basket Feninin in the first division of France's Women's Basketball League for the
2014-15 season.

France seems to fit her quite well...she was selected to the U-18 and U-19 French National teams in high school and won All-Tournament honors in the European Championships.

She transferred to Louisville after a year at Lindsey Wilson...sitting out a season and then averaging 1.3 points and 1.3 assists in 31 games last year. 


Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Cardinal Couple -- The demise of local UofL sports television


- WAVE TV to be the new home of Cardinal Athletics

- Collmus leaving Churchill

New conference, new changes...

It's been announced that WAVE TV will be the local affiliate for UofL Sports in the 2014-15 season. WHAS TV had this role for the broadcast rights since 2004...prior to that, FOX affiliate WDRB had the "CARDS ON FOX" rights.

Who could forget Don Russell and Dave Sullivan calling football? 

But...the days of Drew Deener calling UofL WBB broadcasts are over. ACC is RAYCOM, WAVE TV is RAYCOM. 

The ACC has exclusive television broadcasting rights for ACC events...and between WAVE and ESPN...they promise a lot of Cardinal games. We've already heard of women's field hockey and soccer games that will be shown on ESPN 3 or ESPN U. 

This is good.

But what is bad is that we are losing the local flavor, familiarity and home-town based flavor that Deener, Valvano, Jared Stillman and Howie Lindsey used to bring. 

And a considerable amount of television exposure will disappear, too. You could go to WHAS 2 and see volleyball, softball, soccer, field hockey, baseball and even lacrosse with Sean Moth or Patty Norton Dennison giving the play-by-play. 

That is done with. 

The ACC owns the television airwaves. Kent Taylor of WAVE is expected to be the front man for coaches' show and the like. They might as well have a babbling chimp smoking Marlboro's on screen with Petrino and Pitino. Taylor is all smoke and mirrors, glitz and glamour. 

No radio changes that we have heard of....yet. For the meantime, we assume that Paul Rogers will still handle football and basketball play-by-play. Matt Andrews and AJ are expected back for WBB. Sean Moth will still do baseball from what we are hearing. 

This is good.

They do an excellent job calling the Cards over the radio airwaves. Especially Andrews. His account is descriptive, precise, objective,   accurate, informative and you can close your eyes and visualize the action on the hardwood. 

We are a TV society, however. Losing UofL women's sporting events for broadcast just because the ACC has no desire to cover them is not cool. Why not give a school a local television broadcast option? I will point to Kentucky and the UK IMG network and rest my case. Even with Gary Gupton. 

The price of making it to the big time...sometimes it does not glitter with golden rays. 


Larry Collmus is leaving Churchill Down after the Fall Meet to call the trifecta of tracks in New York (Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga)

I have some thoughts on this over at my personal blog. Link below. 



Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thursday Cardinal Couple -- Women's Soccer ties Vols....Carol staying in town




The fall sports season has finally gotten underway with competition. 

Louisville's women's soccer team traveled to
Knoxville, TN Wednesday night to face Tennessee and played to a 1-1 tie in an exhibition game

UT was picked to finish fifth in the SEC preseason coaches poll. 

UT's Hannah Wilkinson scored in the 28th minute and freshman goalkeeper Alexis Smith made seven saves as Tennessee and Louisville played to 1-1 tie on Wednesday in an exhibition match at Regal Soccer Stadium.

Wilkinson shook the Louisville goalkeeper inside the box and scored on an open net in the 28th minute. Louisville's Alison Price netted the equalizer in the 42nd minute past a diving Smith. Price is a freshman forward from Clemmons, NC. 

Tennessee finished with 10 shots to Louisville's 16. The Cardinals managed three corner kicks to UT's two.


Former UofL Softball Coach Carol Bruggeman didn't have to go far to find her next job.

NFCA (National Fastpitch Coaches Association announces that former UofL asst. softball coach Carol Bruggeman, a long time NCAA Division I coach at Michigan, Purdue and Louisville, has been named to to the position of Associate Executive Director with the Association. 

Beginning on September 1, Bruggeman will represent the NFCA as the new Division I staff liaison while undertaking various roles with coaching education, recruiting issues, special projects and as a national speaker, clinician and educator. 

"I would like to thank Executive Director Lacy Lee Baker and the NFCA Board of Directors for the opportunity to work for the prestigious NFCA organization,” Bruggeman said. “I am incredibly humbled to be offered the newly created position of Associate Executive Director. This new position seemed to be a natural fit; having been a long-time Division I softball coach and holding various leadership roles within the NFCA. The future looks very exciting for the NFCA. I am proud to join the current motivated staff in executing the vision for the organization and in serving fastpitch softball coaches across the world."

Bruggeman is certainly no stranger to the Association having been an active member for 25 years while unselfishly serving the NFCA in numerous capacities. Included are a four-year term as president and stints as both the past-president and fourth vice president on the NFCA’s Board of Directors, as the board’s Division I Representative and as a featured instructor at numerous National Fastpitch Coaches College courses throughout the country. Over September 12-13, 2014, in Lexington, Ky., Bruggeman will again lend her expertise to the NFCC by serving on the staff of Course 406: Coaching Dynamic Team Practices.

She has also been a featured speaker at more than 125 national softball clinics and professional business organizations. In 2013, she wrote a chapter entitled "Understanding Today's Player" for the NFCA book, The Softball Coaches Bible, Volume 2, and co-wrote a chapter entitled “Warm-up Drills for Softball” included in The Softball Drill Book, which was published in 2007. In 2002, Bruggeman penned a chapter entitled "Competing with Class" for the NFCA publication, The Softball Coaches Bible. She served as the color analyst for Fox Sports Chicago's television coverage of the 2002 Big Ten softball tournament. Bruggeman also co-produced Level 1 and Level 2 instructional DVDs on softball specific athlete development and has also produced instructional DVDs on base running and defense. In July 2011, Bruggeman traveled to Australia as head coach of the college team that won a gold medal with USA-Athletes International. She also traveled to the Czech Republic in 2009 in the same role.

In nine years at Louisville, Bruggeman helped build the Cardinal program into a perennial national contender. During
her tenure at UofL, the Cards picked up three BIG EAST Conference titles, an American Athletic Conference crown and secured nine straight NCAA Tournament berths, while boasting almost 60 combined all-conference selections, 17 NFCA All-Region inclusions, eight NFCA All-Americans and three conference player or pitcher of the year honorees.
During her coaching career, Bruggeman has been a part of over 700 victories, reaching that impressive personal milestone back on March 23, 2013, with a 4-1 triumph over Indiana. In 2012, she played an integral role in guiding a Louisville squad that won a school-record 55 games on the way to BIG EAST regular-season and tournament crowns and a top-10 national ranking.

Bruggeman came to Louisville from Purdue, where she started the Boilermaker softball program and served as head coach from 1994 to 2005. She guided the team to a 21-17-1 inaugural campaign in 1994, posting the best first-year record in Big Ten Conference history. Her squads posted 30 or more victories in nine of her last 10 seasons at Purdue. With Bruggeman at the helm, Purdue had 23 All-Big Ten selections, 24 NFCA All-Mideast Region Selections and one NFCA First Team All-American.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wednesday Cardinal Couple -- Rez Ball


- Gary Witherspoon explores Rez Ball


 Rez Ball in a Three Part Series

Part I:  The Origin and Essence of Rez Ball

Most people who have heard the term rez ball but who have not seen or participated in it tend to think of rez ball as a style of play.  While rez ball has many characteristic styles and patterns, the essence of rez ball is an attitude toward the game more than it is a combination of styles and attributes.  The game is played as an act of joy and as an act of celebration in competition.  The teams compete with intensity and ferocity but not out of hostility or meanness.  Those latter passions violate the original spirit and essence  of the game, which has its foundation in community and religious performance and celebration.

Basketball has its origins in the ball games played in Central America more than two thousand years ago.  These games were split up between two teams and built on the idea of putting a bouncing rubber ball through goals on each end of a court.  Native Americans were the first to discover the process of the vulcanization of rubber, and they had bouncing rubber balls long before the Europeans first saw them in the Americas.  The team and the goal oriented ball games had a wide variety of patterns as they spread throughout much of North America.  Europeans who settled in North America were introduced to these games in the Southeast, the Northeast and in the Great Lakes region.  The game of basketball as it is played today began as a winter adaptation or modification of lacrosse.  One of the things that is left out often left out of sports history in America is that James Naismith was a lacrosse player.  He had learned lacrosse from the Iroquois in the Northeast who had been playing the game at least a thousand years.

In order to develop an indoor winter sport, Naismith altered the basic rules of lacrosse and invented a modified version of lacrosse that came to be known as basketball.  The original version of basketball looked a lot more like lacrosse than the way the game is played today.  Originally the ball came back to the center for a face-off or jump after every point scored, and not all players on a team were allowed to play on both sides of the court.  Hands and dribbling were substituted for racquets as a way of advancing the ball toward the goal.

Lacrosse among the Iroquois emphasized the themes of joy, celebration, unity, health and good will (what we call sportsmanship today).  Lacrosse is the name that the French Jesuits gave to the Iroquois game that was actually played by virtually all Indian Nations in the Northeast and Great Lakes region.

The Iroquois call lacrosse (they have different names for it in their own languages) the Creator’s game, and
say the game was given to the people from the creator for the joy and amusement of the creator, and the joy and amusement of his children.  Thus the game is to be played with an attitude and sense of joy, celebration and gratitude.  The creator is said to thoroughly enjoy watching the players compete in this game.  The creator’s joy is enhanced when the players play with more intensity, deception, creativity and joy. 

The game is also to be played with a sense of thanksgiving for all creation.  The biggest lacrosse games of the year were played as part of the Iroquois four day rite of Thanksgiving, also called the Green Corn ceremony among many other tribes of the Eastern US.  I am going to quote from the website of the Iroquois Nationals, the only Indigenous sports team from North America to field a national team in international competition.  The Iroquois Nationals made the final four of the 2014 World Cup of Lacrosse.  They finished third in the World Cup behind the US and Canada and ahead of Australia (fourth).  38 nations from North America, Europe, Africa and Asia participated in the World Cup of Lacrosse.

Lacrosse was a gift to us from the Creator, to be played for his enjoyment and as a medicine game for healing the people . . . Before each game, players are reminded of the reason for their participation . . . The creator has endowed upon all human life, a game called dehonchigwiis (lacrosse) for all to enjoy. The young men who participate in the creator’s game will generate a gift of healing that we may have peace of mind.” (

This is the real history and origin of ball games and team sports in the Americas.  It was from this tradition that James Naismith devised the game of basketball.  Rez ball comes from this tradition, and the predominant essence of rez ball is joy - joy for the creator, joy for the participants and joy, health and peace of mind for all the players and spectators.

In the recent WNBA All-Star game, it appeared to me that Shoni Schimmel finally felt fully free to play rez ball; and, in doing so, she let everybody see the joy with which she plays the game and the joy she infuses into the game.  Shoni personifies playing for the joy of the game.  She plays hard with passion and intensity; she plays to win, but she does not fall down and cry a river when she loses.  Playing the game has given her the joy of participation and the opportunity to entertain with skill, artistry and creativity.  She is thankful for playing, even after a loss, and she moves on to the next opportunity to play for the enjoyment of the creator and the people. While she may not be able to articulate this in these words, she has in multiple ways imbibed this from the sports traditions of Indigenous America, and she exemplifies and personifies those traditions as well as any basketball player today.  That is a big reason why Native American fans and other fans as well have embraced and adored her.  Her performances and the enthusiasm and joy she brings to the game is captivating, and is completely in tune with the ancient sports traditions of Indigenous America

At least twice and probably more than that, Rebecca Lobo has been the color commentator on ESPN of games in which Shoni has played.  I remember her specifically saying something like this in the latter part of the Louisville/Tennessee game in 2013, and she repeated it again in the WNBA All-Star game:

“Shoni Schimmel is absolutely fearless.  She has no fear.  She plays the game without fear.”  I laughed when I heard that both times.  What in the world is there to fear.  Why would one play with fear, I thought.  Shoni plays out of joy, not fear.  Shoni plays for the joy of creativity and for the joy of participating and winning.

A lot of the patterns and styles of Rez Ball make logical sense when you understand the attitude and passion that infuses rez ball.  When you understand that you play with joy and for joy . . . the joy of the Creator, the joy of the people, the joy of the players and the joy of participation, so it makes total sense that that joy is expressed in and realized in creative and artistic plays, passes and shots.

The object of the game is to outscore your opponent, so the emphasis in playing the game is on offense, on
scoring. Defense is just something you do until you get back on offense.  The focus on defense then is on stealing the ball or causing a turnover.  If you cannot steal the ball or force a turnover, then you can get the ball back by blocking a shot or rebounding a missed shot.  And, finally, if you cannot steal the ball, force a turnover, block a shot or rebound a missed shot, you can get the ball back when your opponent makes a shot.  If you can force or entice your opponent to take two point shots, you can still outscore them by making three point shots.

In regard to the emphasis on three point shots, it is relevant to note that against Memphis this year, Shoni hit 8 three point shots in a row and 9 for the game.  That was only exceeded by one other player, Abby Scott, who hit 11 three pointers in one game in January, 2014.  Abby plays for New Mexico State and hails from the Warm Springs reservation in central Oregon, not far from Shoni and Jude’s Umatilla reservation.  Shoni hit another 7 three pointers in the WNBA All-Star game, and she won the collegiate three point shooting championship over all the best three point shooters in both men’s and women’s college basketball this year.

Because the goal is to score, you want to score as fast as you can, so you fast break after a missed shot or after most made shots, after a steal or a rebound, and you shoot as soon as you get a good shot.  Long passes get the ball down court faster, so you throw the long pass whenever anyone is open on the other end of the court.

Because a bad shot or a bad pass gives the ball back to the other team without your team scoring, you want to make passes that will help a teammate score or take shots that will help your team score.

These aspects of rez ball lead to a lot of long passes and a lot of three point shots.  Shoni is incredibly good with long passes.  She looks like she should have been a quarterback.  Coaches do not generally like long passes because most players throw wild, off-target passes when they attempt to throw long passes, but Shoni can often throw a one-handed pass off the dribble from one end of the court and thread the needle to a teammate at the opposite end of the court.  If you watch and count the success and failure of her long passes you will see she rarely throws a pass off target.  Turnovers almost always come from interceptions when a player from the other team crosses in front of her target or when a player leaps high and intercepts a pass that was online for its intended target.

Shoni pretty much single-handedly disarmed the presses of Baylor and Tennessee with her long passes.  She makes them look so easy, but they are not easy.  If most players tried them, they would likely turn the long passes into a disaster, and that is why most coaches are against long passes.  But Shoni has made those passes in rez ball games tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of times.  She has great hand-eye coordination, and that coordination plus all the practice she has had make her pretty lethal with the long pass.  Long passes are as common in rez ball as dandelions are in the spring

The one aspect of rez ball that drives traditional coaches crazy (and it did me too when I was coaching in high school) is that players play defense with their hands and not their feet.  First they try to steal the pass that goes to the player they are guarding.  If that does not work, then they try to steal the ball out of the hands of their opponent, and next they try to steal the dribble of the player they are defending.  When the player they are defending puts the ball on the court and begins to drive around them, they first reach in to knock the ball away, and then they allow the player to go around them and try to knock it away from behind the player.  The result is that they will often stand there like their feet are glued to the floor while the player they are defending goes right around them.  Lots of coaches have to go to zone defenses because of this.  It is a habit rez ball players have a hard time overcoming.

Finally, what follows from the premise that the game is played with and for joy is the tendency to make creative and artistic shots and passes.  Clever, deceptive and artistic shots and passes entertain the Creator, the participants and the spectators.  They  enhance the joy of the game.  But the game only makes sense when you go all out to win, so you only do the creative and artistic stuff when it has a good chance of succeeding and improving your chance of winning, or when you are playing pickup ball and not keeping score.  There is no joy in making a creative pass that goes array and causes your team to lose the game.

The styles and patterns of rez ball derive from the premises of the Indigenous philosophy of the game.  Non-natives take the game much too seriously, and make winning the sole goal of the game that must be pursued at almost any cost.  This philosophy takes the joy out of playing the game, and makes winning the only joy of the game.  Preparation for and the playing of the game become drudgery that only pays off if you win.  That is why players and teams play with fear as Rebecca Lobo’s comments indicated.  In the case to which she alludes, player play with the fear of failure; they fear missing their shot; they fear having their shot blocked; they fear making the bad pass or losing the game.  This philosophy causes players to play out of a fear of failure, rather than play out of the joy of participation, the joy of creativity and the joy of winning.

Shoni is putting the joy back into playing the game of women’s basketball.  Her Native American following mostly understand that, and other fans are beginning to get a glimpse of it as well.  Many of her critics just do not understand where her game is coming from, because her game does not come from cultural premises and philosophies with which they are familiar.

Coming next......Part II:  Showboating or Showtime...NEXT WEDNESDAY