Sunday, April 22, 2007

Kellogg Wildcat Basketball

Rhonda emailed me about American Working Class Literature and Research Writing this evening and in response to me telling her I was having a good weekend she wrote, "I am also enjoying my weekend. I've been playing hoops so it's been Grand."

Too often, probably, I think back to when I was a Kellogg Wildcat. I played from 1969-72. It was a barren time for the Wildcats and by the time we had modest success in 71-72, I was a benchwarmer.

I belonged on the bench. So, my ruminations about Kellogg Wildcat basketball don't have anything to do with whether I was being treated fairly.

I think more about how little I really understood basketball. I watch, read about, or listen to games these days and I wonder how we Wildcats might have done had we known some things then that I know now.

What I think about most is that all I really thought about in1969-72 was offense. All of my fantasies had to do with hitting jumpers. All I practiced was shooting. Defense was an afterthought. I know now that teams of lesser athletic talent make up for it by playing hard-nosed defense.

I wonder if our coaches might have drilled us more on defense, drilled into our heads and drilled us in pratice. Playing defense requires excruciating conditioning and great mental strength.

When I played for the Kellogg Wildcats, I think we thought of defense more in terms of glamorous things: steals and blocked shots.

Our defensive liabilities take me back to the night my senior year when the Kellogg Wildcats lost to the Wallace Miner at home, in Andrews Gymnasium.

My most vivid memory was of Steve Grebil, a Wallace senior, putting the clamps on our leading scorer, Don Knott. Grebes was on top of him all night, annoying him, not letting him get his shots, taking him out of his game. Grebes was not a superior athlete. Don Knott was. But Grebes was driven. He didn't score much that night, if at all, but I thought he was the MVP of that upset win.

I look back and wonder what Wallace coach Norm Walker said to Grebes in the week leading up to that game. Did he challenge him? Did the Miners work more on conditioning? Did he scout Don Knott and know his tendencies and did he drill those tendencies into Grebe's head? Or was it just the way Steve Grebil did things?

(Perfect moment. Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's just came on a Napster playlist: "I Won't Back Down.")

Grebes wouldn't back down.

Grebes makes me think about how willing I was to back down as a basketball defender. I was a defeatist not a defender. I felt inferior to my opponents. I just figured I'd get beat because I was slow afoot and, I know now, I was either ignorant of how to play good defense or the ways I'd been coached to play defense just didn't stick.

When I did play, I got embarrassed often on defense. I was a easy defender to back door. The idea of denying an opponent from going where he wanted to go never crossed my mind, even though players on other teams denied me from going where I wanted to all the time.

I was a zone defense guy. The confrontations were not head to head. I had an area to take care of. Teams usually worked to score from the outside against a zone. I was less exposed.

I watch how aggressively teams, especially good teams, play defense. They swarm. They double team. They anticipate. They create offense out of their defensive sets. Most of all, I see coaches who devise defensive schemes.

It's what I'd like to have back when I think about being a Kellogg Wildcat. I'd like to go back and be a player determined to defend aggressively and be on the floor with other guys who bought into the same idea. I'd like to be better conditioned. I'd like to feel the pride that comes with playing tight defense. I'd like to be a part of a team that dictates what the other team does because of a defensive mindset that won't allow that team to do what they want.

And, yet, when I can't sleep, I imagine myself being a Kellogg Wildcat again. Again and again I imagine myself on a fast break. Our opponent has gotten back on defense and has the lane defended. I get a pass on the wing, about fifteen feet out, along the baseline. I shoot. The twine snaps and I trot calmly to other end of the floor, like I do it all the time.

It's like counting sheep. It helps me get to sleep.

My fantasies are never about defense. Even in my dreams, all I want is the ball so I can swish another soft jumper.


Pinehurst in my Dreams said...


I think we all want the ball, a clear shot, and the score. . .but life is not like that.

I played B-ball as an adult, and I used to pass the ball every chance I got. I didn't want to go up against the defense with a ball in my hand. I didn't like to be stopped, challenged, or to have the ball stolen.

I still do that in life. If I'm unsure of myself, I pass the ball to my husband, or a co-worker, or someone who's more confident with making decisions - who's more likely to score. Someone who's less likely to get the ball knocked out of their hands.

As far as defense goes - I think we are taught in life to let others have a clear shot. Get out of the way. Move aside and let those with burning determination rush by without knocking us down in the process. Don't stop them. Don't make waves. Don't be a pain. Don't do it.

Then we wonder why they are the scorers and we get stuck sitting on the bench. . .

Anonymous said...

Pert, while you didnt play much defense, you could shoot the rock. Quickness caused a defensive crisis. Who plays defense in Y games anyway? TTierney

raymond pert said...


Thanks for dropping by. You nailed it. I was one-dimensional. Hey! I hope you are considering the four class reunion. I'd enjoy seeing you and talking about W.B. Yeats and all the water that's passed under the bridge over these many years. I hope you'll come back to kelloggbloggin again soon! rp

Anonymous said...

The infamous Don Knott, you speak of is my Dad. I think its very accurate to approach the way one used to play a sport, to ones core personality. It when you dont have time to think that our spontanious reaction to a situation refects our hidden qualities or.....hidden weakness. My father was a benchwarmer untill the new couch came in his Jr. year. I think think the coach was curious of what a milkman's scrawny son could do. ''what would happen if we let him loose?'' Dad always had raw talent, but not many knew it,least of all his parents. He was shy and wrote poetry and played sports to stay out of trouble. All it took was someone taking a chance on him, someone believed enough. It was one night, the coach said, ''get in there Knott.'' What my Dad did next was something rare, and it wasnt sinking was NOTICING OPPORTUNITY, possibly the only one hed ever get, to shine, to prove he was better than the bench. This is where most of us fail. When opportunity comes knocking, we pass, we fumble, we shank. Its not about being taught to get out of other peoples way, its about saying ''get out of MY way'' your blocking MY shot, your blocking my opportunity.