Net Gain
Tai Leung Sum '69

1. Prelude -
This is actually a modified version of the original article, "CHS Junior Hoops - A Season of Bench - 2005 Nov to 2006 Feb", written on March 12 2006. The "Season of Bench" was about a single dad trying to bond with his daughter during her high school basketball season. This one includes his reminiscence of the former Shaukiwan SMHS's playground, and his long love of the game of basketball.

2. Open Gym please -
If I could be admitted to Hogwarts School like Harry Potter, I would certainly check with Hermione regarding how to move the open space and green grass of Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to the area surrounding SMHS. If that is not possible, perhaps we could cajole the Lord of Ring・s Gandalf to stretch his staff to make that happen.

This would take out a lot of misery after class when you tried to play at the jammed playground. Many of you might remember the limited open space in our former school along the Chai Wan Road. At times it was like a war zone with zipping plastic ball and the constant body clash between the sneaky underclassman soccer boys and the bullying seniors and juniors of the half court basketball game.

One of the biggest enjoyments when I was attending university in the United States was that I could practice and play in many empty gyms. I could shoot the ball for hours during the weekends or holidays when school was out. Perhaps that was the magic and answer to my wish in a foreign land.

Certainly, there was not really any organized sport at SMHS besides the yearly House tournament of volleyball, basketball, swimming, track and field, badminton, etc. The competition period lasted just 3 games among the House of Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, and Saturn. By the time you got excited about the fun of the sport, it was over in a week.

Basketball was the only sport I thoroughly enjoyed and played during high school and university, after work, and in different city leagues over the years.

I always wondered whether, if I could participate in more organized basketball games and learnt more from various coaching staff, I would become a far better player. .

3. The #11 Spot -
Too tall for a gymnast and too short for basketball I really could not recall how I made the SMHS's Saturn basketball team as an underclassman in Form 2, being only 5 feet 4 inches tall and skinny.

Of course I never heard of team practice before those games. Playing offense was to shoot the basket and defense was to play zone. With our limited space in playing mostly half court, playing a real competitive game in full court was a total shock. I was lost most of the time. It never dawned on me that there were so many basketball skills to master besides just a head fake and shoot or running as fast as you could to beat the opponent. It was a pity that I thought I was a pretty good player at that time.

Not until I was in college, played in the intramural league and watched many college and professional basketball games and I begin to have a better understanding of what it was all about.

My daughter played in a kid・s basketball league when she was 8 or 9. Most of her younger days were spent on gymnastic. She had to quit her beloved sport because she was at least a head taller than all her other teammates. When she started at CHS, she was almost 5 feet 8 inches tall. I always said that she is simply too tall for gymnastic and too short for basketball.

After years of gymnastic training, she certainly retained her flexibility and agility. A couple of times when she was accidentally tripped during the games, instead of falling flat on her face, she gracefully did a somersault roll, thus avoiding serious injury. I laughed, joking that the gymnastic judge might give her a high score on her elegant landing.

Making it to her high school basketball team was a challenge because CHS has plenty of talent around. CHS swept all the girls championship for the season 2005 to 2006. The Varsity team won the Idaho state championship. Both the junior varsity (JV) and the sophomore teams won the district. You might argue that since Idaho・s population is about 1.4 million and Boise has about 200,000 plus, the quality of athletic competition here could be the lowest in the US. Still it is always an honor to be in such winning tradition.

With her adequate athletic background, she made the basketball B team as a freshman and sophomore. Considering her limited basketball years, I was not hopeful she would make the junior varsity team at all.

Seeing the chance of her being able to better her skills, I enrolled her in 2 summer girls・ basketball camps. She certainly made very good use of the training. Unknowingly, one of the camp・s assistant coaches was also the CHS basketball assistant.

The JV team carried 11 players. There were at least 9 talented members promoted from the sophomore A team. Unlike my daughter, most of them had played the sport year round and were known to the JV coach. Perhaps owing to luck during the try-out or recommendation from her freshman and sophomore coach and the camp coach, she made the team・s last spot by a razor margin.

4. Attitude, Talent & Fundamentals -
When we were playing basketball at SMHS, the chances were limited to either physical education (PE) periods or after school in the chaotic schoolyard. I was lucky that I lived near the former Tai Koo Dockyard playground. I played with my elder brother and his classmates during the weekend.

Mostly, our chances of playing were limited to half court. Offense was with just a fake, then a simple jump shot or drive to the basket. There was not much training in the pick and roll, basic spin move, different drills of passing and other fancy skill such as between the legs dribble exhibited by most of the youngsters here. There is a world of difference in playing half court and a sudden wide open full court.

As a seasonal player, my daughter showed a lot of weakness in fundamental skill. Her right hand dribble was awful. Her left hand dribble was non-existent. Her passing was shaky and she had never mastered the simple bounce pass technique. With the limited playing time, her foot work in square up defense was slow in developing. She got lost easily in the overall court sense.

She did well at times when she remembered to box out the opponents. Her long arm span helped her grab those tough rebounds. Her attitude was impeccable. Her constant hard work, listening to the coach, and giving every ounce of her energy either in practice or during the game was inspiring.

There is an old saying, "We take the attitude over the talent if we have to choose." Apparently, her coach was seeing it the same way.

I was very proud of her making the team. It was simply that this was her last chance to take part in an organized basketball sport. It is a tradition that the JV team could be made up of sophomore and junior players. She would not stand a chance of only making the varsity team next year as a senior.

5. Agony of Turnovers -
The best offense is defense in many sports. It is especially true in basketball. This philosophy was never in my mind until I got more exposed to the real and TV games during my latter years. In our younger SMHS days we were trying to perfect one of two styles of offensive moves by either driving to the basket with a jump shot, or a fancier hook shot.

Defense was dropping back to playing the routine "Two Three Zone; or on very rare occasion, playing :Man to Man;. It was unheard of having to minimize opponent scores by using different strategy such as "Full court Press, Double team, Half court Trap, One Three One Zone, etc." We might hear about the terms, but never had any coaching or practice in carrying out any of them.

The modern game uses defense to win most of the time. It is also far more physically demanding to be an excellent defensive player. For The high school girl・s basketball team here, the coach emphasizes a lot more on all aspects of defense.

It was very clear to me that most of my daughter's teammates・ transition in the early season was without a hitch because they played all year long. For a seasonal player, it was a mighty struggle for her in both practice and the actual game itself. My heart usually pumped and my soul was agonized as I watched many of those struggling moments, even though she only averaged 5 minutes per game at most at the beginning of the season.

In the early season. There were two out -of -town games in northern Idaho against two of the very best teams in the States.

In the first northern game the opponent JV team thoroughly destroyed the CHS starters by their quick defensive play. In addition, they never seemed to miss those 3 pointers in the first half. You could hear from a mile away the frustrated yelling of the competitive CHS coach.

He benched all the starters and sent in all the backups after stating he had seen enough of the team・s poor play. My daughter was in for a couple of minutes. The game did not get any better as the opponent guard got a defensive rebound and started the fast break. My daughter was so focused on guarding her designated opponent in her own back court. She did not look back to see the streaking guard coming. The nimble guard made an easy lay-up without any challenge from her. She was immediately taken out of the game by the fuming coach.

The next day, the game was much better for the team. It did not apply to her at all. When CHS was ahead before the half, she was in for the last 2 minutes・ play.

The first time she got a pass from her teammate, she forgot to anchor one foot. She was called traveling immediately for moving both feet at the same time. The next play when CHS got the ball in the back court, the guard passed the ball to her when she was standing just in front of the mid court. It was normal that she should pass the ball back to the guard. She did not realize that the guard was still in the back court. It was the second turnover as a back court violation. The next play when she was double- teamed, the ball was stolen from her awkward dribble.

As I buried my head under my hands, she went back to the bench, straight to the red- faced coach. The team did win this game relatively easily in the second half. My daughter was never back in the game even with a big winning margin.

When the game was over, she came to say good-bye before leaving with the team bus. Her sad face, sobbing voice and teary eyes showed her utter disappointment. I wrapped her shoulder with both arms and whispered softly in her ears, "It is O.K., don't worry about it."

She was probably not aware that I tightened my embrace a little for a second hug before I let her go. I turned my face and wiped my streaming tears quickly. That hug was for my late wife who passed away 8 months ago. I knew my daughter would be in a much better state if her caring mom were there for her.

6. Late Season Struggle -
Our SMHS sport season was over in a couple of weeks with 2 or 3 games just enough for the warm up.

Usually there were not many fans watching in most of the inter -Houses games. Most of the schoolmates were long gone, hurrying to catch the tram or the bus home. There was one SMHS game against St. Stephen・s Boys High School from Stanley east side of Hong Kong Island. The 3 balcony on all 3 floors and the perimeter of the basketball court were jammed. We all felt excited about playing a home court advantage and there was a very rare good feeling about being one of the basketball players.

For the US high school sport, including the minimum 10 official pre-season practice, the season could last 10 to 12 weeks. My daughter・s basketball season started in late October 2005 and ended around mid February 2006. On an average, there were 2 games a week for a total of 12 to 14 weeks.

In general, on each night of the basketball games, there were 3 consecutive games. The sophomore game started at 4:30 pm, the JV at 6:00 pm and the varsity at 8:00 pm. I usually arrived at around 5:00 pm after work and stayed to cheer all 3 CHS teams. It was 4 to 5 hours sitting on the stiff bench twice a week for most of those 12 to 14 weeks.

Most of the time they were enjoyable. The heartache was not seeing enough of my daughter playing. On the other hand, I was drained mentally in watching her going through the growing pains of the sport.

I did not interfere in any of her coach・s teaching or the drills and practice. If she made a good play such as a tough rebound, an excellent defense stand or a good offense move during the game, I always made sure she got a positive feedback.

The CHS JV team had a rough stretch of close games in the late season. As a result, her playing time was also diminished from 5 minutes to a token of 1 or 2 minutes, if there was any.

The CHS JV team・s usual strategy in wearing down the opponent was by playing 9 players in full court press, man to man pressure defense and an up tempo game. In one of the two games they lost, there were 2 regulars who could not make the team. Their opponents out-muscled, out- pressed, and were out -shooting the shorter members of the CHS JV team.

In that game, my daughter was taken out after a mere 20 seconds after failing to dive for the loose ball and losing her quicker designated marked player at the critical moment.

7. Thrill of Lay-Up - District 3, 1st Playoff Game -
Our daughter's first playoff opponent was probably the least talented team within the district. CHS had beaten them heartily the last two times during the regular season.

Surprisingly, for the first 3 quarters, their coach had a splendid strategy. They played a rare straight one three one zone. Their team was inspired. They out- hustled, out- rebounded and were on even shooting with CHS.

The CHS coach tried various substitutions: full court press, going inside game, etc. However, their outside shooting was poor, they were unable to get any comfortable lead.

At the start of the 4th quarter, CHS was just ahead by 6 points. The CHS coach installed the former North Carolina Tarheel Dean Smith・s "four corners" stalling. This forced the opponent to come out of the zone to play man-to-man. With their CHS quicker guard, better athleticism and playing a worn- down and tired team, CHS tore apart their opponent・s defense as they had done in previous games. CHS scored a bundle in a hurry and was ahead by 15 or more points in less than 4 minutes to go.

I was excited seeing my daughter substituted for the starters. For the first few offensive and defensive plays, I was gratified that she showed solid improvement in her poise in both ways. More importantly, she was not turning over the ball at all.

In one offensive play, she got the ball at the base line in her post position. She turned around and had a good look at the basket. She took a 6 feet jumper. The ball skimmed the rim and bounced out. I cheered for her good play and sighed over the miss.

Unexpectedly, there was a late whistle for a foul and she was sent to the line for 2 shots. She was usually a 50% shooter. She swished the net in the first shot. As usual she did not have a good arc for the second shot and it bounced off the rim.

After a few plays later almost towards the end of the game, they were all playing hard even though the game・s outcome was apparent. That was one of the things I always appreciated about the girls: their determination to keep on trying. The CHS guard got a turnover. She saw that my daughter was open and a couple of steps ahead. She loped an excellent long ball to my daughter. I could sense the fire in my daughter's eyes as she chased down the ball.

She slowed down a tad, caught the beautiful pass with both hands, straddled the quick one and half steps and flew towards the basket net, focused on the side of the backboard and stretched a perfect prototype one hand lay-up.

I was pumping my fist wildly and stomping on the aluminum bench. Other parents told me later that they had never seen me, the quiet guy who always had his eye on the magazines most of the time getting so psyched up.

8. Last Hoop of Free Throw V
Final hurrah for my daughter's basketball career The final district 3 championship game was against a very talented opponent. They had the best three points shooting guard and two excellent sturdy post forward players who could easily be in a step-up varsity team.

CHS had beaten them twice during the regular season. It was always a tug of war and came down to the last minutes・ defense, turnovers or a missed shot here and there. I had a very uneasy feeling that the opponent would get the last laugh. It is always extremely difficult to beat a competitive and even team 3 times in a row.

The first 3 quarters were again a dog fight with many exchanged leads. As the 4th quarter started, their opponent・s key players mounted their foul troubles one after another. Their star guard suddenly fell apart with her poor play and their formidable 3 points designated player was out of sync. CHS was ahead by more than 10 points in the late quarter. More amazingly, the CHS coach called a time-out at 2 minutes left to play and sent in Katy who was seldom called to play.

My adrenaline got me going as I watched her last 2 minutes・ basketball career. The opponent team still had most of their starters in the game. When my daughter first caught the ball, she was trapped in the front court corner by two opponents. She did not panic as in many of the previous times.

She grabbed the ball tight, anchored her left foot, stepped her right foot around looking for a gap to pass the ball. In the mean time, she continued swinging her two clenched arms around the basketball aggressively as she had learnt from her coach. As probability goes in any such late game, the defender usually get caught fouling when eagerly reaching in trying to steal the ball. The sharp whistle confirmed the verdict. My daughter was on the foul line shooting two.

She did not break her usual 50% free throw in which she always had one of them shooting a line drive. As I hollered the triumphant hooray watching the most precious 2 minutes・ basketball play, I could not hold back my emotion and the memories came flooding back of the two of us playing in front of our garage and spending time practicing at the YMCA.

My basketball days with St. Mark's High School, colleges, and adult league were long over. My daughter extended my enthusiasm for my favorite sport for three more loving years. Her late mom (Sally) would be so proud of her accomplishment. I imagined Sally smiling sweetly from above watching our beloved daughter's unforgettable, fantastic 2 minutes・ finish.



Note:
SMHS - St. Mark's High School, Hong Kong
CHS - Centennial High School, Boise, Idaho