Monday, April 30, 2018
Dave Smart- Canada's Remarkable Coach
I have spent the last few years south of the border during the basketball season called “March Madness”. It is a time when many Americans start to wave the flag of their favourite college basketball team. It is not necessary for a fan to attend the school they support. In fact, there are many Kentucky fans, for example, who cheer wildly for the team, never having set foot on the campus. Ditto for Duke, Michigan, and the rest of them.
But it is a fine time for all. Even President Obama’s selections in the Final 64 Pool are carefully scrutinized. Several of the coaches in this year’s tournament have had great success in the past, but none greater than John Wooden, who coached at UCLA. Wooden led the Bruins to ten NCAA Championships, a number that will likely never be reached by any other coach. In fact, several talking heads stated that no professional or college coach will reach that number.
I disagree. This year, the Carleton Ravens won their 11th National title, with Coach Dave Smart at the helm. Now, of course, this happened in Canada; therefore, it was disregarded by the American media. Nonetheless, it is a national title, and the American basketball public is well aware that there are some pretty good players in this country.
Smart played university ball at Queen’s, and was a perennial all star. He played from 1991 to 1994, and set the all time school record for highest points per game career average at 26.6. In 1992-1993, he became the only Queen’s player ever to lead Canada in scoring average, at 29.4 points per game.
Following his college career, Smart began coaching. One of the teams he coached was called the Guardsmen, out of Napanee. It was referred to as a “Club” team, and played throughout Ontario and Northern New York State during the season. His brother Rob also coached with the organization. Two of Rob’s children, Rob and Mike, were outstanding players with the Guardsmen, and went on to have stellar careers at Carleton, with their uncle at the helm. Prince Edward Collegiate graduates Matt and Pat Ross also played at Carleton.
Smart began coaching in 1997 at Carleton, as an assistant under head coach Paul Armstrong. He assumed the head coach title in 1999. The victory this year was against the University of Ottawa Gee Gees, The final score was 93-46, and was never in doubt.
I recently spoke with Dave about his remarkable basketball career, on the floor and on the bench. “Every championship is different,” he told me. “They are not the same because the kids are different.” Most college players in Canada usually can play for four years. On the State side, if a player is outstanding, he may bolt for the NBA after one college season. The point is, coaches need to plan several years down the road to remain competitive. Obviously, Smart has been doing a good job in this regard.
He experienced another fine season this past year, but told me that he was having difficulty motivating his players for the final games. An article appeared in the Toronto Star the day before the final against the Gee Gees. It was an interview with the coach of the Ottawa team, essentially criticizing Smart’s team, and his coaching style.
To paraphrase: “Our ultimate goal is that, after the season, our guys will still want to play basketball. We would like our players to have a personality on the court.” In other words, he ripped Smart for his style. Smart’s players responded to the criticism. “I have never seen a situation where the team was so motivated, where one of our players was so dominant,” Smart told me.
Smart also benefited from the fact that his sister sent her boys to play at Carleton: the Doornekamp lads from Napanee. They stood almost seven feet tall, and had been handling basketballs in their cribs! His nephew Robbie is now his assistant at Carleton.
I intend to share his success with my American neighbours in the fall.
I neglected to post this some two years ago.....just found it popping up on FB. That happens!!
Thursday, April 19, 2018
The Playoffs- Spring, 2018
There are important playoff games taking place all over North America. Perhaps not as many hockey playoff games in Canada as you would wish, but that is the nature of the beast: play well in the regular season, and you may share some of the spoils of the post season. So goes the year in these cities: Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton. As is usually the case, great expectations in the fall, only to be dashed by injuries, poor coaching and management decisions, and the like.
In the hockey world, sixteen teams survive after the regular season. Some of those survivors continue on through the playoffs, scoring timely goals, taking fewer penalties, hitting fewer goal posts, getting lucky breaks. My guess is that will apply to the Penguins, the Knights, the Blue Jackets, the Predators, the Sharks, and the Lightning. Leaf fans got something to cheer about on Monday night when the Blue and White defeated the Bruins in Toronto. Frederik Andersen played brilliantly in the Toronto net, especially in the third period.
Once we enter the second round of these playoffs, it will be a little easier to determine results. Our entire nation pins its hopes on its one and only basketball team, the Raptors. For the first time in franchise history, they won their first playoff game.
The Eastern Conference in the NBA was to be dominated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. After all, LeBron James has played in the last eight NBA final games, with the Cavs and with the Miami Heat. Few doubted that things would change much, although the team has undergone major restructuring this season. They lost their first playoff game at home last Sunday, an almost unheard of event. The Raptors also play two more games at home before heading out to Washington.
It was just fine to see that little Canadian flag attached to the leader's name in last weekend's LPGA event. Once the last putt had dropped into the cup on the 18th green, Smiths Falls' Brooke Henderson had emerged victorious in the Hawaiian event. She methodically mowed down the opposition over the last nine holes to finish four strokes ahead of the pack. Her sister Brittany is her caddie, and they worked together to get the job done in the breezy weather. Simply put, they were able to work in the conditions better than any other pair. Remarkably, Brooke is only 20 years old, and has already etched her name on many pieces of golf hardware.
Sandra Post is still considered to be Canada's greatest female golfer. Henderson only needs to win a couple of events to surpass Post in that regard. That could certainly happen this year. Henderson will respond in that same manner when she realizes what she has accomplished: brilliant smile, few words, and an anticipation to get on to the next tournament.
Also in the hockey world, the Florida Everblades begin their quest to win the Allen Cup this week as the champions of the ECHL. They play two games against the Atlanta Gladiators at the Germain Arena. They finished the season with record totals, most points ever. A tribute to coach Brad Ralph. And yet, the important job lies straight ahead: becoming the victor in “The Playoffs”.
April 16, 2018
Monday, April 09, 2018
A Long Ways to Go
Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an American pioneer who grew up in Florida. She became an author, a journalist, and a devout conservationist. One of her chief life ambitions was to preserve “The Everglades”. Throughout her life she fought efforts to drain the Everglades to reclaim land for development. Many of the modern Floridian cities were forged from reclaimed land, swamp land essentially, when the mangroves were torn up and the canals routed to the nearest rivers and oceans. As a tribute to her success, a school was named after her in Parkland, Florida, just north of Fort Lauderdale and Miami, on the East Coast. Marjorie Stoneman died when she was 108.
There are thousand of schools named after good citizens who contributed much to their local communities. It is a fine way to recognize those who have shown good community spirit. Most of those schools remain unknown, nationally and internationally. Tragically, the school named after Marjory Stoneman has become infamous.
Last Valentine's Day, as students were preparing to head home from school, a lone gunman raced down the halls, and open fired on the crowds with an attack weapon. He killed 17 students and teachers, and wounded 17 others. It left a community in despair, and a nation in shock.
One graduate of the school who was deeply troubled by the massacre is Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo now plays for the Chicago Cubs. It just so happened that more than a year ago, the Cubs had been slated to open their 2018 season in Miami. Rizzo remembers his high school days fondly, as do most of us. In a nutshell, he said, that's “where I grew up”.
The day after the shootings, Rizzo delivered an emotional speech at the vigil for the victims. Understandable, he was deeply affected by the horror. Several other athletes and their families were also affected by the events. The Florida Panthers practise hockey in an arena not far from the school, and many players and team personnel live in gated communities in the area.
Rizzo was expected to attend university after high school, but chose to sign with the Red Sox. In 2009, he began moving up the chain, with stints in Salem, and the Florida Gulf Coast Red Sox. He was traded to the Padres on June 9, 2011. He made his Major League debut a year later on June 6, 2012.
Rizzo stands at 6' 3” and tips the scales at 240. The rangy first baseman really hit his stride after he was traded to the Cubs. He was an all star in 2014, 2015, and 2016, and won the Gold Glove Award in 216. He was one of the key ingredients in the Cubbies World Series victory in 2016. He has averaged almost 100 runs batted in, 30 home runs, and a .267 batting average with the Cubs.
All of the uniforms of the Cubs and the Marlins had a “MSD” badge front and centre. Rightfully so. As we have seen, the world has changed because of the events of that day. There has been great discussion about gun laws, with some legislative changes. The enormous power of the National Rifle Association has been challenged. Students from the school have taken to the podia of the world to spread the message that this should never happen again, anywhere.
There has been an enormous outpouring of sympathy for the community, and the students. Politicians are now pondering the rights and wrongs of possession of assault weapons, for citizens. This is not the first time that such a tragic event has occurred. Sadly, it will not be the last. Not only do these things happen in America. Man has shown inhumanity world-wide. It is up to the rest of us to work hard to reduce the chances of it ever happening again.
I would venture to say that Anthony Rizzo feels the same way.
April 2, 2018