Friday, September 30, 2016

Lebron James is the best player/coach/GM combo in the league, and that's the biggest NBA "story line"

With NBA training camps starting, but no games to track real results, media members, I suppose including imitators like me, fill the endless digital space with "story lines." Some are corny:

But they don't all have to be. With all the fuss over Golden State's "super team," Cleveland, after becoming the first ever team to overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit to win the title, are somehow flying under the radar. I get it, I guess. The writers are absolutely in love with the Warriors and whose game is easier to love than Kevin Durant's?:
But believing the writers can certainly lead you astray. A common theme among the wise cracking know-it-alls the last two seasons, especially before Lebron James and the Cavs swatted away the Warriors, is that "Lebron is a bad general manager." It annoys them that he supposedly has the nerve to put himself on the same level as all star executive strategists like 76ers GM Sam Hinkie, the media darling who presided over the ugliest long term stretch of losing most of us has ever seen:

In much of the NBA media, Hinkie has qualified as a star GM, while James supposedly is a joke of one. A true bizarro world.

Here are the google results for "lebron is a bad gm?:"

And here they are for "lebron is a good gm:"

The reports of his being a "good GM" are rare and pretty much only meant in sarcasm.

Nobody dare criticize his performance as a player anymore. But the perception is that he is lacking in his roles as an informal coach and executive. But if it's true he calls the shots with the X's and O's and the personnel moves, I'll say he singlehandedly forms the best 1-2-3 punch in the league.

Why is Lebron James the greatest player?

This is obvious and needs no explaining. But if you want to dwell on his on court greatness, try this wonderful video (and get a look at a little "Larry Legend" greatness while you're at it.) James is a basketball wizard unlike any we've seen since Michael Jordan.

Why is Lebron James a great coach?

If he does draw up sets, he draws them well. 

In two straight Finals series he gave his team a chance to win by imposing a style, on his teammates and more importantly on his opponent, that uniquely fit what the Cavs were in position to exploit. In 2015 it was a grinding style in which he relentlessly backed down and punished a half dozen or so separate defenders while what was left of his "help," after injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, was lucky enough to be able to do the one thing they wouldn't look ridiculous doing (think Delly, Iman Shumpert, James Jones, etc): shoot wide open jumpers. Lebron the coach put Lebron the player in position to pretty much singlehandedly take the heavily favored Warriors to six games, at times convincing us all that he would not be stopped, averaging 36 points, 13 rebounds, and 9 assists while playing 46 minutes per game.

And in 2016, while the entire NBA following world was deeply in love with Golden State's "ball movement and body movement style of play," he was wise enough to know that if he and Irving simply couldn't be guarded, then old fashioned "iso-ball" would do the trick, especially if Stephen Curry was repeatedly targeted.

Why is Lebron James a great GM?

  1. He signed the one player that every other GM in the league would give up any player for, himself.
  2. He has surrounded himself with so much talent that even former 20/10 machine Kevin Love has become fodder for the silly writers to feed on as his opportunities are limited because (not that they understand this) who would go consistently to a third option if the first two are Lebron James and Kyrie Irving?!?
  3. The roster is also so good that the much maligned JR Smith plays the role of spot up shooter, even though anyone who has paid attention knows he can do this:

We probably won't see many "Lebron James is a great coach and GM" story lines. But if James truly does assume these roles, as he certainly has been given "credit" for doing during the trying times, I bet Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue and general manager David Griffin are glad he does such a "super" job!

In fact, he should demand a raise. Good thing he can go over the head of the nominal general manager, straight to the owner. (As of now, I haven't heard the "story" of his secretly owning the team too.)

PS - 

He'll get his way here, and he'll be right. Smith was key to Cleveland's title run. And his contract last season was a steal for GM Lebron.

Double PS - 

Warriors coach Steve Kerr knows James is the most important story line going. He opens this interview praising him, mentioning his name 16 seconds after speaking his first words in this interview on the "Lowe Post" podcast Wednesday. Almost immediately Kerr compares James's 6 straight trips to the Finals to the dominance of Kerr's former teammate Michael Jordan.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The AugBball Recruiting Show: Episode 2

Memphis commit Alana Davis
(Sr, Cross Creek) with coaching
legend Tubby Smith.
Episode 2 of the recruiting show includes updates from the past two weeks about area boys and girls who are drawing interest from college coaches. And I talk with Will Avery and Darrin Shine about whether the current crop of boys and girls is being more heavily recruited than any other group in our area in the past 20 years. 

Find out about the area's third inside player who is drawing interest from division 1 colleges. Learn which local player is attending (on an unofficial visit) Saturday's hottest college football game. And hear about a great addition to Augusta University's women's team, and maybe eventually its medical school.

Guests Will and Darrin were especially insightful as they have a perspective unlike just about any other person's. I always praise Will for treating his Georgia Sting AAU players like daughters, and the results speak volumes. And Darrin's comments are refreshing to hear because they describe an area full of players who know what they want and put in the work to try to achieve their goals.

I'll see you in the gym.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

AugBball on the Recruiting Trail: Isaiah Kelly - 6'7" F, Pace Academy

Isaiah Kelly, Pace Academy's 6'7" 205 pound junior forward, who transferred there from Augusta Christian after his freshman season, has compiled a stunning list of accomplishments only halfway through his high school years. Fresh off a class 2A state title, Kelly has received scholarship offers from at least a dozen division 1 schools. His achievements aren't limited to the court. Isaiah sports a 3.6 GPA and counts three offers from some of the top academic institutions in the world, Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Isaiah may soon become the most highly recruited area player in a very long time. His approach to basketball, school, and other extracurricular activities greatly impressed me.

Here's our interview, which was conducted over the course of a day last Wednesday:

Chad: Rivals lists scholarship offers to you from Iowa State, Memphis, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, Xavier, and Alcorn State. You tweeted this week that Georgia and Penn offered you.
And  also lists offers from Rutgers, Harvard, Princeton, and Cincinnati. Is that a complete and accurate list of the schools that have offered you a scholarship?

Isaiah: Yes sir.

Chad: Have you already decided which schools you will make official visits to?

Isaiah: I have no idea. It's way to early to decide.

Chad: I figured that. Will you wait until next year to start taking visits?

Isaiah: Yes sir. I will probably take them next fall.

Chad: I know you had a busy Spring and Summer, playing AAU ball and probably doing a lot in June with Pace. What have been your main activities - whether related to basketball, school, or life in general - in August and September as the season approaches?

Isaiah: The main thing that was a necessity for me was getting rest and making sure I get ready for the long high school season. Once AAU ended I took a month off where I only got shots up.

Schoolwise, Pace is extremely demanding. So I have to stay focused all of the time and stay on top of things. I have just been staying focused in school and working on my craft in my other free time.

Chad: That's very smart. Rest is such a big deal and most guys don't get enough of it.

Isaiah: Yes sir it really is.

Chad: Speaking of your demanding workload at Pace, I assume you are doing as well in the classroom as you are on the court or else schools like Harvard, Princeton, Penn, and Vanderbilt wouldn't be recruiting you. Tell me about your results in the classroom, or even any extra curricular activities besides basketball.

Isaiah: My grades are very good. I have a 3.6 GPA at Pace, which is very good and the same as a 4.0 almost everywhere else. 

And I do some pottery in my free time at the school. Here's some of my work. (right)

Chad: Dude a 3.6 GPA is awesome. And the pottery work may even be more impressive. I love it.

Isaiah: Thanks.

Chad: Did you first think to make pottery at Pace, or is that something you dabbled with before going there?

Isaiah: I took a class here and then just picked it up.

Chad: So take what you know about what it takes to excel on the court and compare that to what it takes to excel in the classroom and in activities like making pottery. What are the similarities as far as lessons that you have learned about what it takes to be successful in any endeavor you choose to put your mind to?

Isaiah: You have to be focused and know what you're not good at. I know my weaknesses on the court and in the class room. You have to strengthen those and strengthen your strengths at the same time. 

Chad: Your former Pace teammate Zack Kaminsky plays ball at Penn now. And Wendell Carter put Harvard on the list of his top four schools.

You have drawn interest from at least three Ivy League schools. Is being a great student and getting access to great opportunities in the classroom at the next level something that you concentrate on doing?

Isaiah: For sure. I have my goal of playing in the NBA. But I also know what it takes to make a lot of money. So I think about it often. It all depends and which opportunity is best for me.

Chad: Last question. Even though you are only a junior, you've experienced many different situations. Describe the main differences between your experiences at Pace compared to your experiences before moving to the Atlanta area.

Isaiah: The overall vibe is different. The city has more commotion and a lot of different things are going.

School is a lot harder, and the competition is better.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Georgia's Isaiah Mckenzie has had as good of a season as (almost) anybody so far

ESPN flashed this graphic during one of Saturday's games:

All but one of the candidates, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, are quarterbacks. The trend towards naming a quarterback as the best college football player is clear:

I'll leave for later my question about why it makes sense that great quarterbacks are apparently automatically deemed better players than great receivers. Instead I want to compare a non QB who is not on the list but I say should be.

I'm biased. But all fans are. And except for Louisville's Lamar Jackson, of course, I haven't noticed another player more important to a team's success in the first three games than Georgia's Isaiah Mckenzie.

Mckenzie's "intangibles"

I'll get to the stats next, but the play he made that best illustrates his importance to his team's success was the 6 yard completion he caught over the middle at the 50 yard line with 2:30 remaining in the fourth quarter:

Mckenzie held on to the ball despite having "his organs rearranged" on a big Missouri hit:

The completion moved the chains on 2nd and 3 and eventually made possible the eleventh and final play of the game winning drive, the memorable touchdown completion over the middle from freshman Jacob Eason to Mckenzie on 4th and 10 from the Missouri 20 yard line with 1:29 remaining that gave Georgia the lead for good.

This Red and Black article describes Mckenzie's importance to the team and recounts Coach Kirby Smart giving "the human joystick" the highest compliments when he praised his every day work ethic and his unquestionable competitiveness and toughness.

I'll add that his "toughness" is every bit as much on the mental side as the physical. He caught the fourth down game winner and held on to the pass at the 50, both after having dropped two second half passes, including one in the end zone with 13:39 left in the fourth quarter that would have given Georgia the lead. It's hard to imagine a more pressure filled test than responding to those mishaps on the road in the SEC opener. He passed with flying colors.

Mckenzie's case by the numbers

Those are Mckenzie's "intangible" qualities, coach-speak for "the things he does, that others usually don't do, to help his team win." The raw numbers also give support to my "through three games Mckenzie has performed like a Heisman candidate" position. As you can see here, from the line of scrimmage Mckenzie has done as much damage as Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, the only non QB on the list at the top of the post. And because he is a receiver, he has touched the ball many fewer times than the Stanford back:

Isaiah Mckenzie: Georgia

Christian McCaffrey: Stanford

Of course I understand that three games does not make a season. And that Mckenzie's production may slow if defenses stop putting so many guys in the box and start concentrating on stopping him and his freshman QB Eason, rather than daring the duo to beat them.

But I also leave open the possibility that the "human joystick" may just be getting started. This is the first season he is being consistently targeted. 

(Terrence Edwards noticed.)

As you see in the comparison to McCaffrey, Mckenzie has touched the ball 24 times from scrimmage this season, compared to a total of 34 his first two seasons combined. So why does his production have to slow down? Maybe this is what he does when he is constantly used. Eason sure seems to believe so. And what if he returns a few kicks and punts for TD's, which he has yet to do this season, but did 5 times his first two years at Georgia?

And even if defenses do stop crowding the box and do start keying on Mckenzie, the likely outcome will be more opportunities for running back Nick Chubb to make a difference on the ground, like he did in the season opening win, when he racked up 222 yards in a 33-24 win over then ranked North Carolina.

But if that happens, the chances are great that the Dawgs will come out on top far more often than not. And Heisman consideration or not, winning seems to be what the human joystick is best at anyway.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

New from AugBball: The Recruiting Show

We will address many topics during the coming episodes. But in episode 1 I wanted to "set the table" with all of the information my guests and I could gather about the local boys and girls who are taking official visits, being visited at their high schools, committing, and getting offers. I also asked an expert whether the statewide race for Georgia's best talent is being won by a certain school in Alabama.

As I repeatedly say during the show, please email ( or message (@AugBball) me on social media to correct errors and give me information so I can tell better stories.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

AugBball on the Recruiting Trail: TJ Massenburg - 6'9" C, Shiloh HS

"It was a lot of fun." So says 6'9" senior center TJ Massenburg, a young man who carefully chooses his words, about last weekend's official visit to Middle Tennessee State.

TJ stars for Shiloh High School, but he still counts as an "Augusta guy"  in my book after helping lead the GAIS Eagles homeschool team to finishes of 7th and 3rd at the homeschool national championships during his 8th and 9th grade seasons.

Here's a quick flashback to TJ's 8th grade season with the Eagles:

Despite only being allowed by the GHSA to play one semester at Shiloh during the last two seasons, Massenburg's impact on the court has now been felt statewide and beyond, as GHSA hoops expert Kyle Sandy explained in the interview above. Sandy nails his evaluation of TJ, from his ability to block shots (without fouling, I'll add) and grab tough rebounds, to his impressive shooting range.

Massenburg is our area's most highly recruited senior. As Sandy notes, he averaged 11 points and 12 rebounds at Shiloh last season, and he proved he belongs with the best big men in the state, even the country, while excelling for the Southern Stampede's Nike travel team during the spring and summer.

Here are some highlights of TJ playing with the Stampede in the 2016 Nike Youth Invitational Tournament in July in Augusta:

Listen to Sandy discuss TJ's play at Shiloh and on the AAU circuit and hear his opinion about how he compares to Georgia's best inside players above. And get the scoop on his recent visit, his upcoming visits, and other information from TJ himself in this written interview:

Chad: Was your visit to Middle Tennessee State your first official visit?

TJ: Yes that was my first visit.

Chad: Give me a brief timeline. Like the 6-8 main things you did.

TJ: Here's the timeline -
1) After we checked in to the hotel they took us to eat breakfast.
2) Then they took me on a tour of the campus. I met the president of the school, the head of the engineering department, and the rest of the staff. 
3) They showed me the arena locker room and the film room. 
4)Then I watch them weight training.
5) After that, coach took me to his house where they were having a bbq. 
6) Then I hung out with the team for a while. 
7) They showed me the apartments the player stay in.

Chad: You met the head of the engineering department. Do you still want to be an engineer, and did you make that clear to the coaches before your visit? I think that is a great choice for a major. Why do you want to study engineering?

TJ: Yes I still want to be an engineer. I made that very clear to them. I want to study engineering because I like to work with my hands and I'm good in math and science too.

Chad: Were the Middle Tennessee State coaches impressed that you already know what you want to study and that you have chosen such an academically rigorous subject? (I would be!)

TJ: Yes they were impressed.

Chad: Which aspect of the game do you enjoy the most? And is there a particular skill that you are working on that you think should be added to my list?

TJ:  I'm improving my ball handling.

Chad: Who is your favorite player and what do you like about him?

TJ: I like KD because he plays the way I want to play.

Chad: Which colleges are you scheduled to visit next?

TJ: Temple and James Madison. And maybe SMU.

Chad: Last question. Tell me about how much you are looking forward to the high school season, your first full high school season in a couple years.

TJ: We lost about 6 seniors, so there's a lot of pressure for me to play well this year.

Chad: You'll handle that pressure like a champ. You always have, TJ.

***Special note***
Thank you to the GHSA expert, Kyle Sandy, for talking to me (at the top of the post) about TJ. Follow him here:
@KyleSandy355 - Twitter
@sandysspiel - Facebook

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fall League Feature: Augusta Eagles top Carolina Canines in Overtime

To improve, teams need to play good competition. The homeschool Augusta Eagles middle school team and the 6th grade Carolina Canines AAU team found that competition in the PQ Sports Fall League Saturday. The Eagles, 53-52 overtime winners, are on my radar for the first time since my days of coaching the homeschoolers. This squad is in good hands with Donovan Stone, a special education teacher at Bayvale Elementary who is pursuing a graduate degree at Augusta University who played high school basketball locally and also played in college. (Donavan also coaches the 10th grade Team Power AAU team.)

Coach Stone is smart to take advantage of the Fall League because of the tough competition and the difficulty homeschool teams have finding local games in the regular season. If the Eagles are able to enter enough middle school tournaments, and if they are fortunate to land in a league of some sort, I would expect them to be a real threat, especially as they improve, which they seemed to do through the course of Saturday's game at Evans Middle.

Despite trailing throughout the first half, the Eagles moved the ball and attacked the Canines' zone to find brothers Kevin and Jacob Walker, who combined to score 17 points in the half and 38 in the game.

The second half became a blur when the Canines applied pressure all over the court. Justin Lloyd scored 17 points, Zhian Briggs added 13, and Robert Elam 10. The Canines made up for an age and height disadvantaged with skilled guard play. As you can see in the video above, Lloyd has a soft touch; all the guys dribble, pass, and shoot well; and they attack the ball on defense.

That pressure revealed the nifty play of Eagles guard Johnny O'Keefe, who weaved around multiple defenders using his right and left in the open court and found teammates for easy scores. For the Eagles, Kevin Walker scored 24 points; his brother Jacob scored added 14 (11 in the second half); and Micah Worley added 9, including a putback to give his team a 52-50 lead and a free throw to put the Eagles ahead for good with 6 seconds remaining.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

AugBball does football: Richmond 28, Josey 27 (OT)

This is new, but now AugBball does football. I don't know how much football I'll "do." But I want to watch the basketball players I know compete in the fall, so Friday I watched two of my favorite basketball schools, Richmond and Josey, battle it out as the Musketeers pulled out an overtime win at home.

The hoopers figured prominently. Josey's sophomore quarterback Dakale Fluellen is a blast to watch. The sophomore rolled right and threw a dart of a first half touchdown pass to Kornell Clark. And he engineered a fourth quarter drive that eventually forced overtime, running for 6 and tossing a short pass for another 2 to tie things at 21.

A pair of area basketball standouts battled on the perimeter as Josey's senior wide receiver Dominique Hurst, whose combination of athleticism and toughness is unmatched on local courts, went one-on-one with Richmond's cornerback DT Stephens, a junior leader for the Musketeers roundball team. These duals were won high in the air as Fluellen repeatedly threw the long lobs. After Richmond's Stephens broke up two attempts, Hurst cashed in by outrunning everyone and everything except his QB's arm strength to close the second half Musketeer lead to 1 at 14-13. 

Hurst also made his presence known on defense with three tackles for losses playing defensive end.

Finally Keeven Ross, another member of Richmond basketball coach Steve Nobles's roster, snagged a timely first half interception to help keep the Eagles at bay.

Looking ahead to region play

I haven't made my future football coverage plans yet, but I think I know enough to be dangerous in previewing the parts of the local football scene that affects these Augusta rivals. While Richmond plays two more non region contests, Josey visits Westside next week. 

After obvious favorites Jefferson County (3-0) and Screven County (2-1), Josey (1-2) has as a better than even chance to finish region play, which hasn't started, ahead of its Augusta opponents Westside (1-2), Glenn Hills (1-2), and Butler (1-2). Arch rival Laney (0-3) might be more difficult. And even more challenging, of course, will be Screven County and Jefferson County. But there is a reason we play the games and a reason they all start 0-0.

In 4A region play, Richmond (2-1) also will face a pair of powers in Thomson (4-0) and Burke County (4-0). Cross Creek (3-1), Baldwin (2-1), and Hephzibah (0-4) round out that conference.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Laney's Tahj Tanksley - Wide receiver, sharp-shooter, and star student

Tahj Tanksley knows how to win. He has won 81 basketball games and lost only 10 during his first three seasons at Laney. And his football squads won a combined 15 games his sophomore and junior seasons. The senior's talent extends to the classroom, where his 3.4 GPA and 1110 "two parts" score on his SAT prove he meant it when he told me Thursday that his "education always comes first."

Tanksley is one of a handful of top area basketball players I've noticed recently whose academic accomplishments match their on court prowess. During our interview, he repeatedly mentioned his coaches, or "mentors," who set a great example for him. I saw that first hand while on Laney's campus for a couple hours. I saw my friend and current JV coach William Cunningham, who played basketball at Temple, professionally all over the world, and even in the NBA. And Shiloh Robinson, who has coached all of Laney's elite athletes the past several seasons, is the mentor (Tahj's teacher and coach) who brought Tanksley's academic record to my attention. (I already knew he can play!)

Check out the brief interview (above), along with some hoops highlights, with Laney's busy baller, who is currently focused on helping his football Wildcats get into the win column in their region opening home game in eight days against powerhouse Jefferson County. Tanksley caught 8 passes, gained 136 yards, and scored a touchdown in last Saturday's loss at home against Evans. The Wildcats enter region play winless at 0-3.

During our discussion, Tahj answered questions about his goals in the classroom and on the field and the court. Of special note to me for a student like Tahj, and hopefully many others reading this, are the milestones students need to mind. The checklist is simple:

  • Get great grades and maintain a high (well over 3.0) GPA.
  • Take the SAT early and make sure if you don't have a very good score, you are either planning to get one or planning to figure out how to get one.
  • Apply early (this time of year in 12th grade, like Tahj) to schools that you want to go to and that have low "net prices" that you think you can make even lower by piling up enough merit and need based scholarship.
  • Know the qualifications, meet the qualifications, and apply for as many merit based scholarships as possible (Hope, Watson Brown, Zell Miller, etc).
  • Take advantage of the need based grant aid (not student loans) that is available. (A key date is 1/1/17 for FAFSA
That list is neither exhaustive, nor fully explained. But because it is on my mind after talking to Tahj, I wanted to share it. I'll try to add more details in future posts and share them with Tahj, students like him, and their parents.

I ask you to please share with me stories about local basketball players who excel in the classroom and who have similar goals as Tanksley. I have a few athletes in mind who I will be seeking out. But there can never be too many of these stories.

Bonus interview and video

It's too early to talk about the basketball season... except for people like me. If you are the same way, you may enjoy Tahj and my conversation about Laney's prospects for the 2016-17 hoops season:

Preparing for coach Dip Metress's coaches clinic with this film session

At coach Dip Metress's (Augusta University) coaches clinic tomorrow, he will isolate these final minutes of the 2011 NCAA championship game. As he has done for years at his annual "classroom clinic," he'll give coaches in attendance the chance to talk about what they see in these and other clips, and what they might do if there team were in similar situations. These are my thoughts after re-watching these clips from this great game:

Coach Lennie Carlson (Augusta U) said the goal of a good offense is to put your best players in position to be successful. I think coach Stevens wishes the Bulldogs could have gotten Gordon Hayward the ball in scoring position at least 2-3 more times in the last 2 minutes of this game.

Shelvin Mack and Ronald Norad both look off Hayward multiple times and Hayward only touches the ball in situations where the first looks don't work.

On the final possession before Zubeck knocks Mack's pass out of bounds with :13 left, Butler players looked off Heyward at least 4 times. Jim Nantz even said "Heyward hasn't touched it" at the :20 mark as Mack pounded the ball near halfcourt. Even after the timeout Heyward was the inbound passer in the corner baseline spot with :13 remaining. Maybe the play was for him to get the ball back, but even if that were so, I doubt they would have executed that from that spot with that much time left.

The possessions when Heyward touched the ball (both instances were improvisations after the first try didn't work!) in a good spot were the possessions when Butler got the best shots. Even despite Singler's tough defense on the "real" final possession, Heyward still got as good a shot as that team could hope for in that instance. And heck, he even almost made the half courter at the buzzer.