3.2 Seconds to Go, Down Three, the Full Length of the Floor to Go: A Tale of Panic & Incompetence


Hi there, NUVO reader, how is your Tuesday morning? Did you crush the dreams of nine 4th-grade basketball players last night and also your son? No you did not, probably — because you are not awful monsters! But I DID! I did indeed! For you see, down the stretch of a tight game I was coaching, my central nervous system burst into a hot garbage fire of chaos. Whatever basketball acumen I had developed over the past 30+ years was instantly replaced with Tom Crean-clapping at 27-billion RPMs and scream-crying at the kids to "STAY CALM GODDAMNIT." It was unpleasant. A complete mess. Coaching is hard, apparently!

To set the scene: we were playing at 30th and Tibbs, a million miles from our cushy northside gym. This was for a CYO City Tourney Final Four berth. Standing room only. We had come back from a large 2nd half deficit. SHIT WAS GETTING REAL. Then I blacked out, kind of. In the final minutes, I called timeouts when I shouldn’t have — and didn’t call them when I SHOULD HAVE. Twice, my brain legitimately froze and I wanted to puke. (It felt like I had concussed myself without actually hitting my head.) The other team had a one-and-one with the chance to ice the game. First free throw: miss. Defensive rebound. Instant time-out. We had 3.2 seconds to go, down three, the full length of the floor to go.

In college, we had a play called — oddly enough — “Indiana” for this exact scenario. It's a double-down screen and a half-court baseball pass/catch and a quick timeout. It’s designed to take up minimal time and allow for a more reasonable sideline out-of-bounds play for a quick three. It’s a strangely difficult play for college basketball players, what with the action spanning such a large area and the required timing of the moving parts and the uncertainties of firing a 50-foot pass possibly into double coverage ... SURELY A BUNCH OF PANIC-STRICKEN 10-YEAR-OLDS WHO WERE ALSO ON THE VERGE OF TEARS COULD PULL IT OFF!! Of course, that was improbable at best. But it was genuinely the only thing my crippled brain was spitting out right then. There was nothing else. Nothing. It was better than a half-court heave off the dribble, I convinced myself. It was not.

Here’s the designed play:

Again, the theory being that with a catch/immediate timeout, we’d have three seconds to run an infinitely more doable sideline out-of-bounds set from near half court. (Think Reggie Miller over Jordan 1998.) In theory.

In reality, the defense set up in some amorphous blob-zone all along our 3-point line rendering the double screen useless. Making matters worse, 10-year-old Ed Reed was on the other team and roaming at half court in free-safety mode. My assistant coach, Shaun Souers (he of BIKING TO THE 500 FAME!) was screaming at me to call a timeout and draw up a play that perhaps/maybe/please WASN'T doomed from the start. I should have. Holy hell I should have. But my frozen mind could only rationalize that we had one timeout left and I needed it to draw up the Phase II play.

There would be no Phase II play, naturally.

The pass was rifled into triple coverage and Ed Reed came out with the interception. Game over. Tournament run over. Season over. All the kids were sobbing. My body and brain and heart hurt. That play had no chance from the start. None.

The point? Maybe I should back off Tom Crean and Frank Vogel and every other coach that I make fun of for drawing up dumb plays that never work. That shit ain’t easy. We’d all like to picture ourselves in that hectic scenario as a beacon of stately calm and poise — like a Brad Stevens cyborg — cooly drawing up elegant plays that end in success. That’s how I pictured myself, at least.  

In reality, I was a hysterical lunatic suddenly plagued with the basketball IQ of a lump of moldy ham. (DON'T LOOK AT ME, SON, I'M HIDEOUS!) Add “basketball coach” to the long list of things I don't do good. :((    


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