Blog’s Not Dead

It’s alive! And it’s about time! There may be some weeds poking up through the comments, cobwebs hanging from the player profile links, and rodents nesting in the analytic stats, but the game goes on, and so must the blog.

Given the obscene amount of time that has passed since the last blog entry, there’s some catching up to do. For instance, you must know that Phil has started a reading discussion group that meets every other Thursday during lunch. This reduces his availability for Lunchsketball. The word is, the group is discussing magazine articles, although the time would have been well spent this week if they instead discussed the 52-26 schooling his team took Monday at the hands Kerry and associates. Proposed question to open the discussion: How much is 26 multiplied by 2?

In other news, Diana, aka “The Urbin Legend”, will be leaving the Lunchsketball neighborhood, but has announced that she intends to play in two (2) Lunchsketball games before resigning in May. Please offer encouragement to help her remember and hold this commitment.

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Photo by T-Ry, aka Benjamin Button. Not actually part of the documentary series

The public eagerly awaits the result of work that has been taking place for the last week, after Lunchsketball was selected as the subject of a cutting-edge,  documentary photo series. The final project is expected to be much like HBO’s Hard Knocks reality sports documentary series, except that there will be no video or audio, just photos. Otherwise, this is an all-access program that will put fans in the game, with pictures taken from everywhere on the court, and even off the court, like over by the picnic table. There are even a couple good shots inside the bathroom. The series will debut Monday in classroom 101 of building D at Mesa Community College.

And finally, saving the most exciting news for last, the March Madness championship game was played earlier this week, which of course means that the inaugural season of Saint Katherine College men’s basketball has drawn to a close. At last communication between Lunchsketball and Coach Mitchell, the Firebirds were set for a showdown in El Cajon, following the conclusion of their season. It seems appropriate to give the ‘birds a week or two so that they can rest up from the tournament; after Easter, though, it is time to start talking about this game again.

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George Dazzles During Thrilling Victory

IMG_1494EL CAJON — Majestic. Monday afternoon, George reminded everybody why he is simply the most electrifying player in Lunchsketball, registering yet another virtuoso performance . Whenever he wasn’t playing shut-down defense, George was at the other end of the court, torching the trio of Phil, Erik and Adam, from everywhere.

“I’m biased – I grew up on the same blacktop playgrounds in rural Ohio where George started out – he’s always been this good, but I really can’t say there’s ever been a finer game of basketball put together, bar none, by anyone, anywhere”, said George, referring to himself in 3rd person during a bizarre self-interview. “He just made so many beautiful shots, and did some things on the basketball court that were just… wow.”

“Well, if I make it look easy I guess that’s just my game,” added George, suddenly shifting to 1st person during the same weird self-interview. “One thing that’s hard for me is the reality that no matter how good I get, I’ll never get to watch me play; but that’s just one of those things, you know? That’s life. I just play my game and don’t worry about it.”

The discussion of George’s career in recent weeks had shifted to injury problems, as he has been visibly hampered by an ailing right knee, and at other times missed games. On Monday, the George that fans know and love was, by all appearances, back and as much of a human highlight reel as ever.

“People in the press, they just want a story about me, like ‘Oh, George is gonna have to retire now with this knee thing,’” continued George, now beginning to alternate wildly between person-views. “Obviously, tonight I showed them they don’t know me. They don’t know George. That simple. Don’t know him one bit.”

In light of such a magical display of basketball talent, there will inevitably be a slew of comparisons to the other greats – names of legends from a bygone era like Franklin, Evan and Savik, or even contemporary stars like Gary and Kerry.

“I have a great deal of respect for all of those players,” I said. “I think everybody just has to stop thinking about who’s like who, and just enjoy it all.”

New Player Profile: Mark

Photograph (5)ABOUT MARK: You know that it is a special kind of good day when you get the email from Mark, announcing to “all” that he is coming. Kerry probably emails Mark 100 times a year to ask if he’ll come, and Mark can only make it about 3 times. Mark used to play Lunchsketball a lot more, but his company moved their offices  away from the court, which made it difficult for him to get enough time to play. Kerry keeps asking Mark nonetheless; all that rejection is worth it for those happy few emails.

Mark suffered an ankle injury (to phrase it lightly) in 2010. He emailed the group, “I am out 6 to 8 weeks. Broke my ankle.” What actually happened was that he had an accident playing basketball, and as a result his foot had become almost completely separated from the rest of his body. Kerry had a  picture of the injured ankle, and emailed it around (who wouldn’t want to see a photo of something like that?).  Mark was using crutches for about one year afterward. A few weeks following the injury, Mark vowed off basketball for life. It was a sad day.

He made his return to the court in 2012, and appears as good as new. Of all the players, Mark is by far the most dedicated to stretching. Even before the ankle disaster, Mark was careful about getting a lot of stretches in beforehand. Budget about 10 minutes of stretching from the time Mark arrives at the court before he looks at a basketball.

His signature move is one that he uses after an opponent scores on a really imprudent and aesthetically displeasing attempt (for some examples of ugly shots, please see the video, “Lunchsketball“). He will pick up the ball after it drops through the net, and then instead of in-bounding it to resume the game, he will just stand there, holding the ball in one hand, with the other arm akimbo, and make a face of disapproval and thorough disgust. And then he just keeps standing there, as long as he feels it takes for the gravity of what just happened to sink in. Before the game can continue, everyone must be brought to realize that the basket was shameful and wrong. Usually the offending player will be running back for defense, notice that everybody has stopped playing, and turn around to find himself being stared down by a frowning Mark.  Sometimes Mark says, to nobody in particular, or maybe to the basketball gods, “Really? REALLY?”, before shaking his head and starting the game again.

Mark takes long shots on the regular. Even before there was a three point line, Mark shot from what would be NBA range almost as often as from any other distance. The shot has been named after him, in fact. Today, if anybody shoots from that Mark range, Gary may say “Oh, that’s a Mark shot!” (exception: Erik calls those “big-kid threes”).

Mark is one of the game’s most tenured participants. His Lunchsketball career began well before the blog ever arrived. Here’s hoping that there will be many more Lunchsketball stories to tell about Mark.

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The Week in Lunchsketball

Main Story:

EL CAJON, CA — Time to start practicing, because the St. Katherine College men’s basketball team has unofficially accepted the invitation to join the Lunchsketball players for a game. The Firebirds will be the first basketball team to scrimmage Lunchsketball, ever. This game cannot be scheduled any earlier than March (the conclusion of the Firebirds’ season), but already a buzz of excitement is building around the Lunchsketball court.

With the game still in the distance, questions abound. Will Coach Mitchell drop the clipboard and pick up the ball? Will the 6’8″ thunderous dunker Dale Austin be healthy? Do the backboards in El Cajon even withstand thunderous dunks? How will these teams match up? The T-Birds appear to hold the height advantage - look at the St. Katherine roster. Lunchsketball, however, clearly holds an edge with experience, having a vast advantage in years and life-experiences.

One thing is for sure: it’s going to be an exciting spring in El Cajon.

Game of the Week:

In a locker room meeting prior to Friday’s game, George wondered aloud whether wearing his Penny Hardaway Team USA Jersey might spark the team. Darin’s response was one that would set the tone for the game to come: “We haven’t been playing well. We need to earn those uniforms”.

Sans officially licensed Team USA uniforms then, the Dream Team took the court on Friday for the fifth time in what has been a rocky 2014 for the fan-favorites. “We’re having a rough January. My guys have been sick”, said Kerry (aka “Animal Kracker”), to explain his team’s 0-4 start.

Matt, Erik and Adam were all too aware of their opponent’s struggles. Smelling blood, they put up a furious effort to land what might have been a devastating blow, taking a late 32-31 lead. A cornered animal is a dangerous animal though, and from that point on, the Dream Team stole the game, emerging with a much-needed 50-40 victory.

“That was hard fought”, said Erik afterward. “Thing was, we didn’t want you to win, but you guys didn’t want us to win either.”

Full Court Press:

Two games of 3 on 3 were played this week; the player shortage comes at the worst moment for commissioner Gary, currently embroiled in a scandal alleging he pushed much-needed extra players away… Darin used profanity during Friday’s game; after a turnover, he inadvertently dropped a word considered disrespectful to poops… That was the first recorded instance of Triple cussing on the court… New nick-name for Jim: “Sir Kicks-a-lot”… The Dream Team is actually 1-1 when playing as the “pure” Dream Team – in 3 losses they had an extra player, so those technically should be counted separately this year…

Player of the Week:

Congratulations Adam (aka “Whirling Dervish”)! On Friday, the Dervish hit the first 3-pointer of his Lunchsketball career. And then, with the lid off, he stepped up on knocked down a second 3-pointer moments later. And that, is how you get Player of the Week.

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Can I Play?

EL CAJON, CA — The hardest thing about pickup basketball is managing the number of players. The game is meant for 10 players (or in the case of Lunchsketball, 8 players). Go above that number, and the court gets crowded. Fall below that number, and there is more open space on the court, and the game becomes a track meet. To have either of those two problems means that you are lucky in the first place – it’s a small miracle in this day and age to find enough guys willing to meet up and play basketball at all.

Gary (aka “G-Money”), has voluntarily positioned himself as commissioner of Lunchsketball, and thus taken up this task of personnel management. Bearing no actual authority, Gary has become resourceful in finding ways to control who shows up on the court at lunch and who stays back at the office. Among the methods at his disposal are peer pressure, guilt, payroll (in cases where he signs a timesheet), and shaming,  to name a few.

Gary’s methods came under the spotlight this week when John (aka “Versace”), contacted the Lunchsketball blog, wishing to share an incident in which he became involved. He alleges that on the morning of January 13th, 2014, he emailed Gary the commissioner, requesting to play basketball at lunch. He received this reply from Gary:

 “Sorry John….we have enough today…..maybe tomorrow…..” 

“[Gary] tried to tell me that he wasn’t trying to diss me, and that he would see if he could ‘slip me in’ later in the week,” explained John. “His attitude was that you can’t just come in and expect to play.”

The idea of excluding a particular player from Lunchsketball does raise some questions, but especially in the case of someone like John, whose struggles getting onto the court are well documented. Of all the players to freeze out, John was perhaps an unfortunate choice. 

“It’s my first time back in a year,” says John. “That’s not a very good way to encourage me to keep coming out. Obviously I was disappointed. I got up that morning, and I was excited, I told my wife I’d be playing , and then to have my hopes dashed like that… my heart was broken. It just took the wind out of my sails. For the rest of the day I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

In approaching the Lunchsketball blog with this story, John wanted to make it clear that he does not hold any animosity to Gary. Because John insists that he is on good terms with the commissioner, it would be nice to say that’s the end of the story.  But it isn’t. When one victim steps forward, the case is often that there will be more to follow.  What happened to John was not an isolated incident. The second victim, who wishes to be called “E”, in order to protect his identity, provided an interview so startling, that it must be transcribed in full as follows:

Anonymous Victim "E"

Anonymous Victim, “E”

LB: When John told you that he wasn’t allowed to play, what did that make you think?

E: I felt guilt. I felt guilty because I was going to play, and I felt sorry for John.

LB: You’ve been in John’s situation before. Can you tell us about that?

E: It doesn’t feel good. You come into work, expecting to play basketball, and come noon? You’re not allowed to play! Why me? And most of the time, when I’m not able to play, I’m harassed for that: “Come on. You’ve gotta play! You’ve gotta play! You’ve gotta play!” And then, on a day I’m prepared to play? No luck. It’s schizophrenic! He wants it both ways at once.

LB:  In his email, Gary suggested that John could play, “maybe tomorrow”? Do you believe that Gary really believed there would be a game at all “tomorrow”?

E: I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable answering that.

LB: So we know that this has happened before. Since there’s a history, do you worry that these types of abuses might continue to happen?

E: I’m always concerned that it’s going to happen to me again, because it’s been me in the past. It’s a strange a position, because even though I hope it doesn’t happen to me, I know it’s going to happen, and I don’t want to wish it on somebody else. I wish we could just go with 13 or 14 guys and play, and just make it work. One extra guy is not going to hurt anybody.

LB: Do you have any advice for John, in dealing with this?

E: Take heart. The field is always open amongst the other players, even if the commissioner [Gary] doesn’t feel so open.

LB: What words would you have for Gary, if he were here right now?

E: Soften your heart. Just let everyone enjoy the game. I always say, in quiet, hey, if you don’t like playing with 10 or 11 guys, you can step out. The rest of us are willing to put up with 11 guys, and do battle.

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Open Letter To Coach Scott Mitchell

Subject: Proposed Game vs Firebirds

Sent: Sun 01/12/2014 9:30 PM

To: coachscott@stkath.org

cc: coachdavid@stkath.org

Dear Coach Mitchell,

I hereby challenge your St. Katherine College Firebirds Men’s Basketball team to a game against me and my co-workers during our lunch break.

In considering this challenge, please remember the sportsmanship of one Steve Fisher, who brought his squad of blue-chippers to play against your upstart Firebirds in a gesture of class and goodwill. Just as it was a break-through for your program to take the floor against the Aztecs, the opportunity to match up against a legitimate, NAIA organization such as St. Katherine College would mean the world to my boys.

It can be any work day, for about an hour between 12 and 2. The venue is an outdoor court in El Cajon, CA. You can find out all about the players and our program’s rich history at http://lunchsketball.wordpress.com/ (Lunch + Basketball = Lunchsketball, see).

Above all, I’d like you to know that I have the utmost admiration for your team. First of all, I love St. Catherine of Alexandria (using the “K” is an Orthodox thing… why don’t you guys just be Catholic? We can talk about that later). And secondly, I love the name. The Firebirds. I think that the mascot should be a Pontiac Firebird. Or maybe the Firebird mascot himself could be more conventional, like a guy in a big bird suit with flames on it (kids love that stuff), but HE could lead the team into the arena inside a roaring 1980 Trans Am, waiving the St. Katherine College banner through the open T-top, with the likeness of Saint Katherine herself at the steering wheel, which would, appropriately, be covered with intimidating spikes. Picture that. Did you just get chills?

EncinitasBut what am I doing, giving tips to the competition? Well, consider that nugget your stipend in advance. Now you have to make the trip. Let’s talk logistics. According to the St. Katherine College website, your Encinitas campus is just minutes from downtown San Diego, and so by my calculations, El Cajon is also just minutes from Encinitas. I would love to play at your venue, but there is no way I could talk the guys into a road trip. They are dads and family men, and their wives would not approve of any of this.

I don’t know what else to say. Please? You really only need to send 4 guys. Three will do just as well, but Lunchsketball is putting four of our guys on the court at a time. You are welcome to be a player-coach too. Your call.

Respectfully yours,

George

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New Player Profile: Tim

If you would rather not subject yourself to a butchered performance of a reprehensible song, then here are the Cliffsnotes: The above video is a Lunchsketball first – a player profile, set to “music”. The lyrics are about how Tim, aka “T-Ry”, aka “Benjamin Button” is pretty good at basketball, but he gets hurt a lot. He is tough and will probably be back on the court eventually. The End.

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