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Passion, skill very different debates


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Watching a girls basketball game last week, it became apparent that some players aren’t really built for extended periods of intensity.

Sure, there ares those three-minute stretches of brilliance, where smothering defense leads to fast-break layups and high-fives all around.

Then you get the opposite, where Suzie just doesn’t feel like jumping into that pile of players on the floor to fight for a loose ball. Or, perhaps, she just doesn’t feel the need to run hard back the other way to play defense.

That might not be politically correct thing to say. It is nonetheless true.

This comes from a guy who 20 years ago hated to cover girls basketball. Few players could dribble. Few could jump. The referees couldn’t call infractions because the game would grind to a halt.

Eventually, I started watching the Stanford women play basketball. I began to appreciate that women could take their game to an art form and care about it as deeply as any man. It was fun to watch. It became a joy to cover.

With more exposure at the college level, high school girls basketball has improved dramatically to meet the needs of a feeder system. It has reached a fun and entertaining level that I never would have thought possible. Some teams carry that “wow” level of play and, frankly, are more fun to watch than any boys team.

But skills and passion are two different things.

So when the sectional playoffs begin tonight at high school basketball gyms all over the state, coaches will be trying to get the girls on the floor to play hard for 32 minutes.

That might, indeed, make the difference. It sounds simple enough. But it isn’t.

OK, I feel the Onions coming in my direction. I am not saying that boys don’t have those lapses, too, where they would rather be playing video games than contesting a jump shot. They do.

In general, though, it is easier to get boys to run through the proverbial wall than girls. Don’t take my word for it, ask the coaches.

The coaches have to deal with a lifetime (albeit short) of societal input, such as people telling boys that it’s a good thing to fall out of a tree. If Suzie is hanging from a limb, it’s “What’s wrong with Suzie?”

When kids get older, the world changes, and Title IX tells us that boys and girls and men and women should be exactly even-Steven (even-Stephanie?) when it comes to athletics. I know that is true because the government has told me so.

Then again, Tammy tell me true. How much WNBA or NBA have you watched over the past five years?

One coach, who has handled both boys and girls on the court, told me earlier this season that his girls team simply hadn’t watched any professional basketball like his boys always did. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from watching the best players in the world go after each other. One is about raising the emotional level and intensity with the chips all in the middle.

That being the case, it presents a special opportunity for girls teams beginning sectional play. Consider Columbus North as an example.

When you tackle the Bull Dogs, you know they are a one-of-a-kind bunch. First, you have the starting five, and you figure when they were toddlers, they must have taken naps with a basketball in their hands. These girls will rip your heart out if you come between them and their objective. When you go down the bench, the subs have learned from the starters, and they know they won’t be on the floor very long if they don’t match that intensity.

I’m not talking about talent. I’m talking about absolute will.

The Bull Dogs can beat a team with a continuous dirty look.

If you’re coaching an Indiana high school girls team that isn’t Columbus North, you’ve probably spent the past few days trying to convince the girls that today’s game is a life-altering moment, even if we all know it really isn’t. They know their opponents are trying to do the same.

These coaches know that the one thing that is harder than getting to that fever pitch is dealing with a team that achieves it.

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