When basketball was a game
Do you remember when basketball was just a game?
Those were the days when you played pick-up games on the hot asphalt in the summertime, and shoveled the snow off the macadam in the winter in order to play.
Those were the days that the term "gym rat" was a compliment.
Those were the days when the high school hardwoods were located in sweaty bandboxes, with the bleachers almost on top of the courts.
Those were the days before the NCAA 64-team brackets.
Those were the days when every hoop fan could reel off the names of the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers.
The high pressure game as it is played on all levels in the present might have little appeal to the Chuck Taylor hightop wearing generations of the past.
Dave Holland is one who remembers the game as it used to be.
A former coach at three Schuylkill League schools (Minersville, Pine Grove and Nativity) during his 18-year career, Holland was the guest speaker at the Tamaqua Girls Basketball Booster banquet last Sunday.
Holland, whose brother Mickey is head coach at Mahanoy Area, has written a book about his views on the changes in basketball since he came up through the ranks.
The book is titled When the Game Was Just a Game, and it contains Holland's ruminations about growing up on the courts in Mahanoy City. He later went on to play collegiately at Holy Cross, then became a coach himself.
Holland's memories of Coal Region basketball will draw nods of recognition from anyone who followed that same path, whether they are former players, coaches, fans or playground phenoms.
Holland's views are definitely "old school" when it comes to the state of the game these days. He feels there is far too much pressure on players and coaches, beginning with youth levels and continuing on up. Everything is geared to deliver the best players to the pro ranks as soon as possible.
It used to be that making the high school varsity was the highest honor a young cager could achieve in his school community. Now, the best players are on elite AAU travel teams, so the varsity may not even be their top priority.
While Holland conceded playing AAU ball does have its benefits, he feels there is a sense of fun that is missing from the game for today's players.
At one time, players honed their skills in pick-up games. Now, everything has to be organized. Holland notes that the playgrounds aren't as crowded as they used to be.
A telling statistic Holland mentions in his book is that 70 percent of youngsters give up on playing sports by the time they are 13 years old.
In another era, it was a rarity if the top players left college before their senior years. Now, the best players can bypass college entirely, following the paths of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Meanwhile, big-time coaches do whatever it takes to win, even breaking the rules, and when they get caught, they move onto the next stop.
As I write this, mercenary John Calipari's Kentucky club has beaten Cornell to move on to the Elite Eight, but the Memphis team he previously coached just got stripped of a 30-win season by the NCAA due to violations during Calipari's tenure there.
Holland also mentions the NBA, where free agency has eroded fan loyalty. Growing up, I was a rabid Knicks fan and could name their starting line-ups, but the days of Reed, Frazier, Monroe and Bradley are long gone. Ask me to name a player on the Knicks these days, and I would have to look it up.
While the sport has been transformed by all of these trends, Holland maintains the integrity of the game remains intact. He mentions the many friendships he has made through basketball and the positive impact it can have on lives.
During his speech to the Tamaqua Lady Raiders, who had a great season with a 25-3 record, including Schuylkill League and District 11 championships, Holland mentioned his definition of success, which he said is the most misunderstood word in the English language.
Holland views success as a journey, not an end result. It's not about wins and losses, but about the ability to move forward.
Perhaps if people would keep that in mind, basketball could be enjoyed as the game it is meant to be.