Wednesday, June 22, 2016


San Fran, Ned, and the NBA

The one regret I have for the past weekend was that I did not get to spend Father’s Day with my daughter. But, to her (and my wife’s) credit I had a legitimate excuse. I was asked to accompany Ned Mylod to a high level under 19 junior event in San Francisco. It was a golden opportunity I simply could not pass up, and one my family wouldn’t have let me either.

Ned, who turns 17 next month, has been a member of the DAC for about 3 years now. Coaching him has been a pleasure, not just because he is very talented and loves the sport, but also because Ned is a terrific young man with his heart and head in the right place. Yes, there are ups and downs, the virtual rollercoaster ride of being able to play like Ramy Ashour one day, and then like you don’t know which end of the racquet to hold the next is normal in every development. The trick is to train the mind as much (if not more) than the body. I don’t care how skillful one is, without the appropriate attitude, it’s all for naught. Ned, incidentally, is well on his way.

I am sure many of you know the city of San Francisco. I did not – which was another reason (albeit selfish) I was rather excited for this trip. Perfect weather for the two and a half days we were there, I did get a chance to walk down by the Piers and ogle at the views, the people (!), and the hubbub of a busy city. Most conversations one overhears from passerby’s are not in English, and when I reached Pier 39, I must have inadvertently entered a worm hole into the touristic world of Hell. It did remind me a little of the ‘city’ of Niagara next to the Niagara Falls. Endless souvenir stores; a 7D theatre… (what, pray tell, are the seven dimensions??); inexhaustible amounts of fast food, snack stands, ice cream stores, restaurants where one could literally eat themselves into oblivion and by the looks of many of the patrons, it was a challenge well accepted; and my favorite, the “Zoltar the Fortune Teller” machine from the movie ‘Big”. A Scottish tourist asked me for change so he could actually waste his money on it. I hope he didn’t request the same as what Tom Hank’s child character did in the movie, “big” would have been a kind description of the man.
Alcatraz. Island getaway.

It was all wonderfully fascinating, and to my surprise when I reached the eventual end of the Pier, I was confronted with the island of Alcatraz and a decent view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I blended in with the flock of buzzing tourists and took advantage the photo opportunity with gusto.

But to business. Ned. Seeded 4 for this tournament, the goal was to at least reach the semifinals. His first match was Saturday morning against an unknown quantity. From the get go, it was clear that Ned would not have much trouble, the key would be to get comfortable with the court and work on the timing. It was a quick 3-0 win, not too much energy was spent which was important considering he had 2 more matches to play this day.

Ned’s second opponent had a tougher time in his first match. He fought through a close 4-setter, and since I had the chance to watch quite a bit of the match, I knew that this was going to be a trickier challenge. He was quick on the ball and was rather feisty, but with that being said, I did believe that Ned was the stronger of the two. It could have been a danger match though if Ned got sucked into the ‘contact’ game. Which he didn’t. He remained calm, took advantage of the more tired legs of his opponent, and after taking the first 11-7 and holding a significant lead in the second, his opponent appeared to lose the interest to fight anymore. Ned rolled through the rest of the match, which again was helpful in conserving the energy. He had attained his goal of reaching the semifinal but we were not resting on those laurels at all, now was the real challenge of tackling the number one seed and time to push ahead.
Ned Mylod returning his first serve of the tournament.

It was a difficult assignment. This lad is ranked 13 in the US, a strong hitter, smooth mover, and possesses a killer drop-shot on both side of the racquet, and from both ends of the court. Ned’s natural game is angles and misdirection, an effective counter attacker. The first game was dominated by the higher ranked player as Ned struggled to find the back corners. Anything off the wall was swiftly dealt with, with a cutting, accurate drop into the front and being stuck behind the striker when that happens is not a recipe for success.

A more methodical approach would be needed. And when Ned was consistent with his straight lines and length, the match suddenly changed to a more even status. With no room to work the drop in, Ned’s opponent was no longer as comfortable. The highlight of the match came when Ned was set up in the front right corner and faked the drop, dragging his opponent early and far into the corner, and at the last moment the flick into the back left that fooled him, the referees, and all the on-lookers. Spectacular as it was, one shot doesn’t win a match. Sticking to the correct game plan most of the time, rather than all the time, in the end let Ned down. The final two games were 11-8 and 11-9. Close, but not close enough. But, on the silver lining, we know he can compete at that level. More Discipline. More Consistency. And above all – believe. Not the result we were after, but plenty of positives to take away from it.

Ned still had to contend with the 3rd / 4th play-off the following day. It was against a familiar opponent, Ned had played him a couple of times in the past but without success. Once again, he would need to step it up – especially after the loss the previous day. From the get-go, the match was close. Ned’s opponent is a grinder, never gives up, but prone to the occasional loose shot which is where Ned could do his damage. Ned would have to bide his time and be patient for the opportunities. He was unlucky to lose the first in a tie break, a couple of unforced errors his undoing, but Ned collected himself well for the second and rolled through 11-4. The third was similar to the first, the two were neck-and-neck into the tie break again but this time Ned was able to pull it out 13-11.

Starting the fourth with confidence, Ned shot to a 6-1 lead and was looking well in control. However, maybe he was too much in control and he let the foot off the gas ever so slightly which opened the door for his opponent. Plugging away at the lead a point at a time, Ned started to create doubts and suddenly the momentum changed. The game slipped away and they were heading into a 5th. Now it was mental. Tough it out. The game did not start well, Ned was 1-4 down in quick time and appeared a little lost. But slotting a winner in the next rally perked him up and he was back in the game. That little confidence goes a long way and once again we found ourselves in a tie-break at 10-all. Channeling his inner Shabana, after a lengthy exchange, Ned whipped in a short forehand cross court that bounced 3 times before the t-line, stranding his opponent who was standing a good 5 feet behind it. Perfect timing. Ned’s next serve was then severely butchered into the floor – an odd ending, but one we’ll take all day and a victory well deserved. Ned ended up 3rd for the tournament, a very good result.

The first tip-off of Game 7
To finish the weekend, Ned received an amazing surprise – tickets to Game 7 of the NBA finals. A once in a life time opportunity, we could not been more pumped and excited to witness history. It was almost an out of body experience for me, feeling the energy quivering through the Oracle Arena, around 20,000 fans – 99% of which were Warrior fans of course – all at ear splitting volumes. Now, I am not a Warrior fan but being in that situation you have to go with the flow and Ned and I found ourselves cheering for the home crowd as much as anyone else. I am also not a Cleveland fan, and even less a LeBron James admirer, based mainly on his televised “announcement” all those years ago when he moved his talents to Miami. I thought turning that move into a reality tv show was the height of absurdity, especially since he knew the pain it would drench on the Cleveland faithful. It wasn’t the move itself, it was how he went about it.

Me and Ned before the Game!
We all know the result of the game, I don’t have to write about that. What I will say, however, is no matter what you think of LeBron, one must tip their hat and respect the man. He is a beast. And he knows he’s a beast. To be the best player in the world – and you would be hard pressed to convince many people he is not – you have to believe you are the best. Arrogant? Yes. But what stood out to me was that LeBron gave the impression that he knew they were going to win. The Warriors, on the other hand, looked as if they were hoping not to lose. Silly mistakes at the end of the 4th quarter cost them, unnecessary mistakes. LeBron, on the other hand, had that posture of ascendency. Attitude counts, the expectation of success no matter the circumstance. When you have 20 thousand people screaming obscenities at you, desperate for you to fail, it is probably rather difficult to keep composure. We could all learn from that. It would have been nice if the Warriors had won though, to enjoy the atmosphere of the victory rather than the morose feeling of a horribly history defining defeat. Nonetheless, Ned and I were floating on cloud nine having just beheld such a spectacle.

What a weekend.

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