Benefits of a ‘Popman’ coach for your basketball training

Published 7:29 pm Friday, April 13, 2018

Come on, pretty eyes, hustle, and the key word is hustle! Be quick now, but don’t hurry. Nice shot, young lady, that’s it. Catch that ball, girl! Give me five pushups. Don’t’ give me that look. I saw that.”

Those were some of the soft, lovely sounds coming from the gym this past week. We have been blessed in recent days to have a little nine-year-old walking along beside us when we grace the gym floor. My granddaughter Audrey Lyn has embarked on her basketball playing career. The next nine years should be fun.

With her career now underway, we have inherited the prestigious job as her personal basketball trainer, and the job is not as easy as it may sound — at least, not for the third grader. On our first practice at her elementary school gym, she alerted me early that her ankle was hurting. She had turned it slightly a couple of days before in a game. With all the sympathy I could muster, I shook my head and said, “I’ll tell you when your ankle hurts.”

That answer seemed to satisfy, so we got on to our drills without a limp: Dribbling, right hand and left hand. Shooting, going to the right, shooting going to the left. Jump-stopping and making that good bounce pass — all the kinds of things Coach Shrewsbury taught for decades down on the LaGrange hardwood.

After a while, pretty eyes’ mom Rach came down to the gym after grading papers up in her classroom. Reluctantly, I gave the one we also call the “Nutt” a short water break. She grabbed her water bottle and walked up to her mom, sweat dripping down her beet red face.

Her mom could not help but say with a laugh, “Are you having fun?”

“Yes’m,” she said, then added abruptly, “Popman told me he would tell me when my ankle hurts.”

Her mom laughed again, probably more at the fact that of all the things we had taught for an hour, that was the one thing she remembered.

I will say that it is amazing how much a young lady can learn in a short period. We had done ball-handling exercises from time to time for the last couple of years but seldom real coaching out on the floor. We lifetime coaches have to balance the grandfather-hood element very carefully with the “coaching” thing. You understand.

Audrey Lyn and I normally go for a hard hour during our normal weekly workouts. You might recognize some of the gym-floor verbiage yourself: “Run this right lane hard, pretty eyes. That’s the two-man’s lane.” And she would run it, getting her head turned over her shoulder to find the ball as she did.

“Run the left lane now, get wide all the way to the sideline, turn your head to find the ball, run hard,” and she would run that left lane, though not nearly as hard as she might have thought.

We run those lanes in practice until there is more traffic on them than I-85 at rush hour. And we added the postman’s lane, too – right “down the gut” to the rim –  finishing with a bounce pass and a shot.

“Now, girl, walk your man down to the baseline, make a V-cut. Here, let me show you a V-cut. There you go, that’s good. Now, pop out to catch the ball, hands showing …”

And she did all of those things and more with a sweaty face and some surprising precision, even though 15 minutes before she had never heard of a V-cut, walking your man down, running a lane, flashing to the ball or going a full hour with hardly a break.

I must say it could be a long ride for the poor girl having her popman as her personal coach all the way from third grade to that college scholarship, perhaps. 

After all, how much of this Shrewsbury-esque coach talk can a person take: “Post up, girl, now flash to the high post with your hands high. Nice shot, Pretty Eyes, right off the glass. That’s it. Did you say ‘tired.’ I don’t think so. Popman will tell you when you’re tired.”

The only consolation I can think of for the poor girl is that at the end she has a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and a Kit Kat waiting for her. 

You only get those benefits when you have a popman for a coach.