Blogs > Burney's Bytes

Burney's Bytes will focus primarily on the local preps sports scene, but will also touch on some college and pro athletics, mostly in regards to athletes who hail and have played high school sports in Oakland County. My goal for the blog is to be conversational and anecdotal, a more relaxed and free formal take on high school athletics than you see in regular game day coverage.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Crazy Jud/Crazy Me

With the Big Ten basketball season recently getting on its way and Michigan State set to be a favorite to win it all, I thought I'd share a humorous story about my one personal tie to the Spartans' hoops program.
A little background:
The summer when I was 14 I spent 10 days in early-July at the MSU basketball camp and had an unbelievable time playing roundball every day and night and getting tutored on the finer points of the game by a stellar crop of Spartan players and coaches. The team I played on, "The Supersonics," was coached by Ferndale-product and then-MSU forward Dwayne Stephens and made it all the way to the camp, "Final Four." We sported an intimidating line-up. Our roster had future college athletes like Diallo Johnson (OLSM/Michigan), Jason Klein (Grosse Ele/Michigan State), and Ken Johnson (Detroit Henry Ford/Ohio State) on it and "coach" Stephens let us "run and gun" at every opportunity. Our loss in the camp semi-finals came on a heartbreaking buzzer-beating tip-in that shouldn't have been allowed 'cause the time keeper was slow to start the clock coming out of a time out with under five seconds to go.
Obviously by even thinking about writing –up my memories of this game shows that somehow a near- two decades later, I've somehow pathetically failed to get over it. I know this and I accept it. Welcome to my life, people. My mind is a pretty warped place, filled with minute-nostalgia mostly related to my days playing youth sports. And, Yes, I can tell you the score of the first organized basketball game I ever played – I was in the 6th grade, but playing on the 7th grade "B" Team and me and my Roeper Roughriders went on the road to Southfield Christian and took down the Eagles 32-26 in front of a sparse crowd on a early-winter night in the early-1990s. I scored four points, the first one on a steal at mid-court that I turned into a sweet driving lay-up (after which I celebrated down the court "Dennis "The Worm" Rodman-style, with one finger raised to the sky, pumping my fist to my peeps in the stands) and the second on my once-perfected "James Edwards"-style fade-away jumper from about eight feet out. But I digress……
And Now Without Further Delay: The Humorous Anecdote I Previously Teased and Then Delayed Telling You By Indulging Myself (and in turn you the reader) With Inconsequential Recollections of An Extremely-Meager and Quite Unimportant Organized Sports Career From My Long Ago Teen Years
Anyway, by far the best most hilarious event of the entire camp, one that still makes me chuckle every time I think of it 'til this very day, was the one night Spartans head coach, Jud Heathcoat came to address all the campers. Now you might think since it was the MSU basketball camp and Heathcoat was the MSU coach that us the campers would have seen and heard from him quite a bit over a ten day period – Not so much. The camp was actually ran by assistant coaches Stan Joplin and a much younger and less-recognized, Tom Izzo and this was the only night the campers were going to get some face-time with the Judster himself. And boy did he live up to his kooky and quirky reputation.
Jud spent almost the entire 30 minutes he spoke to us telling us the story of a kid he knew when he was coaching high school basketball in the early-1960s in Spokane, Washington. The story made absolutely no sense, yet had an endearing and eventual hysterical appeal strictly due to the way Jud told it.
So here is basic rundown of what he told us, written how I recall he said it:
"Back when I was coaching high school basketball and teaching 10th grade history in Spokane, Washington, there was this kid in school that everybody called, "Crazy George." Now George wasn't really crazy, just a little eccentric. He used to sing Elvis Pressley and Johnny Mathis songs as he walked down the hallway in the mornings and often rode a unicycle to school. But he was a nice kid, a good, quality young man and I liked him. And every year, Crazy George would try out for the basketball team. And let me tell you, he wasn't very good. He couldn't shoot a lick and he wasn't more than 5-6, 5-7 feet tall, so he wasn't going to help us out any on the boards. So he tries out his freshman year and I cut him. Then he tries out his sophomore year and I cut him again. His junior year, he really hadn't improved much, so I cut him a third time. But after I cut him that year, I took Crazy George into my office and I had a little talk with him. I took out a book of ball-handling drills I had stored in my desk, gave it to him and said, 'Crazy George, take this book: Learn it, live it, be it, every day over the next year of your life and if all goes well, I might be able to use you as a back-up point guard next season. Crazy George flipped through the book and before my very eyes, he had an epiphany. He took that book and in a matter of 12 months turned himself into one heckuva ball-handler. This kid could do ball-handling tricks that would make your head spin. He could put the ball between his legs. He could go around his back. He could do that darn-forsaken "figure-eight" dribbling drill with the precision of a mini-Bob Cousy. Wow, was I impressed when he came to me at tryouts the next year and showed me what he had learned to do. He put on a clinic. Everyone stood up and applauded. Unfortunately, in the end, Crazy George still couldn't shoot the ball to save his life and wasn't really that good of an overall basketball player, outside of his ball handling tricks, so I had to cut him from the team for the fourth and final time. Crazy George would never end up playing Varsity basketball for me in Spokane. Needless to say, he was crushed.
The silver lining to the story is that myself and the coaching staff allowed Crazy George to do his ball tricks as a halftime performance act at every home game throughout the season and the crowd loved it. Crazy George became a local school phenomenon. Man, looking back on it some 30 years ago, he really did some amazing ball tricks (hardy Heathcoat chuckle). I wish you guys could have seen it.
So the moral of the story is if you're not good enough the make your high school basketball team, learn how to do enthralling ball handling routines and maybe, just maybe, your coach will let you too perform at halftime of your school's games your senior season.
Alright fellas, it was great talking to guys. Have an awesome rest of the week. Go Spartans!"
Swear to god, this is the story he told us and how he ended the address. To this day, I have no clue what he was talking about. Even as a 14 year old, I was dumbfounded. All of us campers just stared at each other as we walked back to the dorms, wondering aloud to ourselves what had just happened and what the heck was the point to the entire speech Heathcoat had just delivered to us moments earlier.


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