Marketing 101 and Gambling 43.7

Last week I drove over to New Castle, Indiana to sell books at the City Securities Hall of Fame Classic. The four-team tournament is held in New Castle’s Chrysler Arena every year, hosted by the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. The HOF is selling copies of Thirty-Two Minutes in March at their gift shop, and I asked if I could sell copies during the game.

As I’ve written before, Chrysler Arena is the largest high school gym in the U.S. Maybe in the world. It’s a classic fieldhouse structure, with one large seating area arranged in a bowl around the playing surface. The floor is below ground level, and the place seems dark as you enter and descend the stairs to your seat. The parquet floor trimmed in green reminds me of Boston Garden. When I entered the gym at about thirty minutes before tipoff of the the first game, about half the 9,000 seats were already occupied.

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The tournament featured the New Albany Bulldogs against the Warsaw Tigers, and the Lawrence North Wildcats against the Logansport Berries in the morning session. (Berries. Get it? Like, Loganberries? Maybe it’s an Indiana thing.) The consolation and championship games were scheduled to follow that evening. I’d guess that about half the people in attendance were New Albany supporters, with a significant number of non-partisan fans mostly there to watch the Bulldogs’ Romeo Langford.

I liked hearing the Southern Indiana accent that reminded me of my hometown just across the river, and several Bulldog fans came up to thumb through the book and talk about basketball. I sold several copies, but not everybody was in a spending mood. One guy came up and talked for a while, showing me pictures of all the Indiana basketball memorabilia and baseball artifacts in his “museum”. After a few minutes, he offered me an opportunity to donate a copy of my book, promising me that he’d also give out my business card to anybody who visited. I asked him if his museum was open to the public, and he shook his head, saying he only lets people in that he trusts. Which makes it sound less like a museum and more like a private collection. But, being in sales mode, I kept this observation to myself.

Another man came up with his adult son, and we talked high school hoops, New Albany basketball, and the Louisville Cardinals. He told me that Langford wasn’t even among the best five players to come out of New Albany. I can’t think of five better players to come out of New Albany. I’d be open to his argument, but I didn’t want to come across as challenging his opinion, so I didn’t ask him to name those players. Again, sales mode. Always be closing.  

Then there were the people who just walked up, said “How much for the book?”, and handed over a twenty without even browsing the cover. Which startled me. It’s not that I need the interaction; hell, I’m borderline sociophobic. I guess it’s just so different from how I’d purchase a book that it surprised me.

In the morning session Logansport and New Albany both advanced, with New Albany claiming the trophy by a score of 58-33. Langford was named tournament MVP, of course. But by then I was almost back home, driving west past frosted Indiana cornfields.

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I’m making a comeback in the NCAA handicapping contest. As I’ve mentioned, nine of us created a pool to pick five NCAA games per week against the spread for fun and prizes. After a dismal start, I began this week at 2-0 after Canisius won by three and Evansville easily covered a two point spread against Northern Iowa.

I stumbled a bit last night, taking Western MIchigan plus 10.5 against Ohio. (I think Western lost by around 160 points), but my handicapping was solid. (“Solid handicapping” being the last refuge of a losing bettor.)

In general, I’m focusing on mid-major conferences, in the hope that the point spreads will be softer than for games that people actually watch. Since they’re not generally on TV, I often can’t even see the teams I’m betting on. Which may end up being a good thing. I tend to imagine I’m gaining a special insight when I watch teams carefully, and that conceit has cost me dearly in the past.

So, if you’re scoring at home, I’m 2-1 so far this week. Tonight (Wednesday) I’m on Southern Illinois minus one against Indiana State. The Sycamores can’t shoot a lick (why am I suddenly channeling Slick Leonard?), and I thought it would be a good bet even laying four points, so I jumped on the number as soon as it came out.

I’m not as confident in my other wager, taking the Missouri State Bears plus 9 points on the road at Illinois State. In this game, I’m really betting more on the expected pace of play rather than the teams’ relative quality. The Bears rank 248th in possessions per forty minutes, and the Redbirds are 256th. Illinois State also shoots a horrendous 67% at the free throw line (247th in NCAA Division I), so I think it’ll be hard for them to cover a large spread.

I’d rather be getting ten or eleven points, but, hey….it’s gambling.

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Return to Center Grove

One of the teams that I focused on in Thirty-Two Minutes in March was Center Grove High School and their first-year coach, Zach Hahn. He was a head coach in one of the largest    schools in Indiana, and only three years removed from playing in the NCAA championship game for Butler University.              1478887301___coachhahnwatchesthetrojansatpractice                                                

Whenever we spoke, two things stood  out. First, that he was a very intense young man. Second, that he was totally committed to building the Center Grove program for long-term success.

A few weeks ago I interviewed him again during an early pre-season practice for 2016-2017. Neither of my previous impressions have changed. Hahn is still all in on growing Center Grove basketball, and unrelenting in his belief that the Trojans can compete with anybody. But even Hoosier-state legends age over a couple of years, get a little older, a bit wiser, and more introspective.

“I’m working harder on reflecting more after games,” he said, with the sound of bouncing basketballs echoing off the rolled-up bleachers in cavernous Vandermeer Gym.”They all say ‘Coach, don’t criticize’, and there have been some times when I criticized more than coached. I need to do a better job of that.”

As I watch practice, I notice that the assistants are a lot more involved in the drills, instructing players, making their voices heard. Two years ago, Hahn never would have walked away to talk during a practice. Now he mostly stands or squats on the side, watching intently, only jumping in periodically to emphasize points or make observations. He’s only lost one assistant coach over the first two years, so they all understand what he wants.

As we stood on the sideline, Hahn spoke at length about the season and his players, but his eyes rarely left the court. “I can come over here now,” Hahn says. “I can watch the big picture while the assistants run the drills.”                      coach-hahn-makes-a-point-during-practice

He’s also made wholesale changes in the Center Grove youth league, binding it more tightly to the high school program.  

“We run the evaluations for the youth teams now, and we pick the travel teams. Those guys are all a big part of what we do. The middle schools are much more involved now. Last year we hired a middle school liaison to help teach them our systems. I think people are excited about our program, because they see not only me, but our players and coaches out in the community, doing things like going out and watching youth league games.”

In his first year, Hahn said there were times when he thought referees were trying to set a tone and let a young coach know that he couldn’t get calls by being loud and assertive. He was consistently vocal with referees, but got only one technical foul all year. I asked him whether he noticed any difference last year with a full season under his belt.

“I’d say it was the same,” he said drily. “A lot of guys just want to come in and make sure I understand it’s gonna be what they want and not what I want. That I’m not going to dominate the game vocally. And that’s another thing I’m working on as a young coach who’s fiery and pretty passionate. I’ve got to adjust my coaching a little bit when I deal with referees.

“But I think the players this year have done a really good job of adjusting to me. It hasn’t always been that way. I think these guys are a little more tough-minded.

“It’s their third year with me now. After my first year I lost seven seniors, and we only had a couple of guys coming back with any varsity experience. We had three freshmen in our top eight last year. This year we have six guys coming back that will play in our top ten. So they have a better understanding of the process and how things work day in and day out.”

In that first season, Hahn was concerned about scheduling, especially on weekends with games on both Friday and Saturday nights. He couldn’t eliminate all of those scenarios due to the five-year lead time needed to change conference schedules. He’s got three weekends of Friday/Saturday games in December. And in January he’s got two very good teams – Ben Davis and Roncalli – on back-to-back nights.

Hahn shakes his head. “That’ll be a bloodbath weekend. That’s a very physical weekend for us.”

But he has had some effect on the schedule.

“We got rid of New Palestine and picked up Avon, who is more like a sectional opponent. We picked up Southport and got rid of Cathedral to try to create a south side rivalry. We didn’t make the schedule any easier, but we’ve created a level of play that we want to maintain all year.”

Hahn won’t project an expected number of wins. But he thinks Center Grove can compete in the powerful Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference. And as Assistant Coach Brian Keeton once said, “If you can compete in the MIC, you can compete with anybody in the state.”

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