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Five-star Central Youth Boys Basketball

One of the depressing jobs in coaching comes up when we have more kids coming out for our team than we have positions available. So, we have to "cut" players from our squad. I don't know how we can do it without hurting some feelings, even punching holes in some dreams. We must be very careful and look over every kid from every possible angle -- give every one of these kids a fair trial, because... You and I could be like one of the early coaches in this true story:

Next time you're a contestant on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and Meredith Vieira says to you, "For $100,000, who was voted the outstanding basketball player of the first half of the 20th Century," and your choices are Michael Jordan, Johnny Wooden, Magic Johnson, and George Mikan, you have to choose "George Mikan" and make that your final answer. His story is an inspiration for all those "clumsy" kids who mature late and often don't get a chance to have a real and fair tryout..

Mikan played with the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1940-50s. He was 6 feet, 10 inches tall, a standout giant in those days. As a high school student in Joliet, Illinois and as a freshman at Notre Dame, he had been an unsuccessful overgrown, clumsy youth. In 1943, he enrolled at DePaul University in Chicago under a new coach named Ray Meyer.

Coach Meyer also saw an awkward giant trying to play basketball. However he saw something else; this young man had dreams and the determination to work toward them. Meyer or, The Coach, as he was later known in Chicagoland, spent hours on end working independently with Mikan and the results are impressive.

Mikan was an All American in 1944, 1945, and 1946. In 1945, he led the DePaul Blue Demons to the championship of the biggest college tournament of that time, the National Invitational Tournament. He led the Lakers to 6 titles in the National Basketball Association, he was individual scoring leader for 3 years, he was on the all-star team every year that he played, he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, and to cap it off, in a special poll taken in 1950, he was named the greatest basketball player in the first half of the 20th century.

That's what a little dedication and hard work can do for you and it does tell us a lot about Ray Meyer and why he was such a successful coach. What if he had cut Mikan from his Blue Demon squad? Would Mikan have gone to another school or would that have been the last in a series of failure messages, the straw that broke the camel's back? I wonder if he ever thought about giving up on himself?

You may want to read about another basketball player; the one voted the best basketball player of the second half of the 20th Century -- this time the answer is Michael Jordan -- and find out how he got along in his high school career.

A Personal Note -- I had the privilege of seeing Mikan play with the Minneapolis Lakers against the Chicago Stags in the Chicago Stadium a while back (O.K., a long while back). His defense was great, he owned the boards on both ends of the court, and his hook shot was awesome.

Peter S. Pierro, EdD

How can we predict what that clumsy, immature, 'slow' person will become as an athlete? We can't be right all of the time so let's think long and hard on the decisions we make before we 'cut.'

Dr. Peter Pierro is a coach and parent who is concerned about how our young athletes are treated by their coaches and parents. He has degrees from Northern Illinois University. He played professional softball, semi-pro baseball, college basketball, and with an all-star U.S. Navy basketball team. He coached jr/sr. high school basketball, a women's softball team, a 12 and under boys baseball team, and was commissioner of a boys baseball league. He has been a consultant/contributor to the Amateur Softball Association and the Oklahoma Soccer Association.

Dr. Pierro has taught in elementary, junior and senior high schools and has been Professor of Education at Elmhurst College and Oklahoma University.