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MLSE Staff Put Through Their Paces At Raptors Practice

November 7, 2011
Mike Ulmer - raptors.com

Before today, my best days at work were the following.

1. Covering women’s beach volleyball at Bondi Beach in Sydney at the 2000 Olympics. Put sand together with sweat and sinew and you come up with poetry.

2. Taking a penalty shot on hockey goaltender Curtis Joseph at a fundraiser. CuJo charged me and went into a two-pad stack. I went shelf. I don’t think he was ever the same after that.

3. Interviewing Maurice Richard one-on-one for 30 minutes. He confessed that while he generally enjoyed English people, Francophones regularly ticked him off. Had I written that, they would have found me hanging from a tree in Laval.

I now have a fourth.

Today at the Raptors adidas Practice Court, Raptor head coach Dwane Casey, assistants coaches Johnny Davis, Tom Sterner, Eric Hughes, Micah Nori and Scott Roth, director of sports science Alex McKechnie and assistant strength and conditioning coach Jon Lee, ran two groups of MLSE employees through an orientation practice that featured proper warm-ups, ball-handling drills, a three-person weave and run-throughs of some offensive and defensive sets.

Friends, today I write you under my new guise: DrillKiller. Not The DrillKiller. They don’t say The Superman do they? Just DrillKiller.

It’s not that I’m lousy. It’s that I’m lousy and cannot take even the rudiments of instruction.

Woody Allen once said he wanted to return to the womb… any womb. I am like that with a basketball. When I see it, I have the reserve of a hungry Saint Bernard. This is perilous for your zone defence. The wonderfully understated Sterner would pull me from a wander through the key and drag my butt to the baseline. “You do that in our league, you get a slam dunk against you,” he said.

I considered this good advice until I realized I had no defensive move that would not result in a slam dunk. I am a single antidote to the scoring difficulties that have of late plagued the NBA. My impact would be nuclear.

When gifted with a layup, I put the ball up only to have it bounce off the rim. “Use the board,” said coach Scott Roth.

I know what a board is. I use the expression all the time. And yet, in the heat of practice, I ignored his instruction. I made the layup on my fourth try. I explained that when you’re 51 and someone tells you to use the board, you tend to be looking for something in wood, not Plexiglas.

Once I left my position at the far end of the key to short-circuit an offensive drill. The real problem in this was that I was on offence as well. A co-worker was so flustered at my presence 25 feet away from where I was supposed to be, she heaved the ball into the cutter’s face. He’ll be fine.

“Where are you supposed to be?” Davis said, as casually as he would ask if I wanted milk or cream. “Back there, coach,” I said. “Then get back there,” he said gently.

The coaches stressed communication. In drills that involved other players, which was pretty well all of them, we were instructed to call out the names of our teammates. I’m batting .500 remembering my kids’ names and long ago switched to the less personal but more accurate system of numbers. I have no more room in my hard drive for new names so I just addressed people by the ones that came to mind: “Elmo…ball.”

“Erkel…Oprah…Fonz…Kramer…Doogie.”

For one day, I walked where the giants walked. Once I saw the coaches mouth something that seemed to be “D-League”. The insurance waiver had my picture of me on it.

I now know that I am an impact player. There is no team I could not destroy from within.

But one thing gives me pause. Even with the wreckage of drills piled up around them, the coaches treated me with inexhaustible patience. When the NBA comes back, these guys are going to have to toughen up.