Running with Zaza

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The Jeff Caha Interview

During this time with little Hawks’ news to talk about, I revisited an old post to track down a human interest story. Loyal Running with Zaza readers remember our story in June about the NBDL draft camp held in Sewanee, north of Atlanta. I was there for most of the games on Saturday, and I blogged about a few players that made an impression on me. Jeff Caha was one of those players, and I was able to ask him a few questions in an e-mail interview:

RWZ: Jeff, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions for our readers. Can you tell me a little about your personal basketball history?

Caha: I am 28 years old. I played 4 years of college basketball. I have been coaching at the NAIA, JUCO, and NCAA DII levels the last 6 years as an assistant. I never really played pro ball, but I went to Spain right after college and tried to get picked up but was not good enough. I played one game in CIBA / COPA league in Mexico while coaching two years ago in Arizona at Cochise College.

RWZ: Can you tell me about your motivation and your decision to attend the 2008 NBDL Camp pre-draft camp?

Caha: Well, I took the assistant job at Southwestern Oklahoma State University this past year weighing between 270 and 275 lbs. The best strength coach, Josh Musick, is there. I started working out with him and after 5 months was in ridiculous shape and was down to 230 lbs. Josh told me I should try to play again after a day of messing around in the gym after a workout, so from March until the NBDL Camp, Josh and I worked hard to get everything right. I found the NBDL tryout, went and performed. I love the game and just wanted to try one more time as I have never been in this kind of shape before. I never had a guy like Josh around - so with the help from Josh plus doing all the drills I learned from Jerry Carrillo, whom I played for and worked with at Cochise College, I got ready for the camp.

RWZ: A cynic might say that the NBDL camp is not worth the time and that it is just quick way for some people to make some money during the summer. What was your experience at the camp and what was your goal going into the 5 on 5 games?

Caha: At Cochise College, we were taught to play as hard as possible for as long as possible. Then, we would sub you out. That was my goal at the NBDL camp: just to go and to play as hard as possible. Playing my game and trying not to do something I am not capable of doing. I LOVED EVERY SECOND OF THE NBDL CAMP! The feeling of being on a "team", even though we were just thrown together, was amazing. Talking on “d”, high fives, getting guys in the right places, interacting and being coached, were such a great feelings. Playing 4 games and not losing, because we tried to play together. I can say I walked out of there with no regrets. No excuses on not being picked--just not good enough.

RWZ: We know that you have not been signed yet, but what opportunities are you currently pursuing?

Caha: I still have the belief that with my ability I can help a team, somewhere in the world, but the prospects of a soon to be 29 year-old who has not played since college is not good. There is not much of a market for a guy like me. Currently, I am still looking for a chance but soon the door will close. I am trying to bust into the world of strength training and would love to work with athletes. I am close to that with an interview at Velocity Sports Performance in Champlin, Minnesota this next week. If I can’t make a difference on the court, I want to help others make a difference.

RWZ: Jeff, I enjoyed watching you play at the camp. Thanks again for your time and good luck with your interview and in the future.


USA Goes for the Gold...(2nd Half)

3rd Quarter—Coach K and I feel the same way with this start—very nervous. What would happen if the game is close at the end of the 4th quarter? There is the first awful shot by Kobe. Lebron is complaining to the official. Take the ball up and dunk it! Kobe called for traveling. Collins is cryptically criticizing Kobe for trying to do too much. Howard is 15-33 from the foul line in the Olympic tourney. That’s bad. Spain scores on another pick and roll. Marc Gasol sets solid screens. Clearly, he is an NBA ready player. NBA regular season is a long grind, so he would have to get in better shape. Coach K has to take a time out. Beckham is in the audience! Spain sits back in a 2-3 zone. Missed shot by Carmelo. Quick lay-up scored by Melo. Uh-oh, looks like Melo hurt his hand by hitting the backboard. Reyes and Jimenez hustle and get second and third shots. USA up by 4 points with 5 minutes left in the quarter. Kobe takes another bad shot. A couple of more lay-ups traded. Again, no defense is being played by either team. Great screen set by Marc Gasol, nicknamed “the Tank”, on an out of bounds underneath play. He is going to the foul line for two shots. Wade takes a questionable, guarded outside shot. USA is playing with a lot of energy and determination. Kobe finally passes (he was almost forced to by the defense) and Wade goes to the foul line. How is Juan Carlos Navarro getting to the basket? Spain scores on a pretty alley oop to Gasol. Spain back to a zone and Anthony hits a 3. I like the way Team USA uses the wing ball screen against the zone. Paul used the screen and found a wide open Melo. At the 3rd quarter buzzer, Navarro torches Deron Williams to cut the lead to 91-82.

4th Quarter—Deron Williams misses the lay-up. Lebron and Kobe have three fouls. Fouls are being committed on every possession. Kobe takes another guarded, bad shot. Spain cuts the lead to 5 on a Rudy Fernandez / Pau Gasol screen roll into an alley oop dunk. Bad shot taken by Melo. A 3 point make by Fernandez cuts the lead to 2 points! Krzyzewski calls another time out. Out of the time-out, high screen and roll leads to a forced shot by Kobe which goes in the basket. Kobe drives and dishes to Williams for 3 point make. Kobe for 3! Yes! Kobe gambled and Fernandez just ferociously dunked on Dwight Howard. Howard and Lebron have 4 fouls. Pau Gasol makes a jumper with no one around and it’s down to a 5 point game. Spain gets back in a zone. Wade drives and finds Kobe for a 4 point play. Wow, Fernandez has fouled out. I am glad I stayed up for this! Navarro runs a great curl off a down screen and scores. Jimenez nails a 3 point shot. Spain stays in the zone. Wade hits a 3! Yes. Spain down by 7 calls timeout. No Michael Red in this game, interesting? Kobe called for a foul. It is his 4th. Rubio out hustles CP3 to the loose ball. Jimenez misses a 4 point shot and Lebron rebounds. That should be the game with 1:30 left. Kobe pretty much took over in the last 5 minutes of the game by scoring and actually passing to his teammates. Happy Birthday, Kobe! Redeem Team is redeemed. Congrats Coach K! USA Basketball is back! And I am gone.


USA Hoops Goes for Gold...(1st Half)

I wanted to watch the Gold Medal game live, so here I am at 2:33 in the morning on Saturday night watching Olympic basketball. I am stone cold sober just to blog during this game. Clearly, I have drunk the Kool Aid, and I totally have bought the Coach K program!

1st Quarter--Jose Calderon Spain’s point guard is out with a hamstring injury, but Ricky Rubio just made a great no look pass on a 3 on 2 break for a dunk for Gasol. Lebron just picked up his 2nd foul. That is not good. This game already looks like it is going to be more physical. Coach K is leaving Lebron in the game. Depth is a major factor, Doug Collins and I agree. USA is doubling on the high ball screen. That strategy just leads to a 3 by Spain. Spain is playing with much more spirit and confidence tonight. Kobe just fouled a 3 point shooter and picked up his 2nd foul. USA is in foul trouble big time. Kobe and Lebron are out. Dwayne Wade is in and USA chants start from the crowd. Even though I am a Hawks fan and it might keep them out of the playoffs, I am so excited for a healthy Wade for this NBA season. Wade just exploded to the basket for a three point play. With about 5 minutes left and USA down 4, Carmelo caught Rubio’s wrist and now he is out. He needs to toughen up to play in the NBA. Spain down to their 3rd point guard—some guy named Lopez. NBC’s Craig Sager just said it is a hyperextension. 22-22 and Spain drops into a 2-3 zone. Now Lopez has 3 fouls. Rubio is taped and back into the game. USA with full court pressure, but they switched the screen and roll giving Garbjosa a 3 point make. Wow, Wade got fouled shooting a 3 point shot. Marc Gasol is huge. He just scored on a great back to the basket post move. USA up 7 at the end of 1st quarter with great minutes for USA second team of Wade, Prince, Paul, and Bosh.

2nd quarter—Unsportsmanlike foul called on Dwight Howard. He just grabbed Gasol after losing him on a back cut. Kobe just had a dunk and the Spanish bench went crazy. I guess they wanted a traveling call. C’mon, when you are crying for a call on a break away like that, you know that your team is in trouble. Rubio is only 17 years old and he can really play. I would like to see a plus/minus on Jason Kidd and Chris Paul during the Olympics. Spain is now in the bonus with more than ½ the quarter left. Shooting free throws slows the game way down. Big transition conversion for Team USA. Spain had a steal, then we stole it back and Lebron scored. Wade just stole a pass at the top of the key and dunked on the other end. USA is 7-10 on 3 point shots. Doug Collins just gave a great stat—going into this game Kobe has 11 assists and 12 turnovers in the tournament. Yikes! Wade is carrying the team right now. (After that made 3, my friend texted me that the Hawks should trade Mo Evans, Speedy Claxton, and 2 second round draft picks for Wade, I am interested probably not enough.) What a wild first half. Wade has 21 points and the USA leads 69-61. No defense at all. Spain has pounded the basketball inside and made some 3s. 2nd half is scary. USA is shooting 70 % from the field, but they are only up 8. Look for some zone from Spain, Kobe to take some bad shots, and Wade to lead the USA to the Gold Medal.


Sund's Moves Make Sense

There is a method to the madness. Last week, the Atlanta Hawks quickly matched the offer sheet Josh Smith signed with the Memphis Grizzlies for 5 years and $58 million dollars. By waiting, and not bowing to pressure from the media, blogosphere, and fans, general manager Rick Sund retained the Hawks’ third best player for much less than other free agents signed for this summer.

This new contract is a fair one for both sides. Smith is a rising star who has not even made an All-Star team, but he earned this contract with exceptional play on both ends of the court. He is an NBA difference maker. The Hawks did not have to overpay for Smith, because Sund and the ownership group waited and let the restricted free agency process work for them. J-Smooth did not have to sign the offer sheet from Memphis. He could have taken the Hawks qualifying offer and become a unrestricted free agent next year. That would have been a gamble, especially when a major injury could be a one-on-one workout away. The Hawks did not have to match the offer. Both sides in this negotiation came out on top. Smooth becomes a very wealthy and secure player for the next 4-5 years, and the Hawks did not have to overpay for a rising NBA talent. Sure, there might be some hurt feelings, but do you really think that Smith wanted to leave Atlanta? For Memphis?

Losing Josh Childress was a public relations blow, but Sund has made two moves that will make the Hawks a better team in 2008-2009. Clearly, signing Maurice Evans and Ronald “Flip” Murray is a combination that fills the void left by the departing Childress. Both of these guys can score the basketball and shoot with 3 point range. Evans is a dangerous 3 point shooter who will play more at the small forward spot. While, Murray is a solid NBA veteran that can play either guard position. He is more of a scorer than a 3 point shooter, but other teams will have to respect his scoring and shooting ability. Last year, teams dared Childress to shoot from the outside. Defenders backed off into the paint and clogged up the lane for cutters and post play. Murray can also play the point and started 15 games for the Indiana Pacers at the point at the end of the 2007-2008 season. I saw Flip play live in college and he is lightning quick with a big body for a guard. He can create his own shot on any possession. That is a good thing, but could be a bad thing. Woodson will have to reign him in at times, but he should provide some microwave type offense off the bench. The Hawks need more depth at the point guard spot, because Speedy Claxton will never be the same player after this injury, and the jury is still out on whether Acie Law will be a solid NBA player.

The summer shake-up here in Atlanta has made the team deeper and better without sacrificing payroll flexibility. There is a nice mix of veterans and young players. The new players are veterans that have proven NBA track records. Mike Woodson should know what to expect night in and night out from Evans and Murray. Competition should be more fierce on the team for spots and minutes as well. Here is a look at the possible Hawks starters and bench rotation:

Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford in the starting line up with Acie Law, Murray, Zaza, and Evans off the bench.

Because Marvin Williams is such a high draft pick, he will start at the small forward spot. However, Evans will earn tons of minutes and probably will be on the floor at critical moments in the 4th quarter. Mike Woodson’s job is going to be more fun this year than ever before. He will have some chess pieces to move around on the court, but he also has more pressure to win than ever in his career. The Hawks have to make the play-offs. That is going to be tougher this year with an improved Dwayne Wade-led Miami Heat team and a defensive-minded team in Milwaukee. The Eastern Conference is a more intriguing than its been in several seasons, and the Atlanta Hawks should be right in the middle of all the action


Team USA Vs. the World (Part II)

Team USA opens Olympic pool play against China tomorrow morning at 10 am. Let me be clear, I want Team USA to win the Gold medal in dominating fashion. I am tired of losing these international competitions. I want someone to come out and say we invented basketball; and, we need to win this tournament for national pride. My standards are very high for this team. In short, I do not just want to win, but I want Team USA to send a message. In the final two games against Russia and Australia, the better competition exposed some chinks in the armor of the so-called “Redeem Team”. Here are the 5 questions Team USA must answer to win the Gold in Beijing:

Will Coach Krzyzewski make the right decisions, play calls, and adjustments during the games? There is no question about Coach K’s ability to manage egos and to motivate these players, but the fact that the staff with Nate McMillan, Jim Boeheim, and Mike D’Antoni has no NBA titles is a concern. Coach K is going to have to call a time-out sometime. He is going to have to decide what set plays to run down the stretch of a close game. Will one of these other professional, international coaches out coach the heralded Coach K? It could happen. With 33 seconds left in the game against Australia, the camera panned to Coach K on the bench and he looked red in the face. Maybe the team got too much sun in Macau and was just a little tired here in Shanghai. Hopefully, Coach K was boiling inside at the lackluster performance and went off on the team in the locker room after the game. When Team USA plays Spain, Greece, or Argentina in the win or go home tournament, the talent will be pretty close to equal. Coach K will need to make the right calls to give us a chance to win Gold.

Who will be the emotional leader of this team? Who will fire some guys up on this team? Actually, I am worried about this, because Team USA seems so politically correct in interviews and when talking about the other teams. We should respect these other teams and countries, but these games are going to be very competitive. Three weeks from now, I fear that I will be writing about how Kevin Garnett should have been on this team. There would be nothing “friendly” about these games if Garnett were in China. The USA team has to play these games like they are on the playground playing for their rent money. Garnett plays that way--always hungry to win. Redemption is ours for the taking, but our anger about losing has to be real. The “Redeem Team” went through the motions against Russia and Australia. Hopefully, someone mentioned that fact. Jason Kidd has a Gold Medal, but the fire has to come from someone else. Team USA needs a Charles Barkley stepping on someone’s chest type of moment early in this tourney. Tomorrow morning against China is a great time to send a message.

Will Team USA be able to convert clutch free throws when a big game is close in the final minutes? There is a lack of focus at the free throw line by some of these players. Dwight Howard and Lebron missed badly on free throws in a couple of the exhibition games. These international teams are scouting hard and they will know whom to foul when the games are on the line. Just ask the Memphis Tigers how important free throw shooting is to winning a tournament championship.

Can Team USA play Coach K’s pressure man defense well enough to win the Gold? In basketball when you pressure the ball, you have to contain your man. If the offensive man beats you off the dribble, a teammate has to rotate and stop the penetration. The USA help side defense and help side rotations were not consistent in the last two exhibition games. On one play in the second half, Andrei Kirilenko just blew past Carmelo on the right side of the court. That is horrible as Bill Walton might have said, but what was worse was the lack of help side rotation. Lebron just stood and watched the lay up as Kirilenko attacked the basket. Team USA often looks like a team with a mindset of “okay my man just scored, but we will score on the other end so it does not matter.” Team USA must hate to get scored on, and then we can blow out even the good teams.

Is the America roster big and physical enough to beat Spain, Greece, or Argentina? Can Team USA rebound and block shots well enough to win? Rebounding is a big question mark. The perimeter players seem to be floating to much and not coming back to help rebound. The USA’s lack of an inside, physical presence was glaring. With Dwight Howard in foul trouble, there was no shot blocking or fear from the Russian team going to the rim. The Russians and the Australians had so many lay-ups and easy shots. Hardly any physical play from the Americans. Team USA has to rebound, block some shots, and set solid screens to win this tournament.


5 on 5 - Team USA Vs. the World (Part I)

After watching these exhibition “friendly” match ups with Canada, Turkey, Lithuania, Russia, and Australia, I am convinced that Team USA will win the Gold Medal. I have to be honest I am guilty of buying into the hype, of drinking the soft spoken, fatherly Coach Mike Krzyzewski cocktail of team basketball, of listening and reading about the great USA players saying the right things about team work, defense, and unselfishness. However, the “Road to Redemption” looks bumpy and maybe a little scary, kind of like a road in the mountains with a great view, but a very steep drop off if you make a wrong turn. For this Olympic tournament, I am fired up, hopeful, and a little star struck; but, I am frightened and would not be surprised at Team USA coming home with another Bronze. Here is my 5 on 5. The 5 reasons Wade and Company will win the Gold, and in the next post, the 5 reasons they could lose it:

1. Team USA will win because of their overall depth and talent. Depth will be a factor as the games become more physical and the stakes become higher. In FIBA rules, five fouls is a disqualification. This is a great rule for the shorter 40 minute game. (The 48 minute NBA game needs the extra foul.) Carlos Boozer and Tayshaun Prince are barely getting much playing time, but they are great players. Prince looked disinterested in his end of game minutes against Australia. He was beaten badly on a back cut for a late wide open lay-up, but if needed Prince’s big game and playoff experience will be huge for Team USA. Boozer’s physical presence and ability to make free throws are huge assets for this team. Coach K is going to have to play two big men together at some point in this tournament, and Boozer is a solid professional that will rebound and finish strong around the rim.

2. Carmelo Anthony has the total package of offensive skills. For some reason, Melo is overlooked by many basketball fans, sports writers, and analysts. He is a natural scorer that gets to the right spots to catch and shoot. You absolutely have to be ready to catch and shoot without the dribble in international basketball. In transition or against a zone defense, Anthony, a natural scorer, knows the right areas on the floor to get open shots. He is far better at this than Kobe or Lebron. You hardly ever see Bryant or James spot up, catch, and shoot without a dribble. Carmelo also is very effective shooting the pull up or mid-range jump shot off the dribble. He is the best Team USA player to run a set play for if you need a big basket late in the game. In a close game, who Coach K goes to on the offensive end will be a key to winning the Gold Medal. Melo is that go to guy.

3. Coach Krzyzewski’s emphasis on ball pressure on the perimeter. Team USA is quick and athletic. They have been generating easy offense from steals, deflections, and turnovers. International teams run continuity offense based around passing and cutting. Great ball pressure makes finding the open cutters more difficult. The danger is that Team USA cannot gamble, get out of position, and let the opponent penetrate into the lane. Guys like Chris Paul, Carmelo, and Deron Williams cannot get beaten off the dribble. If that happens, the Internationals will slice them up with penetration and great three point shooting. If Coach K can get everyone to pressure the ball at the same level, Team USA will win the gold.

4. We have great players that are playing unselfish basketball. Most of the time when the Team USA guards have penetrated into the lane, the team has gotten easy dunks or lay-ups. Drop off passes, kick outs, and one extra pass have been the standard operating procedure for all the players. When the ball movement is good, Team USA is impossible to guard. Chris Paul and Deron Williams have been distributing the ball. Against Australia, Paul even was able to get into the lane and score a few baskets when the defense sagged and played the passing lanes. Team USA has adjusted to international pick and roll defense. The offensive man setting the pick is open rolling to the front of the rim. Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh have scored many easy baskets after setting solid screens. Team USA cannot rely on jump shots only. They have to get to the rim, score or get fouled.

5. The players have their pride at stake! They play hard for each other. There is a hunger and desire to win. The mixture of young up and coming guys with veterans like J-Kidd and Kobe Bryant is working well. Kidd is maligned as old, but he is very important for team chemistry. Most of these guys are established stars that do not need the big stage for endorsements and respect. Kobe Bryant’s commitment to defense has been a shining example. He has taken on a positive leadership role. Coach K and his staff have done a great job at selling these guys on the “Road to Redemption” mind set.


Listening to Kamla & Fraschilla...Ugh!

Tonight, I watched the replay of the Team USA versus Russia basketball “friendly” on ESPN. I am working on a blog about Team USA and the “Road to Redemption”, but watching the game was so frustrating because of the announcers. Rick Kamla and Fran Fraschilla were driving me to distraction. I had seen some bloggers criticizing these guys, but I had not really noticed anything in the previous few games. Maybe it was a hangover from Macau or the travel to Shanghai, but something was up last night. Kamla tries to be a hip, which I normally do not mind, but tonight he provided Fraschilla with no direction, and made glaring mistakes calling the action. Fraschilla was redundant, boring, and tentative. Be critical. Give some analysis. Don't be soft on Team USA!

Here are some glaring examples of mistakes that went uncorrected during the broadcast. Fraschilla called Michael Redd “JR Redd”. Nothing from Kamla. Fraschilla said that the head coach of Bucknell University is Pat Flannery when the new head coach is actually former Williams College head coach Dave Paulsen. Nothing from Kamla. Kamla joined the fray midway through the 2nd quarter. Both guys totally missed a play in the second quarter when Kobe hustled down the court and saved the ball between his legs. The ball bounced off the opponent and was clearly the USA ball—a great hustle play by Kobe. A distracted Kamla, the play-by-play guy, totally blew the call of the play, then he missed the inbounds play. He finally admitted his mistake and said “my bad”, but the action was going back to the other end of the court. Very frustrating. The commentators are almost as frustrating as the constant watching of replays, while live game action is happening off screen.

Fraschilla is smart with great technical knowledge of the game which he usually brings to the broadcast. Tonight, he just keeps saying the same things over and over with no analysis. When he did bring analysis and a critical eye, he waffled and apologized as he made the criticism. Crazy. Fraschilla has been harping on how much money these guys are making as players and coaches in Europe, but he has not mentioned that the Euro League, even at the top level, is not as tough a league as the NBA. There is a reason that Russia's point guard, J.R. Holden, is not in the NBA, and that is that J.R. Holden is not good enough for the NBA. In the 4th quarter, when Dwight Howard bricked a free throw, Fraschilla commented that “I do not want to coach anyone or anything, but someone needs to tell Dwight Howard to move his guide hand to the side of the basketball.” Great point, but why not just make the comment and not waffle? Kamla followed up with nothing. At another point, Fraschilla said that he used to have his teams play 1-3-1 out of timeouts, even though they never practiced 1-3-1. That makes no sense. Fraschilla seems like the kind of coach that practices every part of the game in minute detail. He probably was trying to say that he would spring surprises on other teams, but no way would he do that without practicing the coverages of the 1-3-1 defense. Kamla could have asked a follow up question to clarify and help Fraschilla sound smarter. Did he? No. One point that did resonate was when Fraschilla theorized that “Coach K is not going to out X and O any other coaches in this tournament.” This is an important factor in whether Team USA wins the Gold Medal, but the analysis just died in Kamla’s silence. Plus, no one wants to admit there are serious flaws right now with Team USA.

This exchange was typical of tonight’s broadcast. With about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, Kamla asked Fraschilla for an analysis of where Team USA stood. You could tell Frischilla wanted to rip Team USA and say they were not ready to compete against the best teams in the world, but instead he fumbled around the question. Fraschilla said that Team USA has “ten days really or actually a week before they open up with China.” I wanted some analysis, but clearly everyone involved is worried about offending anyone on Team USA. Why be afraid? Because in today’s soft, access driven media, criticism gets you fired. Instead, you get a broadcast that is redundant, uninteresting, and not very informative. Kamla, made me feel just like he acted--uninterested in the game or anything that Fraschilla had to say.