Our game with Oak Hill last night was not the instant classic I had anticipated and hoped for. Granted, it was still two of the top programs in the nation going head to head, with high level players making an array of nice plays and monstrous dunks. As a whole, I am extremely disappointed my Montrose Mustangs did not rise to the occasion and did not make the most of the opportunity. Oak Hill won by six.

First and foremost, I want to thank the tremendous support we received from the community; the game was standing room only and we had a ton of folks rooting us on. There were tons of college coaches and basketball media present and the Georgetown Prep facility was stunning; a perfect place to hold a game of that caliber. As always, ESPN did a phenomenal job.

I also want to congratulate Coach Steve Smith (of Oak Hill) and Keith “Tiny” Gallon, who played an extraordinary game. I got to spend a week in Brazil this past summer with Tiny. He was one of the players chosen to represent the Nike USA Select Team I worked with. Tiny is a fantastic person and obviously a very gifted basketball player with a bright future.

As I mentioned in the letter I wrote to our guys on Wednesday, last night was all about opportunity. It was the opportunity to play a top ranked opponent. The opportunity to avenge our double OT loss in December. The Opportunity to play on national TV. The opportunity to prove we are one of the top teams in the nation. The opportunity, for certain individuals, to prove they can play at the highest of levels. And at the end of the day, we didn’t take advantage and we let each of these golden opportunities slip away. Bottom line, Oak Hill got it done and we didn’t. No excuses.

And just to be clear, I can handle losing if we play up to our potential. But we didn’t. We didn’t deserve to win, we didn’t earn it. When we lost to them in December, it was a different story. We played very well that game and we did deserve to win. I really thought we were the better team in December. I didn’t feel that way last night.

We didn’t necessarily play bad, but didn’t play as well as we were capable of playing. Even more disappointing, we played most of the game with a severe lack of passion and emotion. I thought we played hard and gave good effort, but we played as if we didn’t care, as if nothing was at stake. We looked as if we were just going through the motions. And to me, that is the biggest disappointment. I hate indifference. I am a person who thrives on passion and on caring, in every facet of my life. Even after the game, our guys showed no emotion or passion. No anger. No tears. Nothing. Just a quiet sea of dumbfounded faces.

We have a tremendous group of young men in our program who are not only great basketball players, but great people as well. And I care about them unconditionally. But I was very disappointed in them last night. I didn’t sleep very well, so I got up super early this morning and watched a tape of the game, twice. I took a few pages of notes and hit the rewind button a hundred times. And while the taped version didn’t make it seem as bad as I thought it was live; my initial reactions were actually pretty accurate: As a team we played hard, but not particularly well, and we played with very little passion and we didn’t value the ball. We made countless mistakes you just can’t make in big games. Here is a quick recap:

1st Half

We started the game by settling for short jump shots instead of taking the ball hard to the cup (started the game 5-19 from the field). We made a handful of lazy, telegraphed passes that they quickly converted to lay-ups or dunks. We didn’t step in, on three occasions, and take a charge. We let them leak out and make full court passes off of defensive rebounds for easy lay-ups. Twice we fouled them and let them score an old fashioned 3 point play. Oak Hill finished around the basket, we didn’t. While it certainly wasn’t all bad, we did make several nice plays here and there, but overall, we played a very, very poor half by our standards. Despite all of that, we were only down 7 at the half! That is what coach stressed at half time. He said, “Look guys, you can’t play any worse than you just played…and you are only down 7 points to the #2 in the nation! You are three possessions away. Let’s play like we are capable of playing and do this!”

2nd Half

We started the 2nd half strong, scored two straight hoops including a thunderous dunk, but we could never quite get over the hump. Every time we closed the gap, they scored. We made several runs, but never got the defensive stops when we needed them. Part of that was good offense, but a good part of that was poor defense. And defense is all heart and all toughness, two things we lacked in spurts last night. While we played a better second half, we still made a handful of errant passes and costly turnovers, and again, you can’t do that in big games and expect to win. Yet with 1:53 left we were only down 5 points. We still had a chance if we could have just mustered up some emotion and got a few stops. But we didn’t. And then we got hit with two technical fouls in the last two minutes of the game, which certainly didn’t help. And that is very atypical of the Montrose program. We take pride in carrying ourselves with the utmost professionalism and getting technical fouls is unacceptable.

The first was a double tech, when one of our players and one of the Oak Hill players got in a shoving match. Again, if we could have kept our cool and they got the tech, that could have potentially been 5 points for us (2 FT’s and a 3 pointer) and the game would have been tied! The 2nd tech, a minute later, was a very poor call. I watched the replay several times and it was absolutely a bad call. There was some incidental contact after a held ball and the Oak Hill player just flopped. I assume the refs, who overall called an outstanding game and did an excellent job, only caught the flop out of the corner of their eye and assumed it was something more. They assumed our player bumped him or something. They hit one free throw and then scored on the ensuing possession. That 3 points sealed the deal. We were dead in the water. But that is neither here nor there, as that call didn’t really affect the outcome of the game; they had all of the momentum at that point anyway and we weren’t playing well enough to make the comeback.

When you play at the highest of levels, there are no moral victories. You have to take advantage of big time opportunities. You have to play hard. You have to play with emotion. You have to execute. You have to play well. If you don’t, you lose. End of story. We learned that last night.

I sent the team a text message this morning that said; “Our loss last night should hurt. You should be disappointed. You should be upset. That’s OK. That means it means something to you. You have to learn from what happened, put it behind you, and move forward. How you respond to adversity and disappointment will show your true character. Try to enjoy your weekend. Let’s get back to work next week.”

It will be very interesting to see how our kids respond, especially knowing this is going to be a very tough month. Last night was our last regular season game, and assuming we get an invite to the ESPN/Nike High School National Invitational on April 3-5th, we won’t play another game until then. That means three weeks of practice. It’s like November, the most grueling month of the year, all over again.

However, there is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel…as that ESPN tournament is another tremendous opportunity for our program. It will be another opportunity to play against the best in the nation (4 of the top 10 teams in the nation will be playing, including Oak Hill). It will be another opportunity to play on national TV. And it could potentially give us an opportunity to play Oak Hill for a third time this season!

Will we take advantage and rise to the occasion this time?

If you would like to contact me about this blog, my training and/or camps and clinics, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. I will respond as quickly as possible!

Train hard. Train smart.

Alan Stein