September 8, 2013 in Sports

Seattle sits in prime position

 
Associated Press photo

Could this be the year Sounders, and Seahawks, faithful have been waiting for?
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Vince Grippi has an opinion about everything local, especially sports. Every Sunday we provide samples of his daily riffs. Read him daily at spokesman.com/sportslink.

Thursday: We have a bit of a sports-related inferiority complex here in the Northwest. Year after year of losing will do that to you. But, in the professional ranks at least, we may be able to kick that this season.

Oh sure, the Mariners are still the Mariners. No help there. But with the Seahawks and the Sounders, the Northwest may just be able to reach New England-ish heights. Remember when the Boston area won the baseball and football titles in one year? Well, there is a chance, a healthy chance, Seattle could claim a couple titles over the next few months.

With their 1-0 win over Chivas USA last night, the Sounders surged  atop the MLS’  points-per-game standings. And they won with half their starting lineup waylaid for a variety of reasons. There is no one in the MLS playing better right now, so there is every reason to hope they can win a title.

The same can be said of the Seahawks. There is  every reason to hope they can win a title. And hope is what it is.

Nothing has occurred on the field just yet. The Hawks take the field in Carolina (this morning). And though the Panthers are not expected to be part of the NFL elite, we all know how early games in the Eastern time zone have treated the Hawks in the past (for the uninitiated, not well).

So a win, especially a dominating win on both sides of the ball, will go a long way toward justifying all those preseason hopes – and the hype. Anything else and that inferiority complex will probably kick in. And nobody wants that.

Wednesday: Change is inevitable, really. Nothing stays the same. Heck, even the Mariners will probably avoid the cellar this season. But sometimes change can evoke feelings of sadness. Today, the change we are going to address does just that.

Yesterday evening, about dinner time, Washington State sent out a press release. It contained the information long-time assistant basketball coach Ben Johnson would be leaving the program. And, with that, the last connection to the most successful era in the program’s history was gone.

But the severing of that connection is not what makes me sad. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Just the fact Johnson is leaving is the source of my blues.

See, Ben Johnson is one of the nicest people you will meet in college athletics. A good person who always had one thought uppermost in his mind: It was all about the players.

Assistant coaches in college basketball have three main elements to their job. There is the Xs and Os, of course, and by that I also include teaching the game. It is crucial the assistants help players improve. If that doesn’t happen, concistently winning games just won’t happen.

Then there is recruiting, probably the most important aspect of the job for the long-term viability of the staff, so the one that is given the most emphasis.

But there is a third, less-reported and probably less-appreciated, aspect of their jobs. Assistant coaches have to be mentors, role models, yes, even friends to 18-to-22-year olds.

College basketball is hard, especially at the highest level. The demands of school, practice, games, social interaction, finances all combine to stress the player’s nerves.

The head coach has to be focused on the bottom line and he has to push the players to the breaking point – and sometimes beyond.

That’s when an assistant has to step in and mend the fences, rebuild the confidence, explain the reality of the situation. They have to care, really care, or a player will sense the phoniness and turn off the advice.

Ben Johnson cares. About everyone. He was nearly perfect in this regard. Just ask the players who went through the program. Players as diverse as Charlie Enquist and Reggie Moore will sing the praises of Johnson.

I’m sure Johnson will be coaching again soon, helping young athletes as they make the transition from youth to adult. He’s good at it.


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