On the Road with Mike: Flight School Recap

It was great to get back to Michael Jordan Senior Flight School after missing a year due to the fact that Michael and the camp directors decided to take last summer off because of the state of the national economy. Noticeably absent was longtime staff member Chuck Daly, who passed away last May after battling pancreatic cancer for several months. We talked about Chuck a lot, remembering how great he was and how much he loved Michael’s camp.

Though Chuck was sorely missed, some fresh new faces invigorated this summer’s coaching staff including John Thompson III and Ben Howland. And our campers brought great energy to the camp as well. We enjoyed a very spirited and highly competitive atmosphere because of the influx of new, younger participants who fell in the 35-45 age range. We also had a number of veteran guys return who have been attending for the past 5-6 years.

Possessing a winning combination of veteran experience and young talent, my Blazers team was seeded number two going into Saturday’s championship tournament. Our opening game victory against the Nuggets (coached by Bill Self and John Thompson III) allowed us to advance to the final four. In the semifinals we were matched up against the Lakers, coached by P.J. Carlesimo. It was a very hard-fought battle, but too many turnovers and missed shot opportunities eventually took their toll on our offense. The Lakers defeated the Blazers, ending our hopes of winning the Flight School Team Championship.

The Lakers moved on to the finals, where they met Doc Rivers and the Bulls in a highly competitive and physical game. The Bulls led by one point with seconds remaining, but the Lakers had the final possession. When their last shot went up there was contact on the play, but no whistle. The shot missed so the Bulls held on to win by one point and secure the team championship.

Now all we can do, coaches and campers alike, is hope that we will have the chance to come back next year and compete once again. As we prepared to leave camp, the big question on everyone’s mind was whether the Class of 2010 would be the last to graduate from Flight School. With Michael taking full control over the Charlotte Bobcats, he will no doubt have to shoulder many more responsibilities in his new ownership role. So Michael is going to have to determine whether he can still afford to give the campers the time he’s given them in the past. His hands-on involvement is what has made Flight School so successful for all these years. Knowing Michael and the way he wants the camp run, if he has to cheat the camp he’s not going to do it. Michael and his staff have to get together and decide whether they can run the camp the right way and make it available to everyone for another shot at Flight School glory.

On the Road with Mike: Michael Jordan Senior Flight School

It’s already shaping up to be another memorable week at the Michael Jordan Senior Flight School camp at the Mirage Hotel and Casino Las Vegas. Eight teams comprised of 9-10 players will make a run for the chance to compete for the championship title on Saturday. And to the victor go the equally coveted spoils: a diamond-studded championship ring inscribed with the Jordan logo, the year, and the winners’ names.

What makes this camp special is that you have Michael Jordan there every day involved and interacting with the players. And you also have a number of Hall of Famers on this coaching staff as well as a number of current NBA coaches and rising great coaches at the collegiate level including P.J. Carlesimo, Jay Wright, Roy Williams, Doc Rivers, John Calipari, Ben Howland, Alvin Gentry, Bill Walton, Bill Self and John Thompson III. This summer, veterans of the camp will coach their own teams and some of the new guys will be partnered up with those of us who have been around for a while.

We drafted our teams last night. My team is the Blazers and we put together an outstanding group of guys with talent and a strong will to win. Our front line is anchored by 6’5” Gary Munson, a 245-pound explosive rebounder from New York. My other center Mark Taylor hails from Weddington, North Carolina and is 6’4”, 230 pounds. My wing players are James Malinchak (6’3”, 215 lbs) from Henderson, Nevada and Chris Dunne (6’2”, 205 lbs) of Denver, Colorado. At 6’2” and 185 pounds a guy I’m relying on to play multiple positions is Ryan Meier from San Diego, California. And in keeping with the NBA trend of going global, I drafted John Herrero (6’, 222 lbs) from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. Mark Scura (5’11”, 165 lbs) from Concord, New Hampshire plays some point guard for us, some 2 guard, and he’s a good defender. Rounding out our roster are two grizzly veterans: David Hilton (5’8”, 185 lbs) from Woodlands, Texas and Paul Hertzberg (5’10”, 180 lbs) from Los Angeles, California. They add their wealth of knowledge and experience to our team.

Michael Jordan opened camp with a lecture to the campers this morning. He touched on strategies for playing offensive basketball and the thought process when you’re starting out one-on-one, demonstrating how to face up and attack the basket. Following 15 minutes of Q&A with Jordan we had our first team practice. Afterwards Hubie Brown gave a great talk to the campers, sharing a historical account of how the players today compare to players of yesteryear and his experiences coaching at the different levels throughout his Hall of Fame career.

Then it was time to test the waters. In our first matchup we faced the Bobcats coached by Roy Williams and wound up coming away with the victory. Though it was a good win for the Blazers, we played a sloppy game – missing way too many free throws and easy shots on the inside. We had a lot of work to do in our afternoon practice before facing the Suns, who are coached by Alvin Gentry and Bill Walton. With only one practice and one game under my belt I had a lot of figuring out to do.

Our practice paid off. We did a better job of shooting our free throws in this afternoon’s game and our team defense improved. Though we didn’t rebound the ball very well we came with a narrow victory over the Suns. We have a very difficult game coming up tomorrow morning against the Nuggets who are coached by Bill Self and John Thompson III. They have a couple very good players. We have to watch out for powerhouse Michael Hawk, a 6’3” 185-pounder form Mt Vernon Ohio and Mark Gott, their 5’8” bullet point guard from Mooresville, Indiana.

With guys ranging from ages 35 to 66 our Blazers squad possesses a blend of youth, veteran expertise and a tremendous desire to win. I have one championship ring from when Mike Krzyzewski and I coached a team together some years ago. Would love to return home with another.

Mike Looks Back: Villanova Then and Now

Prior to my NBA debut with Hubie Brown and the Hawks, I coached under Rollie Massimino at Villanova University from 1975-78. That was a period when Villanova turned it around and it was an exciting time in my career. We had some outstanding recruiting classes, which included the talented guard Rory Sparrow whom I would again coach at the NBA level in both Atlanta and New York. During my third season with the Wildcats we wound up the number one team in the Eastern Eight Conference. That year we made it to the NCAA Elite Eight after squeaking past Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers in the Sweet 16 round with a 61-60 victory, thanks in large part to Sparrow’s contributions on the court. Eventually we lost to the NCAA Tournament runners-up, the Duke Blue Devils, but we had a terrific run.

I have a lot of great memories from that chapter in my basketball career. And because of my rich experience and my relationships with coaches Rollie Massimino and Jay Wright, I’ve maintained ties to the program ever since. I remember the night Villanova upset heavily favored Georgetown to win the National Championship in 1985. I was a young head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. We were playing the Detroit Pistons at Joe Louis Arena that night. I found a cab driver before the game and paid him on the condition that he be waiting for me outside the arena when our game ended. As soon as we got finished with the press conference I raced back to the hotel to watch the game. The Wildcats were seeded eighth in their bracket and wound up defeating the No. 1 seeded Hoyas 66-64. What a night for Rollie – it was magical.

Photo by Elsa/Getty ImagesCoach Wright, who is in his ninth year as head coach, has developed the Wildcats into a top 25 fixture. Prior to joining Villanova, he was a successful head coach at Hofstra University and an assistant to Rollie at both Villanova and UNLV. While Villanova has had success in the past, most notably in 1985 when they captured the NCAA title, the basketball program is enjoying arguably its most prolonged period of success in its 81-year history. Last year, Villanova made its first Final Four appearance since the 1985 season when they lost to eventual National Champion North Carolina.

Coach Wright is a homegrown guy and follows in the footsteps of many other successful Big 5 coaches whose roots started in the Philadelphia area. He has shown a tremendous flair for recruiting, no doubt a result of his natural charisma and energy. Villanova now has a national recruiting pool from which to choose and looks poised to be a tough out in the NCAA tournament for years to come.

Wright’s teams are characterized by strong, tough guard play and an overall feistiness that allows them to compete effectively with bigger teams. The current team is no exception and is led by senior guard Scottie Reynolds, who hopes to bring his tremendous career at Villanova to an end with another deep tourney push. Villanova is also well-represented in the NBA right now with recent grads Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Dante Cunningham all contributing to their respective teams.

Villanova (2) will face St. Mary’s (10) in the second round of the 72nd Annual NCAA Championships this afternoon at 1:05 PM ET.