Diary of a Season—The Story of the 1987-88 South Plainfield Tigers—Part V

1986—The Summer of Growth

Adding to the backdrop of the 1987-88 Boys Basketball Season at South Plainfield was the issue of my physical changes, particularly after my sophomore year and before my junior year. Those changes while surprising, also proved to be another obstacle in my quest to make varsity at SPHS.

When I came to South Plainfield High School in the Fall of 1984, I was a small and skinny kid. I was about 5’3” and weighed around 90 pounds. I was so small that I could not even touch the basketball net in the upstairs gym where the freshmen team would practice. However, my size and body type then would be helpful to me in the way I was able to shoot the basketball. It enabled me to shoot from far away because my release point was lower and my arc was higher as a result.

At the time I started to play JV basketball my sophomore year, I grew a little to about 5’8”, and weighed about 107 pounds. Again, it still did not limit my ability to shoot. As long as I could get good spacing to shoot the ball, I could knock down shots from far away. However, when I look back at the end of my sophomore year, I could tell that I was starting to have difficulties with my shot. I had a bit of a slump toward the end of that season, and my mechanics were giving me trouble.

By the time the 1986 Old Bridge Summer League at Madison Central High School got underway that summer, I was still having some difficulties, but still managed to have a few good games including one versus East Brunswick where I scored 6 points even though our team got beat by about 25. During that summer, I came to one of the games, and Mike Carlucci noticed something strange about me. Carlucci mentioned to me that it seemed that I had grown a bit since he last saw me.

The trend became more and more noticeable. By the time I had started my junior year of high school in September of ‘86, I had grown to about 6’0” tall. However, I was still slim though. By the end of my JV season in 1986-87, Coach Mosley weighed me in at about 125 pounds. So while I had grown taller, I had not gotten bigger. I was always a very active person with a high metabolism, and struggled to gain weight, especially up and through high school. It wasn’t until my mid 20s when I began to pick up weight.

As a result, my shooting technique suffered. One of the issues Coach Lubreski had with me was the fact that I needed a quicker release with my shot. I had tried to speed up my release during my sophomore year, but ended up developing a hitch in my shot where I would start up high around my head, come back down, and then back up before I released the ball. During the course of my junior and senior years, I slumped as I struggled with my mechanics. The ball did not feel comfortable in my hands, and sometimes I would release the ball from so far down that I would end up with a high arching air ball.

Coach Lubreski gave us drills to work on with our shooting and ball handling during the off-season, and then in practices at the start of the 1986-87 season. While Lubreski still was emphasizing hustle and defense, he did try to get us to work on ball handling and shooting to improve in those two areas. The catch and shoot drills were a struggle for me. I just could not shoot the ball that way because my style required me to generate my momentum a certain way, and my body type made it difficult for me to adapt.

My shooting struggles my last two years were among several issues that often made me frustrated and depressed during that time. After enjoying high school a lot from the last several months of my freshman year through my sophomore year, I found the last two years of high school, which for many, should be the most rewarding, to be the most difficult and sad instead. There was one time in practice where I started to cry during the catch and shoot drill because I could not hit a shot, and not understanding what was going on with me, Coach McGheean, an assistant coach that first year, yelled at me.

I had kind of become like Kevin Costner in Tin Cup when he started to get the shanks before the U.S. Open. Coach Lubreski did indicate at one point during the 1987-88 campaign that was thinking too much instead of just shooting the ball. However, with all of these new variables that I was dealing with, and not a lot of resources around at that time to get help, it was understandable why I was struggling. I went through many different variations of shooting. I even began to shoot the ball like Jamaal Wilkes of the Lakers did in his heyday.

Toward the end of my senior season after we lost to St. Peter’s in the opening round of the 1988 GMCT, I would somehow figure out a way to get my shot back into rhythm, which gave my efforts in practice toward the end of that season a shot in the arm. Unfortunately though, my ability to shoot the basketball was never the same again, and caused me to gradually stop playing games of any sort, especially over the past 15 years. I don’t mind being tall though. Having my friends ask my family members what were they feeding me was always a good and fun thing to hear late in high school and early in college.