In the viral video era, once you’ve had your fill of cute cats, or dads getting hit with a Wiffle ball line drive in the private parts, there’s nothing more wonderful than a good, old-fashioned coaching rant.

Most of the hall of fame tantrums live on either in our mind or in beer commercials. Football coaches in particular, from Jim Mora to Dennis Green to Herm Edwards to Mike Gundy, turned it into a 1990s and 2000s art form.

I stumbled into one this week, thanks to social media, that accelerated to the top of my list. Not because it achieved immediate ubiquity on YouTube or SportsCenter. Frankly, since the 90-second clip was the intellectual property of a Big Ten women’s basketball coach, you probably haven’t seen it.

Not that it was laugh-out-loud, cough-your-beverage-through-your-nose funny, either. Wisconsin coach Bobbie Kelsey’s catch phrase, “Get your butt in the gym,” isn’t overly exciting. In fact, if you’re a young basketball player and aren’t moved by it, you’re sort of illustrating her point.

Her words resonated with me because I could easily substitute the words “Maine high school basketball” into her script, regardless of gender, and they would fit. Kelsey, whose name I admittedly wouldn’t have recognized until this week, sharply and coherently spoke on my behalf and helped me make sense of what I’ve been watching for too many winters now.

Kelsey’s Badgers were beaten by the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 75-62, largely on the strength of eight 3-pointers by a perimeter pest named Natalie Rome. It led the coach to lament the relative dearth of shooters she has witnessed with that high level of accuracy and low degree of conscience.

“We need people who want to be great shooters, but that takes practice,” Kelsey, 43, said. “I’m sure she didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I just want to be a good shooter today.’ You’ve got to get your butt in the gym. (Golden State Warriors star) Steph Curry showed you that. I saw him in high school. He looked like a 2-year-old out there, but the boy could shoot. So what did he do? He kept shooting.”

From there, Kelsey, who is 26 days younger than I am, then took an anachronistic shot at the generational culture, one characterized by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and a proliferation of electronic gadgets.

“If people think they’re going to get it on the pillow case, it’s not going to happen,” she said. “You can’t nap your way to being a great shooter, or (get there by) Facebooking and all the other things that teenagers do. Put the phones down, stop Facetiming, stop Tweeting, and get your butt in the gym.”

To a present-day player in the Pine Tree State, perhaps that sounds like a sour-grapes, out-of-touch assessment. You’re hearing Kelsey and seeing an old-timer whose glory days unfolded in an original pair of Air Jordans. I’d ask you to forget chronology, hear the message and take an honest look at any of your team’s game tapes.

I watch you and your contemporaries play almost every night of the week. The overall product, relative to what prevailed 20 and 30 years ago, by any objective assessment, is bad. There is no gentle way to say it. Scoreless quarters happen with alarming frequency. Losing teams routinely shoot below 30 percent from the field. Winning teams (somehow) get away with missing more than half their free throws.

It’s gross, and it is a direct result of the cultural shift that is Kelsey’s lamentation. Players don’t shoot in their driveways, the way our generation did, year-round, as long as nothing fell from the sky and the pavement was free from ice. Teammates scrimmage together only when an adult is around to organize the activity.

“And it (doesn’t) have to be one hour, two hours,” Kelsey nudged. “Twenty minutes, every day. Ten minutes, after practice, every day. That’s it. There’s no magic formula or little secret potions you rub on your hands. Get your butt in the gym and practice, period, end of story, and you can shoot like that, too.”

Local fans see the occasional player (Riley Robinson of Dirigo, Andrew Fleming of Oxford Hills and Jacob Hickey of Winthrop spring to mind, on the boys’ side) who can fill it up, night after night. These guys are the exception, not the rule. Every team used to have two or three of these weapons, which made them infinitely more dangerous on the whole, because opposing coaches couldn’t afford to attack their team with junk defense.

My past missives on this troubling trend occasionally pointed the finger at AAU for catering to the top-end players while the community high school teams suffered. Allow me to correct that. Perhaps there are some nationwide charlatans in that program, but in Maine, the adults who direct those travel teams are in it for the right reasons: To give Maine’s isolated stars a chance to play against the best and improve their future athletic and academic options.

Those players go back to their town team, and to a young man, they’re fabulous teammates. Every last one. Most of them could stand to be more selfish. They aren’t the problem. Their spring, summer and fall coaches aren’t the problem. If you aren’t among the elite, a chosen one, it’s on you to … well, let Ms. Kelsey reinforce the point.

“Every team needs to do more. Can you hear me? Get your butt in the gym,” she said. “You’ve got people throwing the ball over the (backboard). Nobody wants to watch that. I don’t. I enjoy watching good, solid basketball that people make their shots, whether I’m coaching against them or my team doing it.”

Kelsey pointed out that the star power of Candace Parker and Brittney Griner, both of whom were famous for dunking the ball, has long since graduated from women’s hoops.

Likewise, most of Maine youth basketball, boys and girls, is played beneath the rim. It’s a game in which zone defense reigns, and sucks the life out of the game as we speak, because few players can make a mid range jumper. Most who sink 3s do so with sporadic success.

These are skills that develop through muscle memory, through repetition, through commitment to the physical act of hoisting a ball at an orange ring. It sounds simple, but not when those butts are welded to couches and fingers are glued to keyboards.

“People need to get in the gym. That’s where our game needs to grow,” Kelsey said. “People need to shoot the ball and make it, and people will come out to watch us play.”

From her lips to God’s — and hopefully prospective players’ — ears.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 or like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kalleoakes.sj.


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