O’Neil vs.

the Metz
By Jose Rosario After thirty years as a coach these are my best basketball story. It all started a year before when I began coaching basketball in my hometown some thirty-two years back. I was at my front door neighbor’s home observing my brother’s friends, Manuel, putting five coins on their kitchen table. Manuel was coaching a basketball team in a league sponsored by the Parks and Recreation program that summer in our town-square. He said to Mr. Ortiz that his, “team has the best zone press in the league”. With his the five coins he demonstrated the guys around the counter how his zone press moved against their opponents. My high school days were over then. I played basketball for middle and high school, and for many recreation leagues without a lot of success. The coaching wasn’t the best when I played. Even though, I practiced basketball every day, my skills never translate into success on the court. Anyhow, I pay little attention to Manuel that night, until some friends and I were crossing that summer through downtown and ended watching a basketball game that was being played in the middle of the town square. A lot of people were surrounding the event, so it was difficult see was going on. We moved through the multitude to see what was happening. And then I saw him, a nine year old prodigy, tarring the competition a part. Until then I had never seen someone so small playing basketball that well. It was as if we were watching Mozart playing piano. I didn't know if the league to his part but definitely he was the best player on the court. Raul Cacho wore heavy dark frame glasses on his young face as he point-guarded his team to victory. We got there in the middle of the second quarter and staid to see the entire game. It was then, as I watched this nine or ten year all boy giving lessons to his opponents, when I said to myself that I should coach basketball next summer. By this time I had my mind made-up in becoming a school teacher, but no way had I wanted to be a gym teacher or a basketball coach to that matter. I saw teaching as a way to have free summers, and short working days, plus kids were alright, funny and refreshing. To tell you the true, I was not focus on what the future was bringing to me then. I think that what I am doing now came for osmosis. Call it destiny if you want, that’s how thing turned out to be. The next year I put together a team with some of my neighbors; Tito Collazo & Roberto Melendez, who both went to school at Marista, a prep school for boys in my hometown. Three other kids from the school I was substituting, Angel “Chato” Gonzalez, Gerardo Rosario and Kique Ortiz alone with Jose and Tony, or the Ramirez cousins, made the rest of the team. Other players were added later, however the team wasn’t good enough to win anything yet. Until one day, I went to the local bank and his president called me to his desk to see if I could get his son Victor to play in my team. Mr. Rodriguez, also, asked me if I wanted to have in my team a friend of his son, Raul Cacho, he said. You need to understand this first, this was a league for 10 and 12 year old children, and parents took it very serious. The team owners, in this case me, functioned very much like NBA team owners. They had great powers, you could sign players from the year before as long as the player did not belong to another team, and if they did the parents of the player needed a release form from their old

team to be able to play for a new team. The owners need to provide with a uniform that meet the standard of the league too. It was serious stuff to be an owner. 1979 was my first year as a coach. My team was named after a downtown shoes store, owned by Pepe Delgado’s grandfather, a friend’s of Roberto Melendez. My team was called Gredel -- I still don’t know what the meaning of that is. Our uniform was green and yellow. On average, my players knew how to play the game, however as the first time coach I could not recognize their lack of fundamentals. We were the youngest on the court in comparison with the other teams in the league, the rest of the teams were at least a year older. With the exception of Raul, we were the new kids on the block. Our first season was really a disaster; we didn’t win a game against the O’Neal’s team, our biggest rival, and divided with the other four teams in the league. That year the league president was forced out, because he allowed Zorrilla’s team to use a thirteen year old boy. One of my parents put the kid on the spot after we lost against them. He coached little league and the boy played for him that’s how we knew his real age. Zorrilla lost all the games they won until that moment. However, the season didn’t go well for us that first year, we made it to the semifinals, but got bumped out by the San Salvador’s team. Our last game of that season was a classic, at the end of the game Raul Cacho’s father went inside the court before it was over and punched the referee on the face, starting a brawl between him and the referees. The people that were there that night probably remembers this very well. The two referees were Rolando “El Ojon”, or big eye, and Victor “el Enano”, or the dwarf, in the eyes on my parents were pulling the game in favor of San Salvador’s team. Victor was the one that Mr. Cacho put him through his fist, some people said that he rolled three times through the ground after he was hit. This game was played at the O’Neil outdoor court, which was always hostile to us. Some people tried to stop the wrestle while the other just wanted to fight us. To all these, I was just astonished by Raul’s father’s action, after everything was over, he said that the referees were calling for the other team. That’s how serious this people took those games. My friend Cesar drove me home that night, I was crying, to tell you the truth I cried like a little boy that was taken away his favorite toy, the lost affected me, like I never thought it was going too. It got me to see all my players crying as they sat on the bench after the game was forfeit against us. That night I promised them that we will beat them next year. So, a thing that I was going to do for one summer turn out to be for the next summer too. I was in my last year in College, and all I could think was in my basketball team. So, I began to read all kind of stuff about basketball coaching, there is a fountain of information about the topic in the book stores and libraries. I kept in touch with all my players, or at least the returning players, and during the weekend I used to take them to play basketball at Marista courts, haft of my team came from that private school so they were familiar with the place. We played the sport and nothing else, it was on obsession, and I wanted to beat these teams that beat me. It feels as if you want to hit back after being hit hard and you didn’t have the chance to get back at them. Well, to make my story short, the next season come and there were two strong teams this year, mine, now name the Metz, and O’Neil’s. The person that made the game schedule knew this fact; he put us playing at the end of the first round. I was confidence that we could beat them; we had spent an entire year preparing for this moment. However, the variable that I couldn’t control was the referees. If this game was close between a margin of 2 and 4 points, we might lose it.

The season was on its way and our margin of victory was always in the double digits, O’Neil was 3-0 as well as we. Our league played the Biddy Basketball rules, meaning four quarters like the High School basketball rules here in Florida. Both teams needed to use all their players at least in one quarter, or 6 minutes. O’Neil was a bigger team, it has players such as Steven Dominguez, who was at least 5’9” then, Ignacio Lopez and Ruben De Jesus, and on average they were taller than my players. When the game started we jumped ahead. My starting team was, if I remember well, Victor Rodriguez, who had one of the best shot I have seen today, Gerardo, as my shooting guard, Luis Lugo, Kique Ortiz, my point guard, and Tito Collazo. I didn’t start with Raul in the first quarter because in that way he will play the last three quarters of the game without interruption. However O’Neil used their muscle to stay in the game, Steven was slow but big and he was able to dominate inside the three seconds area. In the third and fourth quarters we exchanged the lead of the game at least ten times. However I wan confidence that after all my players played their 6 minutes I could use my starting team in the last quarter and put the game away for good. But, O’Neil was not a team to be underestimated; they kept on with us until the end when they tied the game to put us in overtime. We played three overtimes after the regular time was over. And the final point of this master piece of a game was something that I will never forget. With about 6 seconds to go, the game was tied again; everyone thought that we were going to overtime. O’Neill had the ball; their coach was going to uses Steven, his stronger player on the court, and tries to put the game away for them. The whole night he went to him when he needed a sure basket. So, I engineered a 2-3 zone that will double team every attend to past the ball to Steven. I had on him my biggest player, Tito Collazo, who put his hand inside the big guy and knocked the ball out of his. The basketball ended on the Roberto Melendez hands, which bounced it once and passed it ahead to Pepe Delgado, who was running an early cheery picker. Pepe was one of my best players then but he was as slow as molasses’. The next four seconds lasted for on eternity. I still can see how drove the ball to the basket and the lay it on the ring as the buzzer ended the overtime. 62-60 was the final score of the game. As Pepe Delgado scored the last bucket everyone on the stand jumped in a unison cheer. Even Cesar, who checking the score on the table, jumped with everyone else. For some reason I didn’t realize that the gym was full of people. From then on through the years every time these two teams faced each other a multitude of fans followed. This is how I began coaching the sport I love. I had coached other games in many other leagues, however that game between O’Neil and the Metz; I can’t get it out of my mind. I still can see Pepe Delgado dribbling the basketball through the court for the victory. I won many championships in that city leagues but it is that first championship the one I remember the best. Other player that played for me that year, were Edwin Montserrat, Jaime Vigo, Javier Beauchamp and Roberto Rodriguez.

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