Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Conversation with Minnesota basketball legend, Bob McDonald, and son Tom McDonald

Chisholm coach Bob McDonald

This is the first time I’ve seen your team, so how well would you say they played tonight?

We didn’t play fluidly, we didn’t play with one another. That’s been a big item this year, they don’t play well together. They’re dysfunctional that way. They have very little in common with one another, and that’s the mark of a good team. (One day) we were sitting there in the locker room and I asked, now, who’s your friend on the team? Not one kid could point at another kid on the team and say, he’s my friend.

So this was fairly representative of how they’ve played all year?

Yes, erratically.

They had some nice runs and then some that weren’t so nice.

That’s it. How in the world can these guys…. You can’t believe they play stinko, but they’ve done that regularly. It’s an up and down situation. So it’s not unexpected. But some way or other, and I don’t know if it can be done, it can’t be done by coaches, but they have to get a feeling for one another. All good teams that we’ve had in the past were tight. But this team is going to be very difficult to bring in to the conclusion that they have to have….

As an outsider I thought, well, maybe they’re a little out of sync because they knew this was your last night, it’s a special occasion. Were they at all upset by that?

No. I think they realize…I play to win. I don’t want anybody’s sympathy. And they’re good kids. They want to do something for me. But I’ll do something for me. They should do something for themselves. And they failed in that respect tonight to a great degree. But they’re fine kids. I don’t have a dummy in the bunch. Intellectually they’re sound, and they’re good to be around.  But they haven’t been able to put it together on the court.

Now, they did play an awfully good opponent tonight.

Yes, they were, Ely is good. Tom has a disciplined team. One thing about Ely is they’re isolated. They’re within themselves. Everybody knows everybody. They’re like fingers in a glove. They live in Ely. It’s for Ely’s sake that they play. So they have a feeling for each other and a closeness that we don’t have. Tom does a nice job coaching them.

Sometimes they look like Chisholm, the fast break, they push the pace….

That’s right. He played that way, see. Paul played that way. Mike played that way. The whole bunch plays that way. So I’m getting stung by the skills that I would expect our kids to have. They all do a good job coaching.

As you think beyond tonight to the whole 52 years, how do you summarize the experience?

It’s been wonderful. Losing doesn’t bother me, it’s the quality of the kids that keeps you going. I’ve had losing teams that were fine people. But I could go off the court knowing we were competitive. We were good people. Scholastically sound, no trouble makers throughout my career. That is what I rest on.

How do you think the game of basketball—boys basketball in Minnesota—has changed in 52 years?

I think the jump shooting is the big change. That is it. All other things are basically the same. You’ve got your post play. You’ve got your kids shooting the set from the three-point line. But now we can’t stop that. I used to tell my kids to get up in their face because they’re shooting the set. But now they get up on the jump shot and shoot it over you, you can’t do a thing with that. The jump shot has made the big difference in high school basketball in Minnesota. Do with strategy what you will. But it’s that shot and your ability to put it up on the fly….

Who are the people you admire that you’ve interacted with in your career?

In high school ball, that would be O.J. Belluzzo, who was my father. And Harvey Roels. They were tough as nails, those guys were tough. They would look at you cross-eyed, but Harvey would paddle your hind end. He never did that to me. But they didn’t tolerate any insolence or going half speed. It was expected, not that kids wouldn’t screw up, but….

Times have changed. We have more people that try to react with finesse in the game of basketball as young people that they can’t quite attain. The jump shot is the big item, that is it. If you have a good jump shooter… and we’ve had some good ballplayers.

As I look at the kids who played for me, I revel in the fact that they’re fine citizens, tough basketball players, athletically inclined, and we got another set of kids coming along, the little kids, to take their place. And that’s the way life is, too. Somebody will come along to take my place.

And, now, do we know who that is?

No, but I would presume that it would be Larry Pervananze, who’s been around. The only thing that might hang him up is he’s not a school (teacher). A lot of people want a school man, someone who’ll be around the kids all the time. He’s a good man. But how much time you can spend with young kids….

Who was the best player you ever coached?

(Laughs) I’m not going to say. I’ve had lots of them. I look to see what they do with the ability they had. We’ve had some tremendous ballplayers.

Ely coach Tom McDonald

This is the first time I’ve seen your team, so how well would you say they played tonight? Was this a great effort, an average effort…?

I thought we played pretty well under the circumstances, all the emotion of my dad’s last game. We kept our discipline on defense pretty well. And, we like to run and gun and those minute possessions that they had kind of tested us a little bit, but I thought they played well.

Did you execute your game plan, or were there any surprises tonight?

I think we did what we needed to do. Sometimes we don’t use our big guys inside and I thought Justin Poderzay and Sean Jordan held their own against Chisholm’s big front line. So it was really really nice…. Usually when we run and gun Justin gets behind us and doesn’t get involved and it was nice to see him have a really nice game for us.

In the second half you scored probably four or five times off the offensive glass, and (Justin and Sean) looked really strong.
Justin is so strong and not only on the offensive glass, but whenever Chisholm was making a run at us, Justin came down with the defensive boards, too, with big guys draped all over him, so that was key for us.

I was impressed with the way your big kids catch the ball. They’re really strong with the ball.

Justin has really good hands for a big kid, not that he’s really big, he’s big for northern Minnesota, but he’s got really good hands, and so does Sean. Sean is more of a finesse player, Justin is more of a grunt player for us, but they were both really key.

And Matt Vanderbeek, that’s funny looking shot, but it’s effective.

Yeah, we tried to correct him on that many times but finally we decided to let him go because he’s so effective at what he does. We call him the Microwave because he just starts heating up, but sometimes the microwave doesn’t work very well, he missed some shots. But he’s so good for his size at going into the lane and making those shots.

Sometimes it looks like he’s passing the ball to himself off the glass. He misses, and he just goes and gets it.

That’s not by design. But he had two or three offensive rebounds and he’s not usually in line to get those rebounds.

You said your kids were aware of the significance of tonight’s game. Did they feel any extra pressure with that? And I’m sure you did.

Yeah, I did, too. It’s sad to see him go after so many years. I was a part of this program for so many years, and now watching it from the outside, it’s a sad day to see dad go. Even thought I think it’s time. But he’s put so much into the program here and the culture of basketball here.

A lot of times our guys are a little afraid of Chisholm because of the mystique. In 24 years of coaching at Ely, this is only the second time I’ve won here. So the wins are few and  far between here, so somehow we got over that (tonight).

You’re familiar with the Chisholm team as well. How do you feel they played?  Did (Bob’s retirement) get to them, too?

I think they’ve been through it so many times. Every time they’ve played the last two months they’ve had going-away parties. I think they’re used to it. I’m sure it entered into their mind. But I thought our defense kept them on their heels. They hit some big shots to get within ten, but every time we needed a stop we got one.

Do you play that 1-3-1 all the time?

No, we mostly play man, but we didn’t think we could match up with them very well.

They looked like they’ve played that 1-3-1 before.

Oh yes, but we played it very well tonight.

And you tended to match up, so it looked like a 2-3 a lot of the time.

It’s a 1-3-1 match-up, and sometimes it’s hard for the opponents to figure it out, and that’s part of the idea.

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