Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Alexandria's Aces

Alexandria, Minnesota has a very successful mentoring program going on in their middle school, and it all revolves around basketball. Larry Novotny is mentoring, teaching and coaching a group of young student/athletes through basketball.

Most of my friends know basketball is my favorite sport, and I have been around it my entire life in one way or another.

From the 1977-'78 season through the 1979-'80 basketball season, I was an assistant coach for the new general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Flip Saunders, at his first coaching job at tiny Golden Valley Lutheran College (GVLC) in Golden Valley, Minnesota. We had the youngest coaching staff in the country with Saunders, Mike Cervony and me at only twenty-two years of age. Our third assistant, Dan Kozmoski, was only twenty-one. We had a player who had been in the military and he was twenty-three!

All four of us coaches were still in college. When Saunders played at the University of Minnesota the previous four years, he had been recruited by Bill Musselman as a point guard. Musselman had a pregame show that involved a lot of ball-handling drills, fancy passing, and synchronized activities that electrified home crowds. People would arrive hours in advance to make sure they got a good seat to see the pregame show. If you were ever in Williams Arena during the Musselman Era, I am sure you remember what a show they put on!

Bill Musselman taught a walk-on player by the name of George Schauer to do elaborate ball-handling tricks including spinning multiple basketballs at once. "Crazy George" as he is known today, is still performing his basketball wizardry all over the world.

Saunders liked that pregame show so much he brought it to his first coaching job at GVLC. That is where this post really begins. Larry Novotny wanted to be on our basketball team and Saunders gave him a chance if he could learn to do what George Schauer was doing.

Larry took the challenge and was the star of our pregame warm-up drills. I believe the most balls he had spinning at one time was seven! He would sit down and place a pencil in each shoelace whereupon he put a spinning basketball on each pencil, he had a strap on each knee that held another ball on a pencil, he devised a brace for his chin that held one more ball and lastly, he spun a ball on the fingertip on each hand. That tiny gym was a fun place to be!

Besides our pregame show, we had a pretty good team. We went three years without losing a game at home. We had two Junior College All-Americans, a 63–11 record; won our conference all three years I was there and placed second in the state tournament the first and last year I coached. Saunders stayed there for two more years before going back to the University as a graduate assistant.

That brings us to what Larry Novotny has been doing with his middle school students at halftime shows throughout the country for the last twenty-four years! There is a wonderful article about Alexandria's Aces at this link. Just click here.

Look at the joy in Larry's eyes as he is addressing this year's group of young students who are trying out for the Aces. Does it look like he is having fun? After all, basketball should be fun for anybody that plays and loves the game. When I was the age of the students, I was in the gym all the time. My dad was a high school coach and I spent many hours learning from him and the older student/athletes I so admired. These young student/athletes are also getting that wonderful feeling of enjoyment playing basketball. I think this is a wonderful program Larry Novotny is doing, and I applaud him for his dedication and commitment to these young people.

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Think of the trips and experiences these young people are getting as they travel around the country performing in front of as many as 20,000 people. They are learning teamwork, cooperation, coordination, self-esteem and who knows, maybe even a scholarship somewhere to carry on the "Crazy George" Larry Novotny ball-handling tradition!

This was how Larry got his start on our team picture for the Golden Valley Lutheran College Runnin' Royals in the fall of 1978. Larry is seated on the floor front and center right in front of head coach Flip Saunders:

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As always, I look forward to your comments.



2 comments: said...

Great post, Mike! As your grandfather Joe used to tell his tribe of ten -doing something you love is not a job or work--it's what we should all aim for to fully enjoy our time on earth! Just be sure to save some time for fishing! LOL!

Ruona said...

Fat Cat, Great post. I was born in Hutch. Bet you didn't know that. The pre-game before Mussleman's coached games was just plain cool for a hick from central Minnesota. The music was Globetrotter music....I think it might have been Sweet Georgia Bound. Man did that hype the crowd. Really great memories. Good stuff buddy. Keep 'em coming. Ruona