It’s a game. Basketball is a game. Somehow, this always gets lost on players and coaches when it comes time to lace them up. Not for the Texas Legends.
After practice wraps up, several Legends players and coaches remain on the floor for friendly shooting competitions. Friendly, but competitive. Oh yes, very competitive.
“Our staff don’t leave until the last player leaves,” says Head Coach Bob MacKinnon. “That’s our rule.”
Shooting contests are commonplace among basketball teams. But the after practice activities actually reflect exactly what MacKinnon wants his players to work on.
“We’re big on shooting. We do a lot of shooting, probably more shooting than any team in our league. I’m a big believer that the biggest improvement you can make at this level is in shooting the ball. We’re trying to develop our players to move on and that’s one of the best ways to do it.”
C.J. Williams says he and teammates Bryson Fonville and Pierre Jackson have built up a “little bit of a rivalry” with their post-practice shooting workouts.
“(The contests) make us shoot with a little bit of pressure,” says the sharpshooting Williams, who knocks down the three pointer at a 44 percent clip. “It’s not game-like in terms of shooting at game speed, but it’s game-like putting the pressure on because you want bragging rights over your teammates.”
I asked C.J. who usually wins. Flashing a smile, “me.”
Once the players finish up, the assistant coaches go from teachers to knock down shooters. Some moreso than others.
Charlie Bell played seven years in the NBA, two in Italy and one in Spain. During his NBA career, Bell made 438 three-pointers. He knows a thing or two about connecting on shots from beyond the arc.
Though the 6-foot-11 Zendon Hamilton never even tried a three-pointer in the NBA, he still takes part in the fun and expects better results as the season progresses, even guaranteeing not one, not two but three wins by the end of the year.
Zachary Chu played four years at the University of Richmond. Prior to that, he starred locally at Highland Park High School. Chu fills me in on the specifics of the contest before I witness one myself.
“You have to make three in a row from seven spots from three,” he says. “It kind of started between me and Charlie and the other coaches have gotten involved. It’s obviously harder for Zendon, he’s a post guy, but he still shoots it.”
He pauses as if to add sarcastic drama to his next words. “He’s yet to win.”
Despite this, Coach Hamilton brings a heap of confidence into the battle. “I’m the real shooter in this group,” (I’m fairly certain) he jokes.
He then jabs back at the 24-year old Chu, 17 and 13 years younger than Hamilton and Bell respectively. “Don’t listen to anybody who’s not over 30 years old. We’re the real people, he’s the side piece.”
However, the towering former pro has a confession. “For real though, he shot us down the other day. He shot our (BUTTS) down.”
Coach Bell, the usual winner of the games as I’m sure you could reason, interrupts to make a concession. “He’s outshooting him, he’s not outshooting me.”
On paper, the odds are not in Chu’s favor. From the outside looking in, you have two former NBA players against a college athlete. Granted one was a center, but the other came within striking distance of half a thousand successful three-point attempts.
“I’d pick them too,” he says with a big smile.
As the last practice shots go up, the laughter dies down and the first shooter takes their spot in the right-hand corner. Hamilton makes his previously alluded to bold prediction, resulting in hysterical laughter from his fellow assistants.
“I’ll get at least three before the end of the year.”
Perplexed, Bell responds “never.”
Chu also looks surprised and merrily makes sure I have this on the record.
“That’s on record. He will never get three. He won’t get one!” declares Bell.
Coach Hamilton sticks to his guns. “Charlie is the obvious choice, but i’m learning how to shoot three’s here. I’m telling you, by the end of the year, I’ll have won three. I’ll have gotten three.”
It’s not always a three-point contest, however, and recently there was a stunning development in Texas Legends camp: Chu defeated Bell in a game of one-on-one.
Bell half-sarcastically frowns. “He said ‘let’s play a game to three real quick.’ I’m like ‘alright.’ I wasn’t really going. I was going like, 45 percent, 42 percent.”
Chu jumps in. “This is on record, 45 percent.”
Later on, in the midst of their shooting fun in fact, Bell brings that percentage down another 20-25 numbers to the audible humor of his fellow staff.
MacKinnon and Assistant Coach George Galanopoulos can barely contain their laughter and friendly jeers. MacKinnon loves to call Bell the “flamethrower” and jabs at his staff member for his loss to Chu, who by all accounts is not a flame-throwing associate.
“Flame on!” Coach Mac shouts through a gigantic grin. (Trivia: which comic book character’s catch phrase is coach referring to? Tweet me!)
The reminder of the one-on-one game adds a lot of very fun fuel to the fire, with giddy snickering and jubilant voices echoing in the unbothered Dr Pepper Arena.
“He’s good, I’ll give him that,” Bell admits. “He’s small, you don’t really take him seriously at first. Then he starts making shots, you gotta take your game up another level. I give him credit. He’s better than he looks.”
This was the first duel between the two and if Chu has his way, it will be the last.
“That was our first one-on-one game. It’s 1-0. ”
“Definitely his last win” replies Bell.
“I might never play again,” Chu is over the moon. “I’ll just take the 1-0!”
The shooting contest for the day winds down with things coming down to the wire between, guess who, Charlie Bell and Zachary Chu.
Bell promises that Chu won’t eclipse him in this field. “He doesn’t win the shooting no more. He can’t shoot with me.”
Coach Hamilton remained pinned in the first corner, so his first of three proposed victories won’t be happening today. He shoots right in front of Galanopoulos, who’s having a lot of fun jeering on his fellow assistant coach. Player development intern Chris Blakeley joined in on the fun, as well. Coach MacKinnon is doing the play-by-play.
In the end, Bell gets the best of Chu. With a game day next, a rematch will have to wait just a little bit longer.
“We just have great guys,” says MacKinnon. “Guys who love to be in the gym on the coaching staff. Because of that, they get involved. All of the sudden, now here the coaches are talking trash to each other and getting to each other and competing with each other. It just makes for a great environment.”