“I haven’t been able to slam-dunk the basketball for the past five years. Or, for the thirty-eight years before that, either.” – Dave Barry

The official name is “The 2015 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.” There’s a women’s tournament too, but the men seem to get all the publicity and the office pools and the betting money. Almost everybody plays basketball at some time in their youth, whether forced to in gym class or as a way to burn off some excess energy on the playground. Some got to play on a high school team, and it’s quite an exciting game even at that level.

In his youth the Idler cut a pretty dashing figure on the hardwood. As a wing in a 1-3-1 offense, my duties, according to Coach Naismith, were to set high picks for the point guard and crash the boards when the ball went up. At the other end of the court, as a small forward in a 2-1-2 zone defense, my duties were to run through picks and crash the boards when the ball went up. If you see the common denominator here as the Idler never handling the ball, there’s a very good reason for that. Due to some localized distortion in the space-time continuum, my dribbles were magnetically attracted to the tops of my sneakers. But if you see the common denominator here as crashing the boards, you’re on your way to grasping one of the grittier aspects of the game. Rebounds are a lot more important to a coach than to the fans. Among the thousands of pep-talk slogans we heard in our brief basketball career (and our longer TV viewing career), one of the most oft-repeated was, “every rebound is a turnover.”

Rebounding

If you could combine the skills required in pass blocking, strong-arm robbery and ballet, and maybe throw in a few volleyball spikes, you’d have rebounding. The strategy, as we understood it, was simple. The first time you go for a rebound, locate your opposite number and deliver a good hard shot in the ribs. This should be of sufficient force to elicit an expression of pain, but not enough to draw blood. You want this guy to be looking over his shoulder for you. What if you’re called for a personal foul? Well, A) you earned it, B) you get 5 of them, so you might as well use a few, and C) you want to set the bar high so the next time, if you don’t swing that elbow quite as hard, you might not get called. There’s also a strong chance your rival will want to get even and the refs always nail the retaliator. Anyway, that’s the down-and-dirty on the way that rebounding is performed. We’re told it’s even worse in the girls’ game.

Unsophisticated fans often assume that the taller player will always get the rebound. There’s an element of truth to this. The 7 footer often has arm length to match his altitude, and can grab a rebound over the smaller player who has better position. But this only means the smaller player has neglected to properly “box out” the big man. Which brings up another characteristic of the accomplished rebounder, one which involves an anatomical peculiarity of the lower body. That’s right, it helps to have a big butt. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare uses an athletic term to convey the concept of advantage. One of his characters tells another, “I have thee on the hip.” Since basketball was 200 years in the future, scholars assume the bard was talking about wrestling, but the concept is perfect for rebounding. Proper utilization of the gluteal region will escort even the tallest opponent out of rebounding position.

And now that our discussion of rebounding has come to an end, you’re probably hoping it will never rear its ugly head again. But, no matter which team you’re behind, they have to rebound. Let me leave you with the words of former Detroit Pistons coach, Maurice Cheeks: “If you’re not rebounding you have to find someone who can rebound.” That’s the bottom line.

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