PAC-10 Basketball

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Posts Tagged ‘Kevin O’Neill’

PAC-10 Power Rankings: Week 3

Posted by naterb on November 25, 2009

It has certainly been a bizzare week of PAC-10 basketball. With so many teams struggling out of the gate it not only looks like the PAC-10 is down, but it is way down. But as I said earlier, withhold your judgement. Afterall, do you really trust records that put Arizona State (4-0) as the top team in the conference?

That is the very reason I do the Power Rankings, because the quality of a team isn’t just in wins and losses… Read the rest of this entry »

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Life After Lute

Posted by naterb on February 16, 2009

 

These Cats are making believers out of doubters and proving there is life after Lute.
These ‘Cats are making believers out of doubters and proving there is life after Lute.

Life after Lute isn’t doomed to what Kevin O’Neill forced Wildcats’ fans to suffer through a year ago. The miraculous 10-point in under one minute come-back win against Houston started a 7 game winning streak for the Wildcats – their longest winning streak since the start of the 2006-2007 season. Even more amazing is the fact that this is the Wildcats longest conference win streak (6 games) since 2004-2005, and it is the first time the Wildcats have beaten UCLA either in Tucson or LA since 2005.

 

The streak in conjunction with earlier wins over Gonzaga, Kansas, and Washington have the Wildcats primed for a chance at another post-season appearance, hopefully with their first trip past the first round since 2006. With all the accomplishments these kids have, and recent negative streaks they have overcome, why should we be surprised if they finally snap a string of first-round losses?

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Wildcats still aren’t a lock, although they ought to be one of the favorites for an at-large bid, provided they can continue the high level of play we’ve seen over the past three weeks. In order to ensure they make the NCAA Tournament the ‘Cats need to extract revenge on the Sun Devils – who were a benefactors of a heinous whistle & technical in the final minute – this weekend in Tempe.

 

With the ‘Cats and fans teeming with confidence, the ASU game has almost seemed like an after-thought over the past few weeks. While that may seem like the case, I don’t believe that’s the case. While fans are looking at what must be done to reach the NCAA Tournament, nobody – fans and team alike – has been looking beyond the current game at hand anymore. It’s not about who’s coming up next, but the task at hand. The result has been a more urgent and aggressive play, and an attitude of never say die.

 

While the ‘Cats all-around performance has seen little improvement from their 5-2 streak that marred most of January, their recent success is immeasurable. The Wildcats have seen better production from Kyle Fogg, Zane Johnson, and even Jamelle Horne, their defenses has been able to come up with the timely stops, and they’ve been hitting clutch shots during this streak. All of which can be attributed to a greater desire to win and the confidence that they can really beat anybody they face.

 

This new found swagger must continue, as they will face three of the top five teams in the PAC-10 during the next three weeks. The task continues to mount, as the road-troubled ‘Cats will find themselves away from McKale for three of the final four remaining (PAC-10 tournament included) weeks leading up to Selection Sunday. As tremendous of a task as all that is, the Wildcats have indicated that they are more than ready to overcome it, even if they aren’t required to do it flawlessly.

 

Reaching the “magic number” (20) seemed like an almost impossible for the ‘Cats just three and a half weeks ago, but now with 18 wins and only 5 remaining games, the Wildcats seem ready to have an NCAA Tournament berth within their grasp. Each win only solidifies their case and earns them a higher seed come tournament time – an accomplishment that was all but written off by the media when Olson announced his retirement prior to the season tip-off.

Things are looking great for the Wildcats right now. A seven-game winning streak, two games out of first place in the PAC-10 and a chance at the conference title within reach, and a likely NCAA Tournament bid. The Wildcats recent success has started to make believers out of doubters, and given the faithful reason to forget their previous woes. Above all, this team is proving that there truly is life after Lute, and with the right moves the future is extremely bright.

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Livengood's Second Chance

Posted by naterb on January 28, 2009

The fate of Arizona’s future rests on the shoulders of an AD that by-and-large has been more of a program curator rather than director. His job has been simple, sit back and watch as the softball, swimming and diving, and men’s basketball programs have had perpetual success year after year. Unfortunately, when the time has arisen for him to step up and make some executive directives he is largely known for making mistakes. He botched the Dick Tomey situation and the football program didn’t sniff a bowl game for ten years. He made matters worse by rushing to sign the first coach he could – John Macovick – which turned out to be the biggest mistake of his time at Arizona thus far. It took him seven years to find a suitable coach to turn the baseball program around. And he’s gone through several women’s basketball coaches during his tenure at Arizona.

 

 

Livengood’s track record has improved recently though. After what may have been a decision to try and be quick and decisive in hiring Macovick, Livengood eventually turned things around under Mike Stoops. Livengood stood by his choice and allowed Stoops to gradually turn the program around until they reached their first bowl appearance in ten years. He’s furthered his stock with the hiring of Andy Lopez as the baseball coach. Arizona’s baseball program has seen continued competitiveness under Lopez and doesn’t look to stop anytime soon. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arizona Wildcats | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The Road to Twenty-Five

Posted by naterb on January 23, 2009

With two historical streaks broken in the past three years the Wildcats are on the brink of another, perhaps their most prestigious, as they appear to be NIT bound this year. During the 2005-2006 season, under Lute Olson, the Wildcats saw their 141 consecutive weeks in the AP Poll end on December 20, 2005 after defeating Utah on the road 73-43 three days earlier. The streak was the ninth-longest streak since the AP Poll was created on January 20, 1949.

Two years later, Arizona saw it’s streak of consecutive seasons with 20 wins or more come to an end. The streak spanned over two generations beginning in 1984-1985 and finally ending with the 2007-2008 season under Kevin O’Neill as interim coach.

Now after Lute Olson has officially retired and the Wildcats have a second interim coach in as many years, it appears as though the 24 years of consecutive NCAA Tournaments won’t become 25. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi doesn’t include the Wildcats anywhere near the NCAA Tournament – not even as a team on the bubble. Gary Parrish has only four bids going to the PAC-10, ironically he has one representative from each rivalry excluding the Oregon schools. Jerry Palm predicts how things will shape up in seven short weeks and the ‘Cats aren’t dancing. And Bracketville ’09 believes that Arizona needs to win 12 conference games (season + tourney) in order to find their glass slippers.

But maybe, just maybe, everyone is getting ahead of themselves because of the despairing drop in Arizona basketball that they’ve witnessed over the past year and a half. With an 11-8 record and only 12 regular season games remaining plus at least one in the PAC-10 Tournament the what do the Wildcats does the road look like for Arizona to reach their 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament?
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arizona Wildcats, NCAA Basketball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Simple Mistakes Costing 'Cats

Posted by naterb on January 22, 2009

A frustrated Russ Pennell during the Arizona/Arizona State game. Picture from azcentral.com

A frustrated Russ Pennell during the Arizona/Arizona State game. Picture from azcentral.com

The lights just got a lot dimmer for the Arizona Wildcats tonight as they notched their 8th loss in their first 19 games. The 11-8 mark that the ‘Cats will go to bed with tonight is their worst record after 19 games since Lute Olson’s first year at Arizona when they were 5-14. Not only is the low mark disappointing, but the Wildcats must now win 9 of their remaining 12 games to reach the magical 20th win that is considered the cost of an NCAA Tournament Ticket. Despite being feasible, that is no small task by any standards and will likely end up with their dancing shoes having NIT written on the label rather than NCAA for the first time in 24 years.

The Wildcats have lost three straight games, as well as losses to the four teams in the top half of the conference they have faced. That’s a hard pill to swallow, especially considering how hard they’ve played only to have a questionable whistle play a deciding factor in their last two losses – against USC and last night against ASU. From an offensive standpoint, the Arizona State game was simply ugly. Too many turnovers, poor shooting, missed lay-ups, the whole-nine-yards. But for as bad as the Wildcats were offensively, the Sun Devils were right there with them. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arizona Wildcats, PAC-10 Basketball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Game Preview: Arizona @ UCLA

Posted by naterb on January 14, 2009

tipoff“You can beat UCLA in Pauley Pavilion.” Those are the words that Assistant Coach Mike Dunlap has for the Wildcats every day during practice. The ‘Cats are hearing the message and by all accounts appear to be buying into it. UCLA has heard Dunlap’s message as well, and are preparing for Arizona’s best shot, even if the Bruins’ fans aren’t.

 It’s been nearly three years since the Wildcats beat the Bruins – and it just so happened the last win came at Pauley Pavilion. Since that February game in 2005, both teams have had complete roster turnovers with the exception of UCLA’s Josh Shipp. That shows just how dominant the Bruins have been over Arizona the past few years. As an Arizona fan, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

So after seven straight games and almost three years, what is it going to take to make Dunlap’s words a reality? Let’s cover the obvious fan retorts- UCLA injuries, miracles, a lucky night, UCLA looking past Arizona, and any other number of would-be post-game excuses would all be pathetic reasons for victory at Pauley. But I don’t think that’s what Dunlap and the Wildcats have in mind. So we’ll break down UCLA’s counterparts to Arizona, followed by the Keys to the Game.

Point Guard: Nic Wise vs. Darren Collison

Collison is the better guard here, hands down. Collison is a lightning quick point guard with great court vision, the ability to shoot the long jumper or create his own shot, and plays very smart basketball. Collison is only 6-0 (2-inches taller than Wise) but is an aggressive defender with long arms that menace point guards into poor decisions.

Nic Wise was not the primary point guard for Arizona last season, and struggled to find his niche under Kevin O’Neill while Jerryd Bayless was in the game. Wise, while not known for his on-ball defense, has shown improvement and is a master at dropping down into the paint to strip the big men on the low block. While Wise has shown improvement in his decision making and shot selection over the course of the year, he still has a long way to go to finding that sweet spot between being aggressive and allowing the game to come to him. As a playmaker and the floor general, that is a key element of his game that the Wildcats need him to pick up on.

Last Year: Nic Wise played 1 game with 12 points, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers

Darren Collison averaged 14 points, 4 assists, 2 turnovers in two games against Arizona, but had 16 points, 7 assists, and 1 turnover while at Pauley.

Shooting Guard: Kyle Fogg vs. Jrue Holiday

Freshman vs. Freshman here. Fogg and Holiday have both become the best on-ball defenders their respective teams have to offer. Holiday is the more athletic of the two and takes defensive challenges personally. In fact, he even asked to guard DeMar DeRozan in the USC game after DeRozan got off to a good start. Subsequently DeRozan only scored five more points with Holiday on him. Chances are that mentality will find Holiday guarding Chase Budinger instead, with Shipp defending Fogg.

Holiday, unlike Fogg, is an offensive threat. He has a decent long-range shot and can work his way to the rim. Fogg, however, can shoot long range but has been apprehensive about taking the open look far too frequently. Credit Fogg, however, for continually showing growth in every area of his game, and finding ways to score and collect loose balls.

Small Forward: Chase Budinger vs. Josh Shipp

Shipp is a lean athletic shooting guard, that like all of Howland’s players, is trademarked by in-your-face defense. Shipp is an explosive player who has the capability of dropping 20 points on a team that allows him to get into a nice flow. Shipp has great career numbers against the ‘Cats averaging 13.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2 steals each contest. Shipp likes to get out into the open court and run in transition, so a big part of stopping him will be stopping transition.

Budinger isn’t nearly as talented defensively as Shipp is, but he is the more explosive player. If Budinger is assertive on the offensive end he becomes difficult for anybody to guard. Since the probability of Holiday guarding Budinger is pretty high, the ‘Cats will need to look to find Budinger slashing to the bucket and posting up the smaller Holiday. Budinger is due for a big game against a tough opponent this year, and it would be great to see him get it against a team that he is still winless against in his collegiate career. My train of thought has always been that Budinger doesn’t show up to play against the Bruins’ aggressive defense – but I crunched his career numbers and was surprised at what I saw.

Budinger’s Stat Line: 14 ppg, 40% fg, 5.5 rebounds, 2.75 assists, 2.75 turnovers

Power Forward: Jamelle Horne vs. Nikola Dragovic

James Keefe has been the typical starter for the Bruins this season, in part because Howland considered him the better defender. But Howland said that Dragovic has closed that defensive gap, and is a bigger offensive threat so he’ll get his second start of the season against Arizona. Dragovic has performed well his previous two games, and has filled the role player spot well. Dragovic has the capability of knocking down the occasional three-pointer, but considering he only shoots 25% from beyond the arc, Horne should let him make one before stepping out on him.

Jamelle Horne is the more athletic of the two players, and plays a lot bigger than his 6’7” frame would indicate. Horne did not have an opportunity for significant minutes against UCLA under Kevin O’Neill a year ago. So Horne’s athleticism and hustle may prove to be an ace in the hole for the ‘Cats.

Center: Jordan Hill vs. Alfred Aboya

Aboya is a thug on the inside. He provided a different defensive look for UCLA last year when they would move Kevin Love off of Hill. This year, the change in personnel guarding Hill won’t make as much of an impact. Hill is a superior interior player than any Bruin. Hill will need to play under control and avoid offensive fouls, and picking up tacky fouls when trying to block shots of penetrating guards.

Aboya is a tough defender and a decent shot blocker for UCLA, but his big threat is junk stats. Aboya hustles for loose balls and rebounds, he’s very active on the offensive glass, and like Jamelle Horne, can pick up junk stats with some regularity.

The Bench:

UCLA has a much deeper bench than the Wildcats, and can get productive minutes from three players off the bench, and two more can provide mistake free minutes to help the Bruins starters get rested. The key bench players for the Bruins are Michael Roll and James Keefe.

Roll is an improved version of Zane Johnson. He can shoot the three, and has the tendency of finding himself open around the elbow or baseline with good looks. Roll won’t impress you with his athleticism or rebounding, but he’s a smart player with a nice stroke.

Keefe isn’t much of an offensive threat, but expect to see him come in to log some defensive minutes against Jordan Hill. Keefe is a solid defender, but will likely struggle against the taller, more athletic Hill.

Arizona’s bench has been iffy at best this season. We’ve seen erratic production from Judkins and Lavendar. Zane Johnson has stepped up his game and become more aggressive the past few games, and a continuing that effort and results will be vital for Arizona if they want to pull of the road win at Pauley.

Injuries:

Arizona – None

UCLA – Malcolm Lee, another key reserve for UCLA, is listed as probable. Freshman center J’Mison Morgan is doubtful

Head to Head:

UCLA is deeper, more athletic, and better defensive team that Arizona is. But they aren’t infallible, and they aren’t as good as they’ve been the previous 2 years. The ‘Cats, although not as talented as last year, are playing better team basketball and when things are going well believe they have a shot against anybody. It won’t be easy to pull off a road win in Pauley against a great team like UCLA, but it isn’t unrealistic to think they can do it.

 

Head-to-Head

Head-to-Head

Keys to the Game:

  1. Secure the Package: UCLA is averaging over 9 steals a game behind their in-your-face perimeter defense. The ‘Cats need to play smart, controlled basketball and limit their mistakes because they won’t be able to keep up with UCLA for 40 minutes of transition basketball.
    Projected Need: Limit turnovers to 12 or fewer, while forcing UCLA into at least 10.
  2. Limit Collison: Collison is the drive train for this UCLA offense. If they can limit his ability to pass and find open teammates the ‘Cats will be headed in the right direction. Just as with the Gonzaga game, point guard play is going to be key.
    Projected Need: Limit Collison to 5 or fewer assists, while forcing him into 3 or more turnovers.
  3. Break-out Budinger: Budinger has been handcuffed the past few games, and more importantly against defenses tailored to limit him. Budinger has decent numbers against ULA with one bad game, and one great game to show for his two years. Coming off the series against the Oregon Schools, Budinger appears to be heading out of his slump and due for a big game in the near future.
    Projected Needs: Budinger – 16+ points, 45 FG%, 3 3-pointers, 3 assists, 2 or fewer turnovers.
  4. Exploit the Advantage: Jordan Hill has no match to be found on UCLA’s roster. But, as with Oregon, perimeter defense can limit the touches that Hill gets. The ‘Cats need to find Hill on the low block or within 8 feet throughout the game.
    Projected Needs: Hill – 18+ points, 35 minutes playing time, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks, 75% FT%.
  5. Four through Six: Arizona needs Jamelle Horne, Kyle Fogg, and Zane Johnson each to step up big in this game. Between them they need to apply defensive pressure, scrap for loose balls, steal some rebounds, and do all those intangibles you expect from role players. The needed impact of the role players in this game can not be understated, as they are likely the most vital part of Arizona’s upset hopes. If they can step up big, Arizona has a honest chance, if they don’t it could prove to be a long night for the ‘Cats.
    Projected Needs: Horne, Fogg, Johnson combined – 24 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, less than 5 turnovers.

Posted in Arizona Wildcats, Game Preview, NCAA Basketball, PAC-10 Basketball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Budinger: Unrealistic Expectations

Posted by naterb on January 3, 2009

Chase Budinger

Chase Budinger

Over the last six games, not three, we have seen Chase Budinger’s numbers dropping off withstartling consistency. During that span his points per game is down to 13.3 and he’s shooting 30% from the field and 29% from beyond the arc. If you want to categorize this as a slump, and not just a shooting slump, be my guest. Afterall, the first five games of the season he was averaging 23 points a game, and shooting roughly 71% from the field and beyond the arc. Trust me, however, when I say that there is a reason for the, at times, erratic production we’ve seen from Budinger over the past two seasons. That reason is unrealistic expectations on Budinger.

During the past two seasons we have seen two more distinctive inconstincies – a four game anomaly in December ’07, and a three game anomaly in February of ’08. Combined, Budinger averaged 10.5 points, shot 30% from the field, and a meager 18% from beyond the arc. He eclipsed 10 points on three separate occasions with his highest total being 18 points. During that game Budinger shot 36 percent, but managed to get to the line for 9 of those points.

These three slumps, or anomalies if you will, are a product of Budinger trying to be something he’s not – a go-to guy. Sure, Budinger has the capability of dropping upwards of 30 points on a team but we can’t expect that type of production every night. Unfortunately, the team make-up the past two seasons has required that Budinger be a primary weapon on offense. That’s our first mistake is not only expecting him to be that, but demanding it of him because we need that type of player on the floor.

Let’s put Budinger’s play into perspective. Pretend that, heaven forbid, Budinger had gone to UCLA instead of Arizona. Budinger would have offensive weapons around him like Darren Collison, Kevin Love, and Josh Shipp to name but a few. Budinger would start on the wing, but he wouldn’t be the focal point of the offense. Budinger would resume a role player position similar to that of Michael Roll this season. In this context the 10.5 and 13.3 points per game averages wouldn’t be a “slump” but an unexpected surprise.

My point here isn’t that Michael Roll is as good as Budinger is, or that Budinger would be averaging that – chances are he’d be averaging closer to 14 or 16 points per game as a role player. My point is that Budinger has the player attributes of a role player, not a leading scorer or primary offensive weapon.

Still don’t believe me? Take a look at his freshman year and you won’t find a single slump. Sure he had a few games where he didn’t pour in the points, but you can’t find a single stretch that was marked by poor shooting and poor offensive production. Budinger was not the go-to guy on the team – that belonged to Marcus Williams – and he had a good offensive cast around him with Shakur, Radenovic, Williams, and McClellan. Of course, it helped that he had Olson coaching that year too.

That’s the second unrealistic expectation we have on Budinger, and don’t even realize it. Budinger has shown little growth in the last two seasons – under the coaching of O’Neill and Pennell. Don’t get me wrong, they each had/have their strengths as coaches and have developed Budinger a little bit. We’re not expecting a small development out of Budinger, we’re expecting him to transform from a role player into a leading scorer. Should we really expect that a couple of interim coaches are capable of that type of player transformation?

Bottom line is this, until we can step outside the performances and see the scenario in its full context we will continue to be disappointed in Budinger. Budinger is NBA quality, but he’s not your go-to guy, and he doesn’t have the skill set to be the focal point offensively or defensively. If you want to be disappointed in something, be disappointed in the circumstance that has put Budinger into a role he was never meant to be in, not in Budinger himself.

Posted in Arizona Wildcats, NCAA Basketball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Lessons From a Coach

Posted by naterb on January 1, 2009

It’s funny, every year starting around December 28th people start talking about the New Year.  A buzz of excitement begins as the idea of changing a simple number on the calendar means that some big changes are going to happen in the coming year. People will resolve to lose the 25 pounds by doing something they couldn’t do – putting down the donuts and getting in the gym –  since mid January of last year when they broke their 2008 resolution of losing 25 pounds. For some they believe that the new year will bring them fortuitous financial endeavors, or that special someone, or a resolution to their many problems.

Whatever they’re hoping for, it’s typically not something tangible, and is a lot to expect from a clock turning from 11:59 pm on December 31, 2008 to 12:00 am on January 01, 2009.  A clock can’t change you, can’t make you better. That takes self-determination and understanding of your position in life. Need an example? Bruce Pascoe brings one to you in his coverage of Jay John in this New Year’s Day’s paper.

I know what you’re thinking, I said I was covering Arizona Basketball and I’m bringing up an article about Jay John?! It doesn’t fit. Actually, it does. John is a class-act who is doing things the right way, and has a lot of Tucson ties. He was born in Tucson, graduated from the UA and was an assistant coach for the UA, and various other schools within the PAC-10. But I’m not going to repeat to you what you can learn on wikipedia, or in Pascoe’s article.

What interested me about this story is Jay John is a guy that is doing it right. After failing to make Oregon State a competitor in the PAC-10 and each year perpetually getting worse, John had decided that he needs to take a step back and become a coach again. I like this, not because I think John should be an assistant coach, but because he’s not pounding the same pavement hoping for a different result. He’s going back to the basics, so to speak.

In doing so, John has shown that he is a self-aware man who is willing to do what it takes to succeed in the long run. He takes a disappointing situation and uses it to better himself. Clearly, John realizes that it takes time, determination, and a process that doesn’t happen just because the calendar changes from December to January.  Therein lies the biggest tie to the present-day Arizona Wildcats program, and a big lesson that Jim Livengood can learn from.

If there is one thing that is certain, 2009 will bring a different head coach to the Arizona basketball program. As fans, we may like the direction that the coach takes the program or we may not. But one thing is for certain, things will change. It is up to Livengood to make the proper decisions and to ultimately hire the new coach that will bring about these changes. My hope in all of this is that Livengood looks at what Jay John has done, and takes a few pointers as to what a good program coach looks like.

Lesson One: It’s all about the students and the school.

I don’t want a guy like Billy Donovan who had a few great recruiting classes, won the National Championship and nearly bailed on the program. I don’t want a guy like Reggie Theus who had a few successful years at New Mexico State, and bailed on the team to try his own agenda. I don’t want that because that is somebody that isn’t here for the program, but for self promotion. And if Arizona basketball is going to transition from the Lute Olson era to a new one and continue its tradition of success, while it’s all about the coach, the coach can’t be about himself.

Lesson Two: Make the Adjustment

Ever heard the quote “Chaos is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result”? Many coaches fall into this habit. They have a certain style for their recruiting, coaching, game plan, and how they make decisions in life. Livengood needs to look carefully at the wake that potential coaches have left. Do they ruin programs or run them into the ground? Do they have problems with personnel or players? Is there signs of growth after failure or do they stick with their “plan”?

I don’t want a coach like Kevin O’Neill who has been bounced from job to job and ultimately run off from 3/4 of them because of his attitude. I don’t want a coach like him because he can only coach to his strengths and not the strengths of the team.

Third Lesson: Know when to pull the trigger

Jay John knew he had an opportunity to become a head coach with Oregon State – granted he failed to be successful in the long run – but at least he knew when to make the jump. Had he stayed at Arizona he probably would’ve become entrenched as an assistant his whole life. He saw an opportunity, took a risk, and went for it. Livengood has to know when to pull the trigger on hiring a new coach. Make sure you’ve got the right guy for the job, and pull the trigger – don’t just take the first coach that shows interest. Set your goals and go after them, but be ready with a “plan B” if that should fail.

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