Kurt Helin

Balls from most popular games

EPL’s Sunderland manager using basketball to improve team’s soccer skills

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We’ve seen Hall of Fame level NBA players — Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker and others — claim playing soccer in their youth helped them develop their basketball games. Soccer requires an understanding of spacing, angles and moving without the ball into space, skills that translate beautifully to the basketball court.

So why can’t basketball help soccer players?

Enter Gus Poyet, the manager of Sunderland in the Barclays English Premiere League. He’s a big believer that hoops can help on the pitch and explained that to the Guardian (hat tip to Joseph Prince-Wright of NBC’s ProSoccerTalk).

“Basketball can help in football, especially with marking,” said Poyet, whose late father, Washington, was one of Uruguay’s biggest basketball stars. “The way you turn is similar in both sports. The problem is basketball is not very popular in England – but I’m going to make it popular.”

Poyet’s conviction deepened on Wednesday. “I watched our youth cup game against Newcastle and watching the way the kids marked and moved I thought every player should be playing a bit of basketball. I’ve been talking a lot about basketball since then – and I’ve got a hoop put up at the training ground,

“If you play basketball certain movements become natural. There was a full-back in our game last weekend, somebody was running at him and he was turning, looking at the goal – you cannot mark like that. You mark facing the player and the ball and that’s the same in basketball. You never see a player in basketball running towards his own basket to mark without looking over his shoulder. These little things help you because you have to mark in a certain way.”

Because of the smaller space in basketball you just can’t afford to lose track of your man in the way that often happens on the larger soccer pitch. It’s an interesting point.

Sunderland is a team from the north of England (one best known in my house as the lapdogs of Newcastle, but as a Magpies fan I may be a bit biased there). Considering the weather there this time of year I hope Poyet set up an indoor hoop, not an outdoor one. We’ll see how much that basket helps.

Sunderland is solidly midtable right now but could use a couple more wins just to stay clear of the danger of relegation. The team had been home to American striker Jozy Altidore until recently, when he bolted for Toronto FC of the MLS (which is owned by the same organization that owns the Raptors).

Would George Karl be interested in coaching Orlando Magic? Of course he would.

george karl
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George Karl wants one more shot in the NBA. While he says he wants to coach a talented team he thinks he can get to compete for a title, he’s about as picky as a drunk frat boy in a bar at 2 a.m.

Hence this tweet about his name coming up in the Orlando coaching search.

Orlando’s potential interest in Karl may spark Sacramento — who is very interested in Karl and his up-tempo style — to act quickly and sign him sooner rather than later.

Karl deserves another shot. Last we saw of him he directed Denver to 57 wins and was named Coach of the Year (they only lost in the first round because leading scorer Danilo Gallinari went down with an ACL injury). He’s one of the NBA’s legendary coaches and he’ll improve almost any team that would hire him.

And he’s open to all of them.

Rajon Rondo out at least three more games, surgery still not out of question

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat
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When Stephen Curry dropped 51 on the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday, I had two thoughts. First, there was nothing anyone could have done, Curry was hitting shots from about the Bay Bridge.

Second, it still would have been interesting to see how Rajon Rondo would have impacted that game.

Not only is that question moot,at least a few other teams will get a crack at Rondo-less Dallas. The Mavericks will be without Rondo at least through the All-Star break and maybe longer due to the orbital bone fracture and nasal fracture he suffered recently (when teammate Richard Jefferson inadvertently kneed Rondo in the face).

Dallas made that announcement Friday — Rondo would miss the next three Mavericks games, which takes us through the week-long All-Star break.

But Marc Stein of ESPN says he could be out longer.

Dallas’s defense improves a fairly dramatic 5.2 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. If they are going to make any dent in the playoffs this season — in what is an unreasonably stacked Western Conference — they need Rondo. They need his defense; they need him to be more comfortably involved in the offense than we have seen so far.

But most of all they need him healthy.

NBA All-Star Game outreach to involve 1 million New York area children, teaches fitness

2015 All-Star logo
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When we talk about the NBA All-Star weekend, it’s usually in relation to how the Saturday Three-Point Contest might be the best event of the three days, or whether Kevin Durant deserves his roster spot.

But for the city where the All-Star Game arrives it is much more than that.

Wherever the game lands the NBA focuses its charity (NBA Cares) and youth outreach efforts, looking to make a difference in the community. However, in New York this year the NBA has stepped up its game:

They will reach 1 million youth in the five boroughs with their program.

The most visible of that is the 100 basketball and fitness clinics in New York schools on Feb. 13, part of the NBA All-Star FIT Celebration on NBA FIT Friday. At every school there will be NBA All-Stars or WNBA players or NBA legends working to engage the youth. Shrug if you want, but trust me as the father of three elementary school age daughters health and fitness issues among our youth is a serious issue, you see it on every campus. There’s good reason it’s the First Lady’s pet project. That this program uses basketball to reach and teach children is fantastic.

This is just part of the league’s outreach.

Also on Friday several NBA All-Stars and celebrity chef Mario Batali (who still should be an Iron Chef in my book) will assist food rescue organization City Harvest to pack 160,000 pounds of food that will be distributed to 10,000 New Yorkers in need.

And the list of outreach events goes on and on, they started way back in September and will continue after the All-Star players have packed up and gone home.

It’s just one side of the All-Star Game that a lot of people miss, but in terms of impact in the community it can be more lasting than the big hoops exhibition itself.

Kevin Durant: If you want my All-Star slot beat me one-on-one for it

2012 NBA All-Star Game
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When the NBA coached voted in Kevin Durant as an All-Star reserve there were plenty of people — we’re looking at you, Charles Barkley — who said he didn’t deserve it. Not because of Durant’s talent, but because he’s missed too much time this season due to injury (he’s missed 29 of the Thunder’s 47 games so far).

His response?

Well played.

I’m good with Durant in the All-Star Game (he was on my list as a reserve). It’s an exhibition; there is nothing on the line here. It’s not like the NBA does something stupid and puts home court in the Finals on the line for this popularity contest. So with that, I want to see the very best players in this show. Kevin Durant is one of those, and to me has played enough — and been good enough in the games he played — to make the cut.

What I really want to see: Elite NBA players in a one-on-one tournament. I probably would take Durant in that.