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Off The Rails

A Realistic Look: Coach Carter

Everyone loves Coach Carter, it's a feel good story for the ages, but what about the basketball? Bulls Lead Writer Ethan Levy writes in his latest Off The Rails post that Coach Carter may have been the beneficiary of a talented team more than anything else.

Rich-whaa? Richmond!

Who could forget the the classic 2005 basketball movie Coach Carter, starring Samuel L. Jackson? Based on a true story, Coach Carter followed the unforgettable 1999-2000 Richmond Oilers, as they navigated life’s challenges–both inside the classroom and out.  The film received plenty of critical acclaim, as Lisa Rose of the Newark Star-Ledger raved, “[Coach Carter] excels on the strength of its cast, and the sincerity of its message”. 

But here at The Loop Sports, we’re not so concerned with details such as the cast’s acting chops, or the film’s message, or the director’s use of wide-angled shots versus close-ups. We want to know the truth about the Richmond Oilers basketball team. Was Coach Carter a truly great coach, or just the beneficiary of a well-crafted roster? Is Timo Cruz overrated? Why isn’t Ty Crane in the NBA right now?

Today, The Loop Sports asks the tough questions to uncover the truth of the 1999-2000 Richmond Oilers. After painstaking review of practices and game film spanning the entire two-hour, fifteen minute movie, we finally have answers. Let’s dive in.

“Replacing” Your Best Players?

Replacing the old Oilers coach after a horrific 4-22 season the year prior, Coach Carter’s first true test with his squad comes during his very first practice. Looking to lay down the law and set standards, he gives players contracts they must sign in order to play. The gist of these contracts: suit and tie on game days, sit in the front row of your classes, and 2.3 GPA. This is a lot to ask for a few guys, who walk right out of the gym–they’ve quit the team. Shocked, senior shooting guard Kenyon Stone says, “There goes our two leading scorers from last season!” Coach Carter responds, “Then I’ll guess we’ll have new leading scorers this season, huh?”

Photo Credit: Slant Magzine

Now, Oilers apologists could argue that he was trying to build a culture of mutual respect, that guys had to buy into his philosophies of teamwork and character, et cetera et cetera blah blah. To that I say, nonsense. Talent wins basketball games, people. Imagine Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry just walk right off the Warriors. If you’re a Warriors fan, are you cool with, “new leading scorers this year”? Or are you freaking out that you just went from a title contender to a bottom feeder? I thought so. Coach Carter gets dinged here.

The Timo Cruz Debate

The emotional climax of the film, on the other hand, unarguably comes about when Timo Cruz, a roughly 5’11-ish combo guard who’d been kicked off the team, runs up to Coach Carter’s door in the wee hours of the morning. He’s just seen his cousin shot and killed, and begs to rejoin the team for stability in his life. Coach Carter agrees, and takes him inside.

But did Timo Cruz help the Oilers win games?

Let me be very clear–nobody’s arguing that Cruz should have been held off the team. It’s the feel-good character arc of the film, and Cruz finding his way after being stuck in a dangerous lifestyle is genuinely heartwarming. But what did he bring to the basketball court? Was he better off on the bench? Let’s take a closer look.

During every good sports movie, there’s a montage where the squad is just rolling. Coach Carter is no exception. But even during the Oilers’ hot streak, we see Cruz display some troubling habits. He finds himself open in the corner, but a defender runs out to contest–Coach Carter calls out, “One more pass!”, but Cruz fires anyway. It goes in, but it’s not great basketball.

On a fast break, he stops short of the hoop pulls up for three–while he knocks it down, it again draws the ire of Coach. At no point during the entire movie does Cruz show an ability to put the ball on the deck and penetrate the defense. His court vision is limited at best. With less-than-ideal length, he’s no lock-down defender either. Every team needs a shooter, but Cruz is just that. Again–thrilled he’s back on the team–but just in a Kyle Korver/Mike Miller-type role.

X’s and O’s? So?

It’s time to ask perhaps the toughest question of them all–was Coach Carter a truly great coach, or did he just benefit from a great roster? Let’s take a look at his senior class.

Jason Lyle, 6’4, Senior, SF — As you’d expect from a player portrayed by Channing Tatum, Lyle is an unbelievable athlete. With the strength and agility to switch multiple positions, Lyle is any coach’s dream on defense, and is a savvy slasher and facilitator on offense as well. He’s a bit underdeveloped as a shooter, but he’s your prototypical glue guy, a la Andre Iguodala. Lucky Coach.

Worm6’0, Senior PG/SG — Another senior starter, Worm is a terrific, skilled, well-rounded basketball player. Pound for pound, he may even be the best player on the team. A knockdown shooter that can penetrate the teeth of the defense and find the open man, Worm is a special offensive talent who can play on or off the ball. His quickness and length allow him to be a pest on defense, too. Think Penny Hardaway. Yeah, Coach, must have been sooooo hard getting this thing to work.

Kenyon Stone, 6’3, SG –- Committed to California State University–Sacramento, Kenyon is a natural-born scorer. Kenyon G. Buckets. He can pull up off the dribble from deep, catch and shoot, drive to the hole, you name it, it’s in his bag. The headband is a nice touch, too. The Oilers don’t sniff State without him.

Junior Battle6’9, PF/C –- At first, Junior seems like a mild-mannered gentle giant. But then he steps on the court and looks like a ‘Monstar’. He’s springy, athletic, finishes lobs with ease and wreaks havoc in the pick-and-roll. Junior gobbles rebounds and spikes balls out of bounds like he’s playing volleyball. He’s basically high school Deandre Jordan.

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

To Coach’s credit, he does implement some schemes that work to his players’ advantage. Delilah, the Oilers’ full court press, capitalizes on the team’s outstanding athleticism and quickness and gifts the squad plenty of turnovers throughout the year. Linda, the team’s flex offense, conjures Golden State Warriors basketball, allowing Oilers shooters to run freely and find open looks. The pick and roll between Worm and Junior works nicely too. But let’s be real–I could have coached this team to a playoff berth.

The Curious Case of Ty Crane

One could argue the looming presence in this film is the need for education, hard work, and character-building mentors in young adults’ lives. That’s all fine and well, but I would argue it’s Ty Crane.

The six-foot-seven SF/PF dynamo from St. Francis is touted as the nation’s best prep prospect, and while he’s supposed to be 17 years old, looks 30. That’s not a joke. I looked it up. The actor was 30. When asked how he compares to LeBron James at the beginning of the film, he scoffs and says “LeBron James? I’m the only Ty Crane“. My goodness.

So if he’s “the only Ty Crane”, why didn’t he reach the NBA? Why aren’t we seeing him on billboards sponsoring Gatorade and Nike? A brief look at his devastating buzzer-beater to knock the Oilers out of the playoffs tells us all we need to know.

You may see a Kobe-esque, ice-cold mid-range fade-away, but I see a crippling flaw in his game. With 4 seconds left to go when he catches the ball, Crane has plenty of time to put the ball on the floor in a transition situation. But as he tries to go right, he hesitates, settling for the contested long two. It goes in, but these are major red flags we’re talking about here. The lefty can’t go right. Any D-1 defender worth their salt would have snuffed that out.

Cases closed.

Follow Ethan Levy On Twitter. — Feature Photo Credit: Vudu

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