Monday, July 14, 2008

Taking a chance on a player

Hypothetical: Before the season, two players come to your office. One has a reputation for "blowing up." You've heard he's got a bad temper. Stories of his "childish" behavior are well chronicled in the press.

The other spent five years struggling with drug addiction. He was in and out of rehab. One time, he deliberately burned his hand with four lit cigarettes. Most people have written him off.

But both guys are talented. As a GM or coach, do you take a chance on them? It's a situation coaches and GMs face frequently.

A story in yesterday's NY Times got me thinking about it. The Texas Rangers took a chance on Milton Bradley and Josh Hamilton. It's paid off. Both will play in tomorrow's MLB All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

Is it worth taking a gamble on a player. Clearly, it depends on several variables, including the current make-up of your roster and its quality; the culture of the organization; and the level of the gamble.

In the CBA and USBL, we gambled on dozens of players. Some worked out, some didn't.

Georgetown's Charles Smith was one that really paid off for us. [See photo above. Charles is in the front of the picture, third from the left.]

If you recall, Charles was the 1989 Big East Player of the Year. A 6-foot guard, he helped the Hoyas to the No. 2 spot in the polls that season, averaging 19 ppg despite being recruited for his defensive abilities.

A second team All-America selection, he was undrafted out of college, but signed with the Celtics. During his second season in Boston, he was charged with vehicular homicide after hitting and killing two college kids.

He was convicted of negligent driving in 1992 and went to prison for 28 months.

After his release from jail in July 1994, Charles played for me in the USBL in the summers of 1995 and 1996 in Bradenton, Fla., south of Tampa. With him as the point guard, we only lost twice in 50 games. He led the league in both assists and steals, and averaged more than 17 ppg. He also earned consecutive postseason MVP honors.

More than that, he was a joy to coach and his teammates loved him.

It was one gamble that paid off. Yes, it was the minor leagues -- the land of second chances. . He was genuinely sorry for what he'd done and realized the seriousness of it.

A key to Charles' success, and one reason we agreed to bring him on with us in Florida, was that he's a highly-competitive guy. I've found that players with a strong competitive nature can bounce back more easily than guys who lack that internal drive.

[Here's a January 1995 story about Charles from the San Francisco Chronicle. Here's another from December 1995 that ran in the NY Daily News.]