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Don Mahler: The Snow is Gone, but Winter Sports Linger

Here it is, the middle of July, and we’re still talking winter sports.

And I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.

This weekend brings the reborn Twin State Basketball Classic. After a three-years hiatus, the Classic is trying to breathe new life into the summer tip-off between Vermont and New Hampshire senior all-stars.

We applaud the initiative, but have to question some of the decisions.

Like, do you really think basketball can work in July? It really hasn’t had much of a positive track record of late. First, the Alhambra Classic went under, and then the Rotary Classic went by the wayside — both because of lack of financial and fan support.

People just aren’t into hoops in the heat. Outside of parents (of chosen stars) and some loyal coaches and the handful of certifiable hoop junkies in the region, who’s going to come to the game?

Plus, playing the game outside Burlington — at Essex High School — really doesn’t help with crowd support, especially when most of the smaller schools in the southern part of the state are not represented on the Vermont roster and many New Hampshire people still need a GPS to find northern Vermont.

One veteran Vermont coach I talked to wondered why the game couldn’t be played around the same time as the annual Vermont North-South game in Windsor, which is played right after the end of the playoff season. It seems to be a natural — the kids are on their game, and the sport is still in season. And the Vermont teams are chosen off the North-South competitions. Everybody is still in basketball mode, and if the game could find a home somewhere in the middle of the state — how about Dartmouth? — this could find a flourishing following.

The North-South game draws maybe twice as many fans as the former summer all-star hoop games did. Like a good jump shot, it’s all about timing. A hot drive to a hot gym is just not a really hot idea.

Play the game when there’s still snow on the ground and a nip in the air. That’s where it belongs. Here’s an idea: why not add a one-night sleepover component, and get a sponsor to cover the cost? Maybe add a skills competition — 3-point shooting, foul shooting, even dunking on Friday night.

Give those all-stars a game experience they will remember.

Speaking of summer all-star games this weekend, what’s up with the Make-A-Wish Hockey Classic?

I just took a look at the girls roster and the numbers were surprising. Of the 20 girls on the Green Mountain roster, eight are from prep school teams. For New Hampshire’s team, four of the 18 players were preps. That means that more than 30 percent of the players in the girls’ Make-A-Wish game are from private programs.

When the girls’ half of the Make-a-Wish Classic started, New Hampshire still didn’t have a sanctioned public school league. In that case, it made sense to add players from prep schools to keep the rosters full. But why now, with 19 schools playing girls hockey in Vermont? Sixteen years after the girls started lacing up their all-star skates, why are there still such a large number of prep players in the game?

The boys hockey teams have no prep players. In fact, no other summer all-star game has prep players on the roster at all. Just girls hockey. This begs the question: Is there something wrong with the girls playing public school hockey in the Twin States?

Now, getting back to basketball, I believe Danny Ainge has just sold all you Celtic fans a piece of the Mystic Bridge — and no one seems to realize what is happening. So, please, let me enlighten you.
Ever since Ainge tapped Butler head coach Brad Stevens to run the Celtics following the departure of Doc Rivers, players, media reps, fans and Celtic officials have been gushing over the move. Ainge went so far as to publicly wave the six-year contract as proof of the organization’s commitment that he and Stevens are on the same page — a pair of take-no-prisoners guards who will lead the Celtics back to glory.
I’m telling you it’s all a front. The reason Ainge hired Stevens is so that he can fire him.

It’s perfect: a built-in scapegoat for a team going nowhere.
Getting a rookie NBA coach to hold together a struggling franchise is a great move on Ainge’s part. It takes all the pressure off to hire a top-notch coach. Tell me a name coach who’s going to come to Boston, knowing he’s going to be at best a .500 club for at least two years?
Not happening.

Stevens is a temp, just keeping the seat warm while the team picks up some top lottery and/or draft picks and makes a few free-agent signings to bring competitiveness and hope back to the parquet. Thanks for the memories and all your hard work; now go back to the kids table.

It is at that point that Ainge makes his real move. He brings Rick Carlisle back into the fold to return his old team to its former greatness. Carlisle’s Mavericks have aged no better than the Celts in these recent years, and he will be on Dallas owner Mark Cuban’s hit list.

But that’s exactly what Ainge was betting on. He had handicapped the coaching field before talking to Stevens and knew just how to play his cards.

Mark it on your calendar. A new coach and a new banner — all within the next five years.

Don Mahler can be reached at dmahler@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.