Monday, March 2, 2015

Catching Up With: Mike Kach, Part I

The subject, "Section 1's best dunker of all time" is certainly open to debate.

Yet any true fan of Section 1, one who has stood the test of time that is, understands all discussions are whittled down to Carmel's Mike Kach and White Plains' Ra'Shad James.

You may remember Kach levitating above helpless and awed defenders, finishing in ways only rarified athletes are capable of.

You may recall Kach pulling off extravagant displays of athleticism, handling the high-pressure moments en route to scoring 1,500+ career points during a four-year stay at Carmel High.

Knifing through double teams and gutting out a rash of injuries as a battle-tested senior, the high-rising Kach helped pilot Carmel to its last County Center berth in 2003 (their only other appearance was 1979).

 Kach's soaring dunks and loud finishes evoked gym-wide eruptions across Westchester County, as he cracked the Section's top scoring charts alongside Mount Vernon's Ben Gordon and JFK-Catholic's Donnie McGrath.

Football was his intial labor of love, but playing against top-level AAU competition with pitbull guard Torey Thomas ingrained  new competitive flames and special appeal in him.

Winning over the toughest crowds of adrenaline junkies, turning stern cold stares of defenders into respect and near-visible intimidation, Kach's focus changed.

The Ivy League grad is still teaching the game on the grass-roots level, but most importantly using basketball as a device to help deliver life lessons...

ZS: At UPENN, you were a rare breed as an Ivy League guy with a game predicated on athleticism. How did you find your identity and which were the most memorable aspects of your career?

MK: It was an adjustment at first definitely. A lot of these guys slowed the game down and made quicker guys like me get ahead of ourselves and make mistakes. I definitely had to get used to seeing my man at all times, because the first two month or two I was getting killed with the backdoors.

But in general, it is a huge leap from high school basketball to Division-I college basketball. Athletically I wasn't intimidated by anybody but cerebrally, there was an adjustment. Prior to my back injury (L4 L5 herniation), I fit right in, to the point where I started my first game as a freshman. I think I filled that niche that coach (Fran Dunphy)  was looking for at the time.

ZS: How'd you get the bounce? When did it become clear you could out-jump a significant percentage of the guys you were up against?

My leaping ability was something I was born with. I never worked out my legs prior to college, but I could just jump higher than other people. It came very natural to me. I realized I was on a different level than most people during those time where I began going to Five Star Camps and Eastern Invitational and things like that.

 It was probably around sophomore and junior year when it took off...

I would be at these camps watching other kids do dunks in between our station work. It would be kids fro the Bronx or New York City or top-notch prep schools throughout the country, so initially I was too intimidated to try and dunk with them. I mean there were some kids who were Top-50 in the country, I just didn't feel comfortable being a white kid trying to test these dudes. After the first day I was kind of thinking to myself, "that was kind of whack" and I truly believed that nobody could hang with me in that setting. 

That's not to say I was as good as some of these kids-- they were terrific players. Yet in a dunk contest type of setting that was my world.

The next morning, I came to the gym and people did the same thing. They started dunking and all that...So I called for the rock! 

You could hear people giggling and laughing and expecting me to put down some old man dunk and get no applause. And that to me is the best part--earning people's respect in about three seconds.

It's hard to describe the feeling...So I remember my first dunk and I remember it like it was yesterday.

 I threw it up, a self alley oop, and it was a bad toss. A little bit high. A little bit further from the hoop than I wanted. But it turned out to be perfect because I took off from a little bit deeper than I usually would, and threw down some reverse windmill that I sort of improvised and people just went crazy. And then the rest is history, I pretty much became known as the white kid with bounce, pretty much to this day.

It was always a way for me to earn respect in a setting with people who otherwise wouldn't give me a second look. To me, there has been no better feeling than to have people look at you like you're an alien, like you should not be able to do that. It's an adrenaline rush that I can't describe with words.