Well, in the comments section DC was getting all nostalgic about our middle school basketball team, and I thought, you know what? Those were some pretty classic times. Middle school proved to be the culmination of my basketball career, probably because it was at that point that playing games became a lot less fun than just shooting around. We just got our stuff handed to us over and over again. I had several years of losing baseball left in my stomach, but I’d had enough of basketball. Want to play a quick game of knockout? I’m in, but anything organized, I think I’ll catch you later. Probably a shame, seeing as I was a pure, pure shooter of the basketball. I don’t want to say I was a jump shooter, because I can’t jump, but I was a great “shuffle shooter.” Maybe the best. RAIN! Anyway, some hilarity from youth basketball…
The “Oh My God” Game.
This is the game that DC mentioned in the comments. We were playing a team that had far more skill than we did. Keep in mind, we didn’t run an offense of any kind. Our best play was, dribble across half-court, face the sideline, and pick up your dribble. Some teams gave us more trouble than others, though, and that was especially true of teams with any kind of athleticism. We faced one squad with a prematurely developed monster named “Ricardo.” He was so giant, the sides of his jersey were cut so it fit him. Now, Ricardo today is probably still 6′ tall, but at 12 or 13 that’s a large human. We were fascinated. I was fascinated on the bench. The critical moment occurred when our beloved point guard charged in on a fast-break. He was all alone. He went up for a textbook, to form, lay-up. Out of nowhere Ricardo volleyball spiked it off the backboard. The ball bounced to half court. I stood up on the bench and screamed, “Oh my GOD!” The coach gave me a stern look, and I didn’t play the rest of the day.
The You Want to Play, or Do You Want to Win Game?
An all-time coaching classic. I want to say our record in 8th grade was somewhere around 4-10. This number of games was plenty for us, believe me. Now, even on our team which was not skilled in any way, there were certain players that were better than others. Everyday at practice the 15 people on the squad were broken down into sides. There was the #1s, the #2s and the “speed team.” Now, I don’t know what it was about the term “third-string” that made it inappropriate, but I guess being one of the 15 best basketball players in one of the least talented classes of all-time wasn’t reassuring enough for some people. The coach came up with the “speed team” notion as a way to comfort the 3rd stringers, telling them among other things, they were defensive specialists. We had no specialists. So, the last game of the year, we are winning or close at the half, and our coach brings us in for the speech. He looks at the “speed team” and says, “You guys want to play, or you want to win?” They chose play. I think we lost. How’s that for motivation from a head coach?
SHOOT IT! And, Other Fiascos.
One of the underrated parts of middle school basketball was that we had to sit through the girls games on the road. Now if we were bad, our girls team was…well, they were special. I don’t know how often they won or lost, but 8th grade girls basketball can be something else to watch. 8-6 finals, things of that nature, aren’t out of the question. To add to this intrigue, the girls had one of the oddest coaches of all-time. A man immersed in Wooden era fundamentals, and completely ill-equipped to coach our young ladies. On one occasion he wouldn’t let them out of a time out, and the referee allowed the other team to inbound the ball for a free lay-up. When the girls actually broke free of his iron fist, they were quite impressionable. In fact, one girl on the team had less conscience than any shooter I’ve ever seen. She also never made anything. That didn’t stop some of my teammates from screaming, “SHOOT!” every time she darted across half-court. And you know what? Most of the time she let it fly. Watch your teeth on the rebounds.
Three’s. Not 2’s. The End.
I will say that 8th grade basketball practice was a good time. We did nothing but run 3 on 2 drills and jack up 3-pointers. This was not effective for a number of reasons, most notably, we didn’t have a fast-break all year. But, all that gunning in practice elevated some of us to the status of 3-point shooters. In middle school if you made a “3” it was almost like dunking. At least in our sheltered suburban area, no one could even sniff a dunk, so if you drained one from downtown…look out. The 3-pointer was like a secret weapon. We were only allowed to bring it out during special occasions, or in times of desperation. Toward the end of the season we were playing a team with another man-giant, this one far less athletic than the aforementioned Ricardo, but much taller as well. I’m trying to think of how tall that could have been when we were 12, but he was well over 6-feet. He didn’t move that well, but he was a shot-blocking presence. Somehow we managed to stay in the game, and in the 4th quarter, our coach told me and a couple of the other guys to start looking for 3’s.
So, on one of our following possessions, I found myself relatively open at the top of the key. I got a pass, looked toward the rim, and saw the giant pituitary mountain coming toward me. I threw an up-fake, dribbled around him to the elbow, and made a shot. It was and remained the only “move” of entire basketball career. Needless to say, I was pretty pleased with myself. Who can’t get their own shot? What? RAY ALLEN! Seconds later, the coach grabbed someone off the bench and sent them in for me. On my way to my favorite seat he said to me, “I said 3’s. Not 2’s.” And, as they say, there it is.
Feel free to share your own tales of Middle School Heroism.