Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Best Play Ever


During my tenure as a student trainer at Montana State University, I picked up some extra internship hours by working summer basketball camps. John was, by at least a foot, the smallest player out of the two or three hundred sixth through twelfth graders. It took every muscle in his spindly little body to launch the ball into the basket from the free throw line. But he kept trying.

Every morning and afternoon for five straight days in July, the campers drilled. Shooting, dribbling, footwork, defense--for eight long hours the coaches pounded fundamental skills into kids. And they kept a special eye on John. In the drills, they could make sure that the littlest camper got a his fair share of shots. Evenings, though, were different. Each of the players was assigned to a team for the week, the teams divided into leagues based on age.

After dinner, the teams played a round robin tournament. Grade school teams were coached by current members of the MSU Bobcat basketball team. As luck would have it, John's coach was the tallest guy on the team, seven foot two inch Tryg. In the huddle, John's head barely reached Tryg's waist. The games were competitive, with awards going to the members of the tournament champion team.

The coaches made sure everyone got an equal chance to play. They exhorted their players to spread their passes amongst their teammates. But on the final day, poor John had yet to even take a shot. Every time he touched the ball, a much bigger player smothered him before he could move.

 I could sympathize, having endured the same treatment from my annoyingly large little brother for years. All day, every day, I lurked on the sidelines like a bored vulture, waiting for a body to fall and not get up again so I could hustle out and inflict my newly acquired skills on him. Which was how I happened to be sitting on the bench when Tryg dreamed up The Play.

 The fourth quarter was underway and one team held an insurmountable lead (danged if I remember which team, though). John was still pouring his all into the game, but some of the spark had gone out of his eyes. If only he could make one basket...

Tryg called a time out and told his team to take a seat on the bench. Then he gestured the other coach, a point guard named Ray, to meet him at the scorer's table. They huddled together, Tryg sketching out his idea with his hands as he talked. Ray nodded his agreement. He went back to his team, called them together, and drew out a new play on the clipboard. Players glanced toward Tryg's bench, nodding. On Tryg's end, John was at the center of the huddle, eyes wide, studying the clipboard with great intensity. 

The referee blew the whistle. Both teams took the floor. The game proceeded without incident for a few trips up and down. Then Tryg called The Play. Getting the signal, Ray chimed in with a special defensive play of his own.

 John, mouth set in a determined line, cut across the key. The forward set a pick for him. John popped free at the three point line. The point guard passed him the ball, then set a second pick. The defense played their role perfectly, stepping back just enough to allow John to drive the lane and lay the ball up. If you weren't watching closely, you would never have guessed that they'd been told to let him score.

 Both teams erupted in cheers when the ball dropped through the hoop. John's grin lit up the gym. His feet barely touched the ground as he sprinted to the other end to take up his defensive position. At the next dead ball he trotted over to exchange a low-to-high five with Tryg.

 "That's an awesome play, coach," he declared. "I think we should run it again."



Rachael said...

Awww that's sweet :)

Being Beth said...

Hooray for those coaches. I bet they've touched many lives over the years. It's not just about wining tournaments, it's about the lives you touch, the people you encourage and support that makes a difference. I'm glad you shared this heartwarming story.

Unknown said...

The writing! The writing, the writing is so.... good. So clean. What a read. Thanks!

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Thank you, Suzanne. It's always a treat to get a compliment on your technique.