My daughter just turned thirteen in December. She is 5 feet, 7 inches tall and is in the midst of her second year playing basketball. Her team is…
THE FIGHTING GNOMES!
You’d understand why this makes perfect sense if you were familiar with the school she attends, but that’s another story for another time.
I played basketball myself back in the day. I started playing in the sixth grade at the Clearfield Middle School under coach Joey C. I don’t know what it was, but we had an army of boys on the team – I’m talking at least 25 guys or something ridiculous like that. Needless to say, the range of actual playing skill varied wildly with that many kids. I was pretty much on the bottom rung of the basketball prowess ladder. When it came to actual games, I was lucky if I got to play maybe the last two minutes. Game after game I sat on the bench wondering if I’d get to play, then going in for a very unexciting couple of minutes when it was always clear which way the game was heading.
I don’t recall being particularly bothered by this state of affairs, although perhaps I should have been. I was content to observe the masterful point guard skills of Scott Rodi, or the bizarre shooting style of Jeff Bertram. He would literally bring the ball all the way behind his head with both hands and then let it rip, flinging the ball up over his head towards the basket and miraculously hitting three-pointers (except in middle school they still only counted for two points) with truly disturbing consistency.
Sixth grade went by and I never scored a point. I’m not sure why I decided to be on the team again in seventh grade, but there I was with the rest of the army, keeping that bench nice and toasty warm. This season also went by without me ever scoring a single point, still playing just the last couple minutes of a game here and there. Eighth grade was an exact repeat of this process, and then it was off to high school.
You might think, in making the transition to high school, I would have come to my senses and realized basketball was obviously not the sport for me, but I am a creature of habit. When basketball season rolled around my freshman year, the same army of guys came out for the team. But now there was a new coach to deal with: Mr. Young. He wanted his basketball team to be in good physical condition, and to him that meant lots of running. The running drill of choice in basketball practice was the dreaded suicide. Starting at the baseline on one end of the court, you sprint to the foul line, bend down and touch it with your hand, then sprint back to baseline, then out to touch the half-court line and back, then out to the far foul line and back, and finally all the way to other side’s baseline and back – and that is one suicide.
Besides using suicides for general conditioning, they were also wielded as a stick and doled out as punishment if Coach Young thought the team was slacking and not putting in 100% effort. We ran a LOT of suicides. In fact, there were some practices where that was all we did, especially if we were caught horsing around. The running didn’t bother me at all. I was becoming something of track star in the running department, so I could do the running all day. Not so with most of the other guys. They hated it. One by one guys started quitting the team.
A few weeks into the practices there were only seven of us left – and that’s when I had my “Ah-hah” moment. You need five players on the court for a team. That meant there were only two of us available to be substitutes when another player needed a break – me and this other kid everybody inexplicably called Helter Skelter. I was virtually guaranteed to get a healthy dose of playing time in every single game! This was it – this was going to be my season.
I did get a lot of game time. Unfortunately, my actual basketball skills really hadn’t improved much. The one thing I had going for me, however, was my physical build. I was 6’2” and only weighed 135 pounds. Yes, I was painfully thin. What this meant out on the basketball court was that all I really had to do was kind of fling my body and its skinny limbs around and a referee would inevitably assume I must have been fouled, so I did get plenty of chances to score at the free-throw line. But I missed more than I made. Total scoring that year by me: 13 points.
I spent four years playing basketball and I scored a grand total of 13 points. I finally decided to retire after my crowning season and focus on running track.