Sunday, July 3, 2011

Still Ballin

"I got next," I said, strutting out onto the main courts at the local university rec center. My confidence was feigned, my strut probably overexaggerated, my tone surely too clipped and smarmy. I stepped out on the court between games, promptly airballed two long jump shots, and shook my head with a sneer, making it obvious to any viewer that those two shots were anomalies, somehow not worthy of a baller like myself.
My facade reversed itself this time, as I played nonchalant when I was really scoffing inside. This was in response to my new teammate telling me, with the confidence of a , that the guy I'd be guarding was "real quick, so be careful with him, make him shoot."
I thought to myself that I could handle him, that I'd always wanted to guard the quickest player on the other team, that I was a lockdown defender.
Was. Maybe. The haze of memory tells me that I was once a shutdown defender, the Deion Sanders of youth basketball. Gary Payton had nothing on me. Maybe.
The game was not bad, as I find myself writing about the first game in (insert time period here) _______ months. Again. It has been a few months since the students/faculty game, and I graced the court for the first time since, save for a few three minute bursts when practicing with my players.
The guy I guarded was very quick, did have a good handle. By my count, he got to the basket three times; the first was helped by me getting screened, I told myself. The second was a fast break where he got me on my heels, then took it right by me, using his right hand only. The third time was the most frustrating, as I had him pigeonholed as a right-hand only dribbler, but he crossed me over and left me in his wake on his way to the hoop for a layup.
There may not be anything more humiliating in basketball than getting left behind in an isolated situation, going mano a mano and losing.
My team won easily, 11-6, with me making the game-clincher, a running layup off a great pass. I made three baskets-the game-clincher, a putback off a teammate's missed shot, and a pull-up jumper from the right elbow.
This pull-up was the shot that I'll remember most, as it was right after I'd gotten abused by the man I was guarding, leading to his easy layup. I called for the ball, settled into my favorite move, a la former NBA great Kevin Johnson. This was a move I practiced to no end as a young player, in which I go between my legs from right hand to left hand, delay for a split second to freeze the defender, and then rapidly continue to my left. The move was executed perfectly, giving me the step on my defender (Payback, baby! This is Dominique and Larry Bird in the '86 playoffs!). A defender stepped out to cut off my route to the hoop, so I pulled up for the jumper...all net!
My right hand shot up in a Tiger Woods/Michael Jordan fist pump. Did I possibly get a bit of a screen that allowed me to leave my defender in my dust? Maybe...
Rewind to a week ago. My high school team won by two points, the game saved by my center, who blocked a possible game-tying layup at the buzzer. As he manaically jumped up and down in place, I said to him, quietly, "Act like you've been there before."
Fist pumping like Michael Jordan and Snooki's lovechild? Maybe I oughta take my own advice...

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