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After 20 years, my moment finally arrived

7 October 2010 No Comment

I am not prone to be melodramatic, except for when I endure a particularly painful sports defeat. But what I experienced last weekend is challenging to describe without being a little sensational.

This is a very condensed version of a lengthy tale, but that is the point of a blog post. If I decide to write a book, I’ll let you know the details. I grew up in love with playing basketball from as far back as I can remember. The fact that I was really good at it helped, but when you play for hours a day you are destined to adapt a talent and ability for the game. I recall not being able to sleep the night before our morning league games … in fifth and sixth grade. These were games played before school, and though my body kind of felt like it was in slow motion at 7am it was still a thrill.

My junior high years started off a bit sluggish as my shyness prevented me from asserting myself, but once I moved to mid-Missouri (Lake of the Ozarks) for 8th grade I was becoming more confident – not socially, but with basketball. I played a key role for Eldon’s team in 8th grade, and when my family moved to Versailles my freshman year, I was intent on being a visibly talented basketball player.

When you find yourself in a new school, and don’t know anyone, it is helpful to have something to define who you are. I wanted be the best basketball player in the school. I led the JV in scoring as a freshman, though it was only about 12 points per game. Just as I hit my peak early in my sophomore season, playing major minutes for the varsity team (a rarity for a sophomore), I began to get lost. I was scoring double digits for the varsity, making over 50 percent of my 3s and becoming popular at school – perhaps the worst thing to happen to me.

All of sudden, I noticed that girls liked me, older kids wanted me to hang out and I actually knew about parties. It may sound like an after-school TV special, but it was my reality. I made it through that sophomore season, but I did not get much better at basketball. I was not even a prominent varsity player by the end of that season. All I cared about was girls. Girls, girls, girls. That set the stage for a very bad summer.

I chased girls and partied … and got into a LOT of trouble. However, none of that trouble really stuck. I went into my junior year still intent on playing hoops, and diving into all of these other recreational activities. I started off really well, scoring lots of points, drilling 3s and staying on the team. After nine games, the team seemed headed for a special season behind a fine group of senior players, and a few quality juniors like myself.

But … I kept indulging in various, misdirected late-night activities. It caught up with me. Busted! Big time. The list of what I had done wrong is lengthy, and I did not play another game in high school after that ninth game of my junior season. I still supported the team, as it won the district championship. I hung out in the locker room after wins, and was a huge cheerleader from the stands.

But, I did not stay straight the summer between my junior and senior seasons. I ran afoul of the law, and was not allowed to play my senior season. Ouch.

For the past 20 years, I have had recurring dreams (nightmares) about playing that senior season, maybe averaging 20 points per game, being named all-conference and setting all of the 3-point shooting records at Versailles … getting college scholarships. And, I could have done those things. It’s hard to let go sometimes, but after 3 or 4 of these dream cycles a week, it gets to be a bit much. That’s like 4,500 dreams dedicated to this issue.

Last weekend, I achieved resolution. Finally. My family went to Versailles’ annual Apple Festival, and I had made plans with the vice principal (and my ex-JV head coach) to play basketball early in the morning before the day’s events began. I woke up very eager, and was in the gym by 830am. I’m rarely awake and in motion before 9 … but I just wanted to do this so badly.

The gym was quiet. No one else was there. I went into the locker room, and changed under the 1990 District Champions sign. The year I should have led us to a state title. The locker room was the same. I went out on the court, and just felt free. I stretched, ran a few sprints, and started to shoot. I felt good. Really good!

I define my shooting by 3-pointers. Eventually, I was going to attempt my first 3 in 20 years at Versailles. I realized, after about 10 minutes, that I was stalling, and was plenty warmed up. I stepped behind the 3-point line and let one loose. Oh, no! It felt short. And it was … except after hitting the front of the rim, the ball went straight up into the air and came down and swished through the hoop. I almost cried. Almost.

I proceeded to make every conceivable shot and just generally had a great time. I am 37 years old, so I was tired rather quickly. I walked around the halls of the high school, seeing many of the same teacher names I knew. Lots of class photos. I changed in the locker room, took a deep breath and prepared to depart. I shot – and made – one last 3 to just hear the sound of the ball swish through the hoop (which is loud in an empty gym) … and pounded the basketball on the floor, listening to the resulting sound reverberate for a few seconds as I walked out.

I felt great about the experience, and got into my car to head back to my mom’s house to shower and get ready for a very special family day. I started the car, turned the XM station to The Grateful Dead channel … and it was playing a brilliant live version of Touch of Grey. I felt stunned. I looked into the car mirror, taking very particular notice of the grey hair in my beard. Well, at this point … I did cry. A joyous cry.

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