Friday, November 03, 2006

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

As a kid I daydreamed about being the next Larry Bird / Magic Johnson -- the court vision and savvy of the former with the athleticism of the latter. (And don't complain about the white = smart, black = athletic stereotype. Magic was one of the ten basketball-smartest guys ever, but teens starved for attention have the most grandiose visions and nothing but the absolute best will do.) I loved playing, but I stunk and never rose above the level of mediocre church-league player. On defense I kept my ass between my guy and the rim, switched and helped and didn't let anyone through the paint without a nudge, but when we had the ball I had no idea where to go and certainly no idea what to do when I got the ball. If I practiced jump shots half the time I spent daydreaming I might have scored occasionally. The idea of conditioning never really occurred to me.

Our coach was a young guy who loved the game and never stopped noticing that I ran hard and encouraging me to keep going. We were in some tournament game against a better team and were down eight or so with six or seven minutes to play. I had hardly played, but without even looking at me he said "Impelled, get in, play the point of the zone". We had this defense where one guy stands 20-25 feet in front of the basket and tries to force the man bringing up the ball to the left or the right sideline; when they get there, a teammate comes from behind and the two defenders leave the ballhandler trapped on three sides. Of course the guard throws cross-court over the top defender who then runs to do the same thing to the opponent who just got the ball. That "zone point" role is a great job hustler eager do _something_, and if the kid is rested and amped up by a close game . . . . For four minutes their offense completely broke down -- we generated three or four turnovers and they just could not get the ball through the top of our defense. At one point I got a clean steal and an open path to their basket, but traveled trying to get the ball under control. We lost, but somehow coach used his most awkward player to get his team almost over the top.

In college I played a lot of ultimate with some really good players, and slowly learned about creating and using space in a game. I slowly learned that with enough practice of some simple fundamentals you can do a lot of useful stuff. Once you've got a basic idea of how to score -- knowing that you need an open path for a pass or a drive or an open spot for a shot -- you can start thinking chess-like about the moves you need to get _that_ (there's a gap; I'll pass to my mate, drive right to pull my defender off the line to the gap and then shoot in there, get the ball back and go hard to the layup before the next guy can switch over), and over time you start to see and feel how to put this stuff together. If you are in condition to keep trying to keep trying stuff and have enough ball-handling to do some simple things, you can actually accomplish something.

I've dabbled a bit with soccer, and by accident really found myself in a league game last night on a really bad team. My teammate put the ball across the goal as I sprinted into a gap, I got to it a quarter-step late for a real drive but knew to just put it on goal and boom, our only goal of the night.

Driving home I wasn't fretting about about this stupid election or our bills or wishing I was the next Bill Russell; I was thinking about the simple satisfaction of the click-click-click of meaningless goal in an already forgotten game.


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