The International Writers Magazine: Hoop Dreams
and Varsity Basketball. (A Parents Primer)
kid made the Varsity Basketball team this year. Hes a freshman.
I was proud. The proud Father. Hed been playing Basketball
at school since he was in the fourth grade.
little guys, it used to be almost comical to watch. He, however,
took it seriously. He went to the gym to show his stuff, a tall-ish
but skinny kid trying out against bigger, older kids. Varsity,
youre either in or youre not.
story go that even Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity team? A lot
of kids were turned back at the gate. He never thought theyd call
his name. When they did he almost didnt respond. He didnt
expect it, but he stepped out of the crowd of hopefuls and took his
place in line. I about fainted. Varsity. He was happy, I was proud.
Neither one of us realized what was in store.
Ya wanna shoot some hoop? He was this years rookie. Fresh, they
called him. Short for Freshman. Short for Fresh Meat. "Hey Fresh,
gather up those balls." "Hey, Fresh, bring those water bottles
over here." "Cmon Fresh, keep up. This aint eighth
grade basketball no more. This be the real world now. This be where
the big boys play. Cmon Fresh!" The coachs face inches
away, yelling like a drill sergeant at boot camp. "Cmon Fresh,
you in my world now, keep up or get outa my house." My son did
push ups, sit ups, he ran suicides. He jumped up and down, and ran and
ran and ran and ran. "Get movin Fresh, you aint playing
no B-ball on my team if you cant run any faster than that."
This was an every day thing. Every. Single. Day. Seven days a week,
three hour practice sessions. Hed be so tired when he got home
he could barely make it through his homework before he crashed off to
sleep. Twice a week he had six AM practice. He ran and ran. Sometimes
he had to face the gym wall and jump up and down, arms in the air, a
hundred, two hundred times. Try it sometime. Wall jumps, they call em.
Twice he threw up. They kept a garbage can in the middle of the gym
floor in case anyone felt sick. What made me feel better about it was
that he wasnt the only one puking. But worse than the puking itself
was that he, the Fresh, had to empty the can and hose it out. Fun.
Playing a team sport, especially on a Varsity team, where the team goes
out, competes on behalf of and represents the school, is, to say the
very least, a commitment. You better really like basketball. For the
first three weeks of daily, three-hour practices, he hardly touched
a ball other than gathering them all up and putting them away, the last
to leave the gym. "Cmon Fresh, hurry it up. Move it!"
He was on the verge of tears a few times. He was on the verge of saying,
"the hell with this." A couple other kids did. They turned
in their jerseys and walked. I gave him that fatherly speech, you may
know the one I mean, about commitment, honor, loyalty, stepping up and
being a man. But step up he did. I actually think he proved himself
tougher than me. One of the other fathers said to me that varsity weeds
out those kids who "really wanna play the game from those who just
think they do."
Game night. Season opener. The starting line-up was mostly seniors,
one junior. The Fresh was on the bench. He just knew hed sit there
the whole game, a scrub. He was kinda pissed. The game was well into
the fourth quarter and they were losing. I guess the coach figured what
the hell. "Hey Fresh, get in there. Cmon. Go, go, go!"
This skinny, rubber-bandy kid ambled out onto the court, the hardwood,
ran around, set a screen or two and no one paid any attention to him.
Too new, too skinny to care about. Five seconds to go. Down by three.
Someone shoots and one of our guys gets the rebound. He looks around
frantically. No one open except the Fresh hangin back behind the
three point arch, musta figured, what the hell and tossed him
the rock. He set his feet, looked at the hole, did a kind of arm cock
movement and everyone stopped. Time stopped. My heart didnt, however,
it was pounding in my chest like a bazooka. He brings the ball up and
sends it off in a rainbow arch. It was beautiful. The shot clock was
clicking down, one second left. The whole place knew that ball was goin
in from the moment he let it fly. The clock hit zero a millisecond after
the ball swished through. The net barely moved. Nothin but string
He sat on the bench through most of the overtime play. They all pat
him on the back a few times but it was time for the seniors to take
over again. Lets win this thing. It was close. Too close. Five
seconds to go. Down by two and one of our guys gets the rebound. Coach
calls a twenty second time out. He wants to win this first game of the
season. "Hey Fresh, think you can do it again?" He shrugs
his shoulders but ambles out, seeming cool as a cucumber, but scared
and the opposing team knew it. No way could that punk do it again. Inbound
the ball and he hangs back behind the arch again, two seconds, no one
is looking at him. No one but our Point guard and he throws him the
ball. Time stopped twice that night. Down by two, two seconds left and,
no way could that punk do it again. But he does. A three-ball from downtown.
Nothin but net. The place exploded. The coach about shit his pants.
The opposing coach probably did. It was the best thing Ive seen
in my life. Less than one minute of actual playing time and he not only
tied it up to go into OT, he shot the game winner. One of the other
guys, the Center, came up to me and told me that my son was his new
hero. The coach came up to me and told me "Hes got range.
Hes a shooter." The proud Dad. My kid was on top of the world.
The next day he threw up after running suicides at practice. "Cmon
Fresh. Keep up. This is my house. This aint elementary school.
Basketball nowadays is just as important to these kids as Rock and Roll
music was to me when I was their age. They know the players names, their
stats, they pay attention to what shoe, known as kicks, a player is
wearing the way I paid attention to what guitar Eric Clapton was playing.
They penetrate. Theres double doubles, and triple doubles and
triple teams and windmill dunks. Theyve got their own jargon;
Throw it down. Attack the rack. Crash the boards. Give and go. Pick
and roll. If a player is good they say "He got hops", or "He
got game." Parents, from the stands, yell, "Box out! Hands
up!" Coaches, yelling from the sidelines, "Post up!"
Theres the Full court press, the Zone defense. The Point Guard,
otherwise known as the Floor general, drives the lane or threads the
needle. He can Pump Fake and if hes good at it, hes an Ankle
Breaker. The basket itself is known as the Hole, the Bucket, the Rack.
Theres the Turn Around Jumper, or Turn Around J, the Cross Over,
the Fade Away. The bank shot is to Kiss it off the Glass. Theres
the Lay up, the Finger roll, the Sky hook, the Tear drop.
But in between all of that is practice. They run. They do push ups and
sit ups. They run some more. They run plays and shoot free throws over
and over and over. When one of the guys misses a free throw, they run
another suicide. Let me tell you about suicides; They line up at one
end of the court, sprint to the free throw line, drop and do ten push
ups, leap back to their feet and sprint back to the starting line. Then,
without hesitation, they sprint to the three point line, drop and do
fifteen sit ups, and back to the starting line. Then sprint to the half
court line, drop and do twenty more push ups and back to the starting
line. They do this again at the three point line and free throw line
and base line at the far end of the court, alternating push ups and
sit ups each time in increasing sets of five, then they sprint back
to the start and do a hundred wall jumps. The last man in has to do
another one by himself while the others line up to shoot free throws
again and whenever a guy misses, they all have to run another suicide.
No wonder they throw up. Oh, by the way, those six AM practices; for
every minute theyre late, they owe the coach another suicide.
Dont get stuck at any red lights.
Shooting Guard, Point Guard, Small Forward, Power Forward, Center. No
one wants to be a bench player. This years Fresh, was a bench
player. But he showed that, indeed, he had range. He showed that well
into the fourth quarter of a game with bigger, stronger seniors pushing
him around, he could still keep his cool, keep up and out run them (thanks
to all those suicides) and step back across the arch, make his little
arm cock movement, and drain it from downtown. He became the teams
outside shooter. He was like Steve Kerr of the Chicago Bulls. He was
a starting player for about half of the seasons games. He was
named Player of the Game five times, outscoring all of his teammates.
The team made it to the State Playoffs for the first time in the schools
history and the Fresh was the high scorer. They didnt come home
with a championship but they did return as heroes and the Fresh earned
the coachs award for Most Outstanding Underclassman. When the
coach announced his name he said "My first impression of this next
young man was that he was just a skinny kid. But he quickly showed that
he was up to it. He is the future of this team." A couple of the
other fathers, ones whose kids, seniors, werent walking up to
the podium to receive an award, were elbowing me. The proud Dad. I was
on the verge of tears.
It always happens, at the end of the season, especially if it was even
slightly successful, everyone looks back on all the running, the sweating,
the suicides, the yelling and screaming and threatening, as though it
were all worth it. They love the coach. But when they were hauling their
exhausted butts up and down the length of the court running those suicides,
they hated him. That is part of sports and they accept it. The coaches
accept it. The parents have learned to accept it.
Dribble, fast break, slam it, jam it. The paint, the key, the back door.
Field goal. Scrimmage.
My kid made the varsity basketball team this year. He did alright. Next
year he wont be anyones fresh meat anymore and hell
taunt and trash talk the new rookies. That also is part of sports. Hell
still run suicides and sweat and puke and miss a shot and force his
teammates to run another. The coaches want these kids to get to the
point where they just do it. Dont think about it. Just do it.
Shoot the ball and know that it will go in. Shoot the ball and know
that it will fall through. Sometimes a player will shoot the ball, turn
around to run back and play defense before the ball even goes through
the hoop. He knows its in. Its a Zen thing. My son played
Shooting Guard. He will probably continue in that position next year.
When the Point Guard throws him the rock, he should catch it, pull up
and let it fly. No hesitation. That takes skill. That takes practice
and more practice and more practice. That takes running suicides and
working with a ball handling coach and a physical trainer during the
summer. That takes every day practice, six AM practices, and more. It
A high school basketball game is a real happening. This is where the
guys all get to strut their stuff. Their compatriots are watching. Their
enemies are watching. Young girls in low cut jeans, all belly buttons
and skinny legs, are watching. Younger kids, who want to be just like
them, are watching. Its a happening. They wear their jerseys with
pride, like a Marine in his Dress Blues. They wear arm bands, wrist
bands, leg bands, head bands. They wish they were old enough to wear
tattoos. They swagger. They walk around like peacocks. They all, every
one of them, cop an attitude. They dont smile. They scowl. They
all look angry. Theyre going into battle. They avoid us parents.
Oh, they may call to us to get them a drink but even then its
like "Eh. Get me a Gatorade." So obediently we go out into
the hall and put a dollar in the machine and press the appropriate button.
But for Gods sake, dont walk out onto the gym floor to hand
it to him. Its way cooler if you throw it to him so he can casually
catch it one handed and tip his head ever so slightly as thanks, then,
scowl, its back to the boys, the brethren.
Brothers in arms.
Its a battlefield out on the hardwood. Its combat. These
kids play with intensity and determination. They walk out onto the court,
sizing up the enemy team, like a matador walking out onto the sand,
sizing up the bull. The pass their eyes over each other, up and down,
smirking, as if to imply that the other teams jerseys arent
cool. Theyre telling each other, silently, that not only do they
plan on destroying them, but they look goofy too. This is the first
volley, the mental games. Its funny to watch. Theyre kids,
after all, fifteen years old. But when the whistle is blown and the
jump ball is secured, they charge into one another like the Union and
Confederate troops charging into one another on the fields of Gettysburg.
I honestly believe that these kids play harder than the big boys in
the NBA. I really do. Its scary. I wouldnt want to be down
there in the midst of that fracas. Its difficult to watch sometimes.
Thats my boy down there being pushed around, being shoved, and
bumped and slapped and knocked to the floor. Oh, that bugs me. When
a bigger senior knocks him down and coldly walks away, leaving him laying
there grimacing in pain as he grabs for his knee. Im a Dad. I
want to leap down there and knock that kid on his
..but wait; its
only a game after all. Isnt it? One of his comrades will lend
him a hand and pull him to his feet. Hell dust himself off and
gamely walk back out into the fray. There are girls watching. Cant
be a wimp.
Its a happening. Its war. But its fun. Its a
performance. These kids are on a stage just like the ones who play piano
in school recitals. Varsity basketball games are crowded and boisterous,
the people in the stands yelling and cheering and booing. Its
an exhibition, an engagement. When your kid has the ball, all eyes are
on him. He has to perform. The act doesnt end until you get your
kid home. It usually doesnt even end then. Even if they lose the
game, they act like, hey, big deal, we coulda won that one, if
that ref hadnt given us all those bad calls. Its all his
fault, the ref. Im not sure how I feel about the ref. I hate him
and feel sorry for him at the same time. The poor ref. Now, theres
a thankless job. No matter what call he makes someones going to
yell at him. "Aw, Cmon ref, wheres the foul?"
Wait a minute. Did I just say, poor ref? This is the guy who has made
bad calls against my son, too. I take it back.Personal foul. Team foul.
Loose ball foul. Technical foul. Flagrant foul. There are all kinds
of fouls. Some never even called. Defensive, offensive, traveling, charging,
over-under. Goal tending. Reaching. It goes on. Penalty.
My kid made the varsity basketball team this year. Youngest varsity
player in the history of his school. They made the State tournament
for the first time in the schools history. It wasnt all
him. It was a team effort. It was hard work. Hard work for me? Well,
yeah, I had to drive him around and pick him up. But it was hard work
for him. For them. Truly hard work. But damn it was fun. Now that the
season is over Im not sure what Im going to do. There is
a big empty spot in my daily schedule. He has Spring AAU League and
Summer League and this summer hes set to work out with a physical
trainer and ball handling coach. But. Well, I cant wait for next
I cant wait.
© Jeffrey Beyl
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