The early morning practices, arriving in the dark. Shooting threes in the gym until my fingers bled. The pain and glory of my Junior High basketball career has finally brought me to this point, this pinnacle of my life in basketball.
I’m having a BLAST cheering on the Creighton Bluejays Basketball team from the comfort of my couch this season!!
Oh, and I never shot threes until my fingers bled. That was a complete writer’s embellishment for dramatic effect. I did shoot threes after practice, but unless I had a paper cut from all the extra credit homework I liked to do, there was no blood involved.
My basketball career started in elementary school in the city rec league.
I continued to play. My dad put a hoop in my backyard. I had a decent shot when no one was guarding me. Not bad from the three-point line. My height topped out at 5-foot-5. I hated running. I wasn’t too thrilled with how much jostling around was required under the basket. The plays were getting more complicated. Did I mention I hated running? I think you can see where my career was heading.
My final stats for the 14 game Ninth Grade season:
(Yes, I still have stats sheets from my Ninth Grade Basketball season.)
15 of 38 Field Goals
1 for 3 Free Throws
(Yes, I only had 3 Free Throw attempts all season. Maybe I was too quick for them to catch me to get fouled? Um. Unlikely.)
(I’m guessing roughly 31 of those must have just bounced off the rim and sailed back to wherever I was likely floating around the perimeter, because, as clearly illustrated by this next stat, I didn’t like to get into the fray.)
Personal Fouls Committed: 3
(For the whole season. I’m polite even in basketball. That number was the lowest of all the starters on the team. To give you a scale, the girl with the most fouls committed that season had 47. She was tall. And not afraid to get into the fray.)
On the back of the stats sheet is my coach’s handwritten note: “I hope you decide to play next year because you have a very good shot and knowledge of the game!” Sorry, coach. I did not play the next year. Ninth grade was the end of my basketball career.
I did have knowledge of the game. He was right. And I was book-smart and got excellent grades, but what people don’t always realize, what I didn’t realize at the time was, that doesn’t always translate into having a great mental game as a player.
At the time it was frustrating and stressful, because I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get myself to the right spot at the right time, or remember who I was supposed to be guarding when I got to the other end of the court. I couldn’t think three scenarios ahead. I was successful in so many aspects of life, but the mental game of sports, the strategy, the plays, never came naturally to me. I had to think. A lot. And when things are moving at game speed, you don’t have time to think a lot. You have to react.
I realize now as a perfectionist and a people pleasing kid, I didn’t want to make a mistake, so I didn’t want to make a move until I knew it was the right one. The game moved too fast for me. My brain does not process that fast. It likes to take in a lot of data and analyze the heck out of it before producing any output. Now that I understand how my brain works, I look at that processing speed as a strength. It’s a skill that helps me in all sorts of ways, but playing fast paced sports is not one of them.
Also on the back of my stats sheet is my handwritten “Analysis of My Season” (i.e. What my coach had been telling me to do all year, but I hadn’t done). I had written, “I don’t look for my shot enough.” (i.e. I passed the ball a lot. Even when I was supposed to be the one shooting.) Hey, so I like to be supportive, okay? I am a TEAM player. I like to see other people succeed. Is that so wrong?
Now let’s look at how I was rated. Hustle: Good, Attitude: Excellent, Team Play: Excellent (See I told you. There is no “I” in “Team”, my friend.), Sportsmanship: Excellent, Leadership: Average, Abilities: Average.
Hmm. Abilities: Average.
Wait…Good Knowledge of the Game? Good Hustle? Excellent Team Play? Excellent Attitude? Excellent Sportsmanship? Supportive?
I wasn’t meant to be a basketball PLAYER! I was meant to be a basketball FAN!!
I was meant to will players into making shots by simply clenching my fists and repeating silent words of encouragement in my mind.
I was meant to shout at the guy with the ball that his teammate is WIDE OPEN, in case he can’t see that himself.
I was meant to question foul calls made by a referee who was two feet from the play, though I have no clear line of sight from my living room.
I was meant to spur teams to victory by wearing my lucky team color socks and never sitting on the unlucky end of the couch.
I was meant to have an unfailing belief that the team I’m cheering for has every chance at victory until that clock drains down to 0.0 seconds.
I was meant to jump out of my seat whooping and hollering with excitement when my team makes a great play.
And by “my team” I mean a group of hard-working people who train and sweat on a daily basis to put on a show for me while I sit on my couch eating pizza and ice cream. Athletes who don’t even know I (individually) exist, but appreciate my (as a part of the collective fandom) enthusiasm.
I have found “my team” and they are the Creighton Bluejays!
I caught their last game of the season last year and realized what I had been missing. I was determined when this season started I was going to be part of the fun. And, wow, has it been fun!
I upgraded my cable package so I could watch the games on tv. I bought plenty of team gear. I spread the word about how much I love the team. I always try to stay positive when things aren’t going our way and to be respectful of the opposing teams. I did get an “Excellent” in Sportsmanship, after all.
My dad has Creighton Basketball season tickets and I was lucky enough to attend two home games this year. Once with him and his fellow season ticket holding friends. And once, when he and his wife were out of town, they generously gave me their tickets. I got to see a great game that night with my friend, a Creighton alum, who is an even bigger fan than I am. Those games were blast to attend!
So, twenty-three years after I last stepped on my Jr High court, my basketball skills are finally being used to their full capacity. I can finally enjoy the game of basketball without all the pressure.
When the commentators throw out terms like a “box and one” or “triangle and two”. I know those shapes and numbers add up to five players, which is the number of guys on the court, but beyond that I have no recollection of what those words mean, nor do I need to in order to enjoy the game.
All I have to do is keep my eye on the ball and jump out of my seat yelling, “WRAGGE!!!” when Ethan Wragge hits a three from practically half court, clap my hands, saying “great hustle!” when Jahenns Manigat scrambles and dives for a loose ball, pump my fist, shouting, “NIIIICE PASS!” when Grant Gibbs threads the ball to a teammate for another great assist, and drop my jaw in awe when Doug McDermott makes yet another seemingly impossible shot happen from out of nowhere.
I will miss this class of seniors next year, but I will continue to be a dedicated Creighton Bluejays fan.
Tonight “my team” is playing for the Big East Conference Championship and I will be right there with them, playing my role, cheering wholeheartedly from my couch.
Lucky socks and all!