Many moons ago, on a planet far, far away…I used to play basketball for Rosecrans and Philo schools. It seems like forever ago and…it kind of was. At Philo we played in a gym called “The Pit” because, well…it WAS in a pit. The stands sat above the court and the wall was literally less than a foot away on each side (as you can see from the above photo). This was before the 3-point shot was used in high school basketball back in 1986-87. I remember a lot about those days. The practices. The games. The nut-hugger shorts (and I don’t remember being all that uncomfortable in them despite what my son might think). I remember a few of the big plays that happened (some good, some bad). I remember the guys on my team and how it felt like I would always be friends with them. I remember the after school dances, the cheerleaders, the fans. My Dad sitting in the stands, usually not cheering but just watching intently.
There were so many things to remember about those days. They truly were the best days of my high school career. I loved playing basketball and I loved playing for my school. Want to know what I DON’T remember?
Any year. All 4 years.
Now granted…none of my teams were “championship” caliber teams. We were never considered to be in the running for a trip to Columbus, OH. Never once would anyone look at any of my teammates or myself and say, “I can totally see him playing for Kentucky!” I’m pretty sure if the 3 letters N-B-A were ever uttered it was in reference to the Lakers and Celtics playing in the Saturday Night Game Of The Week. NOT of the possibility that maybe someday I would have a shot of playing on the parquet floor at Boston Garden. No…none of my teammates or myself ever went on to play professional ball. It’s kind of sad really…because I always saw myself with that potential.
(HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! [No I didn’t.])
Now it’s my son’s turn. He’s on his school’s 8th grade basketball team and he’s a great athlete! Starting QB for his football team this past year. Likes everyone on the team. Is willing to play hard and listen to what his coaches are telling him. Most important of all…he plays because he loves doing it. He’s not getting paid. He’s not REQUIRED to do it. He’s certainly not being forced to do it by his mother or myself. He does it because he likes hanging out with his friends and loves to play the game.
Something I’m realizing now that my son is getting older is that the times when just playing to have fun are kind of gone. He’s 13 and in the 8th grade. Now times are tougher. He plays with a lot of really good athletes, some who play basketball year round, and getting playing time is at a premium. No matter how hard he works, no matter what he does, it doesn’t seem like he is going to get a lot of minutes.
I know this happens. It happens to millions of kids everywhere. And it happened to me. My freshman & sophomore years, I had come off the bench at Rosecrans. I got plenty of playing time, but I was awkward. I had gone from being one of the tallest kids on our team in 8th grade to a small forward spot. I hadn’t developed a decent jumper yet and my ball-handling was a work in progress. My junior year, I switched schools and was the backup to our team’s leading scorer. Actually, Jay was the leading scorer in Philo’s school history at the time. Dude could hit from everywhere! So my junior year, I saw the court…mmmmmmm….maybe 3 minutes a game…if I was lucky. So…I understand that sitting the pine is a sad reality for many kids out there who enjoy playing sports.
Here’s the thing though…I don’t recall any of my teams ever blowing out our opponents. We weren’t a great team. Didn’t have that kind of firepower. So…when I didn’t get into a game that was close, I kind of understood. I didn’t like it but I got it. I was a role player. Coach would put me in to play defense, spell whoever our starter was and that was my job.
This year, for my son’s 8th grade basketball season, his team is blowing teams away in their conference. I mean…we’re talking 20 to 30 point blowouts. They’re a pretty good squad. They have a guard who has handles and is quick to the basket. They have another guard who is small in stature but plays big with a great 3-point shot and is able to handle anything anyone throws at him. We have a small center who can be a beast on the boards and can go up with either his left or right hand. Another small forward who is so fast and has such long arms that he could probably guard a varsity player. And the list continues on! The problem I’m having with this 8th grade season isn’t the players. They are ALL excellent ballplayers. The problem I’m having is the way the playing time is being split.
Look…I know that the coaches want to win. That’s the whole point of playing the game. And I know that there are players who deserve to be out on the court when it’s crunchtime. Trust me, in a close game my sophomore year? No way in hell I would want to be on the floor ahead of the senior who deserved the playing time. But in a 20 or 30 point blowout? In the 8th grade? Seriously? The starters should be in the locker room getting ready to hit the showers by the middle of the 3rd quarter. Let the other kids play. You might be surprised. And in the process, they too can have some memories that will play such an important part of the men they will become later in life.
Trust me…I speak from experience. Let them play and you’ll see. They ALL have potential. I did. It might not have been NBA potential but I’m still playing the game all these years later and I have all those great memories to go with it. Let them play coach. You won’t be disappointed.