The game starts off a bit wildly as both teams are trying to set the tone. They are playing up-tempo to try to take advantage of our depth issues. We are settling for perimeter shots because our big guy is out. It's probably not the most beautiful game of basketball to watch but the crowd is bringing their 'A' game tonight and turning up the intensity.
'The Beast' gets a quick six points on me about four minutes into the game and I'm making it too easy on him. He can shoot right over me in the post so I can't let him get that position. I start bumping him all the way down the floor. Literally. Made basket or not, I would run right next to him the entire time he ran down to his offensive end of the court. Once he reached the 3-pt stripe I was chest to chest and it was time to figure out what kind of heart he had. Physically, he could overmatch me but lesser men succumb to pressure and falter when things get difficult. I hoped this would be the case with him....and it was.
The first half continues to go back and forth. We are up a point, they go up two. Coaches are pissed, fans are screaming and since we are only playing with seven players....we are gassed. Halftime can not come soon enough.
I'm the trailer tonight in our Kansas fast break scheme and I hit a three with four seconds left in the first half to put us up one. We're excited to head into half-time. This is a team we should beat by twenty on a normal night but we are facing an uphill battle with our best player out.
Halftime is generally a time to hammer home the pre-game strategy and/or to re-assess defensive assignments. There really wasn't much to do on either front since our best chance to win was to hit from the perimeter and we didn't have enough guys to be switching up who we were guarding. So, walking into the cramped locker room we knew that this was going to be a time to rest and regroup.
One of our assistant coaches was about as vocal as a field mouse. Yes, he'd pull you off to the side and offer a suggestion or two but if his goal was to 'speak softly and carry a big stick', we never saw the big stick and we figured he was just along for the ride. Not tonight though, he was going to earn his paycheck so he took over the halftime speech.
He walks in punching lockers and pretty much just growling. He doesn't even make it to the chalkboard when, as he stands behind us, he yells,
"That team isn't good enough to play in the same area code as you guys!!! They have no right to be out on the same floor as you!!! But right now they are kicking your ass!! They are.....FUCKING YOU IN THE ASS......AND THEY ARE NOT EVEN USING LUBE!!!"
As a player, what do you do when you hear that? I'm the only senior on the team and I wasn't even sure how to take it. The underclassmen weren't sure whether to laugh, giggle or be mad. We sat there stunned for about ten seconds. I knew there wasn't going to be much more to the half-time speech so I stood up, punched a locker and ran back onto the court. Why? I don't know, but the guys followed me and we were ready to go for the second half.
We ended up winning the game by two points (83-81) but that half-time speech scaredthe guys so much that we withstood what should have been a furious onslaught by our opponent as the second half started and turned it into our own eight point lead.
Probably not the most politically correct speech of all time and, really, it had nothing to do with basketball but it got the job done. It certainly gave us something to talk about on the bus ride home that night.
*****'The Beast' ended up with 13 points and 8 rebounds and they retired his number at the end of the season.