We lost. As it turned out, Hoover was not as good as I feared, so they didn’t blow us out of the gym. In fact, we played them to an 8-8 score over the first half of the first quarter, with Roman, DiMarrie, Kenneth, Roman, and Damon each contributing a basket. We were also playing well defensively and limiting them to one shot per possession, but everything changed in a flash. After they scored their third or fourth basket, they suddenly hit us with a full-court press. Anticipating this, we had worked hard at a press-break during our last two practices, but we were still taken by surprize. Instead of passing around the press, we first tried dribbling around it and then passing into it. Neither approach worked; after four quick turnovers we were suddenly down 18-9 at the end of the quarter.
Down, but not out. We started the second quarter with a renewed commitment to playing defense and boxing out and battled to a six-six tie, keeping the deficit at nine as we headed to half-time. We played well in the third quarter, but still lost a bit of ground as Hoover’s lead swelled to 35-24. With the possibility of having our season come to an end in eight minutes, we opened the fourth quarter with a press of our own. Hoover didn’t seem prepared and we came up with three easy steals, but we weren’t able to capitalize. About halfway through the quarter the boys started to feel the game slipping away from them, and the Hoover players began finding open shots all over the floor. The final score was 51-32.
In general I was extremely proud of how well the boys played tonight and how they conducted themselves on the court. The one exception, however, was Robert. Both he and Kenneth had pouted after last week’s game because the bench players had played instead of them in the closing quarter of a blowout win, so I chose not to start either boy tonight. Kenneth appeared to take it well, but Robert was visibly disappointed. When I put them into the game early in the first quarter, Robert continued making the soft, looping, turnover-creating passes that he’s been prone to all season long, so I took him out and talked to him about it. He scowled. When I pulled Kenneth for taking a three-pointer shot, he started to argue with me but quickly remembered his mistake from last week. A minute or so later he was back in the game and played well the rest of the way. Robert, however, continued making lazy passes all game long. I talked to him about it at every time out, in between the first and second quarters, and at half-time. Midway through the third quarter he did it again, lofting a fluttering pass into the highpost that turned into a Hoover lay-up. I pulled him immediately and didn’t even consider putting him back in. As our team was huddling up in the minutes following the final buzzer, I noticed that Robert was still on the bench and he had already changed out of his uniform. This act is not original, and the psychological explanation is painfully obvious. “I’m upset, and I no longer want to be viewed as part of this team.” When I was making my final speech in the locker room a few minutes later, singling out each player and complementing them for something they had done well tonight or during the season, I said something like, “Robert, I know you’re mad at me right now, but I still love you. Even though we had some issues tonight, you’re probably still the best defensive player on this team.” He’s not the best defensive player on the team, probably only third or fourth best, but I felt like throwing him a bone. Who knows if it made a difference.
But here’s the beautiful thing. As we were heading to the bus a few minutes later, I was wondering what might’ve happened if Mario had been on the team, but my four seventh graders, Kenneth, Roman, Stephan, and DiMarrie, were walking together and talking about how good next year’s team will be. Do you remember what it was to be thirteen?
Check back later this week for the Season Review.