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Friday, January 28, 2011

Milestones And Millstones

The Heatly High boys varsity basketball team had a game tonight. They won. That wasn't the big news to me. I certainly don't discount the victory or the effort. The outcome of the contest wasn't diminished by an overly confident expectation of the Hornets winning. On the contrary, their opponent fielded a roster that was considerably taller. Plus, they had defeated Heatly in their previous match-up. It shaped up as a major challenge. It was an extremely exciting and close game, with lead changes back and forth during the final period. The game was in doubt up until the buzzer signaled that the home crowd could breathe a sigh of relief. Yet, as I said, the win was secondary to me, despite a tremendous overall team performance.

Instead a young man graciously lifted a burden off his back and demonstrated a rather remarkable dedication to his teammates by sustaining his commitment to their common goal - victory. Let me explain. Prior to the start of the season most area fans and astute followers of local basketball were well aware of the prowess of one of the members of the team. As a newcomer to Heatly, I had already been informed by many that one player stood out. He was the star. He participated on the basketball team representing the region in the annual Empire State Games. His talent, proven in previous campaigns, would attract the defensive attention of competing teams. However, this same attention held the threat of obscuring the contributions and abilities of the rest of the team. It would shape up as a fairly young team in experience and a team lacking great depth. There was a strong possibility that his individual effort could dwarf the development of the other players on the team and consign them all, him included, to a lackluster season. It would be possible for him to command the spotlight and pursue individual statistics - at the expense of the team. As a senior in his last season of high school competition, it might not surprise people if this scenario occurred. Two questions loomed - 1) would he value his own statistics and glory above the needs of the team? 2) would his new coach be able to effectively harness the individual talent and promote team unity and spirit - and success?

He knew before the game, though it was not common knowledge, in fact only a handful of people were aware of it, that he needed 19 points to reach a universally accepted milestone in high school basketball anywhere - 1,000 career points. It's surely a mark of distinction reached by a very small percentage of players. That figure was a realistic possibility; maybe more accessible to his grasp than a victory was to the team's reach.

The first quarter ended with him netting five points. He was therefore on pace to achieve the mark. Heatly jumped out to a fairly comfortable, though not commanding, lead after the initial period. The team was operating at an efficient level, with distinct signs of effective team work. Crisp passes, well executed plays, patient exercise of fundamentals, a concerted approach to defense, and an offense characterized by quickly moving the ball around to open up seams and create opportunities for good looks at the basket, all contributed to their early success. The players were all contributing and making great plays with desire and determination. Their momentum continued through the second quarter, yet the margin became perilously close as the teams concluded the first half. The player had accumulated six more points for a total of eleven tallies. He was a little more than midway to his goal. Along the way he was distributing the ball very well and involving his teammates in the flow of the game. He was exhibiting tenacious defense and displaying overall qualities that elevated the performance of the team. His effort and determination were beyond reproach.

The crowd all knew that the winner of this game would likely not be determined until just before the final buzzer sounded. The opponents returned from the locker room with a vengeance. They rose to the challenge and fought hard to tie up the score during the third period. Confidence appeared to waver, the boys of the home team seemed to tire a little, their play looked more pedestrian. It was not looking good. The player had accumulated only a few more points during this period. It didn't look like he would net the total necessary to reach 1,000. And, it was not looking like the team could maintain their path to victory.

The final quarter picked up with the same intensity and rhythm and back and forth lead changes as the prior period. The game was spellbinding. They key was Heatly's ability to continue to follow their strategy and avoid deviating from their pre-determined plan for success. The player's focus was definitely on leading the team to victory rather than adding to his point total. He did not force shots, he did not demand the ball, he did not waver from his commitment to the team. His selfless play not only ended up making a difference in the game, I believe it made a difference in him. He sacrificed opportunities for shots to promote the odds of success. The other team concentrated on him as a primary threat and that attention allowed his team mates to step up and  fill the void in scoring. Heatly grabbed the lead with under a minute. The teams traded baskets. Time was running out and the opponents had little recourse other than committing fouls with the hope that our players would miss free throws and they would secure the rebound for a chance to regain the lead. He was fouled as the lead stood at one with six seconds remaining before the buzzer. His first of two free throws expanded the lead to two. Another free throw would not only require the opponents to make a three-point play just to tie the score, but it would be his 19th point and membership in the exclusive 1,000 point club.

He missed the second foul shot. The other team called a timeout to plan a final play. It didn't work. They failed to score and the clock ran out. Heatly won! He did not reach the coveted milestone, yet he lifted a heavy millstone off his back. He is clearly a very talented individual who will undoubtedly reach 1,000 points soon after the start of our next game on Tuesday evening, but more importantly, he showed everyone what a great team player he is. And, in my book, that's an even more important milestone - reaching for excellence while leading others to victory.

1 comment:

  1. As the grandmother of "one member of the team"
    I must say that I had the same thoughts and feelings, but couldn't express them so eloquently.
    He did himself, and his family, proud. We're so glad that you recognized and acknowledged what a great team player, and young man he is. Thank you.