We are in strange times.
Just when I was about to indulge myself to 24 hours a day of hoops, the coronavirus took the ball and slammed the door shut. The intrusive pandemic in our lives means no high school state basketball tournaments, no NCAA March Madness, no NBA playoffs, no nothing. And to add more pain to a jock’s misery, it also brought the opening of Major League Baseball as well as the Masters Tournament, professional soccer, hockey and every other sport you can name, to its knees.
Denying our local athletes, especially seniors, their opportunity to compete for a state title is the most depressing result of the cancellations and postponements. The virus also threatens the busy out of season basketball schedule, one that continues to grow in length each year.
For a guy whose entire life was impacted by the game of basketball, watching it come to a grinding halt doesn’t strike me as all that bad. I’ve argued for some time that our young athletes in this day and age could use a break. Every athlete’s season now appears to stretch over 12 months, mostly under the watchful eyes of a coach, a trainer or interested family member. The days of young ballers pursuing their athletic dreams on their own with just a basketball, a hoop and their imagination are a thing of the past.
When I first began coaching, in the early 1970s, the OHSAA placed severe restrictions on how much contact was permitted between coaches and athletes out of season. That meant no club basketball, no AAU, no summer camps, no summer leagues, not even an open gym. Once the season ended, athletes were left pretty much on their own to develop and improve their game.
Just a couple of generations ago it was not uncommon for every block in every community to have several places for ambitious young hoopers to gather and work on their game in the offseason, mostly in driveways with a basket hanging on the garage.
When looking to measure their skill in competitive full court games, players could always find serious ballers at some playground or rec center. Locally, Bradfield Center, Whittier playground and the YMCA were just a few of the out of season basketball proving grounds that hosted serious full-court battles. The courts were often ringed with players eagerly waiting their turn to compete. If your team lost, you could wait forever to get back on the court. The intensity in those games was at least the equal of any modern-day tournament game played in front of a full house of spectators.
In the summers of my youth, heaven was an outdoor basketball court.
I was reminded of that while watching Lima Senior High win its regional semifinal against Start High School at Toledo University’s Savage Hall. The game was played under a limited quarantine established by the OHSAA just a day before the entire tournament was suspended. The handful of fans allowed to attend the game were swallowed up in the cavernous arena. The nearly empty arena presented an eerie backdrop to the action on the floor and reminded me of a summer playground game.
I was in attendance at the LSH-Start game and once the ball was tossed up, I completely forgot about the meager crowd and focused on the game, and so did the players. The lack of spectators had very little influence on the action. The athletes knew what was at stake and competed with passion and focus. It was a great game and came right down to the wire. When a Start player missed the potential game winning shot at the buzzer, he sank to his knees in the heartbreak of disappointment. It was one of his opponents, the Spartan’s Jadakis Mack, who helped him to his feet in an act of class and compassionate sportsmanship.
The indefinite suspension of the basketball tournament was the sad end of Lima Senior’s dream season and that of Shawnee, Ottawa-Glandorf, Parkway and Columbus Grove as well. Their underclassmen now face an offseason that will also be impacted by the virus. For an unknown period of time they may be left on their own to find ways to take their game to another level, just like generations ago.
While finishing this column, I heard the sound of a basketball on the pavement and looked out my window and discovered, for the first time in ages, a solo young athlete shooting hoops on the basket in my driveway. I thought to myself, “basketball may be headed back to the future for a while.”
Not such a bad idea.
Reach Bob Seggerson at firstname.lastname@example.org