Print Edition: February 29, 2012
The ugly truth about basketball is that, for all the rhetoric about passion, skill, and courage, basketball is ultimately decided on quantitative numbers. At the end of the night, at the end of the game, the team which has the most points is declared the winner, and the team which has the most points is generally the team which has thrown, tossed, and dunked the ball through that metal rings the most times.
This epiphany, dumb is it is, was brought home to me last Friday night while watching the UFV women’s team warm up from the second-floor mezzanine in the Envision Athletic Center. Sitting on a couch, staring through the glass with my eyes level with the rim, I watched the women cycle through one of those rare wonderful drills where shots rain down like hail, and all of them, impossibly, go in. I kept my eyes on the basket and simply enjoyed the show, aware that the most fulfilling, profound image in the game is that of descending leather and rippling mesh. It represents the assertion of dominance, the success of an offensive, the conclusion of a contest. It represents victory and that is why all of us, even those who’ve spent our lives playing ball, cannot escape the elation. We know what a simple act, the journey of a ball through a hoop, can mean to us and our fellow competitors, and the change it can have upon our lives.
Last Saturday was the perfect example of how the trajectory of a single shot can affect the trajectory of a game, a season, and even a legend. The Cascades men’s team, who have spent the season ranked as one of the top teams in Canada, were down by two points in the third game of a best-of-three series against the belligerent Lethbridge Pronghorns. A speedy Pronghorn forward had just dropped a crushing layup to create the lead, and the Cascades had thirteen seconds to respond before their success story and their season came to a crashing halt.
It’s hard to recreate the tension present in that gym during the ensuing time-out, the suddenly muffled crowd and the knots of uniform clenched in the fists of the men on the floor. It’s hard to recreate the rigid, controlled gesticulations of coach Craddock with his clipboard, or Sheldon Bjorgaard’s emotionless stare over the bandage on his mutilated chin. It’s hard, in the moment, to believe that thirteen seconds is all that remained.
Twelve and a half official seconds later Joel Friesen has the ball deep downtown, staring at the remnants of a broken play. A Lethbridge defender flails desperately as Friesen gathers himself, jumps, and hurls up a prayer to the basketball gods.
The ball rotates slowly in the air, the gleam of lights reflecting off its sweat-glistened exterior. The gym falls to tomb-like silence as three hundred and fifty bums half-raise from bleachered seats in tortured disbelief. The players on the Lethbridge bench pause, mid-celebration, and feel the worm gnawing at the base of their confidence. They know, suddenly they KNOW…
And then there is descending leather and the rippling of mesh, and the Pronghorns are going home and UFV survives to play another day. Three games equaling 120 minutes of vicious competition and it all comes down to one play, one man, one single shot.
I’m sorry Lethbridge, I really am. You guys played well, you always do. But oh baby, WHAT A SHOT!