Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Basketball Dream Team: State Championship for Weeder's Clump High

The Basketball Dream Team:
State Championship for Weeder's Clump High
Loren Logsdon

            Coach Hack Procrustes came to Weeder's Clump High School from San Andreas Fault State University, where he had majored in physical education and minored in mythology. He was determined to be an outstanding basketball coach, the kind of coach who is referred to as “a legend in his own time.” The key to achieving status if one is a high school basketball coach is to win a state championship and have an impressive winning percentage in one's career. The winning percentage alone might accomplish such a goal, but a number of state titles would guarantee it and be icing on the cake.
            Since Hack Procrustes had graduated with honors at SAFS, he was a highly intelligent student of the game, and he decided that to be successful at coaching, he needed a winning formula; consequently, he developed one as soon as he could.
            Hack believed that if he could play the best five players the whole game and not substitute, he would win a huge majority of his games. Further, he did not believe in the “star” concept of the game, the notion that a star player was the key to winning; rather, he decided that the team game was the best way to win. So the question Hack had to answer is what formula would produce the best team?
            After reading most of the books on winning basketball and studying coaches carefully to learn strategies which would empower him to succeed, Hack developed the formula he needed. The center should be 6-9, a skilled defensive player and a proficient free throw shooter. The power forward should be 6-7, a dominant rebounder and a superb inside player. The other forward should be 6-5, fleet of foot and a skilled three-point shooter. One guard should be 6-3, an outstanding three-point shooter and good at passing the ball. The fifth player, the point guard, should be 5-10, fast as lightning and the team leader; the coach on the floor, so to speak.
            It was three years before Hack had his perfect team. Abe Skyfellow stood 6-9, Hefty Hooper at 6-7, B. A. Fowler at 6-5, Jim Nazeum at 6-3, and Velocity Jackson at 5-10. Although Hack’s squad consisted of 10 players, he planned to play only the starting five and not substitute except when he was forced to. He believed that to substitute was a sign of weakness.
            Now, among the other players on that squad was a lad named Bryce Nimbus, a senior who had made the team his junior year but who had not seen any playing time. Bryce enjoyed the fellowship of being a member of a team. In addition, there were two other reasons why Bryce loved basketball. First, he could practice the two special shots his grandfather Spike Rose had taught him. One was the Howitzer, a shot from mid-court; and the other was the ICBM Missile, a shot from deep in the backcourt. Second, Bryce liked to survey the crowd during games to search for the pulchritudinous high school girls who attended. If Hack Procrustes was looking for the perfect team, Bryce was looking for the perfect girl. And May Wheat was beginning to look better and better as the season progressed.

            Hack’s boys flew through the season with no opponent coming even close to beating them. In fact, Hack’s biggest challenge came in the game with The Little Brothers of the Poor, a team out of the Windy City. The score at the end of the first half was 144-9, and Hack was so moved by sympathy for the opponents that he almost broke his no-substitution rule. He compromised by ordering his players not to shoot. Anyone who shot the ball would run 50 extra laps in practice.

            When the state tournament games began, Hack’s team was ready. They responded by winning all of the games to qualify them to play in the state championship game against a formidable team from Upperville High School, a team which had made its way through the tough Chicago teams. Hack was poised and ready for his greatest moment; however, cruel Fate, as it often does, intervened.
            Three of Hack’s starting five came down with a mysterious illness. They were so sick they could not get out of bed let alone compete in a basketball game. Hooper, Fowler, and Nazeum had the flu. Abe Skyfellow and Velocity Jackson were the only starters able to play against Upperville High. That meant reserves Clark Kent, Lamont Cranston, and Billy the Id Batson had to step up to the next level and replace the ill players who could only watch the game from their hospital beds. That left only two players on Hack’s bench: Little Pee Wee Odor and Bryce Nimbus.

            By some miracle, Velocity Jackson and Abe Skyfellow were able to provide leadership to the three reserves, and Hack’s team led until there were five minutes left in the game when Billy the Id fouled out. Hack had no choice—Little Pee Wee Odor had to go in to replace Billy, leaving Bryce as the lone player on the bench.
            Still, Hack’s boys managed to lead, and with 10 seconds left to play, they were ahead by two points, with the ball in the hands of Little Pee Wee Odor. How that happened is a mystery, because anyone who knows anything about basketball will tell you that in a close game you need to have the ball in the hands of the best ball handler, and that would be Velocity Jackson. How had Pee Wee gotten the ball and what did he think he was going to do with it?
            To his credit, Little Pee Wee was doing the best he could to keep the ball away from the Upperville players. But in desperation, the player guarding Pee Wee overwhelmed the little fellow and grabbed at the ball, and Swappy Rippov, the referee, threw two thumbs up and called it a held ball. Even with that call, though, Weeder’s Clump would retain the ball because of the possession arrow was in their favor.
            Those of you who follow basketball closely know that referees can sometimes be wrong in their calls. After all, referees are human and capable of making mistakes. In the heat of the moment and in a close game even with not much at stake, a referee’s judgment can be so flawed and egregiously wrong as to cause a coach to fling a chair across the floor or to scream like a banshee on the sidelines.
            Players, too, have a problem with unjust calls by the referees. Pee Wee Odor had a temper worse than the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character, and he was almost fizzing with rabies at what he considered an unforgiveable injustice. He stamped his foot like Rumpelstiltskin, pointed his finger at Swappy Rippov, and yelled at the top of his voice, “You non compos mentis! you Mickey Mouse de Sade! you vapid and irreflective guffin!”
            Swappy immediately called a technical foul and awarded Upperville four free throws—one for each name Pee Wee had called him
            Hack protested, claiming that “a vapid and irreflective guffin” was singular, not plural, only one guffin, and thus only three free throws should be given instead of four.
            Hack was wrong because he had not heard Pee Wee call Swappy an old saphead.
            After a conference at the scorer’s table that lasted several minutes, Hack’s protest was denied, and the Upperville player made all four free throws, giving Upperville a two-point lead and possession of the ball, with only ten seconds to go.
            Since Pee Wee Odor had been ejected from the game, Bryce Nimbus had to go in, and he was ready. Here was his great moment. The game was on the line, and May Wheat, Zephyr Goodson, Olivia Pitts, Leah Borak, and Fairy Brady were in the stands with their fingers crossed and praying for a miracle. Bryce glanced up to be sure May Wheat was watching, and he reported to the scorer’s bench.
            Upperville in-bounded the ball and seemed assured of the victory when, miraculously, Bryce Nimbus forced a turnover with three seconds to go. Hack called timeout immediately and gave his players the following instructions:
            “Velocity, you inbound the ball and throw it to Skyfellow, who will pass the ball back to you for a shot. Skyfellow, if Velocity is double teamed, as he might well be, you have to pass to the open man. Whoever that is, you will not have time to dribble or even to look at me; you will have to shoot the ball immediately. Then, as if an afterthought, he glared at Bryce and said, “And that means you don’t look in the stands at the pulchritudinous nubile maidens.”
            Taken completely aback, Bryce could only respond, “I didn’t think you noticed.”
            Hack laughed and said, “I’m like Zeus. I see everything. You weren’t fooling me one bit.  I know you want to watch the girls.”
            “Sorry, Coach Procrustes, I didn’t think you would mind,” Bryce replied.
            Velocity Jackson then spoke up, “Why don’t you two settle this issue after the game? Right now we have a game to finish, and we have to shoot quickly. Our season hangs on what we do in the next three seconds.”
            Hack glared at Velocity Jackson. He did not like for one of his players to take over the team, even though Velocity was considered the coach on the floor. Consequently, to gain the upper hand, Hack said, “Velocity, you have a firm grasp of the obvious.”
            Not to be outdone, Velocity said, “Thanks, Coach Procrustes! I’ll take all of the accolades you want to give me, but let’s win this game for our three teammates who are watching from their sick beds.”
            “Right you are, Velocity, and I hope you make the all-tournament team,” Hack replied.
            “He deserves it,” said Friendly Fred Fairchild, the referee who came over to break up the huddle and remind the Weeder’s Clump players it was time to resume the game. “By the way, your player was right; Swappy Rippov is an old saphead. In addition to that, he’s a bugbear.”
            “He’s a what?” Abe Skyfellow asked.
            “A bugbear. That’s another word for an obnoxious pest,” Hack explained.
            “Come on, fellas! It’s time to play ball,” Friendly Fred Fairchild ordered.

            Velocity Jackson threw the inbounds pass to Abe Skyfellow, but, as Hack predicted, Velocity was quickly double-teamed, and Abe saw that the open man was Bryce Nimbus, who was well in the backcourt. Bryce took the pass, and in one fluid motion fired an ICBM missile shot at the basket. Then and only then did he glance at May Wheat and notice that her eyes were rolled heavenward and her lovely hands were clasped in prayer. 
            The ICBM Missile shot had not yet reached the top of its arc high in the rafters of the gymnasium when the buzzer went off to signal that time had expired, and the outcome of the game was to be determined by the shot.  At the exact moment the ball started its descent, Hack Procrustes fell to his knees, his arms upraised as if to implore the gods of basketball to dispense their favors on his team.
            Bryce’s shot came slowly, smoothly, and softly downward and nestled gently in the basket, barely disturbing the net as the ball passed through to land on the floor. Hack Procrustes’ team had won the state championship game by a single point!
            The Weeder’s Clump fans went wild. May Wheat gave Bryce a high five, a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. Hack Procrustes apologized to Bryce for the snide remark he made in the huddle, but Little Pee Wee Odor remained firm in his belief that Swappy Rippov was an old saphead. Velocity Jackson was named to the All-Tournament Team. The three players in the hospital recovered after a long battle with a cruel, remorseless old foe.  All the players on Hack’s team were seniors, and they went their respective ways after graduation, empowered by their heroic response to a formidable challenge.

            The following year, Hack Procrustes had a 6-9 center, a 6-7 power forward, a 6-5 forward, a 6-3 guard, and a 5-10 guard. In addition, he hired Spike Rose as his assistant coach, whose duties were to teach a super sub to shoot the Howitzer and the ICBM Missile Shot.  


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