I didn’t have an illustrious basketball career, I had a good one.
I played in big games, in nationally known venues and with and against phenomenal players, but mainly, I had fun playing a sport I had a great passion for.
It’s for that reason that I always get a little choked up this time of year.
Whether looking in the eyes of high school players whose careers are continuing for at least one more week, or avoiding the distant gaze of those whose careers ended too soon; I get a little choked up.
It could be the result of having been on both ends of the spectrum, but I think it’s because I am aware that if I had anything to do over again in my athletic life, it would be to play in the state tournament.
For the girls from Gainesville and Lakeview and the boys from Flowery Branch, Lakeview and Dawson County: I’ve been there and it gets better sooner than you think it will.
As a sophomore I played on a great high school basketball team. We were one year removed from winning a state title and had, arguably, a better team than we’d had the year before.
We had one loss, to Woodward Academy, going into the region tournament and were ranked in the top five in the state. Our first opponent in the postseason was a Pickens team we had beaten by an average of 25 points the two times we’d met them in the regular season.
It was to be a recoronation – and then we lost. We didn’t even make it to the state tournament.
I’m not one to dwell, but to say 15 years later that it doesn’t still sting a little would be lying. I don’t remember much about the game, but I remember the walk to the locker room after it, as the Pickens crowd stormed the court. The disbelief, the tears, looking up at the clock to make sure it really was over, checking to see if there had been a mistake – there hadn’t been.
It wasn’t my high school career that ended that night, but the careers of the best teammates I’d ever had, and I hurt for them.
Two years later came the other end of the spectrum.
Pickens was again the nemesis, this time they were ranked in the top five and we were the ones who weren’t supposed to win. Down by eight with under a minute left, we came back to shock everyone watching and pull off the upset.
I don’t remember much about the game, but I remember walking to the locker room after being mobbed by our fans after the game. The disbelief, the tears, looking up at the clock to make sure it really was over, checking to see if there had been a mistake – there hadn’t been.
So for the Chestatee girls and North Hall boys, both of which deserve a standing ovation for pulling off what nobody but the people in their locker rooms believed they could: Your games against Franklin County will be talked about for years to come by the people who witnessed them and never forgotten by you. It took more than basketball skills to do what you did; it took character and it’s the latter that will mean the most to you when you look back on this.
The state tournament is for special, it’s a hopeful time, it’s a time when the feeling of invincibility every young person shares comes to fruition in one way or another.
The humbling feeling of a loss should carry over and be the cause of greatness later on. The elation felt after a win should carry over and be the cause of greatness in the next game.
To the East Hall girls, Gainesville and West Hall boys: just because you didn’t pull off an upset doesn’t mean the accomplishment isn’t as great. But overconfidence is a killer in the state tournament, and if you don’t think that to be true, take a lesson from my experiences.