For years a basketball goal given to me by my parents for my eighth birthday stood upright, embedded in concrete, next to the house I grew up in.
My love affair with the sport of basketball had begun before my eighth birthday but it was nurtured and, therefore, became a passion the day my daddy set the goal in the ground.
I have vivid memories of playing one-on-one with daddy and attempting to play with my sisters — they liked to foul a lot — and shooting with my mother on that goal.
I have vivid memories of playing with my dad’s best friend Billy Hendrix and laughing while doing so, learning a lesson in the laughter that would be far more important to me in latter years than the lesson learned in proper defensive stance and shooting form.
The nuances of the game were learned while in a gym practicing, but I fell in love with the sport — found a passion — playing on the goal that stood next to the house I grew up in.
Somewhere around my last two years of high school and when I left for college, the goal was taken up out of the concrete and moved to my parents’ backyard where it was, instead, set in dirt; buried, if you will.
Oddly enough, somewhere in those years my love for the game got buried too. Somewhere in the recruiting process, the conditioning process, the going to college to play process, the playing in college process, the game becoming a job and the passion I had for basketball was buried.
Irish novelist George Moore once said, "A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it."
Boy, was he right.
I watched the first Lanierland I’d seen in 10 years this past December and suddenly remembered.
Remembered what it was like playing on the goal that stood upright next to the house I grew up in, remembered the passion.
Some say it was a down year for basketball in the area. When the standard used to measure is a state title, anything less is considered down, but it was a great year if for no other reason than there was no dominance.
Any given night, any given team could win and nobody will ever be able to convince me that had East Hall not gone through the type of season it went through, where it had to scrap for nearly every win, the Vikings would have been able to beat South Atlanta and Cartersville in down-to-the-wire games.
Flowery Branch would have folded against Sandy Creek when they were down 11 going into the fourth, but they came back from a 15-point fourth quarter deficit against East Hall in the region championship so what is 11 points?
Parker Smith scoring his 2,000th point.
The North Hall boys opening subregion play undefeated at 6-0 despite having lost to Lakeview in the first round of Lanierland.
Tierra Benton coming out of nowhere, well actually she was on the bench the last three years, to be Sada Wheeler’s wingman and the difference maker for East Hall.
The Chesatee girls, having lost their top two scorers from last year, still finding a way to win on the back of freshman Peyton Robertson.
And what about Lakeview?
The boys finished the season winning 15 of 17 and winning the first region title in the team’s history.
And the girls?
I never would have imagined they would have made it to state and certainly never thought they would play a state-ranked team in Gordon Lee to a two-point game in the first round of the playoffs.
Bless the Buford girls’ hearts, if it wasn’t for Wesleyan, the eventual Class AA champions who also happen to play in the same subregion as Buford, we might have a state title winner in our midst.
A "down year," and the area still has a team, the Towns County girls, make it to Macon and three in the round of eight with a shot at going to the state final four.
A "down year" and yet, it resuscitated passion.