Thursday, March 3, 2011

Life Lessons I Learned From Basketball

Nothing takes me back to those days like watching the State Tournament on TV (which is what I'm doing as I write this post).  Nowadays our Mississippi Public Broadcasting channel, or PBS as we know it, airs the State Basketball Tournament.  Back in my day, they didn't. 

But my day was back in the late '80s/early '90s. 

I knew I wanted to play basketball from an early age.  Don't ask me how, I just did.  In fact, in 6th grade when they took us incoming 7th graders to the band hall to play around with the instruments and decide if being in the 7th grade band would be a good fit for us, I decidedly turned them down (even with my music background) because I knew that the school schedule would not allow me to play in the band and be on the basketball team at the same time.  You had to choose one or the other.  There was only one free period so it was band or basketball or PE or whatever else there was to choose from. 

From 7th grade through 12th grade I was on the basketball team.  I started in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades but of course when I came onto the high school team, I was a benchwarmer like most sophomores are.  My playing time increased game-by-game and by the time I was a junior I was playing entire games. 

Watching these young guys on TV brings back so many memories.  My first year on the high school basketball team, we were fortunate enough to make it to the "Big House" and play for a state championship.  And believe it or not, we won, and I have a ring to prove it!  Actually, I don't have the ring in my possession.  It is hanging on a nail in my father's bathroom.  He was afraid I was going to lose it (and he was probably right) so he decided he would  "keep it" for me.  Every few years he thinks to ask me if I want my ring back now that I'm an adult and could probably be more reponsible with it and not lose it.  I always say, "Nah, you better keep it." 

We never made it back to the championship game, but through all of my practices, games, time in locker rooms, weight rooms (yes, I lifted weights), I learned some very valuable lessons. 

  • Listen to authority.  This is the first thing you learn when joining a team.  Listen to your coach.  He is always right, and his word is final.  If he says run another lap, run another lap or pay.  I saw what happened to girls with attitudes toward the coach, and I decided early on I wasn't going to be one of them.  He may yell at you, push you, anger you, but in the end he has made you a better player and a better person.  

  • Be unselfish.  Pass the ball when someone has a better shot than you.  Don't try to be a hero all the time.  The best teammates are the unselfish ones, the ones who are just as happy to see someone else make the bucket as they are themselves.   It's true, there is no "I" in team. 

  • There will always be someone better than you.  

  • Never give up.  Getting beat is one thing, giving up is another.  Hold your head high no matter what happens.  You make a mistake?  The game doesn't stop for you to mope and hang your gotta keep going. 

  • Anything worth having is worth the work it takes to get there.  I remember the summers in gyms with no air conditioners, the after-school practices that seemed to go on forever, the running, running, and more running.  It was work! 

  • Don't take anything for granted.  At the beginning of this post I told you I knew from an early age I was going to play basketball.  What I didn't know is that when my senior year ended, the year that was supposed to be my shining moment, I wasn't playing basketball at all.  In January of 1993, after missing 5 games due to mono, I was making my return.  I had missed more games than I ever had before, and I was determined to end my career at Neshoba Central on the best note I could, playing the best ball I had ever played.  I couldn't wait to get back on the court and play out the rest of the year.   I believe we were playing Choctaw Central, but I'm not sure.  What I am sure of is that I heard it when it popped, and I immediately hit the floor.  My knee was hurting, bad.  I couldn't move it at all.  I was literally running down the court one second and lying writhing in pain the next.  That's how fast it happened.  A teammate came over and I remember squeezing her hand and saying with panic, "I can't move it, I can't move it!"  My coach carried me off the court.  And that, my friend, is how my last basketball game ended.   On Senior Night, instead of running to midcourt to accept my plaque, I hobbled out on crutches with a blue cast covering my entire right leg from my thigh to my ankle.  Don't ever assume you have another game, another day, another anything

  • Have fun! Some of the best memories from my basketball years are the off-court experiences. Road trips all around our state, a trip to Tennessee, and even a trip to Kissimmee, FL (Disneyworld!)

So there you have it, a few life lessons I learned from basketball.  Oh, and there's one more.  Use it or lose it.  If I had to run a suicide right now, I think I would die.   

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