Tonight is a huge game for the Colonials. GW is 18-5 on the season and St. Joe’s is 19-4. The game is in the cozy confines of the Smith Center in downtown DC. St. Joe’s is undefeated on the road this year and GW has only lost one at home, a double over time game versus Richmond. The Washington Post write up is below.
What if the storyline for tonights game followed the script from the novel, The Blue Team. Set to be released this March, The Blue Team is a story about faith & basketball, fathers & sons, falling in love, and the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. It will make you laugh, think, and cry – everything Jim Valvano said we should all do every day!
A pivotal scene in the story takes place when St. Joe’s takes on GW in the Smith Center. A portion is below. GW engineered a remarkable comeback to force overtime, but St. Joe’s, led by their stud center, Rodney Odom, quickly responded to take a six point lead.
Down six points we needed to make some defensive stops. After taking their time, St. Joe’s missed their next shot. On our end Jim scored to cut our deficit to four. St. Joe’s next possession resulted in another miss. On offense I hit an open jump shot. We now trailed by only a bucket. All the momentum St. Joe’s had built up from the seven to nothing run at the start of overtime had evaporated. With the crowd pumping us full of energy we were in their faces and had them on their heels.
They called timeout to try and deflate our momentum. It didn’t work. They were nervous and rattled and it showed on their next possession. Nobody wanted to shoot. Fear of losing gripped them by the neck, cutting off their breath. As the shot clock wound down, our crowd rose to a crescendo. We weren’t cutting off their oxygen, but we cut off passing lanes, shut down the paint, denied any open looks at the basket. They threw up a horrible shot as the shot clock buzzer sounded.
Jim rebounded the miss. It was our ball with just under a minute left in overtime. It looked like he would take his time heading up court but instead he suddenly heaved a full court pass over my head. Who was he throwing to?
I whipped my head around to see Brian streaking towards our basket. He’d beaten the St. Joe’s defenders down court. It was a perfect pass. Brian caught it in stride, one step ahead of the nearest defender. He gracefully elevated above the floor and floated in the air. I was momentarily mesmerized. Only in my wildest dreams could I jump like that.
Brian soared towards the defenseless basket and attacked it. But the ball slammed off the back rim, his thunderous dunk now a colossal miss. The ball careened high into the air. The crowd gasped. Silently I scolded myself for staring at the play rather than running after it just in case something like this happened. A St. Joe’s defender rose to catch the rebound, but out of nowhere Robert tipped the ball away from him. Robert jumped again, grabbed the ball, took a hard dribble and dunked home the tying basket.
Chaos ensued again. St. Joe’s was out of timeouts. They inbounded and set up their offense. They could still pull out the win and we all knew it. The crowd knew it too.
They worked the ball around the perimeter of our defense. The clock wound down. They weren’t taking their time; they were trying to figure out who had any nerve left to take a shot. It wasn’t that long ago that they felt invincible. At the start of the second half, with their big lead, St. Joe’s swaggered onto the court cocky and confident. Now they acted like frightened little lambs stuck outside the barn in the dark of night with the wolves howling.
All except Rodney Odom.
He had Kevin pinned on his back and was screaming for the ball. The pass went into him. He nearly squeezed the air out of the ball as he surveyed the situation. No one dared double-team him. Kevin was all alone.
Odom sent one of his massive shoulders on a fake to the left, then took his whole body to the right. Mountains weren’t supposed to move that fast. He dropped stepped into the paint and pounded the ball onto the floor. After gathering himself he left the ground to shoot a short jump hook. Kevin went with him. The two men rose as one, well over two feet off the ground. Odom’s shot went just over the outstretched hand of Kevin. It was a beautiful touch for such a big man, but it hit the front rim, then the back, then bounced off.
I went for the rebound but never came close. Odom and Kevin were off the ground so quick it was as if they’d never come back down. The ball was tipped in the air twice before Jim timed his jump perfectly and grabbed the rebound.
The game was still tied and only twenty-five seconds remained. We would take the last shot. This time Jim did take his time walking the ball up court. The entire crowd was on its feet. I tried to hide along the baseline and sneak my way to an open spot, but my defender wasn’t fooled. I tried to fake and juke free of him but he anticipated where I wanted to go.
Then I gambled. I ran right towards Odom. He was guarding Kevin on the low block. I ran right towards his back then curled around him and went through the tiny gap between him and Kevin. Only at the last second did Odom see me coming, and I knew his initial reaction would be to try and hinder my movement with a subtle forearm or extended hip. But he was too late and the shove of his hip, which was meant for me, instead knocked his teammate off balance. Kevin recognized what I was doing and slid over and gave my defender another hip check. I kept curling right up to the top of the key. The gamble worked. I was open. Jim saw me and there wasn’t a single molecule in my body that doubted he’d pass me the ball.
I immediately left the ground to shoot. Suddenly a hand appeared in my face. I couldn’t see the rim but I did see the blur of Jim streaking to the basket. He’d never stopped moving after passing me the ball and was now wide open. It was a textbook give and go situation. My pass was right on the money. Jim caught it in stride and elevated for the game winning layup. Odom flew at him for the block. In the shadow of his muscular frame Jim looked like a sparrow darting for his life. Somehow he was able to get the shot off. The ball floated gently off the glass and cleanly through the net.
A moment later the buzzer sounded.
The place went nuts. I ran over and bear hugged Jim right underneath the basket. Soon the rest of the team was there too, jumping up and down, soaking in the moment. “Nice pass,” Alex said as he clubbed me on the back with his casted right hand. “I’d give ya a hug but I don’t want you sweating all over my nice shirt.”
“Aw, what’re you worrying about?” Coleman said. “You got wrinkles all over that shirt. A little sweat might do it some good.” With that he grabbed Alex by the shoulders and rubbed his sweaty afro over the front of Alex’s shirt.
The fans were still cheering as we walked off the court and headed down the stairwell to our locker room. There was something special about our team and they wanted us to know how happy they were to be a part of it. In the hallway just outside the locker room door Brian patted me on the back.
“Hey, nice pass. Not bad for a Blue Teamer.”
Before I could react, Coach Ross turned around sharply. “What did you say?” His tie was loosened around an unbuttoned collar and sweat trickled down an angry red cheek onto his already sweat soaked shirt. “Not bad for a Blue Teamer? He just bailed you out! Not bad, huh? Let me tell you how bad you were.” He pointed to the locker room door, which Coach Jennings was holding open. “Get in there.”
Brian didn’t move. Nobody moved. Laughter and gleeful voices emanated from the locker room. In the hallway, I sensed the walls were closing in on Brian.
In a firm tone, Coach Ciancio said, “Better get in there, son.”
GW wins in The Blue Team. Will it be a storybook ending for GW tonight? We’ll see.