There we are last Monday, March 3--my dad and my buddy Jeff, with me sandwiched in between--sitting in the very last row of the gym with our backs propped up against white concrete walls, our butts resting uncomfortably on cold, hard bleachers made of I don't know what--maybe aluminum, maybe Formica, maybe Kevlar. Undoubtedly, the worst seats in the house, yet we're all smiles. After all, tickets are just $4 each, parking is free and abundant, and we're about to watch top-ranked Randallstown take on visiting Northwestern in a regional playoff battle.
Downstairs in the home team's locker room, the walls are plastered with the requisite magazine pictures of Jason Kidd, Serena Williams, and Kevin Garnett. A green rolling chalkboard displays the keys to tonight's game: push. pound. press. It's 20 minutes before tipoff, and 15 teenagers are crammed onto three thin wooden benches, their eyes wide and their bodies uncharacteristically still as they listen to a pregame pep talk from their 40-year-old coach. Sporting a black, banded collar dress shirt and taupe slacks, Kim Rivers appears polished and confident. A 6-foot-5 former standout power forward at University of Missouri-Kansas City and a veteran of Australia's professional league, Rivers has won two state championships since taking over at Randallstown in 1994, so he knows a thing or two about the stakes. "If we lose tonight," Rivers warns, "that Number 1 ranking don't mean shit."
Next, a young assistant coach named Wally quickly reviews the scouting report on Northwestern, and then it's time for prayer, led by an older assistant coach named Pops. (What else could his name be?) A minute later, the kids scamper up two flights of stairs. As they hover outside the big double doors, waiting to barge into the gym for warmups, it's time for a little swagger. The rhythmic clapping starts--it's call and response time:
"What time is it?"
"It's show time!"
"What time is it?"
"It's show time!"
"We came to bust some ass. . . ."
Ray Lewis would be proud.
The first half is a complete shocker. The much smaller and younger-looking Northwestern squad, dressed in navy and white--think Penn State or UConn--jumps out to a 23-13 lead after one quarter, carried single-handedly by No. 10, a wiry left-hander named Seymore. He's got 15 of their 23, prompting my dad to bust out with, "He reminds me of Hank Siemiontkowski." For the record, I'm a huge hoops fan, and I've never heard of Hank Whatshisname. But that's why my dad leads the nation in ERPG (esoteric references per game), averaging an astounding 13.2.
During the second quarter, Seymore cools off, putting up only four points, still giving him an impressive 19 for the half. Amazingly, it's a tie game going into the locker room: 35-35.
Downstairs, a previously mellow Coach Rivers is now livid: "We ain't pushin', we ain't poundin', and our press is shit!" He warns his nine seniors that he's more than happy to give them their end-of-year, personalized, black and gold duffel bags today. But in return, they'll have to accept being the laughingstock of the entire school for losing to what he calls a JV team. Ten haranguing minutes later, before heading up for the second half, 38 hands come together--raised up high--in the middle of the sweat-drenched room: "1-2-3-MENTAL!"
Upstairs, the second half starts. By now, the late-arriving crowd numbers almost 500, filling up slightly more than half the house. Why the game isn't a sellout is a mystery to me. Granted, it's a 20-degree school night, the game is competing with what I'm sure is another gripping rerun of The Practice, and nobody would ever confuse Northwestern with a perennial powerhouse like Dunbar or Lake Clifton, or even hated rival Woodlawn. But still.
On court, the home team, obviously inspired by their coach's tongue- lashing, turns up the intensity. By the end of the third quarter, it's 56-46 Randallstown. A minute into the final period, Randallstown forward Terrance Breaux, a hustling banger who led his team with 12 first-half points, drop-steps down low for a basket. Next possession, it's Breaux again with a 12-foot jumper from the right baseline. A heartbeat later, off a turnover, the muscular 6-foot-3 senior throws down a one-handed breakaway dunk. The crowd freaks. No. 5 is everywhere, and they're loving it. Just as the commotion caused by the first dunk starts to settle, Breaux penetrates and flushes another one--this time it's two-handed. On somebody. The crowd loses its shit.
The clock shows 5:07 remaining, but it's game over.
Randallstown goes on to win 79-55, thanks to 31 points and 15 boards from the kid Coach Rivers calls Te-Breaux, so as to distinguish him from his brother and teammate, 6-foot-6 Tommy Breaux. Both are headed to the University of Buffalo next year on full athletic scholarships. For football. "That's the sport I've been playing my whole life," explains Terrance. "I just play basketball for fun."
Is there any other reason?
Not Any Given Sunday (12/31/2003)
My Dad's already rolling calls. It's 4:27 p.m. on the final Sunday of the NFL's regular season,...
Phony Baloney (12/24/2003)
Turns out Orioles executives weren't the only ones in New Orleans glued to their cell phones last...
Mr. Wright (12/17/2003)
I'll admit it. I've put my foot in my mouth before.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201