Monday, February 21, 2005

The Prospect and the Angry Loner

The weekend kicked off on Friday night with a most bizarre evening of high school ball. I had planned to attend the Waukesha North-Pius showdown in the Classic 8 conference with my friend Jamie, but unfortunately, Jamie was down for the count with a nasty flu this week, and wasn't able to go. My other normal high school basketball watching friends were tied up with other things, and I have an aversion to large crowds (and this game was sure to be a big draw), so I decided not to go to the game. I couldn't shake the itch to watch basketball, though, and since I'm still at the age where nothing all that fun happens until after 9pm, I figured I could squeeze in a quick game before looking for something else to do. So I decided--this would be the night that I would finally see highly touted Trevon Hughes of St. John's Northwestern Military Academy. So for the second night all year, I decided to head out and be the creepy guy watching a game alone (on a side note--thanks to everyone that I've watched games with this year for keeping me from being this guy most of the time). Needless to say, this was a phenomenally odd night. And here are the details:

1) St. John's was taking on Lake Country Lutheran School, a small, recently founded parochial school that I had never heard of. Lake Country Lutheran was the home team, and thankfully, due to my diligent investigation beforehand, I learned that the game was not to be held at the Lake Country Lutheran campus, and instead was to be held at a school in Menomonee Falls by the name of Zion Lutheran School. I hypothesized that Lake Country Lutheran was too small to host a major division one recruit, so they were moving the game to a bigger venue. And of course, I was wrong. I arrived in the Zion gym and found that it was, in fact, an elementary school gym. There was a court, some stacking chairs for the teams, a makeshift scorer's table, and about 6 rows of seating on the opposite side of the court. Size wise, it wasn't much larger than the gym from the "Pass the ball to Will!" episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Needless to say, I was a bit surprised to be in this small-time atmosphere. I found the one semi-open area of seating and plunked myself down near the far baseline.

2) The crowd around me was not the usual crowd that I encounter at games (i.e., angry parents and old men who love their local team). In front of me and to the side was a young couple, probably a few years younger than me, with their two kids. In back of me was the bulk of what I assumed to be the St. John's JV team. People younger than me with kids creeped me out a bit, but the more interesting subset of fans were the St. John's cadets behind me. Apparently military school really does teach manners, because although the young men needed to sneak past me an inordinate number of times to get to their seats, it was also the only time that I've ever had that many 15-year olds say "excuse me" to me.

3) Not to harp on the military school angle, but in the pre-game circle that so many teams do after introductions these days to pump themselves up, I think I heard the most regimented version of "We Ready" (which I'm now going to take the opportunity to deem the high school warm-up song of the year) that I've ever heard. It was well done, and perhaps even better than the song itself. I'm still glad that I didn't go to a military school myself, but I'll be damned if there wasn't something cool about the way those boys could chant.

4) After the buzzer went off to end warm-ups, the crowd rose as they always do for the national anthem. Except, the national anthem was not the first order of business. And with that, I participated in my first ever pre-game crowd prayer. And then I wondered how many times a public school student from an opposing school had done something offensive during the prayer.

5) Okay, so we've already established that I was watching a game in a surreal environment and easily the smallest gym I'd ever seen a game in. So what did I think of Trevon Hughes, generally considered the second-ranked junior in the state of Wisconsin? Well, it's complicated. The talent is definitely there. Hughes is very quick, handles the ball well, and clearly has the strength to play division one ball. On Friday night, though, he looked bored to me. And I would be too if I was a super-talented guard playing in a low-level game in an elementary school gym. Hughes looked to me like he was attempting to create challenges for himself, rather than just play a good game. The best example of this could be seen as a result of Lake Country Lutheran's full-court press. Generally once the press was set up, the ball would be inbounded to Hughes, and he would look up and assess the court. You could almost see his head figuring out where he needed to make the pass to beat the press. But then you would see him think "I wonder if I can beat these three guys by dribbling through on my own." And so, that's usually what he did. And he generally beat those three guys about 75% of the time. It didn't look like a basketball game for him--it looked like a series of personally entertaining challenges. I'd love to see him with a great coach, though, and playing with some real talent. For the time being, I still like the steadiness and willingness to play team ball that Jerry Smith (the state's other top junior) displays, but I do see what people are excited about with Hughes. I just don't see him anywhere close to reaching his potential right now.

So that's the game. St. Johns ended up winning, which was no surprise, but I wasn't so much there to see a game as I was an individual, anyway. Heck, I didn't even stay for the whole game. The small-gym vibe was sort of creeping me out, and I wanted to beat traffic out of the tiny parking lot. It was definitely a trip that was worth it, though, since I was home by 9pm, and chatting about games with my buddy Kosta over beers by 9:30.


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