I played basketball in 4th grade and was fine I think for a 4th grader. I did not play in 5th and 6th grade because baseball was more interesting (and I was better at it; although, someone should have made me wear my contacts when I played. Seriously, little white ball, young man can’t see things far away!). I started again in 7th grade playing for my best friend’s dad. Last game of the year he asked me if I wanted to play or if I wanted the team to win. As I think back on that I don’t know that I understood the question so much as I understood what I was supposed to say. I think we won 32-31, and I did hit a free throw (in the first half). Andrew Armstrong was the player who took my minutes in the second half. Later we called him stretch as he grew and grew to be like 6:7 or something.
8th grade I was okay, didn’t make mistakes, could shoot a little; my defense had to have been bad but I don’t remember being yelled at. I just remember that we had this incredibly elaborate play called Dr. Tom and at the beginning of the year I got to shoot a baseline jumper at the end of Dr. Tom.
9th grade. Freshman ball, size medium shorts, throwing up after conditioning in the pre-season, running a 6.7 forty yard dash, and playing the role of 6th man on a 6 man Freshman Club. We were 5-8. one night, against Bixby coach Hogue sat down with me on the bench and said, “Matt, I’m glad you’re here on the bench with me.” To this day I didn’t know if he liked me or was simply glad I wasn’t on the court. He is a nice guy, and a great coach so i’m sure he meant he was glad to sit with me 🙂
Grant Marshall was our All-State Shooting guard. He was good looking, could hit any shot, seemingly never lost the ball, the ladies seemed to love him, etc. I remember it was against Bixby that coach said that, but I do not remember the circumstances that led up to Grant taking me to school in the mornings. Maybe it was because he could do these amazing drills as we were warming up (like the spider where you dribble with each hand in front, and then each hand in back, while keeping the ball under your legs), and coach Owens mentioned more than once that he could do that because he was dedicated. Later he interpreted that word to mean, “Grant gets up at 5:30 and works on these drills before school”. Later that year Coach and Grant made a video of these drills and sold a few copies at Coach’s camps. It went into slow-motion so you could actually see Grant’s hands as he did the Spider. Sometime during Freshman year Grant gave me his old basketball. My first leather ball. I could easily pick it out along side 50 other ones because I knew the shade and tint so well. My older brother ruined it that summer by taking it outside for an hour.
So, he took me to school in the mornings. I did ball handling drills and shooting drills I had no business doing. I should have worked on my speed, jumping, quickness, or found a pick up game in the mornings so I would be less nervous in actual game situations. Nevertheless, it became pretty clear to all the coaches that I was going. To this day I am a mediocre ball handler, but I can do the spider faster than you can. Seriously. That year we lost in the Area Semi-Finals. The game before that Grant scored 28 against Cimarron. My young mind doesn’t remember much about the game we lost except that I think it came down to free throws. I don’t know if Grant liked me. I believe he respected me for getting up in the mornings with him. Even more so on the days when I made him a Toaster Strudel. I scratched him once in the hall way when he was spinning his basketball around on one finger (I was trying to ‘steal’ it.) It was embarrassing.
At the end of the year we always did Senior Wills, and Grant willed me the ability to continue getting up in the mornings and practicing (which I did). He said I would be a great player someday (still waiting for that day!) and to keep at it. He played D1 for awhile at Stephen F. Austin, but as is often the case the coach was trying pretty hard to get something going so Grant would get 30 minutes one night (20 points), and not play the next. At least that is how I remember it.
Is this how most mentoring goes? Just take someone under your wing, show them a bit of what you know, and then encourage them to keep at it? As I write this at the age of 33 – still in love with basketball, scored 2 points last night but we won and I thought I played pretty well – I don’t know who I would have been in high school if Grant hadn’t picked me up. Sophomore year was tough, not a lot of playing time on JV, a series of 3-week girlfriends, grades went down quite a bit as I realized I had peaked at what I could get with exactly zero effort. but I still got up in the mornings and practiced. By this time I couldn’t fit in my shorts from Freshman year (although I wouldn’t grow taller than I was that year). Kendall King was usually there in the mornings, and I remember comfort at seeing his Green Grand Cherokee when it wasn’t light yet and there were no other cars in the parking lot. Kendall was a good all around player, who was comfortable playing at least four positions.
I wonder if Grant helped my reputation any? I wonder if I would have kept playing basketball if I hadn’t played in the mornings. I wonder if I would have made the team Sophomore year?
I do know I’m thankful. I know that basketball is ‘my sport’. I know I miss the simplicity of those early morning drills.