Bowdoin College vs. University of Southern Maine, at Southern Maine. NCAA Elite eight game, winner goes to the Final Four. Close game. Huge crowd. Bowdoin fans covered in black and white face paint wearing old Bowdoin jerseys from the early 90’s. It was the spring of my Jr year. We had lost two games that season. This was our year to go to the final four.
Two weeks before, we played Bates College for the league championship. We were down by at least 15 at half time, if not more. We couldn’t have played any worse at that point, there was nothing to loose. One of our seniors, and the best defense player in the country, took a 15 ft jump shot to start the second half. This was a girl who hadn’t taken an outside shot in a game during the three years I had played with her. It went in. It got the fans going and that was it. She took the risk. We were going to win. I felt it. Poised and confident, I proceeded to have the best half of my college basketball career. We won.
Throughout my career, I was the kid who had the “potential” to be good. I’d show sparks at times but was never consistent. The second half of the game at Bates was finally my time. After that, the way I played became an expectation for myself, and for others. But two weeks later at USM, my confidence was rattled and I was back to playing timid and nervous. The game was coming down to the wire and someone needed to do what I did at Bates. We needed that spark; we needed a leader. I can’t remember specifically if we were tied or down two, but our coach called a time out and drew up a play. It was for me to bring the ball up the court and go one-on-one, either looking to score, get fouled, or dish to someone for the winning shot. Fired up, we left the huddle, set up the play and the whistle blew. It would have taken two sharp cuts to get the ball. Instead I made a half-ass cut and allowed my defender to stay with me. I just “couldn’t” get open. We ended up turning it over that possession and 21 seconds later lost the game.
I know I did not personally loose the game. I know that even if I would have gotten the ball, I could have missed a shot or turned it over. I know that the previous 39 minutes determined the outcome of the game as much as the last minute. But I also know that I can’t let go of the feeling of how much I regret not making a strong cut, getting the ball and taking that risk. The risk of taking the last shot won’t always work out. But it is a privilege. It is your team and your coach saying we believe in you. I wish I could have understood that then.
Now I play basketball close to three times a week. Its just pick up and yet almost every time I play I think back to that game. In this pick up league, I’m the shooter. I’m finally playing with confidence and swagger, shooting the kind of risk taking big shots that I only gave myself permission to do a few games in college. There are days at pick up where I am on fire. Then I miss 5 in a row and I find my brain retreating back to the old days and old thoughts of just stop shooting and thinking about the fear that people will be mad it me if I miss. I still think it but I’m working on not letting it stop me. Now I take the last shot. I’ll miss it three times out of five. But when I miss the guys don’t get mad at me. In fact, I know they are all doing the same thing I’m doing, thinking about what they could have done differently. It would have been the same in college. And those two or three times when I do hit the winning shot, and the ball barely touches the rim, I feel accomplishment. I feel confident.
I think back to what I could have done at the end of that USM game and I feel embarrassed and regretful. But every day at pick up, I’m teaching myself that I can do it, and creating situations that I can look back on and say, “I just did it.” It’s not for a trip to the final four, but right now, it’s for me.