You never forget your first love. I fell in love with basketball some time during the spring of 1984 prior to my 7th birthday. I watched an average Alabama team lose a close game to a loaded Kentucky team in the SEC tournament. During the game, I decided that freshman point guard Terry Coner was my favorite player. He would go on to a remarkable career at Alabama while leading what was likely the best 4-year run of Alabama basketball ever from 1983-1987. I even confess naming a stuffed shade-wearing bunny rabbit "T.C. Cool" in his honor. He was a good player who was often best under pressure which is something I tried to emulate within my own limitations as a player.
As I fell in love with basketball, I remained terrible at it. I went to my neighbor's house day after day and tried to make a shot on their 10-foot basket. I could re-create Terry Coner's game on my Nerf goal in my room and tried to dribble like him in the garage on rainy days, but the neighbor's driveway was filled daily with errant airballs. Eventually, I could run just the right way and occasionally hit the bottom of the rim. When I played games with the older kids in the neighborhood, I was limited to just dribbling and passing...which was not all bad for an aspiring point guard. I still remember the emptiness of being left open to drive to the hole and flip the ball aimlessly in the air.
I do not know what day that it was but I was taking my usual lay-up angles to the basket and flinging up shot after shot. Then suddenly one shot went flying up and sort of hung onto the rim...and kept rolling over the lip...until it went right through the net. I jumped in the air and began looking around to see if anyone was there to see it...and then felt the absence that no one would believe it went in. As the silence of my success hung in the air, I went to retrieve the ball. Suddenly, I heard a voice from the neighbor's window--it was Mrs. McCoy who had moved her car numerous times so I could shoot on her goal--without hitting her car. "You did it. I saw it." Cue up One Shining Moment.
There are plenty of basketball moments that followed that one for me, but those stories can be saved for another time. My basketball career peaked as an Academic All-State player who was at best invited to pay my way to play in college and chose a different path. A little over 10 years ago, I gave up coaching basketball as a career to pursue other callings and have mostly been an informal fan ever since. In the midst of that pursuit, I ended up in Atlanta without cable and the Hawks as the only basketball option regularly on television from 2003-2006. It was only a love of basketball that could make me a fan because there was not even band-aids for the broken Atlanta wagon in those years. As an SEC basketball fan, it was easy to cheer for Al Horford and Joe Johnson in the years that followed and I eventually stumbled upon a website that provided knowledgeable coverage of the team with surprisingly good dialogue in the comments. I lurked for a long while before finally joining Peachtree Hoops to offer a few opinions.
Last December, I was approached about covering the draft for Peachtree Hoops and humbly accepted the opportunity. I love the Hawks, but I am still a college hoops fan at heart. Before writing anything, I spent 6 weeks listing every player I was most wrong or right about in past drafts. I did not want to come off as a 7-year-old just shooting up all those air balls again in the neighbor's yard. I gave my brother the privilege of calling me out for every stupid thing I ever said about basketball, so I could try to eliminate such statements in the future. After doing my homework, I developed the STAR test to help me evaluate prospects and it let me to uphold that teams should take this guy:
Unlike Shooter in Hoosiers, I do not "know everything there is to know about the greatest game ever invented" but I want to thank Jason and Kris and each of you for giving me a few moments in 2014 to be a little black dot on the big orange pill of hoops knowledge this past year. Whether it has been covering the draft, blasting Evan Turner, or helping with Community Guidelines, I have thoroughly enjoyed taking shots in your driveway this year. For most of my adult life basketball has felt like the end of a once-important journey, but this year has returned me back to the beginning. Whatever your goals are for 2015, I hope they are just within reach that you can just roll the ball over the rim, high enough that they may feel worth pursuing day after day, and last long enough that they may renewed in surprising ways. Happy New Year!