There’s No Upside...
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Aaron: Playing Hard With a Chip on His Shoulder
PROLOGUE - THE CHIP
At 15 years of age, Aaron has become quite a basketball player. This year he had the chance to play basketball on both a combined LDS young men's team as well as with my LDS men's team. While he thrived playing with the young men, he shined playing the more mature men’s game. It was interesting to see how he would instill fear in the other teams as they would try to keep up with him for the full 32 minutes of game time. More than once you heard, “He is like the Eveready Bunny!”
Well the season drew to an end and his young men’s team made it to the cluster tournament coming up this next week. Aaron’s name was submitted on the roster with his rather inexperienced team that stands very little chance of moving beyond the first round. But you would think he was thrilled with the chance to play in the tournament. Not so, but for reasons I did not fully understand then. I did not realize just how much fun he was having playing with the men‘s team. But it all became crystal clear this past Friday night as our men's LDS Stake tournament started that would send 2 winners on to the cluster tournament.
Both Aaron and I knew we were short handed for our game. I was very sick with a flu/cold and we struggled to get the word out about the game. Aaron and I counted for two and we got Shane and Corey committed to play as well. That meant we only had four players to play in a tournament game. Even at our best, we knew that it would be near impossible to win. The evening was busy as we went to Haily’s lacrosse game and then dropped Aaron off at his Spaghetti Factory drama dinner for making the 9th grade play cast. We knew that he would have to leave early to make our basketball game, but Aaron was all set to do so. He had to leave before his main course was even brought to the table and we rushed back across town and we arrived at the LDS Stake Center with about 2 minutes to spare before the game. Aaron ran in ahead of me as I was really dragging from my illness.
The moment Aaron entered, he was approached by the LDS High Councilman Todd Nielson over the tournament, who immediately let Aaron know that since his name was submitted on the roster for the Young Men’s Tournament that he was ineligible to play in the men’s tournament. Dejected, he went to our bench and sat down with an angry glare. I came walking into the gym wondering why he wasn’t getting his shoes on. I could see the hurt on his face as I approached. Tears were forming and in his frustration he was pushing them back and he headed for the hallway. After finding out what transpired, I let Aaron know that it was okay. I let him know how amazing it was that the other team was fearful of a 15 year old on the basketball court. Aaron was so mad that we were being disqualified from tournament play because he knew we could win this game and move on in the tournament. We went out to center court and took the DQ and agreed to play the 3rd ward 5 on 4. We did this knowing that they were going on and this was our last game of the season.
I was left wondering if Aaron was mad because he couldn’t play? Was he mad because he had to leave his special dinner? Was he mad because he was going to be playing with the young men? Or was he just mad because he was 15 and not respected for his ability to play? Aaron surely wasn’t giving me any satisfaction by clueing me in on the turmoil in his head. All I knew is that he was fuming inside and ready to prove something to everybody present... This was something I had never seen from Aaron at this level before.
We gave the 3rd Ward the ball to start and we decided our best defense was a “Box and none”1. I always smile when I say that, although I think I am the only one that gets the cuteness of the joke. Our goal was to prevent a 3 point shoot-fest against us and allow them to try to come inside where Corey and I could use out height and size against them. We knew we could rebound and we knew we had Aaron as our runner and preventer of fast breaks on the other end.
They missed and we came down and turned it over. They missed again and we came down and turned it over. Clearly we were over-excited and I was gasping for breath through my burning lungs. They came down and I blocked a shot, got the rebound, dribbled down and with nobody closing in on me I put up one of my favorite running, pull-up 3 point shots... Swishhhh! We were on the scoreboard. They came down, missed, and I took the rebound and hit Aaron on the run for a layup. They came down and the shot was blocked and I kicked out the ball and we hustled back down the court. Aaron passed to me behind the line and swish, another 3-point shot. They missed again and Aaron drove through them for another two points. They got the ball stolen by Shane and Aaron collapsing on the dribbler and Aaron was back off the the races.
The score was 12-0 and as we came back down and set up our box Aaron spoke out, “Shouldn’t that be a skunk game?”
The first quarter ended and Shane, Corey, and I were elated. After the 12-0 run the game balanced out a bit and both Corey and Shane got on the scoreboard and this was really becoming an incredible team effort. But Aaron gave us no satisfaction. Instead, his attitude kept saying, “But we could have kept going on. Why does this have to be our last game?” As we gasped for air near the drinking fountain we all wondered if we could keep this up for 3 more quarters. “Let’s just give it our best”, I said.
From the start of the second quarter we continued to dominate. Blocks, steals, rebounds, fast breaks, and scores were our game plan and the other team was getting both frustrated and worn down. By half time the score was 31-13. This meant that the other team scored 6 times in 16 minutes of play. All but the one 3-pointer came from inside shots where a fifth person would have prevented the shot. With only 4 of us on the court you would have thought that they could have just picked us to shreds. Instead, we had them on their heels the entire time. Even when I would encourage Aaron to slow down and wait for me, he would push it up the court and never let them gain their composure.There was more than a chip on his shoulder. He was set on proving the point that he belonged on the court... As his Father, I was amazed at Aaron’s drive and I continued to try to encourage him to enjoy the experience... But due to his youth I don’t know if that was even possible.
The 5 minute half time was no where near long enough for the older portion of the team, but I couldn’t help but notice that the other team looked worse. We came back out with the determination to not let up. We continued to block, steal, rebound and score. Just a couple of minutes into the second half Aaron was dribbling across the top of the key and two of the brethren came together like a hydraulic press with Aaron being hammered in the middle. I called foul, and Aaron was angered. He didn’t want it because he wanted to show everybody that he could hold his own, without complaint. I held firm because I know the nature of older men getting more tired with each trip up and down the court and I knew that if this was let go that it would get really ugly really quick, with Aaron ultimately being the loser. My enforcing the foul did help calm the other team down and we continued our play, but it did not ease their growing frustrations.
later in the third quarter Aaron drove to the bucket to his left. As he approached the defenders he spun 360 to the left and went up for the shot. The defender smacked Aaron hard to the face and blood immediately started flowing from his nose. I called time and headed off to the bathroom to see how he was doing. I came in and Aaron immediately scowled at me. Why? Aaron thought that I had spoken words to the guy that smacked him down. Aaron apparently did not want for his Dad to have to defend him, and I quickly reassured him that I said nothing and was seeing how he was doing. He did not want the game called, so he wiped up the blood and immediately returned back to the court. They were making us bring in the ball and I said, “Wow, talk about adding insult to injury... You’re making us bring it in and not even going to give us the bucket?” The guy who smacked him down said, “he didn’t make the bucket!” To which all reassured him that even after the smack-down the bucket scored and the scorer said it was good and their ball to bring in. This gave some vindication for Aaron’s toughness even when getting smacked down.
They scored more points in the second half, but that was due in part to my not being able to run both ends on every play. But what I remember was Aaron urging us onward to not let up. He kept breaking every time we got a rebound. Once of my best memories was getting a high tipped block and coming up like an all pro quarterback and firing a 40 yard bullet just over the fingertips of the defender and into the hands of Aaron who then took one dribble and laid it up for the score. I then took my finger and demonstrated the score and clapped my hands while exclaiming, “Great finish Aaron!”
The third quarter ended and we knew there was no chance of losing, but Aaron still was not showing any happiness. In fact, as the fourth quarter ensued he became more and more upset. The fact that we were clearly the victors, yet going to be leaving the losers was just too much for him to take. It was a competitive side of him that I had never fully seen before. I can see the positive side and I can see the less than positive side. Aaron played hard to the end, never giving them anything easy. His thought was obviously that running up the score on a team that was going to get to move on in the tournament was a-okay. He is normally the greatest of sports and yet he felt this was a complete injustice.
As the fourth quarter progressed, they opted to switch to a man defense, which meant that one of us was blessed with two defenders. It became a Michael sandwich with one sweaty older guy rubbing me up the back and another up the front.... Ooooh Gross! Yep, you got that right. But for me it is always a challenge. I get them distracted with a lot of movement, bumping, and physical play so that all the two can do is worry about me as a threat. This turns the rest of the court into 3 man one on one ball, and I knew we had the 3 best players on the court. I stress this because this was a game that freed up Aaron to dribble and drive around this 3 man clump of confusion that I was creating with the two tired sweaty bodies trying to stay glued to me. I was able to move this clump and cause huge screens that would part the Red Sea for the driving Aaron. His defender would be screened off as Aaron would brush my screen. If he missed, then Corey and I would usually get the rebound.
On one drive Aaron knew the opening was not clear so just before everything collapsed upon him he kicked the ball out to Shane who stroked in the prettiest 3-point shot. Swishhhhh! This put a huge smile on the face of 44 year old Shane Fisher.
With just a couple of minutes left I was able to get a pass down low on the block. I felt the swarming pressure of both of my defenders and a third coming in off of Aaron and I gave every indication that I was going upward for a shot. Instead, with may back to the bucket I flung a no-look overhead pass to the other low block into the awaiting hands of Corey for an easy two points. It was a dagger that Corey and I had worked on all season long. I had always been telling Corey, “When they collapse on me, then I will be looking to dish it off to you over there, so be there when it happens.” I had caught a glimpse of Corey near the spot just before the collapse occurred, so I let it fly. These plays are rare and a thing of beauty when they work, and this one worked to perfection.
I knew the other team was spent and this is when you normally back off and allow the game to end and you take the win with grace, but this was not to be the case due to the chip on Aaron’s shoulder. His intensity was now on about a 12 on a scale of 10. He continued to encourage us and go for every point and/or good defensive play possible. This continued all the way up to his getting the ball with four seconds on the game clock, driving down the right side, and letting a half court plus shot fly that glanced off the rim as the game ending buzzer sounded.
What a win!
We immediately congratulated the other team while encouraging them to do well as they moved on in the tournament. I then congratulated Corey and Shane and Shane said, “That was the funnest church ball game I have played in in years!” All four of us had great moments of game play, and all of this was led by the drive of the 15 year old with the huge chip on his shoulder.
Aaron was unable to give any of us any satisfaction and he left the court giving a huge glaring stare to Todd Nielson, with apparent feelings of less than good will. Seeing all of this has still left an odd taste in my mouth and I have had a few conversations with Aaron that still seem to have not gone very far in trying to be able to comfort and console this young man‘s pain and anger. The anger is partially justified. The placement of a chip that brought about incredible game play is something I have witnessed from greats like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and even Magic Johnson. But the fear of him thinking that winning without grace and sportsmanship to the event organizers is a real concern for me. There are so many lessons to be learned and this was a memorable game with a memorable outcome.
But here is what I know for sure:
- Aaron has an incredible drive to win.
- Aaron is a talented ballplayer.
- Aaron can dribble, shoot, and score.
- Aaron can encourage his teammates to greatness.
- Aaron is a good young man learning to cope with his teenage years.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS GAME ACCOUNT?
1BOX AND NONE - A popular basketball defense against a team with a superstar is the “Box and 1” defense. This takes four of the players to play a 4 man zone while the fifth player sticks like glue to the superstar in an attempt to control or contain the superstars ability to shine. When you only have four players, then your options are to go triangle and 1, or run a scramble 4 man zone that I like to refer to as a “box and none.” It is also a semi-slap to the other team to say that they don’t have a superstar and that we can cover their entire team of 5 with just 4 players. So when I am forced to play with 4 I always get a smile while telling my team that we have got them covered playing a box and none.