|The Write Space and Time|
March 15, 2011 -- It's weird. When you're a coach and you draw up a play and your players execute and make the shot, you feel smart, you feel essential. Like you know what you're doing and it matters. But when you draw up a play and your players execute and they miss that shot, you feel lousy. Like you stink and you just can't put them in a situation to be successful. In reality, not one thing within a coach's control is different from one scenario to the next. Whether or not the ball goes in makes all the difference in the world.
When my kids were little we would read this book by Patricia MacLachlan with glorious illustrations by Mike Wimmer. It was called, "All the Places to Love" and it was about the valley, and the barn, and the river and the meadow and the simple joys of God's gorgeous earth. And in the middle of it all comes the pivotal phrase:
"Where else, he says, (in reference to the barn) can the soft sound of cows chewing make all the difference in the world?"
Nowhere, of course. That's the point.
Some things that happen in some situations just color your world.
In almost every game I watch there is a play, or sometimes two or three or four or five plays that, if it goes a certain way, the game is changed. You can feel it coming. It's like a wave rolling in on a Carolina beach. You feel it building, it's full of promise, you ready yourself to jump and ride...and sometimes it just sends you. Before you can even take a breath or complete a thought you find yourself swept away, deposited on the beach, in a different spot entirely.
And yet sometimes, for all the pomp and circumstance a swell of water might goad you with, the potential catapult just dies and bumps you, like a bad apology, leaving you right where you were. Except you're not really. Right where you were, that is. You're right where you were with the sand being siphoned out from under your feet. And all you can think about is where you could have been.
In basketball, I call those avalanche plays. Avalanche plays change games. I've even seen them turn a season. And the frustrating part, and yet, simultaneously, the invigorating part, is that there's never really any explanation of why they go one way or another. All we know for sure is that they color our world.
As I sit here on the eve of our selection show watching men's highlights from late game finishes in conference tournaments across this country, I find myself wondering who the guy was that fell down on Kemba Walker's crossover. And who was the guy that so tightly contested Isaiah Thomas' left-handed fall-away 3? And which Harvard guy was it who went for the lift fake anyway? I don't know one of their names. They're just guys the wave died on. And Kemba, and Isaiah and the whole Princeton nation are the guys who landed on the beach.
Avalanches can come at any time--midway through the first half, in the first five minutes of the second, on the last possession of the game. They are not respecters of time and score. That's part of what makes March mad and college sports, in general, so compelling. But the other part of the wondrous equation is that if you can't predict them and you can't control them, you have just as good a shot as anybody else of getting hit by the golden wave. Readying yourself to jump and ride, can make all the difference in the world.