Rhonda emailed me about American Working Class Literature and Research Writing this evening and in response to me telling her I was having a good weekend she wrote, "I am also enjoying my weekend. I've been playing hoops so it's been Grand."
Too often, probably, I think back to when I was a Kellogg Wildcat. I played from 1969-72. It was a barren time for the Wildcats and by the time we had modest success in 71-72, I was a benchwarmer.
I belonged on the bench. So, my ruminations about Kellogg Wildcat basketball don't have anything to do with whether I was being treated fairly.
I think more about how little I really understood basketball. I watch, read about, or listen to games these days and I wonder how we Wildcats might have done had we known some things then that I know now.
What I think about most is that all I really thought about in1969-72 was offense. All of my fantasies had to do with hitting jumpers. All I practiced was shooting. Defense was an afterthought. I know now that teams of lesser athletic talent make up for it by playing hard-nosed defense.
I wonder if our coaches might have drilled us more on defense, drilled into our heads and drilled us in pratice. Playing defense requires excruciating conditioning and great mental strength.
When I played for the Kellogg Wildcats, I think we thought of defense more in terms of glamorous things: steals and blocked shots.
Our defensive liabilities take me back to the night my senior year when the Kellogg Wildcats lost to the Wallace Miner at home, in Andrews Gymnasium.
My most vivid memory was of Steve Grebil, a Wallace senior, putting the clamps on our leading scorer, Don Knott. Grebes was on top of him all night, annoying him, not letting him get his shots, taking him out of his game. Grebes was not a superior athlete. Don Knott was. But Grebes was driven. He didn't score much that night, if at all, but I thought he was the MVP of that upset win.
I look back and wonder what Wallace coach Norm Walker said to Grebes in the week leading up to that game. Did he challenge him? Did the Miners work more on conditioning? Did he scout Don Knott and know his tendencies and did he drill those tendencies into Grebe's head? Or was it just the way Steve Grebil did things?
(Perfect moment. Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's just came on a Napster playlist: "I Won't Back Down.")
Grebes wouldn't back down.
Grebes makes me think about how willing I was to back down as a basketball defender. I was a defeatist not a defender. I felt inferior to my opponents. I just figured I'd get beat because I was slow afoot and, I know now, I was either ignorant of how to play good defense or the ways I'd been coached to play defense just didn't stick.
When I did play, I got embarrassed often on defense. I was a easy defender to back door. The idea of denying an opponent from going where he wanted to go never crossed my mind, even though players on other teams denied me from going where I wanted to all the time.
I was a zone defense guy. The confrontations were not head to head. I had an area to take care of. Teams usually worked to score from the outside against a zone. I was less exposed.
I watch how aggressively teams, especially good teams, play defense. They swarm. They double team. They anticipate. They create offense out of their defensive sets. Most of all, I see coaches who devise defensive schemes.
It's what I'd like to have back when I think about being a Kellogg Wildcat. I'd like to go back and be a player determined to defend aggressively and be on the floor with other guys who bought into the same idea. I'd like to be better conditioned. I'd like to feel the pride that comes with playing tight defense. I'd like to be a part of a team that dictates what the other team does because of a defensive mindset that won't allow that team to do what they want.
And, yet, when I can't sleep, I imagine myself being a Kellogg Wildcat again. Again and again I imagine myself on a fast break. Our opponent has gotten back on defense and has the lane defended. I get a pass on the wing, about fifteen feet out, along the baseline. I shoot. The twine snaps and I trot calmly to other end of the floor, like I do it all the time.
It's like counting sheep. It helps me get to sleep.
My fantasies are never about defense. Even in my dreams, all I want is the ball so I can swish another soft jumper.