Friday, March 26, 2010

Big Flashes/Little Pans

Did you see Butler upset Syracuse to move to the “Elite 8”? Timely defense and a few cold-blooded three pointers at the right time sealed the deal. We Hoosiers love a great shooter.

Oscar Robertson (greatest player of all time -- averaged triple doubles for a whole season)
Billy Keller
Rick Mount (greatest pure shooter of all time)
Kyle Macy
Steve Alford

Those names represent the Hoosier pantheon of great guards.

Anyway, the last time Butler made it this far in the NCAAs was a trip down memory lane for me 'cause, sitting on Butler's bench (and I hadn't previously been aware of this) was Coach Todd Lickliter.

Todd was a kid from my side of town and, had I not gone to private school, would have been my classmate....
....but that's not the whole story.

Didn't we all grow up with a “best friend”? ...Mine was a friend from the 4th grade, all the way up until we went our separate ways to different colleges. Anyway, my best friend in high school topped the city scoring charts (basketball) both our junior and senior years...

...but we didn't play any of the public school competition. So, though my friend's name almost always topped the list of the top scorers in the city every Sunday in the sports section of the Indianapolis Star, it was as though there was this annoying "asterisk" applied to it. His place as scoring champion was made illegitimate by the apples-to-oranges of our competition -- my friend being the "apples" to Todd Lickliter's "oranges". See, Todd sometimes traded places with my friend at the top of the scoring list.

The summer between our Junior and Senior years, my friend and I got wind of a regular game at the high school Todd attended -- at that time it was the biggest high school in Indiana. One hot Saturday morning we made our way over to the high school gym to check it out.

Remember those first summers of freedom? My friend had pooled his summer earnings with a bit of help from his pop and bought a ten-year-old Pontiac Tempest that was our ticket to any game in town. We'd go see ABA Pacer games at “The Coliseum” – a facility so run down that we could buy cheap seats for $2 and steal our way down to the usually empty good seats and worship at the feet of Roger Brown -- the greatest player nobody but a Hoosier ever knew.

Anyway, back then they didn't air condition the schools in the summer -- certainly not the gyms. So the gym was as hot as the outdoors when we entered its doors (doors that were wide open in a vain attempt to ventilate the stale gym air), but I felt the chill of excitement....and dread. I was always a good playground player -- great with the guys I knew, but I choked when it came time to prove myself before strangers.

My friend obviously didn't suffer the same affliction.

After a long wait through "winner-keeps-the-court" games, we were finally able to put together a team to take to the court and challenge the current winners.

I was, as I anticipated, my usual cautious self and played utterly unremarkably -- just trying not to screw up. But my friend led our team to a VERY unexpected victory.

Suddenly the gym was abuzz with, "Who IS that guy?".

As it had taken so long to actually get into the game, by the time we finished our game, most of the rest of the group was breaking up to call it a day....

...until my friend and I were stopped in our tracks near the exit.

"Hey, ______! (my friend's name) Let's go one on one!"

The fellow who shouted the challenge across the emptying gym was Todd, who by then had finally realized that the gym ringer that day was the very same guy against whom he'd competed for city top scoring honors throughout the past year.

Apples and oranges......same crate.

Suddenly the mass exit of kids halted and every last kid returned to the gym and stood riveted to the sidelines, entranced by the competition. By then the whispers had made their way 'round the gym and everyone in attendance knew the stakes.

My friend was not exactly your typical jock type. He was an acne-faced homely kid with a vertical jump that made it appear as though he was trying to break the gravitational bonds of Jupiter. His shoulders were merely the narrowest of detours between a pin-head, a long skinny neck, and a surprisingly wide-assed stance. It gave him a sorta "Baby Huey" look. He sported a buzz-cut head at a time (remember the early 70's?) when hair couldn't have been more of a statement of "cool".

To top that off, my friend was even known to wear black socks in his Chuck Taylors. That was DEFINITELY not cool back then. Never has been on a lily-white Caucasian.

The assembled crowd's snickering derision about his appearance was not lost on my friend. It never was. Though I knew that deep down inside it bothered him, from outward appearances, he seemed to revel in the reaction his backwards appearance invited. He did, in some manner, seem to be able to turn the other kid's ridicule to his advantage.

Todd, on the other hand, was the son of the coach of that high school -- he was the well dressed, well connected, country club, cheerleader-for-a-girlfriend type.

What my friend did have was brains (he was our class valedictorian), very quick hands, and the ability to psych his opponent better than anyone I've ever played with. And he could shoot the lights out.

Hoosier kids don't play "make it take it". We play one-on-one the hard way -- even taking the ball back to the free-throw line between possessions. And I gotta tell you, that was one hard-fought contest. To his credit, my friend remained ice. Todd was getting hot -- he had SO much more to lose.....AND.....he was in front of his "home crowd". It took a few "overtimes" (Hoosier's also play by the God-given rule that real men win by (at least) two points)...

My friend beat Todd.

And that day my friend walked out of that gym, asterisk settled in his mind.


Well, so I found out what happened to Lickliter. He coaches division I NCAA basketball.

And, on the other hand, my friend got very deeply into political conspiracy theories -- Illegitimacy of government -- illegitimacy of the IRS. He disappeared. Went underground. I hear some of my Naptown friends mention seeing him pop up now and again but nobody I know even knows where he lives.

Guess I should have left the story with the happy ending? If it had been fiction, maybe I would have.

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