Winner Winner, Chicken (Burrito) Dinner

With half of the NBA in full-tank mode and others resting their starters in preparation for the playoffs, and with March Madness nothing but a distant memory (who won again?), perhaps the most compelling basketball action in the country Sunday night occured in a small grade-school gynasium on the rugged east side of Geneva, IL, where the remnants of a team formerly known as Team Wegobomber battled a squad called Old Towne Tavern in the Geneva Park District Men's Spring 'A' League in the first week of a 8-game season.

Yours truly is one of original members of Team Wegobomber, a once-proud organization that can now only be described as the Buffalo Bills of the Geneva Park District League winter league (14 games from October through March with playoffs at the end). I've been playing off and on since graduating from college in 1996, and in those 11 years we've won the regular season title 8 or 9 times. And guess how many playoff titles do we have? The same as you. Zero. This year was no exception. We rolled through the regular season with a 14-2 record and the number one seed, only to get trounced in the finals. Another year, another bitter disappointment.

For the first time, the Park District put together a mini-spring league, so our fearless leader Matt Haiduk (the Duker) jumped at this small shot at redemption so he may someday hopefully die in peace. Duker is probably the only guy on the team that pours his heart more into this league than I do. It's simply not healthy. For his sake, I hope we win this thing sooner or later. Me? I just want to win so I can end on a high note. One league title and I'm riding off into the may be 20 years from now in a 50 years and over co-ed half court league, but I'll take it.

The other difference between Duker and I is that Duker has real basketball talent. He jumps higher than any white guy I know, and is a legitimate threat to throw one down in any given game. The highlights of the season for me are the games where we're up by 25 with 2 minutes to go and Duker gives me 'the look'...the look that says 'throw me the oop when you get the chance'. We've yet to connect on one of those, but it's not for a lack of trying.

So what's my role? I'm the glue guy. Start with Shane Battier, shorten him to 6' 2", remove the Duke background (thank you very much), surgically remove Dickie V's lips from his backside, shave off about $5.2 million of his salary and at least 95% of his basketball talent and you're left with Jim Colton. But Shane's got nothing on my heart and hustle. Now if I could only get some of those charge calls to go my way. My stat line reads something like this: 5-6 pts, 5-6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2.5 steals, 0.5 blocks and maybe 0.5 3's per game. Clearly nothing to brag about, but hopefully I bring more than what shows up in the boxscore.

The one downside about this spring league is that it is going to seriously conflict with my golf game. For the last 11 years, my sporting life has been in perfect harmony. November through March is nothing but Wegobomber basketball. April through October is nothing but golf. Now we've got overlap. Although it's hardly been an issue this spring since as of three days ago there was still snow on the ground. In an act of desperation, I managed to do both yesterday. Since the gym and my home course are only about 2 miles apart, I played a quick 9 holes at 4:00 pm and headed straight to the gym about 10 minutes before our 6:00 game. Beautiful. Too bad it was so cold and windy out on the course that I couldn't feel my face. Like I said...desperation.

The good news is we only had 4 other guys show up so immediately after lugging a 30-pound bag around for 2 1/2 miles in 25 degree wind chill, I now had to play a full 40 minutes on some very unforgiving Harrison Street school rims that looked like they hadn't been changed since I went to school there. There was at least a 5% chance that I was going to collapse and die in the next hour. Thankfully, the other team only started out with 5 as well.

You'd think that playing with basically the same group of guys for the last 11 years, we would've developed some intricate offensive sets by now. Nope. Our offense is built around one thought and one thought only...'Get Marc The Ball'. For the most part we've had great success in this executing this strategy...even at 43 years old Marc is still the Michael Jordan of the league. He probably averages 35-points per game (no, we don't keep stats. We're not that crazy. Okay...we used to keep stats but we don't anymore).

Over the years, I've done a pretty good job of getting Marc the Ball. The guy is probably responsible for 65% of my assist totals. Have you ever noticed Brian Cook when he's on the floor with Kobe? Cook doesn't have the ball more than than half a second before he's looking for Kobe. He learned a long time ago where his bread was buttered. And in related news, Brian Cook signed a 3-year, $10.5 million contract last offseason. He's no dummy.

Okay, so I'm a poor man's cross between Shane Battier and Brian Cook. And in the first half, I actually played pretty well. After missing badly on my first two shot attempts, I buried a 3-ball from the corner, had a nice little drive to the bucket and a few nice touch passes for 8 pts in the first half as we led 37-31 at halftime.

Our opponents must've been working the phone lines because they had a 6th guy show up at halftime. In the world of mens rec league basketball, an extra body can make all the difference in the world. It really doesn't matter how good he is. Despite this new disadvantage, we did manage to pull away early in the second half, getting the lead out to 13 pts with about 5 minutes left. But these guys hung tough, hitting some clutch threes and a couple of 'And Ones' to shave the lead down to two. With the score 77-75 with less than a minute left, Marc missed the front end of a one-and-one, and they marched down with a lay-up to tie the game up.

We played for one, and you can guess who was going to take the last shot. Marc drove to the hoop with just a few seconds left, pulled-up for a 10-foot jumper but was well-defended (the refes swallowed their whistles) and ended up shooting an air ball that went out of bounds with just 1.1 seconds left. Old Towne called a timeout to draw up their potential game winning play, as we were legitimately just hoping for overtime.

Whatever play they drew up, I don't think this was it: try to throw it your point guard (the new guy) on the run, throw it behind him and watch the ball sail out of bounds untouched. Either way, that is exactly was happened. Of course, that meant we'd get the ball back right under the basket. So we called a timeout and drew up our play...set a double screen curl for Marc but have him try to cut it back under the hoop for an easy score.

Do you know that feeling when everyone in the whole gym knows who's going to get the ball? Well, that's exactly what happened here. Guys on the other team were screaming, 'Don't let HIM get the ball', pointing to Marc. There was some confusion on our part on who was supposed to set the double screen, so to play it safe the double screen turned into a triple screen. The guy guarding Marc played the low side well so there was no opportunity for the back cut.

Then a funny thing happened. After setting my screen (although I may have set the screen on Duker, I'm not sure. I do know that I layed a mean pick on somebody), I turned around and there was literally nothing but daylight between me and the basket. It was like Moses had parted the Red Sea. After screaming 'Chris!!!' (the inbounder) at the top of my lungs, he passed it to me and I went up for the uncontested layup. As the team's career leader in missed bunnies, this was still no guarantee. But by the grace of God, the ball went through the net as the buzzer sounded for my 13th and 14th points of the game, and far more importantly, a 79-77 Wegobomber victory!

That puts me about 25 buzzer beaters behind Michael Jordan. But it's a start. In my head, I could just imagine Wayne Larivee saying 'A game-winning basket from the most unlikely of sources!!!'

As we celebrated with our traditional postgame Chipotle, I couldn't help but share the following thought with Duker. I didn't know whether to be elated that I hit the game-winner or to be ashamed that a buzzer beater in a mens rec league game is and probably will be the crowning achievement of my basketball career (not to mention my single biggest accomplishment in that gymnasium since I dominated dodge ball back in 5th grade. Back in the day, we called it Bombardment. I was a dodge ball prodigy. By the way, I'm sure that elementary physical education has evolved over the last 20 years, but when I was in grade school we had this grumpy old gym teach named Mr. Bashaw and our PE curriculum was fully comprised of two units: Bombardment and Kick-Soccer-Baseball. That's literally ALL we ever did. Not that I'm complaining.)

Thinking about it some more...I think I'll stick with elation. It quite possible that my basketball career has officially peaked and it's all downhill from here. I'm fine with that. We all have to top off somewhere. Next week, I'm playing in a qualifier for the Illinois State Mid-Am golf could be the case that simply qualifying, not winning, but qualifying is the crowning moment of my tournament golf career. I'm fine with that too, just as I'm sure Zach Johnson would be perfectly content if he never won another golf tournament in his life. David Duval may never get his game anywhere near back where it once was, but that doesn't mean he has to give back his British Open victory.

So chances are this is the last time you get to hear about my basketball exploits. At least until we win that 50+ Co-Ed half-court league twenty years from now. Stay tuned.

[Note: I'd love to hear about your memorable game winners in the comment section, even if it back in 5th grade. Organized ball only.]


  1. Wego Family said...:

    big up to Jimmy C. The true call played out to perfection. Use mark as the decoy and then slip it to Colt for the bunny. I have to ask, as you were laying it in were you thinking, "I hope I don't miss"?

  1. Matt said...:

    Colton, you were an animal out there last night. The beauty of sport is that, even though there is only one "Superbowl" to the rest of the world, every game can mean that much to those who play. Let's get at it again next week.

  1. sandi said...:

    Hey, frightens me that I remember when your postgame tradition was Boston Market.

    WTG with the game winner!

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