Bringing the game home
By Dom Cioffi
Somewhere around the ninth grade, something clicked in my head with basketball, where it went from an activity to a passion. I had always played on my school teams and enjoyed watching the sport on TV, but it had never held any hallowed ground in my mind until that year.
I was a solid player; nothing special. I had decent hops and was fairly quick. My shooting was suspect (like most kids that age) and I wasn’t skilled in any form of post play. Subsequently, for most of my young career, I was the kind of player my coaches could count on to semi-produce.
I’m not sure what changed, but around 14 years old, I caught the basketball bug. I know I went to several camps that summer, which certainly contributed to an increase in interest. I also started to see my game improve significantly, which fed my desire and allowed me to make my school’s freshman team.
After middle school, a large contingency of players fall out of the game; it’s a natural transition that occurs in most sports. Inevitably, those who are most dedicated and talented begin to populate the few spots on a given roster. Others lose interest or find they are no longer able to compete.
Another thing that propelled my game forward was the fact that I hung around other like-minded boys my age. My friend-group consisted of mostly basketball players who were as interested in playing as I was.
During the winter months, we made pilgrimages to whatever gyms we heard were open for playing. We also knew who held the keys to certain locations and were quick to jump on an opportunity if it arose. (These were the days where breaking into a gym to play were met with scoldings and not lawsuits.)
However, the single greatest influence on my basketball career was the play of an upperclassman three years my senior. This young man was a basketball phenom who was deftly skilled at all aspects of the game. Watching him play became an obsession for me, as I wanted to emulate his slippery moves and precise shooting touch.
He had a signature move – the reverse layup – that I practiced incessantly. He had a unique way of pulling it off that I worked tirelessly to imitate. Eventually, it became my signature move and something I was quite proud to unleash if the opportunity arose.
One night he broke the state’s individual scoring record and I had the serendipitous good fortune of sitting behind his parents as it unfolded. Seeing their emotional response to their son’s epic performance truly affected me.
After that night, I became even more obsessed. No matter where I went, I had a basketball in tow. If I was at a party, I was in the driveway shooting. If I had free time on the weekends, I was at the local playground playing pick-up. If I was alone at home watching TV, I was dribbling through my legs while watching.
I went on to have a solid high school career and eventually went to a post-graduate year of prep school where I hoped to refine my skills to a point where I could play at a small college. Unfortunately, a back injury derailed my college career, but after recovering, I still played deep into adulthood in men’s leagues.
For many years, I have coached at the middle school level, giving back to the game I love. And for the last several years, I’ve had the good fortune of coaching my own son on his school’s team.
We have our moments, but for the most part, we handle the father/son, coach/player dynamic fairly well. I take some credit for his abilities, given that I’ve pressured him to practice for so many years. But his ascension into being passionate and successful at the game strictly comes from him.
This past weekend we had an all-day tournament against some stacked AAU teams. We were definitely outmatched on many levels, but our team stepped up and played with heart.
At one point, late in the second half of one game, my son gave a head-fake to his defender and charged the basket. He drove in, leapt into the air and pulled off a precision reverse lay-up, kissing the ball gently off the opposite side of the backboard before it rolled in.
After he scored, he ran by the bench and gave me a smile as if to say, “That was for you, dad.” I was momentarily overwhelmed as I realized how a tiny circle of life had just been completed.
This week’s film, “The Turning,” was the polar opposite of that inspirational experience. In fact, it was one of the worst movie experiences I’ve had in a long time.
Set in the Maine countryside, “The Turning” features a young woman who is hired to nanny two disturbed children. That’s all you need to know. The entire film is nothing more than one cliché scare tactic after another, none of which were very convincing.
Do yourself a favor and check out a different film this week. Your theater dollars aren’t worth wasting on this pathetic movie.
A putrid “D-” for “The Turning.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]