First, I need to offer a glimpse of playing basketball during sixth grade. It was pretty routine with practices and games. I do remember jumping the bleachers. Seriously we jumped from the floor up to the next bleacher, and then continued jumping up.
It looked something like this video, except we were jumping on bleachers and not the stairs. It required a higher vertical jump. And the part I remember most is how scary it was; I was afraid of completely missing the next bleacher. I never did miss, but that scared feeling never went away.
The highlight of the year was participating in the Catholic diocesan tournament. Schools from all over the state met in Charleston for the big showdown. I remember being so much taller than the opponents and yet not completely sure how to handle that. While on defense, there would be a short girl dribbling in my direction but focusing on the ball. So when she looked up to shoot, you could see her eyes widen in panic as my arms were fully extended and she had no view of the basket. Yet, despite the edge in height, I never took full advantage. I grabbed rebounds and had trouble keeping the ball above my head; I always wanted to bring it down. It took quite a while to learn that part and, I guess, build up the muscle memory in the arms. But that tournament was a lot of fun. Our team won first place!
When it came time to try out for the public school team, I was scared. There was a very healthy dose of fear that I wouldn’t make the team. Nothing was assumed. I knew being tall didn’t guarantee me anything. I still needed to demonstrate having talent and skills, and I wasn’t convinced I had those. I was still harnessing and finessing the fundamentals. But at tryouts there were two other girls who were closer in height. So I didn’t feel like such a freak show. (By the end of seventh grade, I recorded my height as 6 feet, so at some point I grew an additional two inches from sixth grade.)
I remember a drill during tryouts where we went one-on-one against someone at the foul line. I didn’t feel real adept in the ball handling department. But over the summer during basketball camp we simulated this drill when we learned about the crossover dribble. I had enough awareness to realize the coaches wanted to see what kind of moves we would make, yet most of the others trying out just dribbled to the right and took a shot. My turn came and I did the crossover dribble for an attempted (and hopefully successful) left-handed layup. The coaches were impressed by this. I still wasn’t convinced it was an actual skill. Yes it occurred to me during a drill but it wouldn’t have naturally unfolded if it was a real pressure situation. At least I didn’t think it would. The fact that I did it during tryouts seemed like a minor detail because I had time to think and strategize. (Owning and acknowledging abilities was still a challenge.)
But I did make the team. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise anyone. It was a great experience! Not the running part. We did more conditioning than I was used to. Suicide drills are a method of pure torture, in case you were wondering.
I had run them before in sixth grade, but we ran them more often in seventh. These were so tricky because it requires running as fast as you can to a certain spot and then bending down and touching the floor and then quickly turning to run back. That’s a lot of movement in a short amount of time. And getting my body to cooperate, especially at my height, was a challenge. But boy did it paid off! I was in better shape from the previous year. And that helped with getting up and down the court.
We had excellent, scrappy guards who made tons of steals. A lot of our points came from fast breaks. Although as a center, I still had to run down court in pursuit. Scoring wasn’t a guarantee because one guard in particular had trouble slowing down to shoot so sometimes those layups ricocheted off the glass.
The one play that stands out for me is when I actually made a steal! I was able to read the court and anticipate that the player was going to pass. I had an opening, so I intercepted the pass and went running down court at top speed. There was no way of balancing running and dribbling while also checking to see if anyone was following; I had to maintain tunnel vision on the goal. The internal thought process was merely: Make the layup, please make the layup, don’t screw this up. It was totally exhilarating!
Being a part of this team brought a sense of respect in the school. We played very well. I finally felt like I had a place where I fit. During seventh grade, we were undefeated!! Not many teams get to say that.