Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Basketball Challenge: Match One, Southend Swifts vs Pipps Hill Bears

Lebron James scored 25 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds on his debut for the Cleveland Cavaliers and no doubt didn't get subbed once. My first taste of competitive basketball differed....just slightly.

Southend Swifts have been so unbelievably welcoming that when I received an email from Head Coach Stephen Pearl saying I'd be in the squad for a match in two days time, having only trained once, I had to check I wasn't dreaming this while dribbling onto my pillow. Realising I was in fact actually sat having breakfast, the next thing to dawn on me was that I hadn't as yet ever even seen a full basketball match on telly, let alone been to a live one!

Pipps Hill Bears had beaten the Swifts by 50 clear points on their last outing, Coach Butterworth explained the key reasons for the opposition teams dominance in that last encounter before enthusing our players with the know-how and confidence to go out their this evening and take charge of this game. The buzzer sounded loudly, signifying one minute before the start, Coach outlined the starting team and gave some final instructions, the buzzer sounded again and then the boys were up...

That first quarter Southend ran and weaved and shot hoops and robbed the ball with such ease that they already looked out of sight, the Bears looked more like the Pipps, though as the match wore on they did start to resemble bears once more; only the type that have a sore head and growl because things aren't going their way.

I tried to stay warm, think about the set up of the teams, how we were being successful, who was marking whom. I did a great job of warming the bench in the coolest kit in the league (all black - can't get cooler than that, even if you're a tubby fella with a beard tinged with ginger), though my grasp of the game kept getting punctuated by the sheer enjoyment gained from watching silky skills and the growing annoyance of older opponents; the Bears had opted out of playing the Swifts first team and were instead tonight facing our second and slightly younger squad.

Coach's talks in time-outs and breaks between quarters were focused on righting our flaws and boosting confidence, his respectfully disciplined approach would be welcomed in most businesses, let alone in competitive sport.

By midway through the final quarter their cocky No.7's antics had stopped annoying the home team and subsequently they came to a halt, gamesmanship can have its place but teenage lads against grown men who through feeling inferior resort to using physical and rumoured verbal infringements of the rules is simply bullying.

Alex silences their No.7 with pure class.
Four minutes from time I was proud to be wearing Swifts colours, I wasn't expecting to get the call of duty - the ball came to me all too soon and like Andy Murray in a Grand Slam Final, I was shell shocked in the limelight.

My only touch of the rubberised sphere resulted in a pass back to an unexpectant team mate, resulting in a counter attacked where I simply didn't know who to mark - the number I'd been given to stick to had been subbed as I came on and it took one of my colleagues to tell me 14 was now my man.

In our next attack Chris pulled me aside and gave me two simple tasks to follow, this helped snap me out of my daze but with just one minute remaining the buzzer came before I had a chance to redeem myself. Thankfully by then Southend Swifts had gained sweet revenge against the Pippiest of Hill lurking Bears.

Lebron James can rest easy, I'm not yet fit to darn his laces.

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