Jarring my back while digging my car out of the snow last Saturday, during a Winter we'd almost convinced ourselves wasn't coming, then driving nearly a thousand miles prior to turning up at Match Two of The Basketball Challenge this evening, wasn't exactly the ideal prep but sometimes life is literally all swings and roundabouts.
The term 'Players' is cool if you herald from Phili and head up a fraternity called something like say Alpha Betas, but when twinned with the word Southend it just comes across as lazy to the British mind. While Southend Players were far from lazy, they were hardly Swift; even I could keep up with their play, albeit from the bench.
When these two local teams last met, Southend Swifts gave them the kind of drubbing that the Harlem Globetrotters dish out in droves, though this evening the Players were lead by a No.9 who Coach Chris described as 'the best player I've seen while at a match', high praise indeed so we had to be on our toes.
Alex, our talismanic No.8, started sprightly and the opposition just couldn't handle the speed of his breaks but gradually the older squad from nearer the sea managed to disrupt our play and create scoring chances of their own. At the end of the first quarter, the Players were edging it.
Coach Chris spelt it out for the lads 'Carry on playing this slowly and they'll continue to lead, play our way; quick and attacking, and we'll win the game', the game was there for the taking, we just had to go up a gear.
The second quarter was the most dramatic, while I watched on from the sidelines I became enthralled in the battle for power as steadily the Swifts picked up points. From five minutes in, the scoreboard swung alternately in favour of either side with almost every passing second.
While my fascination and love for this sport continued to develop, I was still getting painfully few minutes on the court and still any understanding of the rules and signs used by the two officials escaped me; at times it looked as though barely a thing had happened to stop play when the shorter of the refs (the one with the angry haircut) would walk towards the 'judges' table and seemingly play Rock Paper Scissors with himself before give a summary of a made up offence. I was baffled.
Coach Chris was content to use less time-outs than last week, I think this may have been to ensure that the older men were kept moving as much as possible, in order to wear them down.
Southend Players seemed a team based around two key members; their excellent No.9 (unfortunately two knee injuries had robbed me of the chance to see him in his prime) and a lad called Chris who clearly knew the sport well and while not the greatest of shots, thrived on disrupting his opponents play. Outside of this they had a No.13 who looked like he could have been cut'n'pasted from the 70's, a No.14 who flattered to deceive; he looked the part but had the shooting ability of a baddie in the A-Team, and no-one else of note.
The highlight of the third quarter was when the Players' Chris got sent off, seemingly for a double obscenity in reaction to a ref call he didn't agree with. Swifts were already starting to create some room between themselves and their neighbours on the scoreboard through a reinvigorated Alex and the skillful long shots of Brad, and now playing against a weakened side they started to skip away with the lead.
The frustration had clearly got the better of them, Players' No.13 got a little too close to Swifts Alex who had to come off for a bit to recover from the meeting, as he left the court one ref asked how he was and this was the reply, 'I think I've lost a bit of my penis', it turns out that our man from yesteryear had squeezed Alex's manhood in an attempt to put him off his game - his aim had worked as for a good few minutes I thought my team mate was going to pass out from the pain.
Coach Chris gave me the nod once he felt secure in the win and with less than a minute from the final buzzer I joined the action, 'Who shall I mark', I asked...'Number 13' came the reply. I feared for my penis.
This time I didn't get the ball before I knew what was going on. When I joined we were in attack, this quickly switched to being in defence so I spotted my man and got between him and the basket. I managed to trap him and the ball actually came to me in defence just seconds later...I bounced it, bounced it again and it hit my own hip...then for some reason the whistle blew - I think I may have travelled with the ball, but Coach if you're reading this then please can you add a comment on here to confirm whether I'm right). Anyhow, when the ball came back into play it was only a matter of a few ticks before the timer ran to zero and the buzzer signified our victory.
Head Coach Pearl gave me a Southend Swifts t-shirt, an incredibly generous gesture - I intend to earn the right to wear this tee before I even take it out of its fresh wrapper.
Our next match is at home on Wednesday 15th February against Erkenwald Ladies Basketball Team, why not come along?!