89 / 365 – The Game

FINN TILLARY

The Tournament’s on, March Madness. It’s not as big a deal up here as it was down in Minneapolis. Even the years we weren’t in the tournament, everybody was making a bracket, ducking out of classes to catch games. We’ve had a few guys talking about it at the cafe, but not as many as I’ve heard talking about when the ground is going to dry out this year, or when they think planting will start. And even when it does come up, it seems like it goes right to Jericho basketball. It’s always the same. How this year’s team should have been better, even though everyone forgets that in October everybody thought the team would be last in our district. And then that goes right to our team, and not usually to the year we won the state, but the year we just missed it because of my idiot moves at the buzzer.

Cross did a pretty amazing job this year, getting a bunch of guys who weren’t really all that good, any of them, to play scrappy, even smart. You don’t have to listen long to get the idea that they aren’t so sure about having an Ojibwe coach. Nobody says that, exactly, but you hear them second-guessing the coach, and everybody’s always second-guessing the coach, when they’re done second-guessing the players. They say weird things about, why didn’t he jump up and down more, maybe if he’d yelled at them more, maybe if he argued with the refs more. I can tell you when we were in a game and struggling, the last thing I needed was to have coach yelling at us. We knew what we needed to be doing and yelling didn’t make us get more focused on it.

Sometimes it just works and sometimes it doesn’t. Our team was better my senior year, the year we didn’t win. We were better players, but when it counted we didn’t do the right things, especially me, especially in that championship game against Cavalier, when I kept bricking threes. We had the best record in the state that year, but we struggled through the championships, just off our game. The year before we weren’t really that good. At least not as good as our record. Didn’t have the confidence. Didn’t know what we could do. But we had that run, late in the season, through the playoffs, where things sometimes seemed to slow down. Moving up the court, I could see everybody, passes went right where you wanted them. People were driving in, around, getting under the basket, just where we needed to be when the ball was rebounding or when we needed to take a shot. Sometimes I just seemed to be doing the right things. It was like I wasn’t thinking hard at all. I remember talking about it with John, with Chris. John said, “When you just flow, that’s when you’re on your game.” I didn’t need a coach yelling at me to tell him that.

All season, when I got to games, I heard people, dads mostly, yelling at the team, complaining that they weren’t competing right, that John wasn’t coaching them the right way. I never heard so much complaining, and they were winning when no one thought they could. I didn’t even think they could, to tell you the truth. But they were good. They beat a lot of the good teams — Langdon, Munich, Cando. The team did better than they’ve done since we left, better than anyone expected. When I hear those dads complain, I wonder, what game are they watching? It’s like they’re not watching the score, not seeing how good the guys are playing. It’s like they’re watching some game where the only thing that matters is the coach yelling and the kids looking pained and frustrated.

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