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Our losing season

by Brian Clarey

Our losing season

It had been a tough season so far for the Hornets of the Price-Bryan YMCA summer basketball league. Even as the season began, the 9- and 10-year-olds faced a nearly insurmountable challenge: It was the kids’ first year playing together as a team, while all the other squads in the league had a least a couple seasons’ worth of experience. And at least two of the Hornets — including No. 4, Beckett, a lanky rookie with the same last name as me — had never played organized ball before in their lives. Predictably, the Hornets got pummeled for weeks as they tried to get their game in order. The first few match-ups saw them getting creamed under the boards, caught flat-footed during fast breaks and succumbing to the crosscourt pass with disastrous effects. After four straight losses, Coach Grimes instituted two-a-week practices and, along with his assistant AJ, began hammering home the fundamentals of the game. Passing. Shooting. Ball handling. Defense. The kids responded with brio and pluck. Many of them came to the Hornets as seasoned driveway ballers who needed only to be schooled in team play, and though the losses continued to mount, the margins of victory consistently narrowed as go-to players emerged and a cohesive game began to gel. It culminated in a barn-burner at the Ragsdale YMCA against the Magic in which the Hornets managed to put up 31 points behind strong offensive play by Jaden and Jordan, solid defense by Matt and Tatyana and a surprise bucket by Trey, who was beginning to come into his own as an offensive force. It was a loss, sure, but afterwards at Cooper’s Ale House, munching on burgers and hot dogs and pumping quarters into the video games, it felt like a victory party. Yet the hardy cagers went into last week’s contest against the Lakers at 0-6, and the consensus among the parents was that if there was to be a win this season, it would have to happen today, on our home court. And while we all told each other we were just happy the kids were having fun, learning the game and making some friends, every last one of us wanted to see one in the win column before the season played out. Things began auspiciously, with Jaden and Matt anchoring the defensive efforts and strong on-court leadership by Tyler, the addition of which was not unlike when the Bad News Bears acquired Kelly Leak. The passing game suffered from a discernible lack of quickness, but these kids were playing basketball. And with two minutes to go in the first half, the Hornets were down by just five points. Jordan began launching a series of threes, none of which hit the mark, but his hand warmed with each effort. And Arbra showed pluck and hustle in the paint and in transition. Here’s how the second half went down. Javian, one of the fastest kids on the team, managed to evade coverage and get open under the boards. Jaylen was everywhere, wreaking havoc on the Lakers’ offense and making smart decisions. Tatyana, who was born to play this game, swept across the court like a force of nature, disrupting the opponents’ plays and ferociously guarding the ball. Keno, the smallest and toughest kid on the team, worked the ball like Curly Neal and bounced up every time he was knocked to the floor, adding both to his rep and to the Lakers’ foul trouble. Jaden made a huge stuff at the baseline and asserted himself as one of the most aggressive on the court. Sloppy play by the opposition and a few beautiful transition moments brought the Hornets to within four points, 12-8, but the parents in the bleachers dared not relax even for a moment. Coach Grimes kept things solid, steadily rotating in players in accordance with the rules and his own sense of fair play and team participation. But with the fourth quarter running out, the Lakers began to pull ahead: 14-8, 16-8, 16-10, 16-12, 18-12, 20-13. With just over a minute left, the Hornets had to make something happen. Tatyana in-bounded to ball to Jaylen, who dribbled unmolested across the half-court line before being swarmed by Lakers. He bounce-passed to Keno, who dazzled with some footwork and ball-handling before dishing off to a wide-open Jordan behind the three-point marker. Jordan launched another three-point effort, and as the ball arced toward the net the Hornet parents collectively held their breath. But Jordan’s shot was true, and the crisp resultant swish again brought the Hornets to within four points, 20-16. The Lakers, though, pounced on the opportunity and their scrappy guard went coast to coast for a quick layup just seconds before the final buzzer sounded. The final tally: 22-16. So yes, chalk up another loss for the Hornets and bemoan, if you wish, their losing season. But remember that we learn more from losing than we do from winning. And remember this as well: The Hornets will be back in the fall. And they will have something to prove. EPILOGUE: The Hornets lost their last regular-season game to the Defenders 18-16 after leading by four points twice during the contest. It was widely regarded by the parents as a victory. They go into the playoffs on Thursday night still in search of their first win.

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