As we waited for Josh to take his second free throw shot, I surveyed the court around me.
I was obviously the point guard on the floor for our team, and William, who had started the game, was the shooting guard alongside me. I flashed a smile to William, who smiled back at me. Allen Walker, who could play at either guard or forward, had just come into the game to play the small forward position. Josh Martin, about to shoot his second free throw, was obviously still in the game as the power forward, and Kevin Levine had subbed in for John Green at center.
The opposing point guard on the Sharks was jersey number 22, who I would be guarding on defense. While he was supposed to be one of their best players, he didn’t seem so intimidating to me. He was only a little taller than me, so that size shouldn’t be an issue. Also, he had been running up and down the court since the start of the game, and I had just entered with fresh legs. I was confident I would be able to keep up with him.
Josh made his second free throw shot, and we all ran back on defense. I bent my knees, leaned a little on the balls of my feet, and crouched a little into a defensive stance, waiting just behind the half-court circle as Number 22 brought the ball up the court.
He sure looks calm, considering his team is losing by 13 points, I thought to myself. Maybe a little too calm. Let’s see if I can catch him off guard and steal the ball away. That would get Coach’s attention.
As Number 22 crossed over half-court, I reached with my left hand toward his right side to poke the ball loose. I was too slow. Number 22 did a crossover dribble and drove to his left, which was my right. As he made the move, he bumped my right shoulder, which sent me falling to the floor and him stumbling a few steps forward.
FWEET! The referee’s whistle blew, stopping the play. My feet were not set when Number 22 bumped me, so the ref was definitely calling a foul on me.
“Blocking foul, White, number 3,” called the referee to the scorer’s table.
That was me, alright. I always chose number 3, after my favorite player, Chris Paul. He was my favorite since I started watching basketball even before I started playing, and was the player whose style I most tried to emulate.
Okay, I guess I’m being a little too aggressive, I thought to myself. Let me just play my normal game.
The Sharks passed the ball in to Number 22 again, and instead of reaching for a steal, I just played my normal, shutdown defense. The guard tried to make a move, but I beat him to the spot, and he couldn’t get past me. He passed the ball to one of his forwards, who took a guarded mid-range shot, and missed.
Kevin Levine leapt, caught the rebound above his head and quickly passed it to me. I turned my head up court to see Allen Walker starting to sprint up the right side of the court, unguarded. I threw a strong chest pass in his direction. It bounced once before Allen caught it in stride, dribbled it once, and went up for the layup. The ball bounced lightly off the backboard and through the hoop! Two points!
As Allen ran back to the rest of us on defense I heard Coach Jones yelling from the bench, “Attaway, Allen! Great finish! Nice pass, Ben! Good rebound, Kevin! Keep it up!”
It felt great to make the assist to Allen, and also great to hear Coach cheering for us on the sideline.
Alright, let’s do this again, I thought to myself as Number 22 brought the ball up the court again. Let’s stop them again.
Number 22 passed the ball quickly to his shooting guard, then ran, planted his feet, and stood firmly right next to William Lee on the right side. I immediately recognized what was going on. Number 22 was trying to set a pick on William, blocking him so that the shooting guard could dribble around William and get open to take a shot or drive to the basket.
In situations like these, we had a several options. First, William and I could switch the players we were guarding. Another possibility was that William could try to stay with his man and fight through the pick. Or, William could take a step back to go “underneath” the pick, and then quickly step back up again to guard his opponent. In some situations, we could surprise the other team by double-teaming the player with the ball and trying to steal it away. Each technique had its strengths and weaknesses.
Since we had to both know what was going on, it was important for us to communicate verbally. Otherwise, William might think we were switching while I would think he would try to stay with his man, and then we would end up with his man being unguarded.
As the shooting guard made a quick move to go left around the pick and evade William, I quickly called out, “Switch!”
I immediately stepped up to guard the shooting guard, slowing him down. Stopped, He turned left and fired a pass back to Number 22, who was now guarded by William.
Number 22 made a sharp move to his left, then did a crossover dribble to his right side, catching William off-balance. Number 22 drove to the middle of the lane, and shot a running floater over Kevin Levine, who had tried to come up and stop him. The ball bounced off the middle of the backboard and went in. Two points for the Sharks.
Josh Martin picked up the ball off the floor, ran to the baseline, and passed the ball inbounds to me to bring the ball up the court.
Hm, I thought to myself as I dribbled upcourt. Maybe they were planning that the whole time to get me away from guarding Number 22. If they try that again, I’m not going to call a switch.
I brought the ball to the top of the key and passed left to Kevin, who was standing on the right elbow. Kevin caught it and passed it up to William, standing at about the three-point line, who passed it down to Josh Martin. Josh turned his back to the basket and dribbled backward twice toward the basket while his man stood strongly behind him, making it difficult for him to advance.
Josh turned and made a move like he was going to shoot, and then quickly passed the ball back out to William, who fired a three-pointer as his man jumped out at him. My teammates, not relying on William to make the shot, immediately ran in for the rebound, as I took a few steps back in order to get back on defense more quickly in case William missed.
Sure enough, the ball clanged against the back rim and bounced a long way, in front of me to my left, but out of my reach. Number 22 grabbed the ball and started streaking up the court toward me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another blue jersey start to run down the other side of the court as they tried to create a 2-on-1 fast break. I turned and ran back to set up to try to stop the two players myself.
Standing a few steps underneath behind the foul line,, I tried to position myself between Number 22 and where I thought the other player would go, so that Number 22 would not be able to pass the ball to his teammate. Number 22 kept dribbling upcourt, and as he got just past the foul line, I made my move and ran toward him, still sort of blocking his passing lane to his teammate. Number 22 made a move and tried to go up for a layup. I jumped up to try to block his shot, and…
…missed, and slapped him on the wrist instead.
The referee’s whistle blew again to call another foul on me. Number 22’s shot, altered by my foul, fell short of the basket.
The referee held his right hand up with his fist clenched as he called out, “Personal Foul, number 3. Two shots.”
I had stopped the fast break, but that was my second foul. Three more in the game and I would foul out, and would be disqualified from playing in the rest of the game.