Seeing Morgan William’s game-winning shot that toppled seemingly unbeatable UConn, and sent the Mississippi State’s women’s team to the NCAA championship game, reminded me of what giant dreams a little person can accomplish. Occasionally.
William, described by The New York Times “with generosity” as being 5’5,” nailed her 15-foot jumper at the overtime buzzer, in just the same way as so many aspiring young athletes have dreamed – especially short ones.
I was not even 5’5” when I began shooting baskets up in our barn. The rim, which often lacked a net, was affixed to a plywood backboard on the second floor. Said floor was made of springy barn wood more than half a century old, and the high-ceilinged former hay loft boomed loudly with each dribble of the ball. The court featured two wide beams that jutted from the floor to the wall at a 45-angle, providing handy screens for 10-foot jumpers.
I played up in that barn for hours on end, sometimes competing against my brother or various friends, other times just shooting by myself. These solo shoot-arounds were accompanied by a transistor radio playing hits of the day like “But It’s Alright” by J.J. Jackson, and also by my fantasies of playing in a real-life game. Often I imagined myself playing for the MSU Spartans and my favorite player at the time, Pete Gent, who went on to play football for the Dallas Cowboys and write a book about it.
No amount of winter cold deterred me from my fantasy games, nor summer heat for that matter. I was determined to become a basketball star by high school. I modeled myself after other shrimp-sized high school standouts, such as Colin Curtis, a guard for the Dansville Aggies who coolly sank 40-foot set shots against my hometown Williamston Hornets.
But my greatest inspiration was the legendary Richie Jordan of Fennville. A 5’7” marvel of strength, skill and spring, Jordan could dunk the basketball and averaged 44 points a game his senior year. The All-American guard scored 60 in his final game, which was not enough to defeat Bridgman in a 101-91 showdown for the ages.
I not only imagined myself being Richie Jordan on my springy barn court, but I dreamed of being him as I lulled myself to sleep. Think of the glory of scoring that game-winner, the drama it would create and the girls who would cheer. Nothing was quite as exciting as a small-town high school basketball game back then. Surely it was all within my grasp, if I just worked hard enough!
Of course it was not to be. I did work pretty hard, but so did a lot of other guys who were bigger, stronger and faster than me. A back injury ultimately sidelined me for good and put me where I belonged – with a notepad in my hand, writing about my schoolmates and their occasional Friday night heroics.
Which, incidentally, began the fulfillment of a more important dream: to write about life.
It is good to see a hard-working shorty like Morgan William reach that heroic height with her buzzer-beater, and afterward declare, “Dang, I just won the game.” No doubt it was a moment she had dreamed of, many times.