(6) Butch McRae, Blue Chips vs. (11) Jimmy Chitwood, Hoosiers
You didn’t expect this. Old-school gym. A balcony above the court, one where the edges stick out into the corners. A couple of rusty rims with wooden backboards. Maybe 300 people in the gym and that’s being optimistic. But you’re here nonetheless, and you can’t shake this feeling. It’s balling up inside of you, in your stomach, coming up through your intestines, overbearing your lungs. It’s excitement and anxiety all wrapped in one.
“You’ll never find that kid,” they said. “After last year, he won’t play.” Please. A ballplayer is a ballplayer. When you can play, even a terrible freshman season 3,000 miles away at college can’t kill the beast. Even being a huge part of a colossal NCAA crackdown won’t break you. It’ll still be in you.
“He’s a great player,” someone nudges you from behind. “But I don’t think you can get him in academically…” What does that mean? You think. You might be a coach, but this isn’t about a coach and player. It’s about money, the money you lost, the money you need to win back by getting this kid into the tournament. The Dime Magazine Ultimate Movie Baller tournament, they call it. That’s what you heard it was called at least.
“I heard his mother’s a piece of work,” you say back. It’s true. Even at 20 years old, it still comes back to that old hen of his.
“Ohhhh, powerful piece of work,” a friend tells you as he lights up a cigar. “She’ll eat you up.”
Great, you think as you turn back to the action. It’s worth it though. #22 is destroying everyone, shooting and dribbling right around defenders and jumping a flattop higher than the second-best athlete.
At one point, the kid breaks down a defender with a double crossover, hop steps sideways towards the basket, and then flips an over-the-shoulder pass to a teammate for a layup. You can’t teach that, and it’s more proof that this kid has to play in the tournament.
Afterwards, you catch him just outside of the gym, bearing the cold with a Starter jacket and checking out his beeper. The wind is spraying all over him, the sound of it comes screaming off the building. “Butch,” you extend a hand. “I talked to you last week… you know… about the one-on-one tournament.”
He lights up.
“Oh yeah, I remember. Listen, no need to worry, I’m in. I just want to know who I’m playing…”
You sigh. That would’ve been terrible had you come all the way out here and gotten the back of his hand. So who is he playing? You’re not sure if you should tell him, or even if you want to tell him.
“Butch may not like it…” was the word back home. No one likes facing someone who could beat them. The fear is too great, especially when that someone is pretty well-known.
“Sorry, man but, they’ve got an open spot next to Jimmy Chitwood, that white boy from Indiana with the slick-backed hair and the wet jump shot. He’s already guaranteed victory and is bringing out a whole crew of Hoosiers with him.”
Butch just stares back. “You really think that scares me?” A smile spreads from ear to ear.
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