Yeah, I'm the one in the bottom right, number 40. Those are the nine seniors from our 2007 squad.
I played three years of high school varsity basketball—two of those I rode the pine the majority of the time. As a freshman, I was the starting power forward for my freshman team, at 6'1", 150 pounds. At this age, I still had a nice outside jumper, fine-tuned over the thirteen years I lived in Terre Haute, Indiana.
I was admittedly not the best rebounder, but I was pretty consistently good at defense. I would most often guard the opposing team's best player, as defense was something I took deep pride in. I would say I averaged around 10 points a game as a freshman, leading to my promotion to the varsity squad the following year.
This wasn't one of those full-time gigs, however. After I had played my JV game, I went up to the locker room, changed into my varsity garb, warmed up, and then sat on the bench for four quarters.
I am pretty sure, from the records I kept in my head, that I appeared in three games my sophomore year, when our team was either winning or getting blown out by at least 25 points. I still performed admirably on the JV squad, seeing significant playing time as a starter.
My junior year was when I finally got the opportunity to play a little bit. I was actually used on some occasions during the middle of the game, not merely as a "scrub". I worked hard in practice, knew all the plays, but was still somewhat unsatisfied. That satisfaction saw its climax when my team captured the district championship. Although I did not see any court time in that game, I felt as though I was finally part of the team.
Senior year was a lot more serious for me. We were blessed with a new coaching staff, which felt almost godsent compared to that from my sophomore and junior years. He was a young, energetic guy who liked to see his players work hard at all times. It seemed that I would be the perfect fit for this system.
By this time, I was a generous 6'2", but now 200-pound senior ready for big time. I started a small portion of the games, but saw action in all. I was good for about 14 minutes a game of the high school 32.
We had some great success my senior year, led by the nine seniors you see above in the picture. Our only downfall was that our two best players got mono before the district tournament. Although we reached the district championship again, a rival, Westminster, was simply too much for us.
I can remember exactly what happened that night. I was pulled, along with 4 other seniors, with 52 seconds remaining to play in the contest. As I walked back past the scorer's table and towards my bench, I couldn't help but cry. My coach stopped me before I could reach my seat, and told me how much I had meant to the program. It was then that things set in for me: I was finished playing organized basketball.
I had been playing on an organized team since I was in kindergarten, and AAU teams from the time I was 9. Every weekend, my parents would pack their bags after work on Friday afternoon, and we would drive around the state of Indiana, sometimes five hours, to play in a tournament. In my time in Indiana, I played against some of the best: Greg Oden and Robbie Hummell to name a few. But now my only resort was to cry. The moment had overcome me.
After the buzzer sounded, my dejected team slowly walked back to our locker room to gather our belongings. I can vividly remember sitting in the locker room for upwards of an hour, crying, hugging teammates, receiving hugs from the younger guys, but most importantly, sharing what wisdom I had to the players who were returning. At the postseason banquet, my head coach described me as a "coach on the floor", as I would frequently suggest plays to run, or defenses to call in certain situations.
There would be no more scouting reports discussed in Coach Luhning's office on free periods, no more shootarounds before school. Those days had come to a screeching halt.
This feeling was unthinkable. I felt as though I had been dropped off in a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on my back. My whole life had revolved around basketball, and now that had been stripped from me.
I had already known that I was headed to Miami University (it's in Ohio for those of you who aren't familiar), who had been narrowly beaten by Aaron Brooks and the University of Oregon in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, thus signaling my resignation from the game of organized sports.
I often look back on my high school basketball career, something I treasure deeply. In fact, those players in the picture are some of my very best friends presently. High school basketball was more than just a game for me. It was the ultimate bonding experience: from team dinners to Saturday morning practices, I miss all of it. Although it seemed like a huge burden at the time, as I was also attempting to do well in school, I regret none of my choice to continue with my dream.
On my kitchen refrigerator, I still have a picture from third grade saying "When I Grow Up...I Want to be a Professional Basketball Player". That dream has already been realized as unattainable.
Other opportunities, such as Bleacher Report, however, have allowed me to combine my love and passion of sports with my equally strong love of writing.
Now that it is all said and done, my 75 career varsity points contributed, I must now sit content watching NBA and NCAA hoops, for my games are gone. In the grand scheme of things, experiences will come, and they will go, but this is one I wish I could hold onto forever. The camaraderie, the elation of victory, and the agony of defeat. It was all a monstrous part of the first 18 years of my life.
I say to you all, young and old, take advantage of what you have, because before you know it, it will be gone, and it will be sorely missed.
Ben Weixlmann can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org