This past Wednesday brought the Northamptonshire Basketball League’s cup semi-final and the Barons had made it! After months of 100%, the guys turned up to their most anticipated game of the season with even more energy and, in all honesty, confident that they ‘got this’. Little did we know, Brackley were about to unleash something completely unexpected, the most commendable battle til the end that I’ve ever witnessed. Every point on the board was countered by our opposition, who really weren’t going down without a fight.

Some ‘controversial’ ref calls and what we thought were missed fouls all contributed to a less than pleasant atmosphere in an ‘us against them’ mentality. Receiving two technicals in under ten seconds, for what I can only describe as a minor inoffensive hand gesture and an over-enthusiastic bench, didn’t help, but I’m gonna leave the more detailed explanation for a whole different post. Instead, we shall delve into the falls, flips and fouls that, unfortunately, became all too common in this game.

The first major hit came when #10 (Adam Thomas) anticipated a 3-point shot from Brackley’s #6. This never materialised with the opposition ducking to fake the shot and Thomas took an impromptu dive over his back. I speak for the bench and the rest of the team on court when I say that the smack from the contact Thomas made with the floor really knocked us sick. But if you watch our highlights, you’ll notice the admirable response from both sides, as in that split second the only priority was our injured player, not who fouled who, or whether there was someone to blame, no, it was pure concern.

Credit to Brackley’s #6 though, if anyone can make a convincing fake shot, it’s this guy! Ever fancy a career in AmDram? From a ‘behind the camera’ perspective, this guy was one of our major problems (from an offensive viewpoint) and a definite wall to gaining a clear point advantage. Never have I seen someone match #10’s break-outs quite like him, everywhere Thomas turned, #6 was right there. By half-time, Thomas and myself where musing over the situation when he says, “yeah, maybe I’ll just push him, I haven’t gotten any fouls yet”. Staying true to his word, Thomas pushed the opposition out-of-bounds within 3 minutes of the third quarter… I mean, yeah foul the guy and knock him off his pace, but you don’t have to go all out matrix on his ass. 😉

The second collision occurred well-into the final quarter, as the pace picked up, emotions ran high and smacking each other in the face became common tactics. #35 (Nasir Ibrahim) and his counter-part decided to run full-force at the ball, yeah not the best idea, but you should have seen the other guy ahah. Just kidding, they both came off court with sore heads, bruised spirits and a story to tell, not to mention all riled up for the remaining minutes of the most disgustingly intense game in Baron’s history.

One point up with 50 seconds on the clock, is not a comfortable position to be in. As the team goes virtually uncoached because their time is occupied screaming at the bench to shut the flip-up before we trigger a third technical, the ball changes hands rapidly and the Barons on court play defence like it’s their life, just to run down the timer. Five seconds rolls around and like a gift from the heavens, #1 is perfectly fouled, leaving us with two free-throws. Brackley valiantly steps down, accepting that the chance of scoring within five seconds from the opposite end of the court was near-to-impossible. We retaliate how we know best and flunk the free-throws, well at least that’s what Armar ‘claims’ he did, who knows… (Love you really Champ ahah).

Physically, this game left the Barons sore and bruised, there are no two-ways to look at that. It left for galactic highlights, I only had to wait until the semi-final for #10 to rugby-tackle the opposition, pshhh. You have to watch the hit to understand its true award-wining greatness, to put it in perspective, the ref left Thomas on the floor at one point to ask if it was caught on camera. Yeah, he was fine, but where can we cash in on the bloopers? In all seriousness, sports will take a toll on your body both now and in the future, you effectively sign a contract when you enter any athletic activity accepting the long-term effects and the unfortunate hits you take to warrant them. To me, that’s part of the admirability of it all, not the winning or the loosing, it’s the acceptance that this might hurt your body, but that’s insignificant to the love you feel for your sport.

Mentally, wow, how long do you have? In this regard, we were in shock. Serious shock. First of all, we anticipated a smooth win with a secure point gap, going off our previous performances, irrespective of who our competition was. But our lay-ups were shocking and our 3’s unforgiving, this left us with the need to adjust our strengths for the game. And we certainly did. Shout-outs to #4 (Chimere Nzenwa) and #9 (Perez Adelaja) who’s rebounds and blocks were simply on-point, pulling us through when we needed it. Secondly, the opposition came back time and time again, with no let-up. Take two teams, who want the victory as bad as each other, and put them in one room, the atmosphere alone is enough to tear anyone down emotionally. Finally, your teammates are going through your mental turmoil with you, benched or not, they get it! And that hurts. Every knock you take, we take together, every foul you receive, we fight your corner and every basket you score, we scream at the top of our lungs for you. Being connected as a unit is powerful and those hard knocks only make us stronger, even if they break you a little.

We left the court that night feeling immensely proud of ourselves, our teammates and the game we played, even if the finishing-capability on lay-ups was painful to watch! From the off-set, we felt as though the cards were against us, but we never once placed the blame on an individual player for the fouls they gained or the play they set. You can put the preparation in, you can build up team cohesion and you can memorise those plays; but certainty is a myth, emotions run high and plays don’t afford for unexpected tactics.  

Have a blessed day and remember to keep getting back up 😊

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