(Third in an occasional series on the trials and tribulations of coaching junior varsity basketball at George Mason High School)
After only three victories in 48 games, George Mason's junior varsity basketball team ripped off four wins in five games, including three in a row. But we quickly came back to reality and lost four straight. Then, with no time to correct our mistakes, it was back on the road for the Mustangs and another district matchup.
As we boarded for yet another long bus trip, it seemed we were climbing aboard a giant roller coaster. The entire season has been marked with inconsistent performances and unpredictable events. The highs can make you scream with excitement and the lows can make you sick.
As the bus pulls away from George Mason, I settle back and reflect on our season so far. There is plenty of time for reflection -- because Mason is so small we are forced to travel long distances to find equal competition. Four-hour bus trips are not uncommon, nor are they uneventful.
The players board the bus first (varsity before junior varsity) and stake out their seats like a lion stalking his territory. It is truly survival of the fittest, with the bigger player getting the better seat -- farthest from the coaches
Once everyone is settled in, the food and headphones begin to appear. Following a few minutes of trading sandwiches (all homemade) and tapes, the bus quiets down as everyone is plugged into his own idea of relaxation.
Music can be heard seeping out of the headphones, the volume set so high that any basketball knowledge is completely pounded from the brain. Weeks of preparation have been lost simply because Bruce Springsteen was "born in the USA."
I await the inevitable day when a player apologizes for forgetting a play with a simple, "Sorry, Coach, but every time I try to remember the offense all that comes to mind is 'Glory Days.' "
I hope center Randolph Scully sits near me. While Scully needs work on his foul shooting, his taste in music is far from foul. Surrounded by Van Halen, Kurtis Blow and Prince, Scully chooses to drill John Fogerty and the Grateful Dead into his head as a pregame sedative.
As we roll through Manassas, thoughts of our season begin to drift into my mind. The first win was a super thrill, though short-lived. Only three days after the game, the hangover from our emotional drunk was interrupted by bad news. Our captain, Malcolm Scully (Randolph's cousin), had broken his arm in a gym class accident and was lost for the year. And while our dreams of a winning season could have been shattered along with Malcolm's arm, the kids pulled together and took on a new intensity.
Following a loss to Strasburg, we won three straight. Victories over Clarke County, Rappahannock and Brentsville ended the first half of the season with an unexpected 4-3 district record. Great performances by Chris Lanier, James (Spud) Lightfoot, Danny Ohr and Randolph Scully had carried the team.
There was a new inspiration -- they believed they could win and approached each game with a reserved confidence. Practices were tough, but almost fun, and the kids were obviously proud of themselves. The entire school was talking about our sudden surge.
In fact, reserve guard Robert Tucker is still talking. As we cruise down I-66 my thoughts are interrupted by Tucker going full speed into another story. He'll talk to anyone anytime, and though nobody is listening, everyone is hearing his tale.
"When my dad found out our games cost $2, he wouldn't go in," Tucker screamed. "He said he would rather spend the money on a jar of peanut butter. My dad compares me to two loaves of bread and a quart of milk. And when he did come to a game, I got home and found two bucks missing from my room." Obviously Tucker's dad has a sense of humor to rival his son. I wonder if he talks as much.
As Tucker quiets down, I return to my thoughts. After being sky high with our winning streak, we dove right into a four-game losing streak. Was this the same team I had two weeks ago? How can we be so good one night and so bad the next? It wasn't until the final quarter of the fourth loss that we even showed signs of regaining consciousness.