Coach Hoffman (and pretty much every coach) preaches that every minute of every day is important in terms of winning games. Every sprint during practice, every free throw and every possession of every game matters. Sometimes this seems to be an obvious truth, but at other times I’m not so sure. There are innumerable ways in which people try to explain the happenings of the universe and not all of them make room for preparation: some people subscribe to the philosophy of the chaos theory, which basically states that future events are impossible to predict. Others believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful creator who organizes each and every event that takes place on this earth. Still others place the weight of their good fortune on a lucky pair of underwear. I have to believe in all three, because I am a college basketball fan—more specifically, a Mercer Bears basketball fan.
The Mercer men’s basketball team’s Christmas Break was about as jolly as a kick to the crotch. We lost to Georgia, Charlotte and ETSU by a total of five points and gave up a nine-point second half lead to Georgia Tech—all within a twelve-day period. This would lead me to believe that the whole “every possession matters” theory is true, considering the outcome of each of those games could have been changed by one more stop (or one more score). It’s difficult to explain the effect those games have on a basketball team—it’s almost like falling in love with a beautiful woman (“Winning” would be her name) and then finding out she’s in a relationship and was just jerking you around the whole time (which has never happened to me). It just crushes you physically, mentally and emotionally (like I said, totally metaphorical).
The only bright spot during that period was when USC Upstate came to town. It was like a cleansing rain storm. Brian Mills seemed to be possessed by the Greek storm god Poseidon, raining down thirty points on the Spartans’ heads. It’s difficult to say whether we beat Upstate because (a) they suck, (b) “B Mills” was possessed by the aforementioned Greek storm god, (c) the managers all drank Yoo-Hoos right before the game (mine was warm and disgusting) or (d) I purposely mismatched my pants and blazer. I’m pretty sure it was (b), because we have already lost to some not-so-good teams this year, we tried the Yoo-Hoos for our next game and it didn’t work, I am extremely unlucky, and I’d like to believe Mills was possessed by the Greek storm god as we played a team whose mascot was the Spartans because I’m a glutton for irony. Regardless, the feeling was relief when the final buzzer sounded. Finally something that made sense: we played well and won.
Just when things seemed to be gaining some order and I was beginning to think there might be a gracious all-knowing creator directing the Bears’ season, the Campbell road trip happened and things got weirder than a First Friday at the Synergy night club. It began with our bus driver, Charlie, telling everyone over the bus microphone that we were not allowed to have “colored” drinks on the bus. I took a sip of my Coke as I turned to the players behind me with a look on my face that said, “Who the heck says ‘colored drink?’” Luckily, Bus Driver Charles was just a lot of talk and didn’t even try to make us give up our drinks.
The actual game at Campbell was horrible for about 33 minutes. We were down by fifteen points for almost the entire game. Somehow, through a slew of substitutions, presses, steals, an inordinate amount of swear words said under my breath and two free throws with .1 second left on the clock by Mills, we tied the game and went into overtime. Unfortunately, that whorish “Winning” was just jerking us around again and we lost in OT. After getting punched in the gut, we had to spend an extra night in North Carolina because a snowstorm had hit and Bus Driver Charles didn’t think it was safe to drive. From what I could tell the next morning, North Carolina had been hammered by a devastating half-inch of sleet and snow during the night. Needless to say, we made it back to Macon later that day, and Bus Driver Charles will not be used again by the Mercer men’s basketball team.
Our next trip was to Stetson, and nothing about it made any sense whatsoever. I feel like I’m entering the Twilight Zone every time I walk into their gym, which I believe has actually been around longer than the Stetson hat. We played terribly—we let a 6’2” power forward score all over us, a man with only one eye out hustle us, and let a center with boobs that would make Pam Anderson blush get every rebound. We lost by seven points to a bad team. The world does not make much sense.
We continued our Florida road trip two days later at Florida Gulf Coast University. FGCU is like the Kenny Powers of the A-Sun—a lot of talk and good looks, but no real results. We desperately needed that road victory. It was one of the hardest played games I’ve seen all year and it was also the worst played game I’ve seen all year. We shot 30 percent from the field for the game, while FGCU shot a scorching 34 percent but had twenty turnovers. As time wound down I thought it would be proper for the game to end in a tie, or possibly both teams could just take a loss. But no, something even more outlandish took place. We were down by two points with 11 seconds left, when Jeff Smith barreled down the lane with the ball, jumped in the air and hung for what seemed like five seconds, looking for an open man. Jeff found Justin Cecil in the deep corner; Cecil, who was in the game only because Mark Hall had missed all seven of his shot attempts, caught the ball and didn’t even hesitate as he launched it toward the basket. I sat in my chair, leaning back with my arms crossed, and watched in amazement as the ball ripped through the net. A 14 percent three-point shooter had just won the game for us.
I couldn’t even move from my seat for the shock. Coach Hoffman let out a “Praise the Lord!!” The players were all jumping up and down, ecstatic that something had actually gone our way. I could only sit there shaking my head with an ironic half-grin on my face. Everything I thought I knew about college basketball was wrong. There is no way that anyone (other than Justin Cecil and his mom) could have predicted that outcome. So while everyone else was jumping around acting like a bunch of crazies, I just sat there with these thoughts running repeatedly through my head: “Preparation is useless, the whole world is chaos, God does not care about basketball, and I’m wearing this same pair of underwear until we lose again.”