scrub

Tony McKenzie was a scrub, and everyone knew it. He shouldn't have ever been allowed to clean a team uniform, much less wear one. He certainly shouldn't have been allowed on the floor where he might get in the way of a game.

But injury and academics had whittled the team down to six, and Coach Sandersen had needed another player. In the midst of the worst snowstorm of the year, four potential players had shown up. McKenzie was the only one who could run around the floor ten times and not lose his breath.

So when Jamal Witherspoon was called for his fifth foul and had to leave the game, the crowd was irate. They were two down, and had less than a minute left to play. And LaCourt had failed out with five minutes earlier.

So the crowd hollered like no one had ever hollered before - and in the ACC, that's a feat. They outhollered Cameron Indoor Stadium during a close game with Carolina. Women shrieked. Babies cried. Tony McKenzie took off his jacket.

The other team started grinning. The noise grew louder. The refs were reduced to signalling one another. The TV Commentators couldn't be heard for the noise. For the first time ever, Jefferson-Pilot put subtitles as the commentators chronicled the scene.

Coach Sandersen took the announcer's microphone and asked the crowd to quiet down. The noise dimmed a bit, but the chants of "Bad Foul! Bad Foul" and "You suck, Crantz!" became clearer. Jerry Crantz, the referee who had nailed Whiterspoon for a very valid foul was used to the ACC crowds. "Pissants," he muttered under his breath. Couldn't he give the Coach a technical for the crowd?

Harris Butler, the star center, and his teammates lowered their hands in a signal that the crowd should quiet down, and than took the mike himself.

"Let's just finish this!," he turned and looked at the particularly unruly student section. He just wanted to get out of here. "Shu --- Quiet Down!" he bellowed.

The students did, and the alumni sections, and the mix of town and gown in between. Crantz whistled, and McKenzie entered the game. A curious cross between a groan and a sigh filled the stadium, but the crowd remained quiet.

Jarell Ziff was on the line, shooting one and one. He missed the first, and Butler pulled it down. Adam Dillard pushed the ball up the floor, looking for an opening against a strong box and one defense. They passed the ball back and forth. The clock ticked down.

Finally, Harris Butler took a jumper that was blocked on its way down to the basket, which should have been a goal-tending foul. The refs didn't see it, and Butler was irate. Jarell Ziff, who had blocked it, was relieved.

As they battled for the rebound, it hit first Butler's hands, than Ziff's, and than bounced out to the periphery, where it landed in McKenzie's hands. He looked down at the ball.

The crowd shouted "Pass! Pass! Pass!" If McKenzie had been anyone else, they would have been begging him to shoot the ball. McKenzie had never made anything but a layup in practices, and the crowd knew it. There were only three seconds left.

McKenzie threw it up and over the throng of players towards Butler. His aim was off. Instead descending into Butler's hands, it went through the basket, a nanosecond before the buzzer ending the game rang.

It was 9:13 p.m. He had made a trifecta. Three points. Totally by accident.

His first thought was not of victory or gratitude. In the shocked recesses of his brain, he thought of Dick Vitale. Dick Vitale would be saying his name. His name. Dick Vitale. How was that possible? He could hear the crowd faintly around him, but the sound of Dick Vitale pounded in his head.

This Vignette was inspired by years of watching my brother watching basketball.