For the past three seasons, I’ve interviewed dozens of girls basketball players who, at some point in the season, say the end goal is to make it to the Westchester County Center, home of the annual section championships.
There’s an allure about the County Center, even from press row — the announcer, the DJ, the two tiers of stands, the competition; it’s the ultimate display of local basketball on the grandest stage.
“It’s probably one of the greatest feelings in the world,” Albertus Magnus guard Dani LaRochelle said last year, panting out of breath, after being named tournament MVP of the Falcons’ undefeated season-clinching win. “You wouldn’t know it unless you were in my shoes.”
She’s got a point.
So, I laced up.
Not in a section final, or in LaRochelle’s black and grey Nike’s, but I did throw on my size 11’s and hit the County Center floor Tuesday during a local celebrity basketball game.
(The emphasis was obviously more on “local” than “celebrity”.)
I get it now.
Hearing your name announced over the loud speaker (correctly, no less), playing for former New York Knicks star John Starks and against another in Larry Johnson, scoring on the County Center floor; I totally get it now, and I wasn’t even trying to win for my school; I was just trying to have some fun and not embarrass myself too much.
Pleasantville senior Courtney Sheehy got to the County Center last year after an injury-plagued career. Even with a one-and-done showing, Sheehy said that after years of watching from the stands, she just wanted the point-of-view experience.
“When we came to watch whoever was playing, I was just like, ‘I just want to feel the court,’ ” she said. “I want to feel what the court feels like on the bottom of my feet. I want to see if the glass – does it give? Is there any give in the rim? (Clearly not.) Stuff like that. What does the crowd look like? Where’s our crowd going to sit? What do the locker rooms look like?”
I’ve done thousands of interviews in my career, and that one stands out. They were powerful quotes, and it got me thinking — what is it like?
Now I have answers.
I’ve walked on the court numerous times, but never played on it. The County Center court feels a little stiffer than that of a high school gym.
There’s definitely no give in the rim.
You’re so focused on the game (or at least I was) that you really don’t pay attention to the crowd in the moment.
We didn’t have crowds supporting our team, but my father, uncle and best friend were there to support me. My father and uncle were in the first row behind our bench. My best friend was courtside, a few seats next to me, and I didn’t see her until the final minutes of the first half.
The locker rooms are smaller than you’d expect, and they’re covered in this yellow paint that most would find hideous, but reminded me of my childhood Pomona home.
It’s a common idiom that is often spoken and rarely practiced, but I think it’s important that we all try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes as much as possible. If nothing else, it will humble us.
I do it as a sportswriter — trying to understand the pressures of a high-school athlete; that no referee is without flaws and couldn’t be crucified during bad calls; or that most coaches put in more behind-the-scenes hours than any player or parent will see.
I hope that the subjects I cover do it.
I hope the player understands that if I write about a play that cost the team the game, I’m not picking on him or her; I’m just stating the facts of the situation.
I hope the coach understands that if something unflattering happens within the program and I ask about it, I’m not on a witch-hunt; I’m just doing my job trying to find out details and give them an opportunity to explain their side of things.
That’s the hope, but I understand the hope is not always a reality.