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The nothing-but-net shot from about 60 feet as the buzzer ended the first half was one reason to feel good about my decision to attend a Division Three basketball game the other day, but it wasn't the only one.
With maybe 12 minutes left in the game, I fell into conversation with the gentleman sitting next to me, who turned out to be the father of the coach of the visiting team, which I'll just call the red team.
"It's been a challenge," he said of his son's job. "It's his third year with the team, and this is the first season he's been able to keep his best guys academically eligible."
Under the far basket, the red team's center got turned around by a bigger, more athletic player on what I'll call the blue team. The athlete finished his fake and flipped up an unobstructed shot as the red team's center sprawled.
"That kid's learning on the job," said the coach's father. "He's had to. The starting center lost his financial aid."
The red team kept it close for a while. They had a skinny guard who hit several three pointers in a row. But they had nothing underneath, and they weren't quick enough to keep the better players on the blue team from finding their way to high-percentage shots. On the other end, even when they did get the ball inside, the red team's bigger players kept trying to work it back out to the skinny guard. Nobody hits threes forever. The coach's father knew that, and he kept shouting at them to set picks and drive to the basket.
Often athleticism will tell, and in the closing minutes, the blue team began to pull further ahead. I was familiar with their record, which wasn't especially impressive. I wondered if the red team had maybe beaten some of the teams to which the blue team had lost, because that might have some implications for the tournament.
I asked the coach's father, "How's your son's team doing this season?"
He kept his eyes on the court, and he didn't answer me right away. The crowd was shouting "Defense! Defense!" so I thought maybe he hadn't heard me.
Then he said, "He's set up required study halls, and he makes surprise visits. They know they have to be there. He's making progress."
He'd heard me. Then he had chosen to answer a better question than the one I'd asked.
Audio for this story will be available later this morning.
This program aired on February 12, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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