Basketball has changed over the years
Over the past few weeks, I've had the opportunity to attend basketball games at a variety of levels. I went to the new Sprint Center and watched KU defeat Ohio University. I've seen the Bonner Springs High School boys and girls play, however most of the games I have been watching were those of my grade school age grandson in tournaments in the metro area. I really believe of all the major sports, basketball has changed the most.
Now, at all levels, basketball is fast paced with playing driving the length of the floor, weaving around defenders. Rebounding is a major battle often with bodies flying everywhere. Now, almost all teams play a pressure defense. A half century ago, basketball was a game built around the two-hand set shot and referees believed that touching another player was a foul.
In addition, basketball venues have changed, too. The Sprint Center is a beautiful facility. The USD 204 Physical Education Center is a great venue and the Basehor-Linwood gym is an excellent place to watch games. You have to be about my age to appreciate the change in gyms. Some of us remember when the tip of the free throw circle intersected with the center jump circle. Many of the old gyms were extremely small. In grade school I played in one that had a pillar in the center of the floor. When I was in junior high we played at one gym that was used for dancing on Saturday nights. The floor was slick due to the heavy use of dance wax. Now, teams would refuse to play on some of the older courts.
All of this started me thinking about the high water mark of my brief basketball career. I played on the only undefeated team in the history of Garnett Jr. High. We won 15 games and for our time were good. Now, many sixth grade premier teams I've seen could have beaten us.
In the winter of 1950-51 as an eighth grader I was thrilled to make the "A" team. The year before, I'd started on the "B" team but hadn't done that well. Making the top team as an eighth grader was particularly exciting since we had new uniforms with green jerseys, red pants and red numbers. In the past, the "A" team wore similar uniforms and the "B" team had old navy blue jerseys dating back to the late 1930s. There were no warm-ups, either.
In our first game against Kincaid, I got to start because of the illness of a player. In the opening moments, I tried to pass to a player on the other side of the court. However, the ball skipped off the backboard and into the basket. I ended up scoring my career-high 10 points and firmly established myself as a starter. Even by modern standards, we were a fairly tall junior high team. We started four players, including me, who were 5-foot-8 and our "big guy" was 5-foot-11. We easily defeated Lone Elm, Welda and Colony and faced our arch rival, Holy Angels. Both teams were undefeated and HA had a really big player, 6-feet-1. However we defeated them twice in regular-season play and finished the year with a 10-0 record.
Then something really special happened. We got to play in a tournament against other Tri-Valley League junior high teams and won the championship. We played in a couple of fund-raising games and defeated the high school freshmen and Holy Angels. We easily won those games, too.
Like most teams of the era, we played a 2-1-2 defense and since there was no pressure, we brought the ball down court slowly. Everything was very deliberate and I'm sure we'd have a hard time completing with modern athletes. Today's basketball players at all levels are far more athletic than we were and they are better coached. There were no summer leagues or skills clinics, either. When March rolled around, basketball was over until the next year.
Even though it has been more than a half century ago, I still remember the nervous excitement of playing in a tournament at Burlington even though the gym was small. I recall the thrill of winning first place and how proud we were to have a photo taken with the trophy.
No we didn't go on to greatness in high school. The problem was that we didn't grow much. Three of us topped out a 5-feet-11 and a couple of players were just a hair over six feet tall. In fact, some of us didn't play long in high school because we didn't grow and improve our skills. Yet, I'll never forget that one shining moment of playing on a wonderful eighth grade basketball team.