First major memory:
Night or two before our first game of the season (against the Agoura Knights, whom we knew nothing about as they were a new school from Ojai or somewhere small like that); the Boys Clubers were playing trampoline basketball (trampoline is placed under the basket, players pass the ball around and shoot it in an attempt to score against a goal tending defender). Minor injuries are common, jammed fingers, cut hands, but then Richard Stein slams against the rim, slicing his noggin open and requiring several stitches to sew up the gash. I am mad as all get out. Not because Stein may be out for our first game, that was no big deal in my mind (sorry Rich, but my first thought, with a shrug of the shoulders, was “well I guess Hope is starting and Danny’s moving to forward”. No, I was upset because I knew we would never get to play trampoline basketball again and it was such an awesome game!!!…..Sure enough, they took the trampoline down and I never remember playing again; something about it being toooo dangerous. (Only if you’re an uncoordinated geek said I!).
I’m still mad about that, but then that was the nature of our team. For all that mamby-pamby newspaper talk about togetherness and closeness, the truth be told, we were only tolerant of each other as long as you didn’t say something stupid, do something stupid, and/or failed to pull your own (self and group perceived) weight. Heaven help you if you slipped up in one of the above categories; it was verbal wolves to the flesh and leave the bones lying. And Richard (having done something stupid and on the verge of not being ready for that first game) was about to be given a good dose of our group love. So no one was surprised when Rich suited up (with only a minor complaint of a slightly head splitting headache). If memory serves me well, he ended up playing very well and we practically shut out a very weak Agoura team 51-9! Now that was playing defense with no mercy and still has to stand as a school record (if anyone keeps track of such things or even cares).
When it came to basketball, there was no such thing as sympathy in this group. Everybody thought they could play (they could) and everybody wanted to play (they couldn’t, only so much playing time). So that’s why I said we only tolerated each other. The underlining theme on this team was play hard, play good, and don’t mess up or everyone could and would jump on you; and someone else was more than ready and willing to step in for you. Our practices were consistently fierce and physical, with no love loss between certain individuals; Marc and Irving taking on Rich and Scott (at different times, in different combo’s), Barc and Danny going at it, Steve and Bruce, myself and anyone who played opposite me, but especially Greg (For some reason, I just loved to try and pound on him; probably because he was the only guy on the team who was just as skinny and slow as me). Just pairing the above names together brings back images of fore arm shivers, body slams, with plenty of yelling and swearing (under the breath, as only Stein would dare the wrath of Volpi with an occasional primordial scream of “f–k”).
Next up was getting demolished by Crescenta Valley in the fourth or fifth game of the year and just as we were beginning to think we were pretty darn good. (It’s funny how many of my memories were the same as Barc’s. I guess we were on the same team after all). They were bigger, faster, stronger, and better than we were. It was a very humbling experience, but I also think it was a very good experience in that are resolve to become a good team got even stronger. From that point on we never let up until we had clinched league and a very good Santa Maria team whipped our butts.
After that game we ended up playing Santa Barbara (a team I disliked greatly in that they always seemed to beat us and they had the arrogant, later to become a friend, Don Ford). At the end of the game we were down by one, I ended up with the ball as time was running out and had to take the last shot. I missed, but was very relieved and thankful that Scott and Richard tipped the ball in at the same time (they probably still would argue on which one tipped it in) as time expired. It was a great win for us as we got the Santa Barbara mystique off our backs.
I guess that’s why when we drilled Santa Barbara by “20” something a week or so later it was such a surprising break through for us. It was also such a fun game, seeing the looks of frustration in the faces of the team that had always destroyed us and tormented us.
Of course that was just the basketball. The biggest impression in that game was the huge hickey on Richard’s neck (yes he was our emotional leader). In my 30+ years of playing, coaching, and teaching I have never seen a larger one than that. It was indescribably large (Barc came closest with his size of the Russian map analogy, but even that wasn’t adequate). I remember looking at it with not a little bit of admiration. I mean it had to have taken some time to make. What also astounded me was I had no clue about who had given it to him. I remember thinking to myself how little I had seen of Rich off the court, since the basketball season had started. It was a “big” (no pun intended) revelation for me, in that I was still hanging out at the Boys Club and he had moved on to bigger and in my mind perhaps much better things. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but somehow the thought of that made me play even harder than I normally did. I rate the second SB game as one of my top ten favorites. Thanks, Rich.
I really don’t have time to go through any more of the season. I have a job, wife, kids, and I’m not a writer. Suffice it to say it was one of those highlight seasons that you wish everyone could experience. Of course, when you realize that the season was really about the people involved with it and the friendships you make, then every season has parts of such a season every year. We were just blessed in that we had it all.