I Will Always Love You
December 1st, 1992
The 1st day of practice Junior Year: (The Wonder Years)
It all came down to this. Varsity selection, this precious next five-minute span would define for me, Magic, and Goldy our life long mental stability. I played varsity for half the year last season but that was last year and you never knew. It was a big honor to play varsity for almost three years. I almost cried right there thinking about that, my smiling mother my hope my pride and my sister, my proud father.
Maybe it’s not that bad
Finally something to really root for me outside of the bare basics, these would be my mother’s nightly prayers, she prayed for all of us, YG included without a doubt, nightly basis.
Ace is going well, I feel good. I’ve grown and ate and slept this shit since jump. I’m the best defender in the gym, well, outside of Kevin Nolen
Terrance standing next to me elbow nudges. Hides the smile like he thinks we’ll both be in that circle momentarily. The logic of it all calmed me as I tried to name all the people I knew whose name begun with the letter C. And even though I felt good about ACE and getting to spend time with Coach Sullivan and the Big Guy, this was all business. The best thing I had going for me was that I stayed out of trouble all fall.
My heart beat frantically screaming, “gotta pick me yo gotta pick me yo gotta pick me! Chris, Carly, Carl, Carey, Clyde, Cliff, Costello, Claus on the Santa tip, Charlie…” It was three o'clock after school and my stomach was shaking with real life butterflies tickling my heart rate to jump!
On a brighter note I was pimped out in the new line of LHS practice gear. My socks, as always, were immaculate and folded over twice like Jordan's. Elastic bands curled my wrists with a stick of Juicy Fruit gum munching against my braceless choppers.
Yo if you look fly inherently your performance follows suit
During the mid eighties a very cool t-shirt was given to the varsity. To us it would, through the passage of years, become a collector’s item. It was navy blue with an actual revolutionary Lexington Minuteman standing in a defensive stance with a musket over his shoulders. Standing right in the middle of the town's historic green the caption beneath read “Lexington, where the defense began." The Big Guy like 1776 predicates his landscape on defense. Only Rashad, Kevin and Darren were standing in the middle of the court, within the “I'm on the team” players nest behind the Big Guy.
We had lost that many seniors that the rest of the team outside of these three is up in the air. It’s why we were barely ranked pre-season in the top twenty after appearing in the semi finals last year one game short of the Boston Garden at UMASS Boston in front of a five-thousand people. Slowly the Big Guy paTROLLED back and forth eyeing effusively the many players that had waited their whole lives for this one defining moment. That moment only to be accepted into the sacred culture of Lexington varsity basketball under the astounding tutelage of the Big Guy, Rollie, Stan, fall river and hoop. The Big Guy takes his time. He knew we were squirming and you know what? He loved it. I loved it. The first step in his process. A guaranteed winner I would have taken my time as well. Our new vertical addition Stretch was the first to be plucked from the lines of normalcy. The Big Guy in his dark monotone would point an additional tiny upward yank of the head and you're in. The Big Guy loved to hear himself speak almost as much as me. I had learned that in the ACE program despite my inclinations I loved it. I was content for the first time. However in a moment like this we had little to say. Santo greets Stretch as the only Young Gun pre-programmed behind the Big Guy due to his year status on varsity last year. Next John “Wellsy” Wells as chosen followed by freshmen Brek Kohler.
Now I’m starting to bug,
Yo don't make me look like a punk please Jesus hello? Fucking just be cool and take me next. I'm nasty and it shouldn't be that hard of a decision besides dude, I've been in your program all fall, just take me, Jesus where you at?!
“Cahl” he was all business and looking directly into my eyes. All time calms and washes over me. On this day the Big Guy would not disappoint the kid. He shot me the nod and I coolly stepped towards the crow’s nest and gave soft pounds to my newfound varsity teammates. Saying what's up to Rashad on the court felt like Tim Hardaway. Fudge’s younger brother we should have called him Nestles Dark.
Rashad was the favorite to win league MVP and perhaps player of the year as he had a year prior.
Rashad had white veins ripping through his black shoulders. People get these stretch marks when their muscles rip themselves apart so much from there own accord that actual scars appear on the surface of the skin. If you see a brother with stretch marks (white dudes cant get that shit) then you know that brother is a ripped SOB. Spec was selected and so was Magic but not before the Big Guy, in a not so fast political power play, placed Magic on JV.
I watched Magic, astonished, walk over to that chump JV sideline towards Coach Gibbs. “this is bullshit.” I read his lips. Coach Gibb’s agreed. I kind of laughed internally, instinctively, the ever favorite, ‘glad that wasn’t me” percolated a brewery of security within my sphere.
Now that I had made the team I could immediately begin making fun of the players that didn‘t, it was like virginity. Better be quick because ten minutes later Magic was placed on the team. My next big concern even before our first tap drill, was how much press would I get in Thursday musket when they ran the Astori High Scool boys basketball preview. Growing up my favorite part of every season was reading the Minetmen's preview of the team. The first practice was a success. I thought we were tough.
That Thursday the Musket was released including the annual basketball preview to be mulled over by me, my sister my Mom, players, their parents and fans. After reading the preview we all had a moment. I got some ink as did a few YG, Santo got his picture in the paper running suicides in argyle socks. That was big.
I couldn’t believe it, the paper said I was going to be receiving a significant boost to my varsity minutes as the primary spell for Kevin off the bench. Santo would start, Stretch would start, Wellsy would start, Goldy, Magic, myself would compete for minutes, Terrance was also on the team. A moment of clarity again as it appeared that my mother knows what I've been planning this whole time (click). She read about my friends and finally (I think) looks like she understands why we beat each other up like we do without ever coming up for air. Not because we hated each other, but because we just wanted to be better at basketball. No one wanted to be the guy that cost us our state title. That was our thing. All of those little-league games we spit in each other's mugs. All those games on the weekends when we’d come home crying and bloody cursing our best dawgs, we had a legacy of success to follow. And that included pushing.
Santo, the lucky dawg, got his picture on the cover of the paper practicing in argyle socks.This prompted the Big Guy the next day in ACE reviewing the article and photo to bellow, “Yo who the heck is going to practice in socks like those?” and then a five second pause on account of bafflement before rekindling his voice and finishing his statement, “what a joke.” The Young Guns getting press.
Of course with the Big Guy it was always an on going commentary, “Carl it looks like you and your girlfriends are all the same, idiots. We’re going to have a good season if this center’s any good. Eh anytime I bring up your name anywhere it gets this big reaction, and I’m not saying that’s good, why is that?”
“I don’t know” I reply astonished
“Yeah well you better figure it out. You don’t smoke banana’s do you?”
“Good your already a bananna you don't want double.”
And just like that it was on. Make no mistake about it our time was upon us, I felt like a chosen soldier. Coach Sullivan thought we’d be OK, we were 20-2 the year before. And everyone was curious about our new center Stretch, was he a big time player or all hype? Basketball players from other parts were forever overhyped when arriving at your typical high school.
My mother helped me focus during the season. Dana was my cheerleader, she had to, it was her senior year our last year in school together. Our first game was Tuesday and it was a monster. We had faired well in our Jambori, an elite invitation with Cambridge Rindge & Latin, Durfee, New Bedford, Salem and us. The most sought after Jambori in the state. I guarded Michael Edwards straight up, or so my father felt, I picked him once, my dad couldn’t believe it. Michael Edwards was a division one product, his brother scored the most points in the history of MIA MASS basketball. His brother went to Boston College on a full ride, played BABC. It gave me confidence and that’s why the Big guy always loved to play the best.
“One way or the other we’ll know what we got.” He’d say.
In the follow up game we watched Chris Herren in all his Fall River legend.
Our first game was a week away and it was a big one, a headliner on the road against Belmont. They were favored to win the league and ranked highly in the Boston Globe’s top 320. It was on the road and we weren’t sure what we had, this would let us know.
Yo I fucken love this shit
It was basketball season, this was everything, YG will play heavily into the success or not of this team. This had become a bit of a rivalry even though Lexington had dominated the league for every decade. Consequently both of the city majors the Globe, Herald along with assorted local publications came to cover it. We limped in with assorted question marks twined and feathered to much lower then usual expectations. A first game rout of the rebuilding dynasty would set the tone for the league, conference and finally the state. Understanding the hype and the story line I prayed only to see some action. Beyond the reporters, blow jobs, slinky web of stardom, scholarships and glory was my little script that one knew about. My legendary pursuit and movie in the making I wasn’t scared and was coming off a great nights rest.
The Boston Globe reluctantly placed us in the top twenty; we were still Lexington and we still had Rashad. But Kevin was a question mark, Stretch was a question mark, Santo starting, Wellsy an inexperienced bench. The league knew very little from us and to the naked eye our lack of exposure and scrony bodies deflated any expectation especially after last season, what a year.
This year might be the start of a bigger correction i.e. a piece of the time frame regarded as a down time in the impeccable annals of Astori basketball history.
The Big Guy even admitted in the high school paper, The Musket, that he had no idea what to expect