It's actually a bit of a misnomer to call what happened last night at the Civic Center "the shot." In one of the most highly-anticipated regular season games in some time around here, the New Mexico-bound senior hit "the shot" from somewhere between the rings - closer to mid-court than the free throw line. The ball hit the back of the rim and shot straight through the hoop and a thousand or so East Chicago Central fans rushed the court, hugging each other and jumping up and down.
I got a pretty good view of it from media row 10 rows behind the scorers table. Jefferson stole a pass intended for Griffith's All-Everything Tremell Murphy, took a couple dribbles across the timeline, and shoveled the ball towards the basket. That's what it should rightly be called - "The shovel," not "The shot." But no one outside the three or four of you would know what the hell I was talking about if I showed up Monday morning to talk about "The Shovel" on the show.
"Shot or Shovel" on the show? Your call. Either way I'm still buzzing the next morning as if I played in the game myself....
But somehow I feel more excited now, on the Sunday morning after "the shovel shot," than I did then. Griffith coach Gary Hayes came on the show on Wednesday to promo the game, saying that he and athletic director Stacy Adams were moving it from their own gym to the cathedral of all high school basketball gyms in northern Indiana - the Hammond Civic Center. Griffith's hotbox of a gym holds about 1200. You could fit more than 5,000 in the Civic Center.
I'd say about 4,000 watched "the shovel shot" last night. Jefferson, as he crossed the timeline with the steal, noticed that there was one second left. As appealing as it would be to watch the 6-4 senior slam it home to win the game, he just wasn't gonna have enough time to dribble down and dunk it. He didn't even have enough time to eye up a shot from just across mid-court.
So he wrist-flicked the ball 35 feet towards the north basket at the venerable house of basketball worship. And he swished it - a "hard swish," as some announcers would call it. Pandemonium. You'd think that was it. Great finish to a great game in the greatest of all local basketball venues.
But wait. Since color announcer Kirk the Minnow Smith and I had birdseye seats in media row, I caught referee Glen Fifield running towards the scorers table. It was hard to see him because so many people - students, moms, dads, old men - were running on the court towards the East Chicago bench to celebrate. Fifield was waving off the shot. No kidding. Gesticulating wildly, Fifield was ruling that Jefferson's "shovel shot" actually occurred after time had run out.
Now of course I tried to call all of this on the radio. I haven't heard the tape yet, but it had to be a little hard to hear. There was just that much yelling and cheering in the background, and of course I was so excited that I was yelling too. But if there's any semblance of sense to my words, you, the three or four of you, if you were listening, would have understood that all of these East Chicago people had run on the court prematurely.
East Chicago people jammed the court, some crying, a couple actually collapsing to the fetal position from emotion... and instead of this city of steel and a lot of poverty and crime and a history of corruption having a beautiful victory that no one could take away from them... instead of that we were headed to overtime. They would all have to go back to their seats in the Civic Center to watch four more minutes of basketball.
But wait. Amidst the rush of people, head referee Dave Uran, who is actually also the mayor of Crown Point, gathered referees Fifield and Robbie Bishop near mid-court - in all irony, right about the spot where Jefferson did "the shovel shot." Mayor Uran - er, head referee Uran - leaned in to hear what Fifield had to tell him and then what Bishop had to say. It was, at that point, still too loud in the place to hear much of anything.
So I'm still announcing what's going on for the more than three or four of you listening audience. "But wait," I say. And I'm watching Uran, the look on his face, and I'm hoping that he does what I think he should do. I believe, at that point and now, that Damian Jefferson flicked that ball to the basket just in front of the buzzer. We can debate all you want if it's the buzzer you listen for or the visual tick of the clock to zero that counts, but as I was announcing the steal and the "shovel shot" on the radio, as God as my witness I say that Jefferson's shot beat the buzzer and should be counted.
Uran listens to Fifield, and then Bishop, grabs his whistle, blows it, and makes the sign that the basket is good. Then he and the other two officials run through the crowd to exit. Game over. Griffith, ranked number one in the state of Indiana in class 3A basketball, is no longer undefeated. They're 14 and 1.