Exciting playoffs loom for basketball

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 20, 2012

Have I mentioned how I love basketball season?

Early high school game, late night NBA fix. This is my routine and people, trust me, I don’t like to mess with it. I do love football; this is the South, after all.

But basketball was my first sports love, my favorite to cover and to follow at every level.

And NOTHING beats the energy level of a small high school gymnasium, backed to the brim with screaming fans, the kind of intense atmosphere that the playoffs regularly provide.

Since I’ve been in the River Region covering sports, St. John Parish certainly hasn’t seen a season like this. The playoffs started Monday, after we went to press on this early-deadline Mardi Gras week, so if any teams were knocked out, some of this could be outdated quickly. But I have faith in the hometown teams.

Like always, Timmy Byrd’s gearing his team on a state championship run. But this season, his Rebels have a capable foil in John Curtis, who split with Riverside during district play and enter the 2A playoffs as the top seed.

But two other parish squads enter with high expectations in the East St. John boys and West St. John girls. ESJ enters the 5A playoffs as the 5 seed; WSJ as the eight. The two teams have slapped a combined 46-10 record up on the board; the Lady Rams are guided by one of the sweetest shooting backcourts you’ll ever see, regardless of classification or gender; the Wildcats by an unrelenting swarm of defenders and seemingly bottomless depth.

Each of these teams have legit state championship aspirations. In Riverside’s case, it would add to a dynasty; in the case of East St. John and West St. John, it would be a climax to the rapid ascent of those programs over the past few seasons, an ascent I’ve been proud to see unfold in its entirety during my run as sports editor here.

When you leave this parish, though, it is no less impressive locally as the St. James girls enter the playoffs as the third seed and look to defend their championship; the Hahnville girls enters class 5A as the 10th seed. The Destrehan girls and St. James boys also qualified for the playoffs.

Long story short: I’ll be enjoying the next month quite a bit.

Tuesday of last week marked my first day back at our recreation basketball league since the tragedy — for those who didn’t read my column or otherwise know, my friend Dustin suddenly passed away after our second game of the year in mid-January.

As a writer I’d love to find more dazzling words to describe this, but something really weird yet at the same time awesome happened to make my first game back memorable.

I had told one of my friends that when I got back in, I intended to wear No. 3 — it was Dustin’s number in his only game with us — and to try and bank in my first shot attempt of the game from the corner. He had scored one bucket in the first game and it banked in high off the glass for a 3-pointer, from the corner, so I thought it would be a small but fitting tribute.

As it turned out, I didn’t realize until a few hours before gametime that I’d be able to play this week, so I didn’t have time to go get the number fixed on my jersey. I put the idea on hold — it was also my first time back at that gym, and perhaps part of me wanted to just get through it without thinking too much about the tragedy.

I got a shot off pretty early. I hadn’t shot well all day, not in practice, not in shootaround. This shot felt funky too, almost like it slipped out of my hands. I was annoyed, sure I’d missed.

But you guessed it: BANK. High, off the glass, for three, from the corner.

Thanks for the help, buddy.