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The latest addition to the McMillan household.
Palm Coast Wednesday, Jul. 6, 2011 7 years ago

Hoop dreams in the backyard

by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

I bought a used basketball hoop the morning of July Fourth and set it up on the patio in my backyard. I measured the distance from the rim and found that I was just shy of the 15 feet required for a true free-throw line. To compound matters, the rim would only extend 9 feet, 11.5 inches high, or half an inch short.

It’s going to be hard to perfect my skills on a nonregulation setup, I thought.

It was my belated Father’s Day present, but I also justified the purchase because my two little boys said they wanted to play. I learned that their age groups played on an 8-foot hoop, so I lowered the rim; but they soon tired of the heat and the lack of a youth-sized ball, so I played by myself.

Alone, I arranged the kids’ toys on the patio so that if the ball went in the hoop and bounced to the left, it thudded off the plastic tote and right back to the shady spot where I was standing; if the ball went through and bounced right, it caromed off the lid of the sandbox and right to me.

(You may notice that I didn’t have a plan for a missed shot. Didn’t need one.)

My wife pretended not to be impressed at my swish streak.

“The rim doesn’t go to 10 feet?” Hailey said, though I’m sure her heart was aflutter.

I kept shooting. Even the greatest players have their detractors. At least I had the birds to cheer for me.

It felt supremely important to perfect the mechanical motion of shooting these free throws — elbow in, a rhythmic transfer of momentum, the follow through — so that if I were to ever play in a game in a pressure situation, I wouldn’t crack. I could send the ball along a gentle arc without thinking about it.

The pleasure of seeing the ball crash through the net was tremendous. I kept checking inside to see if anyone was watching the show. There was Hailey, reading a magazine.

This hoop is the best present I have ever bought for myself, I thought.

But before I lofted the next shot, I had one of those visionary, devastating, quixotic experiences that young fathers sometimes have: It occurred to me that I have no reason to practice my free throws. I will likely never play on a team again in my life, never be in a pressure situation in which anyone would watch me any more closely than my wife was watching me now.

This wasn’t really my hoop at all. It would likely spend much more time at 8 feet than it ever would at 10.

I kept shooting a while longer. I clanged shot after shot. I chased the misses all over the yard as they started bouncing just askew of the sandbox.

It was exercise, plain and simple. That’s what thirtysomethings do: They play basketball for exercise.

I put the ball in the tote and sealed it, and, dripping with sweat, I went in through the sliding glass door, where my boys were playing with their toy cars. After I got cleaned up, I scraped back the odd, creeping sense of loneliness in the best way I could think of: I drove the boys to the store, and we bought a youth-sized basketball.

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