Walking under the concrete awning of the Plex, men with clean-shaven faces and sculpted calf muscles faced the brutal New England winds. Time seemed to come to a halt on campus.
The Plex fell silent as Team Sportsmanship entered (formerly known as Team Syphilis, before league officials deemed it “lewd and offensive” despite it being chosen to promote awareness for the disease, one which brought Al Capone’s life to close). Pickup games heeded reverently to the squad, creating a sort of tunnel to Court 2, where they would be taking on Premature Shooters (and Syphilis was bad? Com’on man).
The theme song from that Dodge Dart commercial continued in the far end of the gymnasium, while the Crossfitters’ class slowed to merely jogging in place as they looked on in awe of the physical specimens about to play. Everyone waited in anticipation to see Team Sportsmanship return to the court for the first time in two weeksand witness a playoff push for the ages.
“We just gotta want it more,” said senior small forward, Mike Barrilli, before the game. “We push the pace, and win this game on defense. Then we get to party, then we get the khakis, and then we get the chicks," he said.
After crisp and regimented warm-ups, which included power squats, a quick flossing, tutoring of inner-city youth, layups, and a brief shoot around, Team Sportsmanship formed in an intimidating body at midcourt to round out their traditional pregame rituals . . . with the haka (a dance they invented after many war-tested battles on the hardwood).
“A real panty dropper,” said guard Gunther Gambello—aka double G, aka GiGi, aka G money bank deposits, aka G spot—of the tradition. “For the ladies, I mean," he said.
Applause erupted on the final note with the noise spanning the entirety of the Plex’s five basketball courts. Emotion filled the room, and Team Sportsmanship stood tall and lean.
Senior Center Alex Foxen astonished spectators with his sheer athleticism at the tip, soaring well above Premature Shooter’s own. Point guard James Krasker came down with it and brought the ball up for the game’s first possession. Sportsmanship was caught off guard by their opponents’ choice to defend using a zone defense. This would prove to be a worthy obstacle for the proud predators, who on offense normally love to attack the glass with tenacity and new ivy intelligence. But the boys battled on. Foxen and power forward Tim Jablonsky hounded and astounded down low on entry passes and rebounds, while the guards worked the ball inside with patience and dished to the outside for open looks.
The game remained close at half-time, the buzzer sounded with Sportsmanship up one, but with only five total players, Premature Shooters’ squad was beginning to fade. The boys didn’t take a break from the game at half-time, utilizing their focus and determination to iron out problems for the second half. Krasker, with an exorbitant amount of experience used Zen like meditation to calm the phalanx down; then proceeded to draw up plays for deteriorating the zone.
“Let’s go boys, these guys have receding hairlines, let’s put em out early cause they aint runnin’ with us," Krasker said.
Guard Frank DeRosa went on a tear early in the second half, hitting several straight jump shots, putting the squad up by their biggest margin of the game, 8. Stiff perimeter defense caused turnover after turnover, allowing the largely Long Island native-composed team to control the game.
Mike Mackey said of DeRosa’s streak, “Man, he was vexin’ n perflexin’, really feasting out there.”
With about two minutes remaining, it seemed that Premature Shooters got desperate and began pushing the ball up the court and pressing on defense. After frustrating their opponents for the majority of the half, Team Sportsmanship found their own offense flat, as it had been at the beginning of the game.
After two three-pointers in 10 seconds, Premature Shooters cut the lead down to just two points. Following a time out with 1:37 remaining, one could feel the tension in the room as the athletes retook the floor. Jablonsky came down with a huge offensive rebound, and threw down a ferocious two-handed volley ball layup to put the team back up by four.
At the end of a barnburner such as this one was, it is difficult, as anyone could imagine, to push it while retaining composure. After evading a full court press with feline quickness, Barrilli was fouled, subsequently hitting both free throws to put the unit up four with only a few seconds remaining.
Streamers fell from the ceiling, and babies were kissed as the buzzer sounded.
Game score: 36-40, Team Sportsmanship moves forward on its quest to Mordor. Or whatever.