Column: Basketball fever — he’s got it bad

DANIEL DE MATO FILE PHOTO | Austin Hooks of Greenport attacks the basket while Southold’s Matt McCarthy defends.

I once had a sportswriting assignment, when I was still in college, that required me to attend five 40-minute basketball games in the span of one long afternoon-evening. And I think there may have even been an overtime game thrown in there for good measure.

I was reminded of that long-ago assignment recently as I slogged my way through two long weeks of youth basketball games here on Long Island. It involved attending, not necessarily in order, a CYO basketball game in Smithtown, three CYO basketball games at Cutchogue East Elementary School, three more junior high school games at Cutchogue East, individual junior varsity and varsity games at Southold High School and two junior varsity and two varsity games at Greenport High School. (Note: There would have been two more CYO girls’ games at Cutchogue East during this same time period, but our granddaughter was temporarily forced to the sidelines due to illness.)

That’s 13 games in just under two weeks. And that’s not counting the various college and pro games I watched on television during this fortnight.

Yes, I’ve got basketball fever and I’ve got it bad.

There are two primary explanations for this apparently obsessive behavior. One is the fact that our granddaughter and grandson are both playing on CYO teams at the same time he’s playing on his junior high team. And then, of course, there’s the other explanation: I’m just a fan.

As you might imagine, there have been some highlights and some lowlights during this b-ball orgy. Among the highlights was the scoring duel between Southold High School’s and Greenport High School’s backcourt studs, Liam Walker and Gavin Dibble.

Also highly entertaining was watching Greenport’s two new coaches, Ev Corwin (varsity) and Ryan Creighton (junior varsity), coaching the first games of their careers. They both debuted with losses but quickly got into the win column, where presumably they’ll be spending a lot more time in the years to come.

Then there was the look of wonderment and unbridled joy on the face of one of our grandson’s teammates when he scored the first basket — much to his own apparent surprise — of his organized basketball life. And, in the same game, the 12-year-old Latrell Sprewell lookalike (complete with long braids hanging down his back) from Southampton who scored a basket after a balletic move that involved dribbling between his legs (twice, back and forth!) and behind his back. He, on the other hand, had the blasé look on his face that said, essentially, “Ain’t no big thing.”

The lowlights are few by comparison. They include, at the CYO and junior high level, long stretches where the frantic activity on the court looks more like the bumper car pavilion at Palisades Amusement Park than what James Naismith had in mind when he created the game. (Lots of crashes, few conversions.) Then there are the periodic bone-headed decisions like forcing up a shot when your team is nursing a two-point lead with 20 seconds remaining in the game. And sometimes I get the feeling that some of the coaches are seeing the game played for the first time, such is the deer-in-the-headlights look on their faces during much of the action. But those considerations are inconsequential in comparison to the speed and athleticism of this quintessentially American game.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good New Year!

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