Thursday, January 20, 2011

The One That Got Away

(Tyrone Conley, #21 in Center)

The first time I saw Tyrone Conley play basketball, he wasn’t even playing basketball. I attended the 2005 Vermont Senior All-Star Game in Windsor, VT. Unbeknownst to me and my four fellow friends, there was a dunk contest at halftime. About three players who were seniors (this is high school, of course) would compete in the dunk contest, as would some sophomore kid named Tyrone Conley, who was lacing up his shoes on the sideline. The crowd buzzed a little – I mean, you don’t just invite a sophomore to a senior dunk contest if he can’t dunk like crazy, right? Tell me you would not just invite some kid who can sort of throw it down one out of ten times if he gets the right “oop,” -- you wouldn’t do that, right? But this is Vermont, remember, so you never know.
The following is probably grossly exaggerated, but it is exactly how I remember Conley’s first dunk: He stood near the half court line on the left side of the hoop. He appeared to be around 6’1’’, and certainly no taller than 6’3’’. He wore an oversized black t-shirt with no writing on it, and a pair of silver shorts. His shoes were black. Conley started his run up the left side of the court. He approached it like he knew what he was doing. And then, all of the sudden he elevated from the second block of the foul line off of two feet. He jumped like he knew what he was doing. He pointed the ball at the rim with two hands, brought it below his waist, and then threw the ball through the rim like those of us whom gravity actually applies to could only dream of. He dunked like he knew what he was doing.
I don’t remember much that happened after that. Mostly because I was black-out-intoxicated off of second-hand dunking (a first time occurrence for me. Seriously, be careful of operating vehicles and heavy machinery if, and when, this happens to you. And it will happen to you). Apparently, I jumped out of my seat and collapsed on the bleachers in a mess of tears, laughing, and hunger to see such a supernatural feat happen again. The drive home was fast and erratic. I’m not sure why I was driving. Was I driving? My friends claim I was driving.
In search of such an adrenaline rush, I attended two of Conley’s games during his junior season of high school (my senior year). In the first one, he and his Burlington Seahorses played undefeated Spaulding High School (the defending state champions) and he scored 24 points – in the first half. He ended up with 36, and Burlington blew out Spaulding by at least twenty (On a side note, I bought a 50-50 raffle ticket, looked the man in the face and said, “I will win this raffle.” I will be damned if I didn’t walk back down there ten minutes later to collect my 70 bucks from that same dude). The rematch of these two teams happened in the state championship at Patrick Gymnasium. We sat behind the bench and watched Conley lead his team to a state championship.
Tyrone and my honeymoon ended a year later, when it was announced that he would attend UVM’s “rival” UNH (rival in quotation because we always seem to come out on top in basketball) I was beside myself. The potential storyline just seemed so perfect: hometown kid, joins the UVM Catamounts, and leads us to another NCAA tournament. Instead, I was left wondering what might have been. I even e-mailed the UVM coaching staff, wondering how we let Conley get away. They claimed that they needed scholarships for big men since they already had a bevy of guards (a fair point). And just like that, Conley the Seahorse became a Wildcat instead of a Catamount.
So when the Cats travel to Durham, NH tonight, I will be cheering for UVM, against UNH, and for Tyrone Conley to succeed against other teams.

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