GLORY DAYS, YEAH THEY'LL PASS YOU BY...
This weekend fifteen years ago was one of those absolutely perfect days in my life. The kind of situation that you remember every detail for the rest of your days. My own personal role in it was virtually zilch, but that doesn't diminish it for a second in my mind.
I grew up in the hoops-crazed state of Indiana. And on that Friday night, it was the "perfect storm" come together on the basketball court. Fifteen years later, I still haven't seen a regular season high school game in the Hoosier state that had a more delicious set of circumstances surrounding it.
First off, it was a rivalry game. New Albany vs. Jeffersonville. There are plenty of intra-city showdowns, particularly in Evansville, Ft. Wayne, Indianapolis, and other large cities around the state, but nowhere else in Indiana are there two schools in two completely separated cities (and counties, for that matter), that are still so close to one another. If not for the Lewis and Clark Parkway and all its restaurants, Jeff and N.A. would be smack dab to one another.
But there are plenty of rivalries (Muncie Central vs. Marion, Anderson vs. Highland, Jasper vs. Southridge, etc) around the state. What made this game so different? I'll narrow out down more. Both teams were ranked in the top ten coming into the game (Jeff #1, New Albany #10). Whittle it down further...both teams were undefeated (Jeff 9-0, New Albany 7-0). It was the first time in nearly 90 years of playing against each other that the two schools were sporting spotless records. Needless to say, this also led to a sellout several weeks in advance of over 5100 fans.
The talent was off the charts. At the time of the game, there were three Division 1 signees, although in the end ten of the players went on to compete at that level. Two others could have but opted to play D1 football instead. And the icing on the cake was that the game was put on pay-per-view television and attracted a TV audience somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 customers.
The build-up started roughly three weeks in advance of the actual game, unlike anything I've ever seen. And we were just coming off a stretch where two McDonald's All-Americans (Damon Bailey and Pat Graham) were playing in our conference and another (Allan Houston) was just across the river...those contests pitting any of those three against the other were EVENTS. But this dwarfed any of those.
My high school coach was one of the greats, and when he had a week to prepare for a team, even one as good as Jeffersonville--or Bedford or Floyd Central in the previous few years--it was truly a matter of seeing a master at work. His ability to break down a team through scouting and prepare our own squad was staggering. Seeing him do his thing inspired a lot of his players, including this one, to go into coaching.
The Indianapolis Star, two hours away, had a writer in town for two days to cover that action. All four Louisville television stations were on hand that night. There were over three dozen newspaper articles written about the game.
I must admit, we looked a little shell-shocked taking the court. Jeff got us down 12-0 in a hurry and looked every bit the 9th ranked team in the nation that USA Today had them. We finally calmed down and got a three-pointer from a guy still playing pro ball overseas to cut the lead to four at the end of the first quarter. We eventually took the lead, but Jeff went back up by eight points or so in the third quarter. Once we calmed down, thought, our experience kicked in (along with a week's supply of adrenaline). Our center threw down a big dunk in the last two minutes that nearly blew the roof off the Doghouse, and we wound up holding on for a 73-66 upset. The celebration on the court was something I'll never forget, and hanging out with all my friends until early Saturday morning reliving every moment of it was one of my fondest high school memories.
It was really strange going and watching the two teams play last weekend and seeing empty seats all over the gym. Even with New Albany undefeated going into that game, alot of the electricity seemed to be missing. Maybe next year with N.A. probably being the #1 team in Indiana and Jeffersonville improved after a rebuilding season this go-around, some of that genuine intensity will return that we got accustomed to in the early-to-mid 90's (and which was even more insane back in the 50's and early 70's). Still, it'll be a real challenge to ever match the hype that we got to enjoy this weekend fifteen years ago.