Rich LaRocco

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My basketball addiction

by Rich LaRocco

I love basketball — watching, playing, coaching and talking about it. When my outside basketball court is free of snow, I usually do a 15-minute shooting drill two or three times a week, and once or twice a week I enjoy 90 minutes of pickup ball at a civic or church gym. Only during hunting season do I stop playing, and that's when I'm glad I've kept my cardiovascular system in working order so that I can drag my carcass up the steep mountains where the air is thin and the deer and elk roam.

Yes, I'm almost always the oldest player on the court by several years or decades, but I refuse to take advantage of my opponents' lack of experience or height. (I hope you recognize Ronald Reagan's sarcasm when addressing Walter Mondale's criticism of his advanced age, or you won't last long reading my political commentary.)

You don't have to be the best player to contribute to a basketball team, so I normally make my mark by playing position defense, passing the ball to open players, denying the ball to the better shooters, and shooting the ball when I'm open. I've learned to make up for some of my shortcomings through court awareness and experience.

I was blessed with extremely quick reactions, probably due to short circuits in my crosswired brain, but nowadays about the only advantage they give me is that I often can hit the ball out of an opponent's hands or snatch a loose ball within reach before a stronger, younger player can get his hands on it.

I'm too slow afoot to get to most loose balls, even those I poke out of the hands of a shooter or dribbler. Though I'm not as competitive as I once was and not nearly as athletic, I strive to win every game by competing as a good teammate.

As an anti-ball hog, I would rather be encouraged to shoot more during one of my increasingly rare hot streaks than less during one of my increasingly common cold streaks. Like my current favorite player, LeBron James, I believe a teammate with an better look should get the ball, even though I'm perfectly capable of firing off-balance shots.

My grandson Parker demonstrates good form while dribbling. Notice that he is looking up, not at the ball. Also notice the score. Parker's team is up. His teammate in the background, even though he's a dead ringer for the star of "A Christmas Story," is a great dribbler and always keeps his head up. It will be fun to see how these two develop. If I were a high school coach in their area, I would be encouraging these two boys and anxiously looking forward to their attaining their potential.

I enjoy playing with almost any player of any level of ability and especially enjoy players who are competitive and yet respectful and who share the ball and work hard on defense.

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