The Black History Month Basketball Tournament brought the Oberlin community together. My team arrived an hour early to ensure that we were all warmed up and ready to go. Instagram stories were flooded with teams hyping themselves up before the games began. This was going to be the event of the day at Oberlin and you could feel the excitement in the air. Personally, it had been over a year since I played basketball, but I jokingly told my friends that I would come out of retirement like Michael Jordan just for this. Before the tournament began I practiced my midrange shot and met some of my opponents. We played a little one on one as we got to know each other, and soon friendships developed. After about twenty minutes of playing exhibition games in the side gym, the tournament started. My teammates and I walked over to the main gym to sit in the crowd and watch the game. It was a battle between the two teams, but the team that had a player from the varsity basketball team prevailed. Watching the game made me excited for ours to start, so I returned to the side gym and continued to shoot midrange shots. I started getting in a rhythm and gaining confidence. Before I knew it, it was our time to play.
This tournament was one of the biggest events on campus so far in the spring semester, and given the excitement that surrounded it, everyone wanted to win. Personally, I was on a team with a varsity basketball player, as well as a former varsity player, so I was confident in our ability to perform. Our first game was against a group of people from the track team that I knew well. We ended up meeting before the game and gave each other high fives and told jokes. When the game started, everyone was a little nervous at first; most of us hadn’t played basketball in a while as we were focused on our respective sports. Once the shots started falling, though, the nerves went away and everyone started having fun. My team ended up winning the game, but what was most important is that both teams had fun and played hard. After the game, we shook each other's hands and laughed about things that had occurred while we were playing. The tournament was truly bringing people together, as we were all having fun playing basketball.
Tired and thirsty, I headed over to Decafe between our games which is a cafeteria on campus. Decafe is always one of my favorite places to go to as they have great orange chicken and teriyaki noodle bowls. After getting a quick bite to eat I walked back over to the gym. My teammates were scouting our next opponent, as we had to face the winner of the two teams that were currently playing. As I sat down, my teammates informed me that they wanted me to guard the best opposing player on each team we faced from here on out. They felt like my energy and athleticism would make it difficult for the opponent to score, therefore giving us a strong chance to win. The challenge of guarding the opposing team's best player excited me and I quickly agreed. I went back over to the side gym and started shooting again. My shot wasn’t going in at the rate that it was before, but that was okay; I knew that my role with the team was going to be on the defensive side of the ball for the rest of the day and that I would have little energy for offense.
The game began and I guarded my opponent intensely; wherever he was I wanted to make sure I was there. I essentially became his shadow for the entire game. My defense was effective and our team’s strategy of making somebody that is not their best player beat us was working. Unfortunately for us, our player who used to be on the varsity basketball team wasn’t able to continue playing in the tournament as he had a prior commitment he had to attend; this made offense difficult for us. Knowing our team was down a player, I was able to step up and make a few baskets for us here and there. I was almost able to drain a three as it rolled around the rim before falling off and causing a collective gasp from the crowd. While I did what I could, our main source of offense came from the varsity basketball player on our team. It was a close game and he was impressively making big shot after big shot. As minutes turned to seconds, it started to become clear that we were going to win the game. One of our teammates was fouled and made two big free throws to seal it. As the game ended, we all came together to shake each other’s hands and congratulate each other on spectacular performances from both sides. It was a game that either team could have won, a game that no matter what team won they felt more like they escaped with victory than dominated the game.
Tired and proud, my teammates and I sat in the stands as a group. If we won two more games we would win the tournament. While that was an exciting reality, it’s important not to count your eggs before they hatch. We still had to win the games. The team we played next was fundamentally strong, had a varsity basketball player who could push the tempo, and had players with height who could defend the paint. A tough matchup. As the game started, our opponents blitzed us and quickly took the lead. Before we knew it, we were losing by ten points and we had to call a time out. A couple of teammates and I substituted out of the game to give our opponents a different match-up to deal with. The substitution worked, and as we cheered our teammates on they shrunk our opponent's lead to the point where the game was tied. I checked back into the game as my teammates got tired and a dramatic finish occurred. Down by two points with ten seconds left, we took the ball up the court quickly, and after almost losing possession we passed it to the corner where we were able to hit a three that seemingly brought us seconds away from victory. We celebrated as a team as our opponent called a timeout, but soon our celebration ended as the refs were in a heavy debate as to whether there was an inadvertent whistle that occurred right before the shot. Split on the decision, they brought the two teams together and we decided as a group what was fair. We decided to tie the game, give our team the possession, and put time back on the clock. After this decision was made, we were able to score again and win the game. Nothing but respect existed between the two teams, as we both put up a championship effort. After shaking hands and conversing with our opponent, excitement and focus spread through our team. We had made it to the championship game, but we didn’t just want to make it, we wanted to win.
Our opponent for the final game had three varsity basketball players on it and had made it through the tournament so far without much of a challenge. In order to win, we knew we had to stay together as a team and play strong defense. Relying heavily on our varsity basketball player for offense and playing team defense, we were able to win the game and the tournament. After the final game was played, all the teams came together to take pictures and laugh and joke with each other. While the tournament was a competition, it brought us all closer together and sparked the development of new friendships. We were all fed pizza and sat in the bleachers together conversing. This was the most important part of the tournament: bringing Oberlin together as a whole and giving us the opportunity to gain new friends.
In the coming days, the friendships continued to blossom as pictures and videos from the tournament were posted online. I would hear conversations about the games as I stood in line at Decafe, and everyone wanted to know what sport we would be doing a tournament with next. The spring semester is always an amazing time to be in Oberlin, and it is becoming even more amazing with the development of the Black History Month Basketball Tournament. I know my teammates and I can not wait for the next tournament to happen, and I know we also can’t wait to hang out with the friends that we made while participating in the tournament!
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