Feb. 14, 2007
By Justin Chartrey
Everyone's done it before -- questioned a bad call from an official, raised their hands in disgust when a player misses a free throw or booed mercilessly when a player strikes out. But does anyone really stop and think to himself or herself, "I could do better than that?"
Well, that was my thinking when I challenged Ryan Appleby of the Washington basketball team to a contest of around-the-world.
This schoolyard game is easy to learn. There are five spots to shoot from, all behind the three-point line. Two are in the corner of the floor, next to the baseline. One is at the top of the key, and the other two are halfway between the previous targets. It is a test of a player's mastery of the three-point shot, which means that I would have my hands full with Appleby.
As last season's Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year, Appleby has made a career from long distance. He shot 42.4 percent from beyond the arc and fell just shy of the season record for three-pointers as a first-year Husky.
Meanwhile, the closest I have been to organized basketball is a starting power forward in the eighth grade.
So here we have it, one ball, two players, 10 stops, one winner and 19.9 feet separating us from the basket.
As the challenger, this is my opportunity to jump out ahead. Starting along the baseline in the corner -- my specialty once upon a time -- my first shot goes short of the target.
Starting out, I have a plan to keep Appleby from focusing. Keep him talking. Everyone's heard the story, but I felt compelled to ask him once again why he moved back to Washington.
The response I get is one that has been rehearsed. He went to Florida to play a certain style of basketball, but when he got there, it seemed that Billy Donovan had no intentions of playing that kind of ball.
CLANG! The shot hits off the front lip of the iron, keeping me in the game -- for now.
He then goes on to explain that what coach Lorenzo Romar and his Huskies have in Seattle -- familiar territory as a native of Stanwood, Wash. -- was what he was looking for all along.
My second shot hits nothing but net, sending me to the "elbow" on the three-point line. The shot elicits a laugh from Appleby, and I can't tell if it's my form or if he knows something I don't. My immediate reaction is to ask about the Gators' national championship last year.
Probably a little insensitive, but Appleby shrugs it off by saying he only regrets not getting past Connecticut. For him it would have been sweeter to beat U-Conn and then potentially get a shot at his former team in the Final Four.
My second shot looks true but kicks out, opening the door for Appleby.
This time, the junior does not miss and then passes me before I can blink, his speedy delivery hitting its mark twice in a row. Now at the top of the key, we start to talk about his hero, "Pistol" Pete Maravich.
I tell him that I recently read one of Maravich's biographies, and immediately he asks me whether it was Pistol by Mark Kriegel or Maravich by Wayne Federman and Marshall Terrill.
I respond with Pistol, and he nods in approval as he sinks his third-straight bucket.
Now I have to throw a changeup; there's no way I can let this guy get into a rhythm. As he sets for his jumper at the opposite elbow, I have to ask him if any of the crazy in Maravich had crossed into his life.
Appleby grins before hitting his fourth in a row and shakes his head. "No, no ufology. I don't believe in macrobiotics or vegetarianism."
For the most part, he said, he is just your average guy. What drew him to Maravich was the way he played. Appleby was in awe watching tapes of the "Pistol" and the way he moved and his ability to flat-out shoot.
"I'm nowhere close to him," Appleby said. "If I were one one-hundredth of the player he was then I could do some great things."
Now he's in the other corner, and I'm pretty sure this thing is getting ugly fast. Two more times, the lightning-fast flick of his wrist blurs across my vision and two more shots hit nothing but net.
Then the unthinkable happens --Appleby's shot from the top of the key strays left and just like that the ball's back in my hand.
Then the trash talk starts.
We agree that if I make it to the corner just once, then I don't have to go back around. This is an obvious stab at my competitive pride, but with him riding a hot hand, I will take what I can get.
My less-than-poetic, left-handed shot finds the bottom of the net and now it's virtually a tied game. Even with him chattering over my shoulder, if only I can hit one more -- never mind, the ball caroms off the back iron and over the backboard.
There's a quick shrug of his shoulders, as if to say "Too bad." Three shots and the game is over.
The first catches some of the rim but rattles home anyway, moving Appleby back to the elbow.
This is a man who, since the time he was 6 years old, has been honing his basketball skills by shooting hundreds of shots every day, even when no one else is in the building.
He sees no shame in the term "gym-rat" because to him, it just means that he works harder than other people to get where he wants.
Forget the term "man." Appleby is a machine. The motion never alters, and the confidence never wavers. As proven by his 165 attempts from beyond the arc a year ago, if he sees his shot he's going to take it.
Now he eyes the last shot in the corner. I don't even have to look. Sure enough, he knocks it down, putting an end to my dreams of glory.