Had to start with this: "My friend Lowell" The story I tell is true. Even I couldn't have thought up this one. Years ago, my oldest son was an All Star 7th grade Basketball player. He made all the travelling teams. We drove the state of Indiana from one end to the other several times a week for his games. He was taller than the other kids (now 6'7" , in his mid thirties)..and quite the outside shooter. One day at church, an old guy with a gray flattop and sparkling blue eyes came up to me and asked me if he could go along to my son's games with us. The old guy loved basketball. He really believed in my son- Lowell (the old guy) said he wanted to watch him develop into a star. Lowell was only about 5'4". He had a deep voice so low you almost couldn't understand it. But he was tough. He'd been quite a worker before he retired. Now, he had a degenerative heart. And they'd found a tumor in his brain. He refused to let them operate- he knew his heart wouldn't survive the operation. On every trip we talked long about life, and it's purpose. Finally, one night I asked Lowell how he went on in such good spirits, knowing his body's situation. He told me "I just wake up and Thank The Lord. I ask Him how I can serve him today. And then I let Him worry about it. I just go and do what I can. When it's time, I'm going home." My son had a pretty good AAU season. But at his small Christian Jr-High School, they only had 7 boys for the team next year. Only 3 were going to be 8th graders. 2 were to be 6th graders. One to be 5th, and one 4th. And playing aginst teams from the city that had 15 eigth graders they had no chance. Try matching a 4th grader against an 8th grader and you're soon whooped! They had lost every game that year in school- losing the last one 60-15 to the league champs. And they had no coach. Lowell talked to me about this. He knew I understood basketball a lot, and the kids liked me. He convinced me to make a plan, and volunteer to coach. I looked at the team, and convinced myself WE could win the championship next year! Our team had 3 decent players. My son could lead the league in scoring. Our small center was a terrific rebounder and had decent moves. My point guard was the problem. He had ADD syndrome. One moment he was an All-Star; the next he was sitting in the stands playing trucks with the 5 year-olds. Next we had to figure how to match 4th and 5th graders against 8th grade giants. I borrowed Larry Brown's 2 low post pick system that freed Reggie Miller for the Pacers (he used the same play for Rip Hamilton on the Pistons). My son would shoot- or pass to the center. If they drew attention and triple-teams- hopefully a 5th grader would make a layup since he'd be unguarded. I posted banners everywhere- 60-15 to remind them of last year's game against the champs; ironicly they would be our first opponent this year as well. I brought in grownups to practice against. My theory is that you improve when you play someone better than you. Grownups can vary talent as they need to against 8th graders. It seemed to work. Otherwise we had no one to practice against anyway. So opening night came along. Lowell was too sick to attend. He'd miss almost every game that year. We missed him badly as our inspiration. The first game- against the champs, we bolted to a fast start, leading 5-0. We ended the first quarter up 12-4, when my son blocked a shot clean and got called for his third foul. I had to substitute. At halftime, we were down 24-14. Respectable after last year, and we had my son coming back to play. Then our boys started fouling out. We ended the game playing the entire 4th quarter with only 2 players- a 4th grader and a 5th grader- against 5 8th graders--- everyone else had fouled out. We lost. I looked at the scoreboard as I left the floor.....60-15- the same as last year. That year we lost the first game by 45 points. The next one by 42. Slowly we improved. We were only losing by 15 now, and getting praises form the opposing coahes and fans. Lowell still was sicker than ever. He never left the house. He barely made it to church- a block from his house. We improved more still- losing by 5, and then three. I prayed to God to let us win one- we played our worst game of the month and were slaughtered. So I guess we were too selfish. We didn't have enough Faith. For our last game of the season, we were at home--- against the same league champs (again) that had spanked us in game 1. We took the floor for warmups. My son ran over to me and asked if I saw who was there? I looked up- and in the front row was Lowell! Somehow, we had to play well. The boys played as well as I've ever seen them play. At half-time we were winning by one point. No one was in serious foul trouble. We came out inspired for the second half. Maybe we had enough faith after all. We played fantastic. We put the champs on the ropes. It was all ours to grab. With 2 minutes left- we had them down by six. And the champs called time-out. Our crowd gave us a standing ovation that seemed to take hours. And all I could see was Lowell- his grin as wide as Texas- his blue eyes sparkling. I knew for once I'd already won! The next 2 minutes I've played over in my head ten thousand times. Maybe I hadn't coached them well enough. Maybe our kids were drained. Maybe they'd never expected to win, maybe the didn't have enough faith. Maybe the champs were just that good. They put in 5 fresh boys against our worn-out foul ridden warriors. I watched a full court press that would make Dean Smith's Tarhells proud. Slowly we lost ground, the score tightened to 3 points, ....1 point.... finally the champs took the lead with 10 seconds to go. I've played this next play so much in my head it's permantly etched in my brain. I still don't know just how it really happened. Everyone in the gym knew who would be taking the last shot--- my son. Dance with the one what brung ya! I knew they'd be on him- but he was our only chance. Somehow- I'm still not sure how- he caught the ball with his back to the basket and turned and got off a three-pointer with 2 kids in his face, and a third charging him. His shot was to be a microcosm of our whole season. It was high and beautiful- straight as an arrow. Everyone in the gym knew it was going in. And it did--- for a second, almost. Inside the basket, somehow it caught the rim edge and started spinning. It spun for an eternity.....................................and then fell out. Our winless season was over. Five days later, Lowell died. I had taken a team of kids to teach them basketball. Lowell came and taught them how to live. My son eventually transferred to public school- a small school out in farm country. His team went 22-2 and played in the State Semi-States before they were sent home without the trophy. He went to college all day, and worked to pay his own way at night. He graduated with a 3.9 in Political Science. One day, shooting hoops, I asked him if he remembered that game against the 8th grade champs. He shot the ball- watched it rip thru the net and grinned. "I think we'd take 'em next time!" Never give up!