In 1962, being like Mikan was the goalDuring the last regular-season game of Chamberlain High School’s 1962 basketball season, I caught a pass in the lane about 10 feet from the basket, pivoted and tossed up a soft, left-handed hook shot. The move surprised the kid playing defense. The sight of the basketball kissing the glass and spinning through the net surprised me. I’d never made a left-handed hook shot in a game. In fact, that was the first one I’d ever tried in a game.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
During the last regular-season game of Chamberlain High School’s 1962 basketball season, I caught a pass in the lane about 10 feet from the basket, pivoted and tossed up a soft, left-handed hook shot.
The move surprised the kid playing defense. The sight of the basketball kissing the glass and spinning through the net surprised me. I’d never made a left-handed hook shot in a game. In fact, that was the first one I’d ever tried in a game.
Coach Byre had worked with me all season on using my left hand. A couple of afternoons a week he took me aside to work one-on-one, overplaying my right hand and forcing me to try to use the left. I rarely scored on him. The few times I did, I felt like a giant, because Coach Byre was a far better player that year than anyone else I faced. That isn’t to say I overpowered any other centers, just that most of them didn’t dominate me the way Coach did.
He also had me work before and after practice on a thing we called the Mikan drill. George Mikan was a popular basketball player for DePaul in college and for the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1940s and early 1950s. The Mikan drill involved standing almost under the basket, taking a step and shooting a baby hook — almost a layup — with the right hand, grabbing the rebound and shooting a little hook with the left hand. No dribbling, just hook, catch, step, hook, catch, step. I looked a bit like Mikan, with big glasses and short hair. I never moved like Mikan.
Anyway, I did that drill night after night, and I tried to score against Coach night after night. When I’d walk home after practice, I’d sometimes dream of dazzling a defender with a quick post move and a nice left-handed hook. I thought about it once in a while during a game, but I never tried it. I didn’t think about it during the Winner game. It just happened. I’d like to think it was the move of a natural athlete with finely honed skills. More likely, my subconscious recognized it was the last game of the season and gave me a shove.
Bill Miller, the guard who made the pass that led to my hook shot, gave me a pat on the back. Coach Byre substituted for me at the next dead ball. That didn’t surprise me. It was early in the fourth quarter, we were ahead, and I’d played nearly every minute to that point. (Back then, starters — and I only started that one year — played until they fouled out, ran out of gas or played so poorly the coach benched them.)
Coach motioned me to sit next to him on the bench. Mitchell had someone from its coaching staff in the gym, Coach said, and the guy was scouting our team for the opening game of the section tournament. No sense showing him all of our stuff, he said.
Well, I was blown away. It never occurred to me that other teams had people who came to games to watch a future opponent play. Sure, everybody knows it these days. I’m talking half a century ago. I don’t know if there really was a Mitchell scout. I never questioned Coach on anything that year. I sure wasn’t going to question that. I tried to be casual about scanning the crowd. I didn’t see anybody who looked like a scout, but I didn’t know what one should look like, either.
If Mitchell did have someone watching our game, the scouting report must have said I was a center they could work over. The Kernels had a kid named Al Cooper at center. I knew him from track, but I didn’t know he played basketball. I learned during a long, frustrating evening at sectionals in Parkston that Al was a fairly accomplished center. He wound up with 20-some points. Or maybe it was 30-some.
He didn’t get them all against me. I fouled out before the end of the third quarter. I didn’t get a chance to show him my left-handed hook.