We’ve all done it. In our driveways, at the local gym, by the trash can at the office or near a Nerf goal hanging on the back of the door.
Three, two, one and then we shoot what we imagine to be the last second shot of the biggest championship game in the history of the world. If the shot goes in, we absolutely lose our minds. Because we are the hero. We delivered victory to our team that seemed mired in the clutch of defeat.
Most likely, this has never happened for many of us. With the exception, of course, of Arike Ogunbowale who hit not one but two buzzer-beater game-winning shots, the first coming in the Final Four and the second to clinch the national title for Notre Dame.
Wanting to be the hero, to win the game for your team, is universal. I saw that this last week as I traveled with a team of eight with Hoops for Hope to Madrid. We needed translators to help us run those kids through drills and teach them different basketball skills. But once our drill “Last Second Hero” began, there was no more need for translation.
The whistle blew and a kid standing on the baseline passed to a coach standing at halfcourt.
“Three, two, one…”
The kids raced down the court before launching a shot before the whistle blew again. And when they made it, we lost our minds. We celebrated with them like they really did just win a championship, picking them up and throwing them in the air, screaming until we were hoarse the next day.
The looks on the kids’ faces was the same at each camp we did last week — from the park in Torrejón to the gym in Serracines to the Gigantes camp a little ways down the road. It was a look of pure exuberance, that joyous look with a bit of hope, like they could now do anything.
And that’s why we went there, to teach basketball skills with a message of hope.
We did two camps a day, one in the morning and the other in the evening. Well, what we consider the evening. Spain is different that way. Most people have dinner at 10:30 p.m. Kids played out on the streets until 1 a.m. But what else do you expect when the sun doesn’t set until 10?
We did the morning camp five days and the afternoon camp four days because we helped with Camp Gigantes on Friday afternoon. That camp was run by some of the higher-ups in Spanish basketball. Like Luis Guil, the head coach of Spain’s U20 team, with whom we ate most of our meals at the hotel as they prepared for the FIBA U20 European Championships that begin later this week.
While the locations differed, the drills we ran and the games we played stayed the same. Turns out, those kids have their own version of knockout. But in their game you get two lives, so it lasted much longer. They loved playing knockout. When it came to contests — like line jumps, cone layups and free throws — the kids were ultra-competitive. While they always wanted to know their score, we were happy to see them improve in those contests each day.
We also did stations each day: passing, agility, shooting, rebounding, offensive moves and dribbling. We quickly learned we needed to do the advanced drills with the kids in the afternoon. Most of them played for the team of the gym where we held the camp.
Cody Beeler, our head coach, has been on many Hoops for Hope trips. He said that afternoon group was the best he’s ever seen on a trip, hands down.
I ran the passing station with Rebecca Etter. Obviously, the team of older guys already knew how to chest pass and bounce pass and such. We had some fun with Magic Johnson passes, aka behind-the-back passes, before moving on to some full-court passing drills.
It was that group of kids that started laughing at us toward the middle of the week. Chase Lalouette is pretty fluent in Spanish. The rest of us were not. Those kids said they got tired of hearing us say, “Bien. Muy bien,” in drills, so they taught us some different words to change things up. Their favorite was épico (epic).
Basketball, obviously, was the main focus for us as we went over there to coach. But we couldn’t help picking up the World Cup fever.
Spain played its knockout round match against Russia at 4 p.m. Sunday. We asked around for the best place to watch and found a tapas restaurant close to the town square. With the match tied at 1, it went to extra time before having to be decided with penalty kicks.
People who weren’t in the restaurant were leaning up against the glass windows outside, pressing their faces close enough to catch a glimpse of the game. Sadly, Spain lost. We hoped to see celebration but instead watched as the channel was quickly changed and people got up and left.
As we walked through Madrid on Saturday, we did see a slew of England fans celebrating in the middle of the street. Later that day, we went to Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, where Real Madrid plays. I picked up a Cristiano Ronaldo jersey. And yes, I know he left for Juventus on Tuesday.
On the last day of camp, we gave each camper a basketball. The kids in the afternoon, for the most part, had their own basketballs. Those in the morning, however, did not. To see their faces when they realized they got to take their own ball home to practice the drills they’d been working on all week was fantastic. Or fantástico, as they taught us.