"Whoa! What happened? Did you get demoted?"
That was the response I received from one of my friends a few days ago when I told him I was going to be covering a high school girls basketball game on Friday evening.
"No, nothing like that," I assured him. "I think it'll be fun."
And yes, it definitely was. Two of the best high school girls teams in northern Utah — Layton and Fremont — squared off on the Silverwolves' court in Plain City. The two teams came into the game with just two combined losses and, between them, they had won 19 straight games this season. So there was a large, vocal crowd on hand to witness what turned out to be a dandy of a showdown.
And it didn't matter whether it was being played by girls, boys, men, women or NBA millionaires — hey, as far as I'm concerned, basketball is basketball.
No, this definitely wasn't the Utah Jazz, who I've written hundreds of stories about over the years. And no, it certainly wasn't college basketball, either, so my co-worker assumed it might be considered a big step down for somebody who has covered BYU, University of Utah, Utah State and Weber State men's basketball at different times over my 40-something years as a sports writer, including a couple of NCAA Final Fours as well as the NBA Finals.
Heck, it wasn't even prep boys basketball, which I first began covering as an eager but inexperienced correspondent for the Ogden Standard-Examiner newspaper back in 1970.
But, hey, like I said before, it was still basketball, even if it was played by girls. And you know what? It was downright delightful.
For the record, Fremont won it 58-57 on a last-second 3-pointer by Shelbee Molen, a junior guard who was so excited and giddy after the game she could barely speak.
And perhaps that was the best thing about this entire experience. The emotion, the sheer joy and the beaming smile on that young lady's face as she described the game's final moments made what had been an already enjoyable evening seem all the more worthwhile.
After all, I've covered plenty of NBA games where players and coaches often treat postgame interviews like a necessary annoyance that's a complete waste of their valuable time. Fortunately, college players — who haven't had as much time to develop an oversized ego yet — are considerably better.
But shoot, I've talked to prep boys basketball players who were so busy trying to play it so darned cool for their teammates that their postgame comments and attitude made them come across sounding cocky, arrogant and, well, let's just say they seemed like anything but the brightest crayon in the box.
High school girl student-athletes, though, are generally very humble, thoughtful and appreciative that a media member might actually want to hear what they have to say.
I'm sure they realize that they don't generally draw as big of crowds as the boys do, and they usually don't receive nearly as much media coverage, either.
Sure, their game might not be nearly as fast-paced as that of the boys, and no, it's not played above the rim so you're not gonna see any alley-oop dunks, eye-popping blocked shots or high-flying plays.
What you will see, though, is kids who love to play the game and play it well, play it smart, know the fundamentals, stay within themselves and don't ever do much at all in the way of showboating or strutting their stuff on the court.
These girls just play the game, rejoice with heart-felt emotion, maybe even get a little teary-eyed when they lose — and sometimes when they win, too — and, thankfully, never try to play it too cool.
Maybe my perspective is distorted because I helped raise four daughters who I'm extremely proud of. And no, none of them ever played a minute of varsity basketball.
But anyone who thinks that having an opportunity to cover one of these prep girls games might be an assignment that's somehow "beneath" a grizzled old guy like me who's watched the game played at its highest level is definitely mistaken.
After all, whether they can dunk it or not, it's still basketball. And it's still tons of fun to watch — at any level.
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