ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” story. It is an editorial by the editor.
The most painful part of the now departed Wayland boys’ and girls’ basketball seasons is that they are over. Fans can’t go watch them play any more. For the players and coaches, they fell short of the lofty goals they set for themselves three months ago.
Yet what unfolded from December through March was something special, something few communities have the privilege of experiencing — two wildly successful teams lighting up the scoreboard Tuesdays and Fridays at home and on the road. Together, they won 42 games and lost 6, for a percentage of .857. It would be extremely difficult to locate a community with both boys and girls doing that in the same year.
(Martin in 1987-88 comes to mind, back when the two hoops programs played in separate times of the year. Coach Robert Vandenberg’s girls were state runners-up at 26-1 at the end of the fall and Herb Johnson’s guys had won more than 20 by March.)
A lot of attention this winter was paid to two senior athletes, Presley Hudson for the girls and Lacey James for the boys. Both were finalists for the Miss and Mr. Basketball state-wide honors, and they both deserved their accolades.
In case someone wonders why I didn’t write special feature stories on them during the season, it was because my philosophy is that basketball is a team game. Though it is impossible to overlook the excellence of Hudson and James, they were extremely important parts of a team.
I am unhappy with my media brethren who worship at the altar of individual superstars. It’s like the old saying that “there is no I in team… the team, the team, the team.”
I often compare team sports performances to a symphony orchestra concert, at which the music is really awful when not everybody is doing his or her job correctly. Even the greatest musician of all time cannot make it sound good all by himself or by herself.
I regard four years of watching Presley Hudson as not just the privilege of witnessing a good basketball player, but beholding an artist. She developed the ability to rise to higher levels, by becoming a performer with exceedingly high standards in shooting, passing, dribbling and even rebounding — whatever it takes.
When the Lady Wildcats played, it was almost as if she was Yo Yo Ma showing up to perform on the cello with the New York Philharmonic. But remember, all those other fiddlers and horn players, flautists and percussionists have to play their roles as well. Otherwise, it’ll sound like crap, even with the star performer present.
My favorite Presley Hudson moments were when several times near the end of a period she’d glance up at the clock and finally launch an NBA-distance three and swish it just as the buzzer sounded. It was an even more effective dagger in the heart of an opponent than a slam dunk.
The only girls’ basketball player Wayland’s ever had with those kinds of skills was Angie Farmer Stauffer, and that was almost 20 years ago. I suppose they come along only once in a generation.
The Lacey James story is more solemn. This has been a young man running up and down the basketball floor with a cloud over his head.
James, a very intense basketball player, had to overcome a health scare last summer in which there were fears he had an enlarged heart. He finally was cleared to play last fall by the Mayo Clinic, but then along came an almost equally troubling challenge — free throws.
James seemed to be worried constantly that his struggles at the free throw line would cost Wayland a close ballgame, particularly in the tournaments. I was told by sources close to the situation that he struggled with this potential horror, causing a lot of emotional and psychological pain.
I was part of the problem, readily telling people that if I was coaching against Wayland and the score was close, I would instruct my players to foul James. Good grief. The lad is 17 or 18 years old and he’s carrying a heavy burden around that he doesn’t deserve.
I hope we all remember that without James’ skills under the basket, in rebounding and aggressively taking the ball to the hoop, the Wildcats wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as they were. And I will never forget his monster breakaway jam at the end of the third quarter against Godwin Friday night in the district finals.
I wish both of these outstanding individuals the best in what lies ahead. Hey, all I had to do was sit back and admire them. And I will miss them.
PHOTO: This photo was taken to demonstrate the pride St. John Vianney School in Grand Rapids has in two of its most famous recent alums, Presley Hudson and Lacey James. Dorr Township Treasurer Jim Martin coached James in grade school and said he remembers well the presence of Hudson often in the gym.