Category: basketball

Pedro’s Posse Falls Short….Literally….In Rivera Sports League Final

This spring Pedro’s Posse debuted in the Rivera Sports League, a hidden treasure in the Orlando basketball scene.  Since it’s inception, the league, run by Gio Rivera, has played on Sunday’s on outdoor courts.  Games run all day long and the atmosphere is terrific.  The teams are predominately Hispanic and wear Rivera Sports Uniforms that range from NBA favorites like the Cavs and Warriors to Space Jam and other original stylings.  Most players have nicknames on the back, and you are in the minority if you are not wearing a shooting sleeve or full length slides.

This season the league moved indoors first at the TNT gym and later to an obscure elementary gym off Formosa just north of downtown.  Just outside the gym, chicken, rice and fries were cooked, and inside wives, girlfriends, side pieces and young children filled the bleachers.  There is a live DJ, and most players hang out in the gym for at least a game after playing talking trash, and catching up with friends on other teams.

One of my low key favorite parts of the league is the utter indifference directed at the teams warming up to play.  Kids will hoard all the available basketballs casting long shots and stealing loose balls from any team trying to warm up.  These kids act as though it is their birthright to shoot in pregame and look at you with total disdain if you put a hand out or ask for a ball to warm up.

The league is extremely competitive, and by far, the most passionate in town.  Most adult league player’s fall into two categories.  One, they are college or pro guys getting a workout with no interest in getting hurt, or two, they are guys who have to go to work on Monday, and for that reason, have no interest in getting hurt.  All this to say that it’s extremely rare in an adult league for a guy to go to the ground for a loose ball.  With this background, I was shocked to see two grown men in the category of “guy that has to go to work on Monday” full out dive for a loose ball at midcourt that neither guy had a realistic chance of saving.  Nevermind that both guys were on the same team.

At least two games, including one of ours, were cut short due to fighting, and what’s more entertaining is the animated, combustible discussions among teammates that feature at every dead ball, time-out or half-time.

Pedro’s Posse was the class of the league for the entire regular season.  We fielded a team of great size with Dave Butler and Adam Jones, and extraordinary shooting with Bryan Richardson, Zack Trapp, Nate Moran, Cliff Smith and Juan Bernal, our only authentically Hispanic player.  Our efforts were supplemented by the spot on scouting reports of Luis Brito, who consulted with us every game despite being rostered on a different team, and the unorthodox, but surprisingly effective Pat Triolo.  Our only blemish was the fight shortened game during the last week of the regular season that resulted in the suspension of Josh Castellanos who capped a tough shooting day, by putting a face claw on an opposing player who had the audacity to throw an elbow to the abdomen away from the play.  Both players were restrained before further damage accrued.

The league featured an All-Star game.  Pedro’s Posse was represented by Juan Bernal who managed to play the entire game without taking a shot.  Our man Luis Brito hit 7 3’s and the game finished on an unnecessary halfcourt shot.  

We rolled through the first round of the playoffs with a 28 point win, but adult league championships are won with personnel, and we had issues this past weekend.  In the semi-final we had a seven man roster sans point guard.  We built a 24 point lead, but struggled against pressure late and escaped by 5.
In the Final, Nate Moran etched his name in Pedro’s Posse history alongside Jason Williams and Rocky Trice in the litany of difference making players that failed to show for a final.  Our roster was down to 6, and I was the sixth man.  The game started well as we scored inside and out jumping to a 15-9 lead.  We had some defensive issues, however, and lost the lead midway through the first half.  We trailed by 5 at the break and had our first bit of foul trouble as Pat Triolo picked up his third in the final minute on a dispute blocking call in front of our bench.

Dave Butler picked up two quick fouls in the second to give him four.  Butler was our only big and was having a strong game on both ends of the floor.  Despite the four fouls, he played inspired basketball defending the rim with eight blocks.  Down two with three minutes to play, the big man picked up his fifth and was finished.  I entered the game and the team lost 15″ in height, and most of our hope.

I didn’t hurt the team, but I really gave no meaningful contribution.  Zack Trapp bravely drew fouls and made free throws to keep us in contention and Juan Bernal hit a three with 15 seconds left to make it a one point game, but we would fall by three.

The Cavs celebrated like they won another NBA title…jumping up and down, screaming with joy.  We ambled back to the bench knowing that we were a player short.

PEDRO’S POSSE SUMMER 16 TOUR

Dave Farber, Bryan Richardson and Juan Bernal sat around a table at Twin Peaks in Altamonte in the fading daylight hours of Sunday August 7.  It was somber as Pedro’s Posse had just dropped a 3rd straight game, and sat 5-5 on the season.  The euphoria of last season’s run and Sweet 16 TBT 2016 showing seemed remote as it would take a massive effort to just make the playoffs this season.  Jason Williams was suspended, and likely wouldn’t play the rest of the season, Rocky Trice was in hospital and we only had one substantial contributor from last season’s team remaining- Bryan Richardson, the Red Bull and vodka-fueled super shooter, who, for various reasons, was a shell of himself for most of the season. There was some serious thought, albeit for a very brief period of time (maybe 2-3 minutes) of mailing in the rest of the season.

Jason’s “suspension” was totally ludicrous, robbing Pedro’s Posse of its enigmatic talisman and irreparably damaging the psyche of the team. 28 different players suited up through 14 games, and six of them were lost with season ending injuries including promising newcomers, Spencer Rivers and Schuyler Rimmer.  The season started two weeks later than usual causing additional difficulties with guys are leaving to go overseas and back to college.  The pool of available talent dwindles as the month goes along. But in the desperate hours, Juan refused to quit. This is what real organizations and the spirit of Pedro’s Posse is made of- the grind, the hustle and everything that comes with it, whether you’re 16-0 or 8-6 (like we were in 2014, and grinded to make the Finals), you have to let situations play themselves out and keep fighting. And that’s exactly what we did.

With so many veterans injured or otherwise unavailable, we dug deeper into the 407 talent pool, and gave birth to the next generation of Pedro’s Posse- Dayon Griffin, Adonys Henriquez, Fletcher Magee, Brett Comer, Joe Chealey and Chris Ferguson all played well. We got cameos from veterans Deividas Dulkys, Luke Loucks, founding members John Pietkiewicz, DJ Ferguson, and the timely return to health of Rocky Trice.  We lost our first game after the Twin Peaks soul searching, but won our next two to get to the playoffs at 7-6. We played surprisingly cohesive basketball and rediscovered our identity.

Our final regular season game was for seed, and again we faced adversity in the unpleasant guise of attrition, injury and unavailability. We went into our final regular season game with 6 players- 3 of whom Dave Farber, Nate Moran and Luis Brito are limited minutes role players.   We started out beautifully and were up 24 midway through the third quarter. But 20 missed free throws, lack of execution and depth plagued us and we were in a dogfight. We were up 2 with 5 seconds to go, and Space Coast Stars missed a contested layup at the buzzer and we held on to a 72-70 win to clinch a three way tie for the 2nd seed.

Many things in the Pro-Am are all about circumstance, and throughout the season and prior, we have been on the wrong side of many circumstances.

In 2010- Guys missing flights and didn’t get back in time for games.
2013- Courtney Lee gets hurt on the morning of the play-offs and Nick Calathes plays with a 100 degree fever.  Despite finishing the season 13-1, we lose in the first round of the playoffs.
2014- Rocky misses the championship game, Joey gets hurt in the first five minutes of the title game and we lose by 7 despite playing our third game that day.
2015- Rocky and Jason miss the championship after both getting hurt in the semifinal and we lose on a buzzer beater in overtime to ruin a perfect season.

Our semifinal playoff game on Sunday was rescheduled to Monday- where we had 8 solid guys and grinded out an overtime win, in what was very reminiscent of 2015 semifinal. We didn’t play well and had a couple of guys struggle offensively, but we fought hard, made some key stops at the end and Bryan Richardson hit some big shots in the 4th quarter and overtime. Deividas Dulkys was dreadful offensively, but our faith in him was rewarded with his defensive effort throughout the game, including a steal on a potential game winning possession for them.

We’ve been on the wrong side of many circumstances and have had a ton of adversity this season between various factors, but here we are. We showed our true colors. We fought and caught some breaks in the process. Third final in a row, 4th in 6, 5th in 8. Let’s finish this one.

Pedro’s Posse TBT 2016: The Definitive Retrospective

“Hey, can you do me a favor and vote for my basketball team?”

“Sure, what’s this about?”

“We are trying to get into this winner take all $2,000,000 tournament and we need fan votes.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, or is it more plausible that I would make the whole thing up for shits and giggles?”

“I voted, but that was a pain in the ass.”

Thanks to everyone who voted, Jason Williams, Mike Bibby and Juan Bernal, we received word at the beginning of July that we made TBT 2016.  Our roster remained a work in progress until the week of our first game with twice as many names discussed and contacted than the 10 guys that made the trip.  We featured two former NBA stars in Jason Williams and Mike Bibby.  Two former Florida State Seminoles in Deivedas Dulkys and Luke Loucks.  Local players Alex Castillo, Josh Warren and Bryan Richardson, along with imports Torlyn Fitzpatrick, Bobo Morgan and Amadou Mbogi.

Our preparations consisted of two scrimmages during Juan’s Pro Exposure camp the week before our first game.  We had a partial squad and played poorly in the first game losing a close one, but were vastly improved in the second rolling to a 25 point win.  Other than some general camaraderie it was difficult to assess what we accomplished during the weekend.

The team arrived piecemeal in Chicago on Thursday and Friday.  I flew up with Alex Castillo who shared my sense that any outcome ranging from getting blown out in game one to winning the damn thing were on the table.  We drove directly to practice where we did some skill and press work with seven of our ten players.  Mike Bibby’s flight was delayed from Los Angeles, and to make matters worse, Juan received a distressing text message from Bryan Richardson midway through practice advising that he and Jason Williams had yet to leave Orlando.  Juan, who rivals Chuck Daley as the Prince of Pessimism, plunged into a dark mood for the remainder of practice.

After practice, we returned to our hotel on the outskirts of civilization (and the city of Chicago) to find Jason, Bryan, Mahmood and a wildly intoxicated Cliff Smith chilling in the parking lot delighted at the stress they had caused Juan.  Bibby was still en route, but we would have a productive second practice later that night.

Jason took control of the practice introducing basic sets to the delight of a youth team that lingered after their practice to see Jason, but not the rest of us.  Cliff was in rare form as practice wound down hoisting jump shots and challenging players to one on one while he wore flip flops and pulled the front of his shirt over his neck exposing his sizeable, tattoed stomach.

As the hotel was 45 minutes from anything fun or interesting, we had a team dinner at the hotel restaurant.  Truth be told, it was a good meal and a great time with the guys, many of whom were getting to know each other for the first time.  We were loose and still clueless as to what to expect the next day.

On Saturday morning, I drove to the game with Bobo, Auguste and Amadou.  We met Mike Bibby (for the first time) at the front door of the arena and the rest of the players filtered in thereafter.  Games were ongoing and the TBT 2016 staff was fantastic in taking care of our pregame needs.  We shot around in a spare gym, and Mahmood went to work stretching our guys in the training room.  At 12:30 pm, we took the floor against Eberlien Drive for our first game.  Eberlien Drive featured Justin Dentmon, Renaldo Balkman and the Milsap brothers, and much like ourselves was something of a hodge-podge of talented players.

Jason started the game brilliantly with steals, buckets and assists giving us an early lead.  We had difficulty containing Dentmon on the other end, but the game turned in our favor with the insertion of Bryan Richardson, who promptly nailed 3 triples leading Eberlien’s coach to berate his players for not noticing Richardson shooting prowess on Home Team Hoops youtube videos.  We led by as many as 24 in the fourth quarter before enduring a sloppy finish to win 96-86.  It was a great moment.  Everyone on the roster delivered what they were brought in to do and we played entertaining basketball.

The players returned to the hotel to rest, but the staff stayed on to scout our next opponent.  Purple and Black, a Kansas State alumni team, prevailed in a close game.  They were led by scoring guard Jacob Pullen, but lacked depth.

We enjoyed another team meal at the hotel reveling in our victory, bemoaning the lack of fun at our hotel and combing backpage for potential hijinx.  On the way out of dinner, we encountered a lacrosse team with their parents.  One of the dads recognized Jason while most of the kids just marveled at the relative height of our players.  I went up to hang out with Bryan Richardson, Jason, Mahmood and Cliff.  Things had gotten chippy between Mahmood and Cliff.  Trash talk was incessant.  Cliff changed clothes several times while threatening to go out, but sadly fell asleep on the floor with a makeshift blanket.  I had to take a dump, and for the courtesy of the guys, returned to the lobby where the lacrosse gathering was breaking up.  I got on the elevator with three teen lacrosse players.  One of them was thrilled to have seen Jason Williams, but his friend claimed he did not know who he was which triggered the response of “Dude, you don’t know sports!  Jason is the OG “white chocolate”.”

We arrived in good form to play Purple and Black.  They had only five players available, but took an early lead.  Again, Bryan Richardson hit a few threes to get us going and Jason was our catalyst.  Purple and Black rallied in the latter part of the first half but Jason hit a pull up three from 28 feet and left a drop pass for Bryan on another three to give us a one point lead at the half.  There was cause for concern though as Purple and Black was small and athletic.  We could not play with them with two bigs on the floor.  We went small to start the second have with Fitzpatrick at center and he was fantastic in helping us build a solid lead.  Purple and Black ran out of gas late succumbing to our patient ball movement and slick decision-making.  We won 94-80.

By reaching the Sweet 16, TBT 2016 picked up the cost of travel and lodging for our trip to Philly the next weekend and ESPN2 would broadcast our game the following Friday.  The minutes after the game were a fantastic whirlwind.  We moved our team up the TBT 2016 bracket and took team photos before being whisked to a room for individual photos.  Without much of a team talk, we were escorted to another room to book travel arrangements.  Again the players scattered and the coaches remained to watch Always a Brave, a Bradley alumni team play the next game.  Always a Brave played an up and down game trailing by 5 with seconds to play.  They hit a 3 with 5.6 seconds left to cut it to 2 then benefitted from a colossal blunder as their opponent, with a timeout in their back pocket, threw the ball away allowing Always a Brave to hit the go ahead 3 with a second left.  The narrow escape was disconcerting.  Alex Castillo astutely noted that we would have a far easier go with the opponent who was talented, but not particularly well organized.  Always a Brave was coached and would clearly have a plan in place against us.

I arrived in Philly and met my parents and sister at the airport.  I got to the hotel around 3pm and found Juan immersed in game film.  I got word of a team dinner with our assistant general manager and chief financier, Dave Farber, at the Outback around 5:30.  I left the room for the lobby at 4:45 and had an uneventful walk to the lobby.  By 5:15 the rest of the guys started to arrive with tales of a pile of shit lying in the middle of the hallway.  It was described as large, foul-smelling, and believed to have come from a large dog.  Later, the hotel staff would confirm that it was in fact human feces and there was video of the perpetrator (not a member of our traveling party).  I have to confess to admiration for any man with the sheer audacity to take a dump in the middle of a hallway on a late Friday afternoon.

Our pregame meal was largely uneventful.  Most of the guys wisely selected grilled chicken of some sort.  Jason, who remained back in Club 207 (his room), texted a request for two whoppers and a large coke from Burger King.

At the arena, I was watching the earlier game when a coach from Always a Brave approached and asked me to convey a message to Bryan Richardson about a long ago game between Bradley and Richardson’s Tennessee-Chattanooga team.  Richardson’s head dropped slightly when I relayed the story with the realization that he was unlikely to get a clean look all night.  Nonetheless, we warmed up in the same gym as Always a Brave and I felt confident that we were better.

For the first 8 or 9 minutes, I was right.  We led 20-15 and moved the ball well.  We missed 4 lay ups though and with it the chance to take a double figure lead when we were in top form.  Fouls accumulated.  Always a Brave hit shots and took a lead in the later part of the first half.  We kept Jason in the whole half to insure we stayed within striking distance, but he was gassed by halftime.  Always a Brave was killing us on the glass including an offensive rebound of a missed free throw and a follow up three that gave them a 5 point lead at the half.

We had not played well, but at 41-35 were very much in the game.  Unfortunately, Always a Brave hit the first 4 shots of the second half for a quick double figure lead.  We had one window to get back in the game trailing by 10 at the 13 minute mark.  We defended well, almost created a steal, but they got the loose ball and hit a 3 at the end of the shot clock to go up 13.  We missed on the next possession and they scored again to go up 15.  Game over.  We lost 92-65.  It was a bit embarrassing by the end.  We mismanaged our bench, got exposed for our weaknesses and did not catch a break all game.

Jason uncorked an epic post-game presser.  He praised Kevin Durant for joining the Warriors, called Charles Barkley a “fat loser that nobody wanted on their team”, described himself as “one irresponsible 40 year old” and concluded by saying when asked if he would return to TBT 2016 next year, “do fat hogs fart?”

We returned to the hotel and specifically Club 207 to heal our wounds before heading out on the town.  We hit downtown Philly with a vengeance.  Our first stop was a strange bar that featured 90’s music and white guys dancing with Christmas hats.  We looked for something better and found Sixers rookie Ben Simmons on the street.  He invited us to his VIP room at a much cooler club where we spent the rest of the night.  We lived in the moment and even tried to convince a seedy establishment to stay open after hours to accommodate our circus.

Saturday, I toured the city with my parents in the morning, and hung at Club 207 most of the evening.  The highlight, beyond the standard fare of Jason stories and life wisdom, was Mahmood’s long overdue ambush of Cliff Smith as he entered Club 207.  Mahmood struck from the rear, but Cliff, fueled by alcohol and retard-strength, managed an improbable reversal.  Mahmood contended that he was only playing, but was visibly shaken by his under-estimation of Cliff.

The players departed early Sunday morning, but I stayed on with Juan and Greg Miller, NBA aficionado and Lebron fanboy.  We toured the city exchanged witty, jaded barbs and settled for a Geno’s cheesesteak before returning our rental car and flying home knowing that Pedro’s Posse, like MacArthur in the Phillipines and farting fat hogs, would return.

 

 

 

 

 

Catching Up with Q

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Qamar Lewis was born into a broken home. His “sperm donor” was in jail by the time he was born and they didn’t meet until after he graduated high school. The meeting was just like the few that followed it…an awkward conversation and an invitation to “party” turned down. His mother was better…she didn’t go to jail until he reached middle school. She has been out, they live together and the mere proximity of being there has allowed a relationship to grow. He seems happy about that, and maybe its important to him as the Grandmother that raised him passed away a few years ago.

Qamar was a talented athlete, but bad grades, a stubborn attitude and a late high school diagnosis of epilepsy conspired to make sure his talents never made it out of Oviedo. While most of his classmates are a semester or less from graduating college, he is little more than a semester into the process. His stubborn streak may be diminished, but it damn sure isn’t extinguished. He just spent three months without a job because he couldn’t take the time to find a new one before he left the old one.

This may sound like a story of pre-destined failure, but it’s not. It is about humility, generosity, maturity and curiosity. It is about the winding road of life and a young man’s desire to make it matter. It is about my friend.

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I have coached sports since I was in high school, and one of the greatest pleasures I have known is when the player/ coach relationship matures into genuine friendship. Qamar asked me if, when I was coaching him, I ever foresaw us being friends. The truth is that I hoped that it would happen. If I coach with honesty, integrity and compassion, and the player plays the same way, we will have earned each others respect and trust. Friendship requires no stronger foundation.

Qamar is an assistant coach for his alma mater, Oviedo High School. He wears the school’s orange and black colors as comfortably as his skin. It has been a deeply personal experience as he has come face to face with players abundant in his shortcomings which has opened his eyes to the opportunities he lost. It has inspired him to coach beyond the field and mentor the young men in his care to value the opportunity before them and to extend the values of sport to the life beyond it.

He has adopted the quote, “Grow through what you go through” as a personal mantra. He has gone through a lot and it has made him the man he is today. He doesn’t smoke, drink or party. He let himself become difficult to coach and it hurt him, so he pushes for ways to reach the players that were most like him. He has seen black and white players coached differently, so he coaches them all the same. He knows that he must coach from his heart and stay true to who he is, but he is humble and curious enough to study other coaches to see what they do and how their players respond.

He has learned that coaching is not about sports, wins or losses. It is about relationships, life and the unrelenting push you give your players then friends to make the most out of it.

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White Chocolate in Winter

Jason Williams turned 40 today. A birthday breakfast at Shoney’s was scuttled when he didn’t wake up until a few minutes after 1:00pm. He spent most of the afternoon lounging around the house with friends and spent the early evening watching his son play basketball, before leaving to play a rec league game.

He is 6’1″ and remarkably skinny for a middle aged man with an affinity for McDonalds (unfortunately, I am not so lucky). He is a central Florida transplant from West Virginia and carries with him a regional twang. He is a married father of three children, and enjoys following their exploits on the basketball court and softball field. He keeps a small circle of friends and enjoys a round of golf.

White Chocolate played 13 years in the league and won an NBA title with the Miami Heat in 2006. He is impulsive, heavily tattooed and plays the game with a unique flair that simultaneously obliterates and defines racial perceptions in the game of basketball. His mere presence around a basketball court anywhere in the country creates a palpable buzz. He does not use social media, but has probably taken hundreds of thousands of pictures with total strangers. Every couple of months he barnstorms through China or other parts of Asia playing exhibition games to adoring crowds.

There is no blueprint for skinny white kids from remote West Virginia towns to become basketball icons. There is isolation, boredom, imagination and, in the soul of this man, unrelenting desire. Not for stardom or money, but to master a ball in his hand, making it go where he wants when he wants…off the floor, between his legs, behind his back,off his elbow, in the basket, to a teammate from an angle that was crafted through hours of isolation, boredom and imagination.

It is a degree of mastery that we can enjoy, but not replicate. It’s why we will not forget White Chocolate, and why I am fortunate to have met Jason Williams.

One Possession From Pro Am Immortality

14.4 seconds left in overtime of a tie game, and we had to defend to extend the game. The foul a moment earlier determined that our opponent could take the last shot if they wanted it without giving us a chance to respond. We pushed their best player across the lane and forced him into a contested shot without giving the officials a chance to bail him out which was about as much as we could do.

The shot fell anyway. Undefeated. 17-0. The championship. Gone.

We had won in enough different ways, with enough different players that a strain of invincibility grew in the back of the mind, and for that reason, my first thought was disbelief. There was time left. We would get a shot off to tie or win. The player’s faces seemed to register the same thought, but not our leader, Juan Bernal. He knew it was over, and for the third time in seven years, we had been denied a championship in the final game. He was visibly devastated. Pedro’s Posse was now the “Lebron James of the Pro Am.” This one hurt…bad.

We enjoyed great chemistry and camaraderie all season, but the playoffs were tough. Three minutes into the semi-final on Saturday, we lost Rocky Trice, our most versatile and explosive player,. to a back strain. We were already down 14-8 at the time, and things got worse. By the middle of the second quarter, we trailed 39-25 and it felt desperate. We cut the deficit to 11 at the half, but didn’t take the lead until midway through the fourth quarter. Our espirit de corps was best summed up by Jason Williams, who when asked if he was ready to return to the game, responded, “I came out of the pussy ready.” Throughout the comeback, Luke Loucks kept telling me we would win by 10. It seemed incredibly optimistic, but somewhat creepy during a late time out when we had the lead, and Jason Williams noted he had a wager on the game and the spread was 9.5. We won 110-99. Spread covered. Alex Castillo had a career high 44, Bryan Richardson added 31, but who takes action on a Pro Am semifinal game?

With Rocky down for the count…again (he missed last year’s final with a family commitment), we left the gym scrambling to locate a player that could replace his athleticism unaware that a greater crisis would emerge.

During a dinner at Fleming’s, the idea of bringing in Boston Celtic, Brandon Bass, was discussed. Calls were made. A commitment secured. Then things fell apart. Bass was not on the playoff roster submitted two weeks ago. The league would not relent to global Pro Am custom whereby any current NBA player wishing to play basketball is automatically allowed to play in a Pro Am league at his pleasure. Offense was taken. Protest was made. The Posse had to play the final without Brandon Bass, Jason Williams or Rocky Trice. Joey Rodriguez, Mitch Woods and Luis Brito were called to duty and suited up for the final in their place. In an unrelated note, Mark Cruz did not have his number activated.

Despite the roster upheaval, we enjoyed a great start to the final. Bryan Richardson hit a three on our first possession, and we led by double figures for most of the half. Fatigue set in and our offense stagnated late in the second so badly that we trailed 50-49 at the half. We discussed containing their best player, eliminating three point shooting and rebounding as a team. The situation was manageable. Our opponents got a better start in the third quarter and led going into the fourth. We remained resolute and with a burst of offense from Mitch Woods took the lead and grew it to ten points with only three minutes left. We got sloppy, took some bad shots including a flat corner three by Andrew Bachanov that many on the bench found tough to stomach and looked indecisive on offense which led to easy points on the other end. After a particularly bad turnover, ill-tempered Alex Castillo blistered the bench with a profane tirade. It was rapidly going to hell.

We hung on to force overtime where neither team could create much separation. In the final minute, we trailed by 3, but Bryan Richardson hit an incredible contested three in front of the opposing bench. 32 seconds remained which meant we would get the ball back no matter what they did on offense, but we fouled with 14.4 seconds left. The shot clock was reset to 14, and we would not touch the ball again.

We were so flush with confidence going into the playoffs that Richardson had already booked a party room at The Porch in Winter Park for our championship celebration. It became an excessively lavish runner up social. One by one the players, coaching staff and Ryan Currie of Home Team Hoops arrived to eat and enjoy closure on a terrific season. We broke bread and empty bottles, but Juan Bernal remained MIA. Text messages went unanswered. A cheesy anti-suicide video was sent with nary a response. Speculation had Juan back at the downtown rec lost in misery, in a dark, windowless room at his winter park residence, reviewing film of the game on a tablet. Everyone agreed they felt worse for Juan about the loss than they did for themselves. I was given the task of addressing the team, but as we gathered for my words, a lone figure clad in black with dark shades covering his eyes meandered through the door….it was Juan, who insisted, “this almost didn’t happen”. It happened. The 17 wins, the one agonizing loss, the six weeks together and this party.

Pedro’s Posse Forever!