Darren Cole is a sports writer for St. George News and is participating in the Huntsman World Senior Games for the first time. He is compiling this diary to document his experience.
My first year of the Huntsman World Senior Games is over. I came away with a bronze medal — a very hard-fought bronze medal. Our team won the last two games of pool play. We ended pool play 3-0, but were still seeded second out of the three undefeated teams due to point differential. Our last game in pool play went to overtime. If you looked at the scoring, you would not know I played, except for the four fouls I used. I have to admit that the game was pretty fast-paced. Maybe I am not the quickest 50-year old on the planet.
We had 10 guys on our team. At the beginning we were paired up for substitution patterns. The guys were smart pairing me with the best player. That allowed me to give him 75-80 percent of the playing time. Our last pool-play game went into overtime. I was not feeling well, but still came to play. My stints in the game were brief, but enough to give our best guy some rest. On the way home from the game, my condition got worse as I started suffering severe abdominal pains. To make a long story short — let’s just say I sat out the next game due to what turned out to be food poisoning.
Now Michael Jordan suffered the same thing and played the best playoff game of his career the next night against my beloved Utah Jazz. I guess that is the difference between a well-conditioned professional athlete in the prime of his career and … I don’t know, whatever is the total opposite of that. I wanted no part of the next game. I showed up, but cheered the team on from the sideline. I made sure not to wear my jersey so my team captain would not put me in the game.
That game was the first semifinal. We lost. Trust me, any contribution from me, even if I played my best at superior health, would not have changed the outcome. My team could have won, but it would have taken better play from my teammates higher in the talent pool.
So we were knocked into the bronze medal game. Coincidentally, it was against the same team that my team had to beat last year for the gold medal. Right away we had some key turnovers and missed shots and were looking at an immediate deficit. We inched our way back into the game. Our captain, Jerry, told me that I had to score this game (I had not scored since the first game of pool play, though I had taken maybe two shots total in the two games I played).
He must have told the other players to feed me because I immediately started seeing entry passes into the post. I finally went up with a shot and got clobbered. So now I had to get my points from the line. I still felt a little weak from the food poisoning but I hit my first free throw. Phew! Not sure if that sigh of relief came from me or or collectively from me and my teammates. After the free throws, I subbed out and due to the closeness of the game, stayed out.
The game went into overtime, when our hulking power forward went coast to coast with eight seconds left and hit a runner from the three-point line. My chance at a medal was still alive. We scored the first seven points of overtime then had to fight off a comeback from the opponents to secure a two-point win.
My experience this year was unique. I played in both the half-court 3-on-3 and the full-court 5-on-5. I officiated both also. And I helped administrate the games with Darren Nuttall and Layne Mangum. So I saw the games from different perspectives.
As an official, it was nice to get the “thank yous” and “good jobs” even though there may have been disagreements with some calls or non-calls during the game. As a player, it was great playing with old friends (3-on-3), new friends (5-on-5), and meeting great guys from all over. As an administrator, it was a great service opportunity. I also enjoyed answering questions, giving encouragement and complimenting play.
I definitely learned from the experience. First of all, officials do not see everything. And sometimes see things differently than others. But when their officiating is consistent, that is the most you can ask for — players need to adjust to the officiating, not vice-versa. The officials at these games were not only consistent, but good.
Secondly, you get more from the Huntsman World Senior Games experience when you get to know the other players. Not just the ones in your division, but those in other age brackets. Sitting on the bench as much as I did (willingly and gratefully), I was able to appreciate the skills of both opposing teams and my teammates. Even in our loss, I could hear my teammates complimenting the opposing team.
Third, to make a bigger impact at next year’s Senior Games, I need to prepare earlier and better than I did this year. I am not sure yet what that entails, but I will think of something.
All in all it was a great experience, put together by great people, enjoyed by great athletes.
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