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BOWEN COLUMN: The Shot upon which the Lord smiled!

I will tell you from the start that we may have skeptics for today’s column. Go ahead and bank on it. Or, as we told our ballplayers through the years: Put this in your notebook.

The trouble won’t come from just one side. No, arrows are liable to come flying around like they did at the Battle of Little Big Horn. A man who is an atheist might say, “Do you really believe all of that?” I had a similar response to a column from an atheist some On the other side, though, a man who espouses faith may say, “Do you really believe God cares about whether a ball goes through the hoop or not?” I’ve heard that type of thing, too.

But, listen: This shot to which we are referring was not just a run-of-the mill shot, either. It is a classic moment in a certain writer’s biography – or autobiography, I guess – and the story has to be told – arrows forthcoming, and all. The occasion is my last home game before I closed out a three-decade career of coaching basketball. Some of you were there that night, no doubt. It was February of 2012. After over a thousand games, it came down to this: One last game on that Red-Oak-Hawks home floor against our nemesis from five miles north of us — Lancaster.

Despite the Tigers’ talent, my young men stood toe-to-toe with them all night. We trailed for most of the evening but took the lead late and – with 20 seconds left – we clung precariously to a 3-point lead.

The Tigers, though – on an inbound play under their basket – got a man loose in the corner; and, naturally, his shot was nothing but net. By the time the net swished, the clock had ticked down nearly to ten seconds, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Through the years, I always tried to hang onto one time-out for such a time as this – but on this night I had exhausted my time-outs in the nip-and-tuck of the game.

The kids, though, seemed unfazed at the big moment. They inbounded the ball quickly but found themselves in the face of the tough Lancaster full-court press, preventing them from getting up the floor quickly. The inbound came in to one of my guards, and he reversed it back to the inbounder as we looked for an open pass down the floor. One of those two backcourt players should have been my little freshman point guard Mark Boson; but, instead – and I still do not know why – young Mark took off down the right side-line and filled the shooting guard’s lane. After the reversal to my junior forward named Jalen, Jalen spotted Mark open down the sideline and sent a two-handed chest pass diagonally to young Mark thirty-feet from the basket with only a couple of seconds left. I remember thinking that Mark had time to take a dribble or two to get within shooting range. But, instead, the young freshman – whom I’ll set forth in history right here that shooting wasn’t his main forte – caught the ball and slung it up in one quick motion. I knew there was no chance of that ball going in because – after coaching more than a thousand games – I had never won a game with a “Hail Mary.”

I stood on the sideline with a grimace, watching that ball sail and thinking about overtime. The ball, it seemed, floated in slow motion, just as it did in that last shot in the great movie “Hoosiers.” After watching it sail endlessly, I remember thinking, “Hm, this ball has a shot.” From my vantage point, it seemed long enough, and it seemed to be on line enough. The next thing I knew, the ball ceased traveling in slow motion and resumed to full speed, kissing sweetly off of the glass into the basket. The kids thronged young Mark, but I could only smile and glance up toward the heavens. It was over – not just the game but a thirty-year career. For it all to end that way, you can only smile.

Now, listen, in all of those years, I never felt that the Lord gave me any particular advantage, even though – I admit – in my time I prayed a lot during some high-pressure free-throws from my small sideline prayer-box. But, for the most part, while the Lord blessed my teams greatly, he didn’t offer any particular miracles that I can remember, although I’m sure he did more than I think.

But this night was different. I cannot help but feel the Lord guided that ball right to the glass and into the net. I don’t even know whether the Lord up above called “Glass” with a smile the way we are supposed to, but he seems to have had it in his plan to give my team and me a proper send-off.

But for any skeptics who have read this far, I will say this: Maybe the Lord had nothing to do with the flight of that rainbow shot. Maybe it was just our time. Be that as it may, I’m still very thankful to the Lord that that shot went in. You see, even if the skeptics are right and he didn’t guide that ball skillfully through the net that night at all, he sure didn’t reach down and swat it away, either.