Jim Jewell: It’s a bit more than madness

Jim Jewell • Updated Mar 24, 2014 at 10:04 PM

Talking heads love to call the NCAA basketball tournament “March Madness,” but I think that doesn’t adequately describe the spectacle.

San Diego State has made it to the “Sweet 16,” which I thought was a great age for girls. Southwest corner natives are going bonkers. 

But watching Saturday’s game when the Aztecs put away one “Cinderella team,” North Dakota State, and Tennessee advanced by topping another upstart, Mercer, on Sunday, I got this idea for this column. I spent much of Sunday afternoon fruitlessly searching for a photograph of the Lebanon Junior High basketball team of 1957-58. 

As with most lost things, the photo likely will reappear sometime in the next week. 

But even without the photo, that team and basketball itself was quite a bit different from the wall-to-wall craziness of eight completely packed stadiums across the country this past weekend. The junior high version of the Blue Devils was coached by the legendary Miles McMillan, better known for his success with girls basketball. 

It has been a while and the photo would help me remember all of the players. Clinton Matthews was the star. I was the other guard, and in junior high was tall enough to have some impact, usually with a steal and pass or to relay to Clinton, who would score on a fast break. 

I’m pretty sure Henry Harding and John Walker were in the front court, but Jimmy Gamble and Mike Gannaway also played. Malcolm Metcalf was my favorite player in the eighth grade. There were others and without the photo, my memory fails.

I think we won all but two games during the season, if not fewer, and we made it to the finals of a season ending tournament where a Murfreesboro school took the championship.

As the troop split between LHS and Castle Heights, I watched everyone continue to grow while I stopped and was relegated to Heights’ JV ball and the many pickup games in numerous gyms around the city. Mostly, as described here before, were pickup games in the Heights gym.

On several occasions, Ann Lucas would join us in those pickup games. Not only was she a beautiful young lady, I don’t recall her team losing in those pickup games. This, of course, was while she was breaking records right and left for the Blue Devil’s girl’s team.

At that time, I was not aware the two records Ann was breaking, single game and season scoring records had been set by my mother a quarter century earlier. I knew my mother played basketball but was not aware of just how formidable she was (as a basketball player) until a number of years later.

The only basketball I associated with the previous generation then was a donkey basketball game at the high school gym. I don’t remember the year, but the high school was still on High Street, so I am guessing early 1950s. It was a charity thing where the players rode donkeys. I don’t think the game lasted very long.

Basketball, like life in these United States, whether in Lebanon, or the Southwest corner, has changed. Some of it is remarkable. Rules when the game began allowed for only one dribble. In fact, that was the case when my mother played in the 1930s. Then, the women’s game was divided into three sections and two players from each team played and stayed in their section. I keep feeling sorry for those four in the middle whose only job was to pass the ball (or keep it from being passed) to one of the other sections.

When I played, carrying or palming the ball was cause for a turnover. Shooting could was legal only if you limited your paces to one and a half. Both of those rules, still in effect on paper, I think, are forgotten, certainly never called. If they called the game as they did in my years, about three-quarters of each team would foul out before five minutes into the game.

But as Kenny Gibbs, a friend and a key bench player on Vanderbilt’s 1965 SEC champions, once answered when queried about the difference in the game then and now, “Today’s players are faster, jump higher, are more athletic and shoot longer. It’s a different game.”

Things change.

Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is jim@jimjewwell.com.

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