Dream shots and hitting the mark

My goal in life has never been to be rich and famous and so far that goal is well within my grasp. Compared to the billions of people on this planet, my world is relatively small, but I still long to make an impact for someone greater than myself. But there was this one time when the world around me stopped to take notice. At least the guys in one of the basketball gyms at Wake Forest University did anyway.

I will be the first one to confess that my skills as a basketball player have never been much to brag about. Pick-up ball games at the church gym with the fellas that I grew up with were pretty much my only experience with the game, and every once in while I would chuck up a deep ball and see it tickle the twine, but that was not the norm. Being a short guy who could only dribble with his left hand, my specialty was playing annoying defense and fouling the opposing players, which I became pretty adept at doing. But my church buddies didn't seem to care all that much - I guess all that teaching on grace had begun to sink in by then and they quickly forgave my erratic performance.

Fast forward to my junior year in college and my game had actually improved quite a bit. I still couldn't do much with my right hand, but I was quick and could knock down a jumper or two, although I preferred (and still do to this day) to dish out a dime to a teammate whom I knew could make the shot. Pick-up games at Wake Forest were usually pretty intense, with the first team to eleven remaining on the court until they were jousted by a more talented  - or less fatigued - group of five, and the cycle would repeat itself.

Waiting to play in a game was almost as bad as trying to find a team to get on that would last more than one round of play, but every once in a blue moon I was able to weasel my way onto a pretty decent team. One spring afternoon in 1991 I believed I had finally hit the jackpot.

The games had just begun that afternoon and my team had a Wake Forest basketball player on it, a guy named David Rasmussen who had just transferred in from another college. He was tall and could shoot from anywhere on the court, which meant that all I would need to do was get him the ball and hang back on defense. I at last might be able to stay on the court for a few sessions before languishing on the sidelines awaiting my next opportunity to play.

As David gathered our team together, I noticed that another team was assembling that made my knees shake just a little. There was Chris King, the starting power forward for Wake Forest who would play several years in the NBA, and he was standing alongside Derrick McQueen, the starting point guard for Wake Forest, putting together a unit of their own. My first thought was that those two could beat the five of us on their own, but at the same time I was excited about being on the court with a few Wake Forest players. When was that ever going to happen again?

We took the court and play began. There was nothing formal about pick-up ball in the gyms at Wake Forest. The action was fast-paced and fouls were rarely called unless someone came up bleeding. I was matched up against Derrick McQueen, who didn't seem too impressed with my lack of physical acumen and thus paid little attention to me when my team was on offense.

Early in the game my teammate David Rasmussen found me on the fast break around the free throw line, and I floated up a jumper that went in. Of course, we could do little to stop the other team from scoring but it felt nice to contribute a little. A few possessions later is when the magic kicked in for me, forging memories that my mind can see just as clearly today as if they happened yesterday. You see, I got the hot hand and nailed a few deep baskets.

The first long shot came after the other team had scored. Chris King could routinely pull up from half court on those side courts and hit shots, and today was no different. After a basket by King, one of my teammates inbounded the ball to me and no sooner had I taken a step or two past half court, I launched a deep three point shot. Swish. The next time that we had the ball I did the exact same thing, launching a three point shot that barely moved the net as it passed through. I would never dare compare myself to an elite basketball player, but in that moment I truly believe I was in what athletes call "the zone," even if it only last for a few minutes.

My teammates were looking at me like, "Who is this short guy with the receding hairline hitting these shots like he's Larry Bird?" David Rasmussen gave me a knowing look and confidently said, "Keep getting open and I'll get you the ball." Seriously. Did they know that I could never hit those shots again in a million years? Besides, McQueen wasn't even playing defense on me, so I was open as I could hope to be each time down the court. All that would soon change.

During the stretch of our game, I noticed as a rather large muscular guy strolled into the gym and stood on the sidelines to watch our game. It didn't take me long to realize that this was super freshman Rodney Rogers, a McDonald's All-American - the first one I believe that Wake had ever signed - who was known as the Durham Bull. Rodney was an absolute beast on the court and we had all watched the Wake games in awe earlier in the year as he took over time and again, scoring with monster dunks and unguardable post moves while making opponents look downright silly. And here was Rodney Rogers, watching the pick-up game in which I was nailing shots against his varsity teammates.

It was after my third basket ripped the nets that I heard those words I will never forget. "Yo Derrick, white boy is showing you up!" shouted Rodney, aiming his words at his point guard teammate who up until now had paid little attention to me. In that moment, something came over Derrick McQueen. He had been called out and there was no way he was going to take that, especially from a teammate who, even though he was everybody's All American, was still the new kid on the block. Now it was on.

As we jogged down the court, the sting of Rogers' comment still ringing in his ears, McQueen looked at me and said, "Man, you need to slow down. You're gonna hurt yourself!" I feebly muttered back something to the effect that this was just a fluke and I'm sure it won't happen again, but I'm pretty sure he didn't listen. All I know is that suddenly Derrick McQueen was paying more attention to me than I could ever desire.

Any time I get near the ball, McQueen was in my grill. When he had the ball on offense he went straight at me, daring me to stop him. There were times when he actually tried to post me up in the paint, bullying me with his larger frame in an attempt to show me that he would not be taken lightly. All the while the game is continuing to be played by the other players who were shooting and missing and rebounding in spite of this personal battle that was now being waged.

A few minutes later it was all over. My team had lost by a few baskets and I had not so much as sniffed the leather on the ball once Rodney Rogers had uttered those fateful words. But I did outscore Derrick McQueen in that game three baskets to two, a point of satisfaction that still stays with me to this day.

Walking off the court, I thought that surely my MVP performance had been noticed by my teammates and they would present me with some sort of trophy for attempting to slay the monster of playing against Division One college players, but that was not the case. There were no post game handshakes or good game back slaps, just another round of first-team-to-eleven and waiting again for another chance to play.

Nevertheless I was feeling a bit euphoric and couldn't wait to get out on the court again. That's when I noticed that Rodney Rogers was still standing there on the sidelines and that no one was around him. Did this mean that he was available for the next game? Would I actually be able to play on the same team as Rodney Rogers?

Visions of lobbing ally oop passes for slam dunks and post-game fist bumps with the Durham Bull raced through my head. I had to make sure that no one else had approached him to be on their team. This was MY dream day and I was determined to keep on living it.

I sheepishly made my way over to where Rodney was standing, his giant frame casually dribbling a ball between his legs. With a faux wave of confidence, I asked him if he wanted to call next game with me and to my surprise he looked down at me and simply said, "Yeah." I was so overjoyed that you would have thought that he had just accepted an invitation to be my BFF, but I played it cool, not wanting him to know just how much of a homer I was.

The current game was drawing to a close, King and McQueen's team again ruling the court. "Not for long, suckas!" was all I could think as I eagerly awaited my turn to take the court with who at the time had been the most sought after freshman to ever don a Wake Forest basketball jersey. It was game point, and in the next few minutes my road to greatness was going to widen from a two lane back road to a four lane highway.

And just as quickly as my joy was about to reach its pinnacle, it all came crashing down. "Hey guys, coach wants all of you in a team meeting. Now!" I turned to see an assistant basketball coaching peering through the doors of the gym, the messenger for the Wake Forest head basketball coach who unknowingly was crushing my dreams.

Within seconds all of the varsity players were heading toward the door, Rodney Rogers included. "No! This isn't fair! I was about to play a game with Rodney Rogers. You can't have a team meeting now. I'm about to meet my destiny!"  I'm not sure if I actually said those things out loud or just thought them in my head at a maximum decibel level, but at that moment my heart sank as I realized my glory days as a baller were ending just as quickly as they had begun. The dream was over.

Now obviously my life was not ruined just because I never had the chance to play a pick-up basketball game with Rodney Rogers. Besides, hitting those big baskets against the point guard from a Division One school was exciting enough, even if it was a bit of a fluke. But here is one thing that I do know: Had I not thrown those shots up there, then there was zero chance that they would have gone in.

What is true in basketball is also true in life. Sometimes you just gotta throw it up there. I like to joke with my son whenever he plays recreation league basketball that he has never seen a shot he wouldn't take. And while no one likes a ball hog, there are also many times when you are be open yet will be too afraid to pull the trigger. Sometimes you just gotta take the shot!

How many times have you missed opportunities because you doubted your own abilities or you assumed that someone else was more qualified than you? Did you not take on that leadership role in part because you were scared of letting others down if you failed? Or maybe you are driven more by the fear of failure than you are a desire to success and be a change agent in this world?

Whatever the circumstances, God has not placed you here to simply settle for average. Think about the men and women of the Bible who took the big shot despite the odds that were stacked against them:
  • Abraham, an obscure guy who didn't even closely follow God, yet went by faith when he was called by God to go to a land where he had never been before so that he could be the beginning of a great nation (Genesis 12:1-5)
  • Rahab was a prostitute, yet she gambled her own life to honor God and as a result found herself in the royal bloodline of King Jesus (Joshua 2; Matthew 1:5)
  • David was the youngest of several sons and spent his days watching sheep, yet he stepped up to the line to defeat a giant and subsequently lead a great nation (1 Samuel 17; 2 Samuel 5)
  • Then there is Paul, a former Jewish leader who placed his faith in Jesus, risking his life to spread the gospel throughout the known world (The Book of Acts)
If you take that big shot are you guaranteed to make it? No, but you will never make it if you do not even try. We are able to dream big dreams because we have a God who is all about big dreams. As an image bearer of the God who knows no limits or boundaries, the ball is in your hands and it is your turn to take the big shot.

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