None and Done
“Tyree for three! He sure is lighting it up tonight for the Harlem Knights here at the 2010 New York State Public High School Boys Basketball Championship. That makes 45 points and seven three-pointers!”
“That’s right, Greg. This kid has been unstoppable all night!”
“Make that all season! Tyree Jennings is the nation’s leading three-point scorer with over two hundred 3-pointers on the season. I don’t think I’m alone in hoping that Syracuse can add this talented swingman to their 2011 recruiting class. With those unbelievable shooting skills at 6’ 5’’, I’m sure most of our listeners would love to see Jennings in orange next season. Wouldn’t you, Seth?”
“Of course I would, but we have a timeout on the floor. We will return to this exciting game of offensive firepower after the commercial break with the Brooklyn Bombers ahead of the Harlem Knights 87 to 80 with two minutes remaining.”
“Get over here!” screamed Harlem head coach Shorty Taylor to his players.
Coach Shorty Taylor is a living legend in Harlem. As a teenager, Taylor had two homes – Harlem High School’s gym and Rucker Park, the capital of street basketball and a safe haven from the mean streets of Harlem. Shorty knew there was more to life than just basketball, however; he always took his education seriously. After long hours at the gym, Shorty would settle on the bleachers to focus his attention on schoolwork. While many of his childhood friends were practicing gang rituals and ignoring school, Taylor was practicing free throws and studying textbooks.
Nicknames were commonplace for streetballers in Rucker Park, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to infer the origins of Taylor’s nickname. Taylor actually embraced the nickname, and very few people actually know his real first name. Standing only five and a half feet tall, Taylor overcame his shortcoming by developing astonishing shooting skills and earned his reputation as one of New York’s premier streetballers. Fans still refer to his shooting technique as the most graceful they have ever witnessed. As a senior in 1971, Shorty led the Harlem Knights to their first high school state championship victory. He even set the record for most three-pointers in the championship game with nine, but he took more pride in being the class Valedictorian.
Shorty caught the attention of several college scouts, and he eventually signed on with Syracuse University, where he went on to lead the Orange to a Final Four run in 1975. After graduation, all signs pointed to a promising career in the National Basketball Association for Shorty Taylor. Despite his shooting talents, Taylor’s size concerned many NBA teams, but the New York Knicks took a chance on him by drafting him with their first round selection in 1976. Returning to his Manhattan roots, Shorty shined as a rookie and quickly became a fan favorite.
Everything changed on the evening of April 29, 1977.
In Game 7 of New York’s first round playoff series against the Portland Trailblazers, Shorty completely tore his ACL trying to retrieve a loose ball. The Knicks lost the game in overtime, and Shorty was released by the team when doctors labeled his injury as “career-ending.” Harlem High School offered Shorty, unable to land a spot on another NBA roster, a coaching and teaching job, and Shorty enthusiastically accepted. To his players and students, he was now Coach T; to everyone else, he was still Shorty. In 2004, Shorty was rewarded for his years of service to his alma mater when Harlem High offered him the newly opened position of assistant principal. Once again, Shorty wasted no time in accepting the offer, but he still had higher teaching aspirations. He dreamed of one day becoming a college English professor.
The relationship between Tyree and Coach Taylor was more than just a player-coach relationship; Tyree saw Coach T as a father, and Coach T saw Tyree as a son. As a young child, Tyree’s father left him and his mother to pursue a younger girl. Tyree was without a father figure until his freshman year at Harlem High School, when we met Coach T. A relationship that strong allowed the two to hold nothing back in team huddles.
Beads of sweat running down his brow, Coach Taylor grabbed his star player with a grip tight enough to flatten a basketball and pulled Tyree within inches of his face to say, “Tyree, you listen to me right now! We’re down by seven with two minutes to go. They are going to go to every length to prevent you from getting a clean shot. PASS THE BALL!”
“C’mon, coach. I got this!” Tyree pleaded with his coach.
The other four guys in the huddle were all too familiar with this late-game drill. Coach T would demand Tyree to pass the ball, and Tyree would initially challenge the coach only to eventually give in and agree to pass the ball. Everyone in the huddle, including Coach T, knew that Tyree wasn’t going to pass the ball, and when the huddle broke, Coach T always gave his star player an approving wink. The players all knew the meaning of that wink. Tyree would somehow find a way to miraculously beat the triple-team and sink the game-winning bucket as time expired. Coach Taylor would immediately catch Tyree’s eyes and shake his head and offer an unavoidable grin.
However, this time was different. There was no wink.
“And we’re back to the 2010 New York State Public High School Boys Basketball Championship pitting the defending champion Brooklyn Bombers against the underdog Harlem Knights. No one expected the Knights to still be alive at this point in the game, but they most definitely are, thanks to the spectacular play of Tyree Jennings!”
“There is still one more question to be answered for this young superstar. Can he win the big game with all the pressure focused directly on him?”
“We are surely about to find out. Rodgers throws the ball in to McCarthy. McCarthy dribbles it up the court; he swings it over to Jennings with a minute and fifty seconds to go. Two guys in Jennings’s face and here comes a third. Grant sets a pick right for Jennings; Jennings takes the pick, pump fakes, and delivers the oh-so-beautiful shot and rattles it home! Jennings cuts the lead to four with the Bombers still ahead 87 to 83.”
“Wow, Seth! Another great shot from Jennings. That shot gives him 48 points on the night, and he is now one three-pointer away from tying the championship game record of nine three-pointers set by none other than his own coach, Shorty Taylor, back in 1971.”
“What a great story that would make, but Coach Shorty Taylor isn’t looking too happy about that shot! Peterson takes it up the court for the Bombers with just under ninety seconds to go.”
“The Bombers are definitely looking to hold on to the ball for as long as possible here. They need to keep the ball out of Jennings’s hands if they plan to win this game.”
“That’s for sure, Greg. With only one minute remaining and a four point lead, the Bombers are satisfied just passing the ball around the key. Davis finds an opening and drives inside for a good look at the bucket. He shoots the mid-range jumper and…”
“It rims out! Grant grabs the board for the Knights and tosses the ball over to McCarthy. McCarthy, anxiously looking over to his coach, dribbles over the half-court line with only 35 seconds remaining on the clock.”
“I think we all know where the ball is going here.”
“Right on cue, McCarthy swings it over to Jennings. 30 seconds to go! Jennings can’t find any open room as he now has three guys all over him.”
“25 seconds, and Jennings needs to do something with the ball. He releases a NBA-range three-pointer and… NOTHING BUT NET! This kid is unbelievable!”
“Jennings has just tied his coach’s record with his ninth three-pointer of the night, but, most importantly, he has drawn his team within one point of the defending champion Brooklyn Bombers. With 19 seconds to go, the score is 87-86 Bombers.”
“Well, we were expecting a timeout from the Bombers, but Coach Harrick is going to let them play this one out. Peterson brings the ball up the court once again, and the Knights need to foul to extend the game.”
“That’s right, and they need to foul quickly. 10 seconds to go!”
“Oh my goodness! Jennings rips the ball away from Peterson, and he charges up the court with 7 seconds to go. Jennings stops just beyond the three point line. Will he shoot or wait for his teammates to catch up?”
“4 seconds remaining! Jennings pulls up for a three, and…”
“Wait… it’s a fake! He passes the ball to a wide open Richard Hurst under the basket. 2 seconds! Hurst shoots and…”
“IT’S GOOD! IT’S GOOD! The Harlem Knights have upset the defending champion Brooklyn Bombers by a score of 88 to 87 here in the 2010 New York State Public High School Boys Basketball Championship!”
Tyree looked over to Coach Taylor to witness the familiar grin.
While the rest of his teammates were celebrating the championship victory on the court, the press bombarded Tyree. The first to get to the star player was a reporter from the New York Post.
“Hello, Tyree, I’m Jonathan Doss from the New York Post. First of all, congratulations on your championship win. Now, we’ve heard that you’ve been offered a full scholarship to play for Syracuse University. Are we going to see you in orange next season?”
“Man, they been talking to me since I was in the eighth grade, but I ain’t going to no college. No offense to them or anything, but I’m playing pro ball in Italy. Some team over there I can’t even pronounce offered me a million bucks to play next season. A hundred grand is GUAR-AN-TEED, baby! Better get that spaghetti ready!”
“Ha, yes. That’s very interesting. So, you’re bypassing the NBA’s “one-and-done” rule by playing next season in Europe, correct?”
“Yeah, man. I didn’t stutter. The rule ain’t say nothing about going to college. You just gotta be 19 years old and out of high school for a year.”
“Well, I’m sure there will be many disappointed Syracuse fans to hear this news.”
“Man, I wouldn’t have stayed there for more than a year anyway.”
“Okay, well I think this conversation is over. Thanks for your time and enjoy Europe.”
Walking out of the gym after the interviews and post-game celebrations, Tyree noticed a shadowy figure walking up to him. Tyree presumed it was just another reporter, but he was wrong. It was his father.
“Why you here?”
Pain was visible in his father’s eyes after his son’s unwelcome greeting. “I came to watch your championship game, son! Great ga— ”
“Don’t call me son. You ain’t my dad, and I definitely ain’t yo son. Coach T’s been more of a dad to me than you’ll ever be. And I know why you here. You just talkin’ to me now so I’ll give you money when I get to the NBA.”
The pain turned to anger. “Shut up and listen to me! No one in this family has ever gone to college… NO ONE! “
“We ain’t no damn family! You left us when I like five!”
“Yeah, you don’t think I regret it! I do every day, but I made a mistake and now I have to live with it. I don’t want you to do the same thing! That’s the real reason I’m here. You have been given a gift that allows you a free education! Don’t be stupid. Take the education seriously and go to school long enough to get a degree. Even just two years! This isn’t about me; it’s about you and your future!”
“You ain’t never been there for us. Don’t think you can come to a basketball game to give me a lecture, and it’s all good between us. I ain’t goin to no college. I can make millions NOW!”
Tyree’s first game as a member of Euroleague’s Lottomatica Virtus Roma basketball team was a success as he contributed twenty-five points, including five three-pointers. The Italians were falling in love with their new player’s flamboyance. After baskets, Jennings saluted the crowd, and he even got his new teammates involved in the celebrations. Jennings brought a sense of fun to the game of basketball that Italy had never seen before.
Lottomatica Virtus Roma’s second game of the 2010 regular season was scheduled on Halloween night against Regal Barcelona. Once again, Tyree was on fire, and the Italian fans loved it. The Barcelona players, however, were not enjoying Tyree’s bigheaded performance at all. On one particular series, Tyree nailed a three pointer with a defender all over him. Tyree foolishly taunted the player by wagging his finger in his defender’s face. This turned out to be a huge mistake, because his defender, Santos Tanguay, was known by all the players as Euroleague’s dirtiest player. He would have none of this nonsense.
On Lottomatica Virtus Roma’s next possession, Tanguay viciously pushed Jennings during a mid-range jumper attempt, and…
Jennings landed with his entire body weight coming down on his hyper-extended right knee. Jennings yelped as his body smacked against the floor, and the entire crowd fell silent. Even the fans in the nosebleed sections heard Jennings’s cries as he writhed in pain. Everyone in the gym that Halloween night knew the severity of the injury. Tyree had shredded his ACL. He left the arena that night in an ambulance with no basketball future and no college degree.
Tyree looked down at the wrinkled schedule in his hand. It read: “English 101, Harlem Community College, Building A, Room 257.” As Tyree entered the classroom, he noticed a familiar name plate on the professor’s desk. It read, “Coach T.”