Fifth and sixth grade basketball players from the St. James Youth Basketball Association had the opportunity of a lifetime December 10, as they got a chance to play on the same court that generations of Minnesota Golden Gophers have inside historic Williams Arena.
Local Optometrist Steve Jeppson is one of the coaches the team, and this was the first chance he had to take a team up to Minneapolis. Beginning in seventh grade, the public school system takes the reins for basketball, but, before that, volunteers like Jeppson are responsible for coaching them up.
“I'm a season ticket holder, and I noticed they play youth basketball during halftime, and I thought, 'Our guys could do this,'” Jeppson said. So, he made inquiries with the program, and--after selling 75 tickets for the game--procured his team a spot on the court.
“We're taking 13 on the trip, and they're pumped,” he said a few days before the game. During the game, Jeppson's team played a 5-on-5 intrasquad scrimmage with liberal substituting to assure everyone playing time.
They had six players on one side and seven on the other, so everyone got in the game.
They also ran a few plays, in order to avoid having players simply stand around. On a big stage like this, the temptation is for players to stand around soaking in the environment and surroundings rather than keeping focus on the task at hand.
“The first couple trips down the court were rough,” Jeppson said. “They were intimidated, at first, and they missed some shots they usually wouldn't.”
Players admitted to being thrown off their games by the setting, but they said the more they played, the less nervous they were--and they found it to be a fabulous experience.
“It was really scary, but once I got out there, it was a blast,” said Max Johnson. “At the beginning, I (shot) a layup, and it went around the rim like six times, and the crowd oohed and aahed, and it (spun) out.”
Daevon Anderson, Jeppson's grandson, echoed Johnson's sentiments.
“I was nervous at first, but I got the feel of it and got used to it, and it was great experience,” he said.
Lucas Anderson added, “Once I got used to running down the court, it felt good.”
Jeppson said running some set offense attenuated the nerves, as did getting them into the flow of the game. In fact, they recorded baskets on a few of their set plays.
It wasn't all a fairy-tale, however; Daevon Anderson, for example, is still shaking his head over a prominent rejection.
“There were only a couple seconds left, so I had to shoot, and I got stuffed,” he recalled.
Jeppson and other parents drove the team to and from Minneapolis for the game. “The Barn” was completed in 1928, making it one of college basketball's venerable spots. It's one of only three sites in the sport to have a raised floor, according to the school, and the players from St. James thoroughly enjoyed the unique setup.
Page 2 of 2 - “It was really awesome to play on the floor, and you seem taller,” Lucas Anderson said.
All three players had been to games in The Barn before as spectators, but they had never played on the hardwood.
“It was a whirlwind for the kids, but it was a great time and a great experience,” Jeppson said.
Ryan Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org