Game 064:at Charleston 85, Virginia Commonwealth 75 Saturday, February 19, 2005 John Kresse Arena - Charleston, SC
The tickets said "ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday," but there was no sign of the Worldwide Leader In Sports to be found. No television cameras, no Dick Vitale, no orange-and-gray logo stickers on the floor. Nobody held up "SportsCenter Is Next" signs. The pep band didn't even think to play the duh-nuh-nuh, duh-nuh-nuh theme song.
As with most of the 32 non-conference matchups scheduled for this late-season Saturday, ESPN opted to send their crews to other locations. The Virginia Commonwealth Rams, champions of the Colonial Athletic Association, were suffering through a wobbly title defense - their five conference losses weighed heavier than the unbearable lightness of their shock win against league-leading Old Dominion. The homestanding College Of Charleston Cougars, a talented crew prone to extended periods of brain-lock, came in with a 9-6 record but labored in the cold shadow of Davidson's undefeated SoCon season. In the larger Bracket Buster picture, VCU and Charleston were more like broken and abandoned toys; instead, the nation's curious viewers would be unwrapping Vermont and Nevada and Pacific on this day.
Because of the notable absences, press row at the John Kresse Arena was, in effect, repurposed. The middle section became special disability seating, and space was cleared for giant buzzing bionic wheelchairs and their inhabitants. The two west-basket mop boys snuck into two end seats, using the table to prop up their nachos and boiled peanuts and Cokes. A squinty-eyed overseer sat nearby, casting disapproving glances at the lads, resting his palms together as he diligently judged the proceedings. His season pass identified him as a representative of the local Charleston newspaper.
Milling about the nearby sideline were two photographers. One lensman was a slightly balding middle-ager who expertly wielded his implement, often wheeling around at dramatic angles to fire off series after series of loud shutter wheezes, capturing the action to accompany the beat writer's prose pearls in tomorrow's paper. The other was a pale, thin, nervous young man with a shock of curly dirty-blonde hair, wearing a pink short-sleeved polo over a rumpled white buttonup shirt - presumably in the style of the day. He looked around furtively, awkwardly holding a massive Nikon with a barrel zoom, trying to find something to take a picture of.
"I work for the student paper here," he said anxiously by way of introduction. "George Street Observer. It's a weekly. Comes out... ya know, every week."
As play began, Charleston sped out to an early 36-15 lead on the strength of a fierce pressing defense and explosive drives to the hoop. Visiting VCU appeared tired and lumbering, and too often gave up on possessions by chucking up off balance three-point shots. All ten of their first-half trey attempts fell short, and the hungry Cougars were often there to scoop up easy rebounds and send it up the floor in a hurry. Tony Mitchell, a quick little guard (and favorite player of the mop-boys), nailed his own three-point attempts with perfect precision, each one picture perfect. So, you get any good shots yet?
"Naww, man," the photog admitted sheepishly. "This is actually my first basketball game in years. I just drew the assignment, and, well..."
He idly clicked away at the Tiki-shirted pep band, at the cheerleaders, at Clyde the Cougar, at the thickly settled student section - attempting to capture the atmosphere of the game. If he'd just taken a moment to inspect his school's team, he might have noticed their admirable photogenic qualities. Coach Tom Herrion is always very animated, waving his arms and making odd faces. The 2004-05 Cougars also have a dazzling array of hairstyles - there are the full Rasta locks of senior forward Bernard Jackson, the short dreads of big guard Stanley Jackson (no relation), and many exciting variations on the cornrow theme up and down the bench. So it wasn't as if there were a lack of Kodak moments available to choose from, our young friend just needed to gain a little confidence.
Halftime provided its traditional 15-minute respite, and nobody needed it more than the VCU players, who trailed 46-31 to the energetic home team. While the mop-boys loaded up on more snacks from the concession stand (they have to pay for their own food, one explained, they're volunteers who just love getting to run out on the court), the fledgling photog stood fidgeting in the corner.
The visiting Rams came out of the break as soft as they started, and fell even further behind - as the fans cheered, "C! Of! C!", the Cougars took the lead out to 21 with 10 minutes to go. But then, as had happened so many times before in the season, Charleston seized up, forgot how to play. And VCU, which had played with thin blood for 30 minutes, roared to life.
Even as they lost second-leading scorer Michael Doles to fouls with seven minutes remaining, the Rams inched back into the game, tore into the lead with a 16-5 run. After a short jumper by starting sophomore guard B.A. Walker, the margin was eight and the clock read 1:32. The home team was fading fast, limping to the wire, and the Kresse Center was plunged into fatalistic what-if silence as a long parade of free throws loomed. The pink-shirted photographer, for his part, found a shady spot underneath the basket that VCU was defending.
And then, on the next possession, the pivotal moment of this game. Bernard Jackson, his long dreadlocks bouncing behind him, sprung free of the VCU trap, drove to an unguarded basket and leapt high for an exploding, leg-splaying, primal-screaming dunk. The once-dormant crowd burst into peals of joy - there was less than a minute remaining now, the lead was 10, and the win was assured. The credentialed photographer from the George Street Observer sat crumpled against the stansion, clutching his chest with spread fingers, his eyes bulging. Are you alright? And did you get that?
"Hell yeah, I got that!" he cried out, his facial features reduced to one big beaming smile.
Using a small digital screen on the back of his camera, he made display of his masterpiece. In the picture, the ball is nestled into the netting as Jackson's long fingers pull the bright orange rim earthward. His eyes are closed, his white and maroon uniform rippling, his mouth a gaping chasm emitting both agony and ecstasy. It's a truly magnificent photograph, perfectly balancing the power and violence of a slam dunk with the graceful, beautiful athleticism that's necessary to propel a six-foot-six body through the air.
"You want a copy?" he asks excitedly. "I can make you a copy. Wouldn't be a problem, I can just download it... I mean upload it, and..."
That's okay, buddy. Besides, The Shot belongs to you.