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No Place for the Weak-Willed

by Randy H. Milgrom

The fieldhouse was jumping for the final in the men's open division.An excited and noisy crowd filled the upper reaches above the court on which Team Illinois and Team Utah ran layup drills and practiced jumpers in anticipation of this Gold Medal match.


These were the baddest of the bad boys - the survivors in this bang-'em-up series of top hoops conflicts - even if one of Utah's players was a young woman named Larie Stewart.

These were the baddest of the bad boys - the survivors in this bang-'em-up series of top hoops conflicts - even if one of Utah's players was a young woman named Larie Stewart, whose unenviable task when she entered the game was to try to defend Illinois' bruiser, Craig Kincaid, in the low post. The rosters on either side featured a mixture of young and old, big and small alike - much like any high-level, hard-fought YMCA pickup basketball game you'd be likely to see nearly anywhere around the country on any given Sunday afternoon.

Utah's lineup, in addition to Stewart, included Jim Dykas, Mike Tucker, Justin Berube, Wes Arbon, and Spencer Tinker. Illinois was led by the super-speedy Michael Henderson and the ultra-bulky Kincaid, and they were backed-up by Michael Carroll, Jason Pilon, Costellano Huffman, and Brad Szcziniski. Three at a time, they went at each other in the early going of a game that featured a fair amount of griping to the ref - which prompted him to bring in another official to help him call the game. (It's not a basketball game unless at least one player or another is jawing at the ref.)

Though the game started a little slowly, by midway through the first half the tough Team Illinois had pushed a 7-4 margin to 18-4. Both teams tried to establish themselves inside, where there was lots of physical contact. Both teams also exhorted their own players to "work the offense," which in this three-on-three clash consisted mainly of basic picks-and-rolls, and inside-outside ball movement: throw it inside, and if nothing develops there, kick if outside for the three-pointer. By halftime, Illinois had managed to extend its lead by only one more point, and the score stood at 24-9.

At the start of the second half, Illinois' two stars took over. Utah simply did not have anyone who could stay with the lightning-quick Henderson, whose excellent handle and speed made him impossible to guard as he slashed repeatedly to the front of the rim. And if Henderson didn't finish, Kincaid would do it for him. He was simply a monster - unstoppable - inside. And he stepped out and hit a couple threes, too. If the Transplant Games kept stats for individual scoring, he'd likely be an all-time recordholder.

Though the Utah crowd was begging for its team to stay in the game, the early fervor understandably waned once Illinois stepped up their halftime lead and methodically pulled away. With 7:51 to go in the game, and Illinois leading 40-18, Utah called timeout to slow their momentum and talk strategy. From the Illinois huddle, Henderson could be heard telling his teammates, "This is what we've been working for," and one of his teammates answered, "Yeah! All those Monday morning workouts!"

Utah scored the first bucket following the timeout and the

Utah crowd perked up a bit, but at the 2:00 mark the score was 44-26, and the game was out of reach.

Though the score wasn't close through much of the game, this remained an extremely intense contest to the end. Every shot was contested, everyone bore down on defense, and occasionally frustrations and tempers flared. But when the horn sounded, with the clock showing the final score of 49-29, there were more than enough heartfelt handshakes, hugs, and back-pats to go around.



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