Decades ago, I knew a boy who relished the exhilaration that basketball afforded him.
He travelled with his father to distant fieldhouses that smelled of Marlboros and popcorn, sizing up the teams that would one day play the hometowners, his heroes.
The son worshipped the young men in the high socks and Converse sneakers. He studied their gait and mannerisms until he could mimic their movement.
In his living room, he played hundreds of games with himself, shooting a plastic ball at a hoop made from a cardboard box. In his head, he counted down the seconds from an imaginary clock, always swishing the winning shot.
His time on a real court seemed fleeting, less grand than he envisioned, and success, relative to the past, was intermittent. Ultimately, years of effort were undone in a single night, a ball bouncing off the rim and dashing the dreams of a Hall of Fame coach and his team.
Today, a protege of the coach has the reins, as well as the attention of his opponents. A swagger has returned to small-school Advance in Southeast Missouri.
Somewhere, a boy is watching.