I have this friend. He’s not a sports guy. But he is a bit philosophical at times. And he appreciates talking sports from that perspective. See, he’s a bit into psychology, too. So he asks questions a lot about why things in sports are the way they are. For instance, the worship of players by fans. And I love to get into it, explaining why fans act the ways they do. I get it. I’m a fan.
We once attended a basketball game together, and it was an experience for him. We sat about 30 rows up and there was a pretty good sized crowd. So it was loud. As in any basketball game, the home team’s fans, my people, thought the refs were jobbing us. There were some pretty questionable calls, most likely both ways, but it’s tough to see that when it’s all the way on the other side of the floor. Even when the “other side” of the floor is right in front of you. In one particular case, a ball was ruled knocked out of bounds by a home team player, even though it appeared to all of us that it was kicked out by the opposing team’s player. It was definitely kicked, but it may have already bounced out. It was tough to see from our vantage point. Boos rained down, and one guy in particular, right in front of us, stood up, yelled for about 30 seconds, then sat down, satisfied. He spent 30 seconds of his life screaming at a referee that was well over 100 feet away, in a crowd of 9,000 people, and felt like he got his money’s worth. My friend didn’t get that. Frankly, neither did I. But at least that guy stood up, so I didn’t have to.
My friend wouldn’t understand my feelings tonight. As I watched my beloved Nevada Wolf Pack, my hometown school, my alma mater, square off against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in a game to determine sole possesion of first place in the WAC, my thoughts began to venture into unknown territory. In the first half of play, Tech was beating the Pack silly. Turnovers were killing Nevada. Paul Millsap was killing Nevada. But bigger than both of those, to me, was that Nick Fazekas was killing Nevada.Nick Fazekas is a hero. We worship him. He has been carrying our Wolf Pack for the past two seasons, and he is the reason so many of us attend games. Plus, he is a big game player. We’re not used to seeing him struggle. But Tech found a way to simply shut him down. Throughout the half, ESPN would show graphics comparing him to Paul Millsap. They looked depressing. Through the first half, 0-7 shooting, zero points. Zero. As the halftime clock ticked down, I thought of my friend. What would he think of my mood? Would he understand? Would he question my dependence on this team, this player? Surely he would. And I’d hate to have to face him the next day with this hanging over me.
With the start of the second half came some new energy. As I sat on the floor, camera in hand, shooting my beloved Wolf Pack players, I could hear the jeers from directly behind me. Fans were berating the referees for calling fouls on one end and not the other. But that wasn’t the whole story. Nick Fazekas was not getting the ball. He was being held, grabbed, pushed sure, but he was moving little and not getting himself open. His teammates were not feeding him the ball. And worse, when he did get the ball inside, he was not forcing the issue. Then, finally, he decided to go up for a shot. And he got a foul call. He went to the line for his first fouls shots of the game. And he made one. Then, he missed one. He couldn’t catch a break.
Several more times down the floor, and more intense activity began. Fazekas set a pick, got his mismatch in the low post, and scored an easy jumper. Before I knew it, he had led a comeback and a 13-1 run to take a one-point lead. But Tech fought. They took a lead back, and held Nevada defensively. But Nevada continued to play tight defense and force turnovers. Then, down two with just under three minutes to play, Fazekas was fouled and went to the line for a one and one. He hit the front end, missed the back, and Nevada trailed by a point. Time wound down. The teams traded misses, and Tech ran the clock down. Nevada had the ball with 20 seconds to go, down by one, and Tech would not let Fazekas free.
Tech backed into a zone and kept two players on Nick. Someone had to step up. With about six seconds on the clock, Lyndale Burleson threw up a potential game winner, it hit the rim, bounced around, and went out of bounds. Nevada ball, with 3.9 seconds on the clock. After an excruciating timeout, and with none remaining, Mo Charlo was to inbound from the right side of the hoop. He looked, Tech held on defense, two men on Fazekas, leaving Burleson open on the left side. He screamed Mo’s name, over and over, until finally, Charlo inbounded to Marcelus Kemp, who threw up a wild shot from the corner. Airball.
Out of nowhere came Nick Fazekas. He tipped the ball up and in for a Nevada lead. After a review of the clock, 1.6 seconds was put on it. Tech called a timeout to set their play up. Nevada was going to defend the inbound pass. The tallest man on the floor, Nick Fazekas, went to the baseline, and readied himself. As the Teck player passed the ball, Fazekas timed his jump perfectly and deflected the pass into the air. Time expired, and fans rushed the floor.
Nick Fazekas literally went from zero to hero in twenty minutes of basketball. And finally, my spirits rose. I went onto the floor, too. I needed pictures. And I thought of my friend. Now he would have to hear about my night. He’d have to know that I went home a very happy person because the player I live and die by, a kid not yet able to drink, made my evening. And I can’t wait to tell him.