There’s a guy who plays basketball for Illinois named Sam McLaurin.
When I was growing up, I lived about 20 miles outside of Tallahassee and was zoned to attend East Gadsden, a school where shootouts in the courtyard have happened more than once and the graduation rate compares to Eddy Curry’s ‘08 waistline. I instead attended a private school in Tallahassee my whole life, God bless you mother, and while I was in high school I would play against East Gadsden annually.
East Gadsden was a lot like any other rural public school team in the south, incredibly athletic, incredibly confident, lacking in whiteness of any kind, and most importantly, incredibly terrifying to any high school freshman playing on an overwhelmingly white private school team. If you’ve been there you know.
Sometime near the end of my freshman season, we traveled to East Gadsden.
When you’re in high school, walking into another teams gym is the moment when you have the oppurtunity to set the tone, when you first get a glimpse of the other team and they get a glimpse of you, that’s the moment that decides which team is going to intimidate the other. By the time I was a senior, anytime we would walk into a gym we would always own that moment, but when I was a freshman it is awesome to think about how enticing we had to have looked, these awkward little white kids in shirt and tie, showing up to play EAST…GADSDEN.
If you’ve picked up anything from the story thus far it is that we likely had no chance in hell of winning and that was indeed the case on this fateful eve. The only reason I even made it on the floor was because we were losing that badly. I have no idea how I ever ended up with the ball. The fact that I, a 5’7” 140 pound 15 year old shit head would even consider driving the lane still to this day confuses me.
Sam McLaurin is 6’8” and 220 pounds. In 2005 he had to have been like 8’8”. He’s only a few months older than me but seeing someone your age that is that much bigger than you can be surprising. Playing a contact sport against him was kind of stunning, and not in the good way, like physically stunning. Earlier that season I had played against Jefferson County’s LeGarrette Blount, who, if you don’t recognize the name, is a grown ass man, and he was definitely scary but not strikingly huge.
I had the ball at the elbow and I guess I panicked like a deer on the interstate or something because I went barreling down the lane, head down, eyes probably closed, and as I got near the basket, I ran underneath a dark shadow, and as I levitated upward, I lifted my gaze and to see this ominous hand come jutting upward into the heavens, then smashing down towards me, meeting my momentum and turning it against me, sending me to the floor with the ball. As I peered up into his eyes, Sam McLaurin simultaneously devoured my soul and left me to disintegrate into tiny bits of embarrassment.
It was awesome. Was then, still is now.
Since then, Sam went on to play at East Carolina for four years, setting the school record for career blocked shots, no thanks to my early teachings of course, then transferred to Illinois last year as a grad student and joined the basketball team. I had no idea this happened until I saw his face pop up on the TV recently and it took me right back…to that defining moment…when I dunked all over Sam McLaurin.