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Coffin: End Of Hoop Season

The basketball season’s now down to the seemingly endless NBA playoffs, after the nearly endless season. But I look back on another winter of Vermont basketball, the Barre Aud, other high school matchups, and college games at Middlebury, St. Michaels, Norwich, UVM. I’m a junkie. I’ll remember this past Vermont season for one play, etched in my crowded memory, THE pass made in an NCAA playoff game on a March night at Middlebury College.

Of all basketball plays, it’s the great pass I love. Until now, two have stood out from nearly 65 years of basketball watching. One was thrown by Boston Celtics hall of fame playmaker Bob Cousy, during an exhibition game with the Cincinnati Royals at Rutland High School in the fifties. Cousy, at midcourt and back to the basket, relayed a pass, with the slap of a hand, perfectly on a bounce to Bill Russell cutting for the basket. Cousy never seemed to look Russell’s way.

Then I saw Princeton’s great Bill Bradley, at Dartmouth’s Alumni Gym. Bradley lunged for a rolling ball, winged it underhand three fourths of the court, and hit in full stride a Princeton guard with a pass just over the rim that was gently tipped in. I met U.S. Senator Bradley many years later, when I worked for Jim Jeffords, and asked if he remembered the play. He smiled and said, “Yeah, not bad.”

But neither play was better than one made by Middlebury College’s Matt Saint Amour in an NCAA playoff game in March against Lycoming College. Running up court before a shouting, stomping home crowd, St. Amour lunged toward the stands to rescue an errant Middlebury pass. Crossing the sideline, the right handed St. Amour winged the ball behind his back left handed to a teammate. The ball hit a Middlebury guard at full speed, and he passed to another teammate going full tilt for a layup.

As St. Amour regained his balance and the rafters rang, he smiled as if to say, “Not bad.”

Not bad? That may have been the best pass I ever saw. And what’s more, Matt Saint Amour is a Vermonter, a Mississquoi Valley Union High School graduate who once led all Vermont high school players in scoring. He learned his basketball on cold nights in North Country gyms where the basketball, at times, is not bad, at all.

Howard Coffin is an author and historian whose specialty is the Civil War.
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