In a former life, I was a basketball coach. For more than 25 years, in fact, I made my living - or at least part of it - by trying to teach high school players to throw a round ball through a round hoop more frequently than their opponents could throw the same ball through the same hoop. My ego would like for you to believe that there was a lot more to it than that, but in reality, there wasn't.
I was pretty good at it - coaching, I mean - when I had good players. When I didn't have such good players, I was not such a good coach. Like most coaches - and like a lot of folks who have never blown a whistle in anger in their entire lives - I just assumed that any children I might father would become All-State players. I had shelves installed in our family room to hold all the trophies they would win, and I still have a pair of size one Converse All Stars from when my son was born.
Being Bulldog born and Bulldog bred, I assumed, quite naturally, that my child would follow up his - or her - storybook high school career by becoming an All-American at UGA. I would retire from work and attend every game, sitting in the stands, nodding approvingly at every 20-foot jump shot that rippled through the cords. The television cameras would always know where I was, and after every spectacular play they would zoom in on me - and my lovely wife, Lisa, of course, who would also have quit work in order to have more time to devote to compiling our son's scrapbook.
The commentator would allude to the fact that "his dad was a high school coach, you know," meaning that everything he knew about the game he learned from hanging around the gym with his old man.
Come on. Admit it. A lot of you had similar visions of grandeur when your children were born. Maybe it was a football field, baseball diamond or a soccer pitch, but you had the same vision.
I put a basketball in my son's hand as soon as he was old enough to hold one. He drooled all over it, of course, but I put one in his hands. We did chest pass drills while he was still in a crib. I taught him to shoot, dribble and pass, and we played for hours on end in the driveway - until he got so tall that I couldn't get a shot off against him when we played one-on-one. I think he was 12 when that happened.
I carried him to the gym with me, and he practiced with my teams. Quite frankly, by the time he was in middle school, he could beat most of the players on my varsity team.
If only I hadn't been coaching girls.
Once he got in high school, Jackson found other pursuits that interested him more than shooting hoops. He became a math scholar and talented musician and played King Arthur in his school's rendition of "Camelot." He was on the high school swim team, won the Journal Cup as best all-around student in his class and was a heck of a church league basketball player, and while I was never, ever, ever disappointed - not even for one nanosecond - that he didn't pursue the roundball game, I couldn't help but wonder, from time to time "what if?"
Last Saturday night, one of my dreams came true. During Georgia's game against Mississippi State, I saw my son compete on the playing floor at Stegman Coliseum. It was halftime and they were about to announce the contestants for the Delta Sky Miles Dash, and there he was. Jackson Lee Huckaby, who is 6 feet, 5 inches and weighs at least 127 pounds, had been chosen to compete - ironically, against one of his best high school buddies, Matthew Stapp.
My heart was in my throat as the good-looking girl explained the rules. I cheered madly as Jackson raced Matthew to mid-court, and I hurt with him when he couldn't open the suitcase that held the uniform that he was expected to put on. Stapp was already dressed in his baggy shorts and over-sized jersey by the time Jackson began to dig through his suitcase. By the time Jackson reached the other end of the court and picked up the basketball, the other guy was already half a court's length ahead. Jackson was at the top of the key when his opponent went up for a layup - and missed!
Now here comes Huckaby, up-up-up for the winning shot. Would he dunk? Would he get his shot blocked? No! He would put it right on the glass, just like his old man taught him, and watch it settle softly into the net for a well-deserved victory, while the crowd went wild - or at least the person in the crowd writing this column.
It was a spectacular moment, indeed. And you can scoff if you want, but Jackson Huckaby outscored Albert Jackson that night. When Georgia gets a new coach, maybe I should tell him about my boy. He still has a couple of years of eligibility left.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. E-mail him at email@example.com.