All in ‘The Family’…

The Lowder’s had a dilema. Their 2017 summer schedule was packed to overflowing. Shannon and Tracey thought they had it all figured out. Au contraire. Their European trip went without a hitch and the numerous lists on the calendar were beginning to clear. Landon’s basketball AAU stint with “The Family” out of Detroit had one last tournament. It was a biggie in Florida, end of July. Since much of the summer had been spent apart for various tourney’s and Peyton’s rigid touring choir schedule in France and Germany, the Lowder’s thought the whole family would spend the week in Florida together. To make it a more homey vacation, the rented a house instead of a hotel, airline tickets were bought. Even Ari, Josh and 6 month old Jovi were set to spend a relaxing week together. Plus that biggie tourney, but at least it was the last one this year.

Long about mid-July, Landon’s AAU coach sent out a memo saying the team had decided not to go to Florida, instead choosing a tournament in Fort Wayne, Indiana on the same weekend. Oh for cripe’s sake. The Lowder’s found themselves mildly perturbed with this news. What to do? Cancel the Florida trip, disappointing a few family members and taking a big hit monetarily? Go to Florida and take Landon along, letting him miss one tourney? Wouldn’t be the end of the world. Except for those dang college coaches constantly calling Tracey, asking when Landon’s (Drew to the rest of the world, he was on several college watch lists during AAU’s Nike season) team was arriving in Fort Wayne? Maybe let Shannon take the family to Florida and Tracey travel with Landon, but that’s how it goes most weekends. Or all but Landon head to Florida and ask the mild mannered superhero grandpa and grandma to accompany Landon for the weekend?

Actually most of the team player’s parents rarely go to these tournaments. There’s just too many, and it’s too expensive. The players and coaches travel means and hotels are paid for, so they just send their kids with the coaches. Money for meals is about all they need. I’m sure they get updates from their kids after games with twitter or phone calls. The AAU tourney’s tend to be quite far away, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, so Hubs and I only watch him a couple times during the summer, usually Grand Rapids and Fort Wayne, neither more than 100 miles from us.

Truthfully until the plane took off for Florida, I thought Tracey would call saying he had changed his mind and was going to Fort Wayne after all. After he comtemplated all the conversations between college coaches he would miss during the weekend, I didn’t think he could do it. It’s not a matter of trust in Landon’s care, (we did squat anyway, except show up for every game in support of the best player on the planet, or should he need us if he was hurt) but Tracey knows most of the coaches in the tight world of basketball. Can you see them popping questions to me about Landon’s technique, agility, or fade-away jump shot? Umm, no but I gotta say, I’m biased as heck where this young man’s basketball skills are concerned. Honestly, I cannot imagine ANY Division 1 college that would not benefit enormously from his prowess as point guard/defender/outside shooter/ball handler/play maker/and all around assist dude who routinely makes other players look and play better. Any. Division. 1. Team. Flat out. He ‘sees’ the floor in ways other players don’t. He just keeps getting better. Yeah, it’s all good.

But Tracey and family flew to Florida and the job of game-stat-texter was left to me. Which I totally blew the first game! We were stinking late. No excuse, our hotel was like 10 feet away! I always like to be early and watch the team warm up. I thought each half was 20 minutes, we got there about the 12 minute mark. Ugh. But it wasn’t that bad, each half is 16 minutes. In these tournaments, the games on Thursday and Friday’s are called pool play (?) something like that. It’s how high your team gets seeded in your division for the tourney, which starts Saturday morning. When Saturday rolls around, lose 1 and you’re done. So the first 3 games were not the most important ones, yet you want to do well to be seeded high. Well, we lost the first game by 3 points. Not a good way to start the tourney. They weren’t in sync and it showed. Lousy game. Period.

Fort Wayne’s Spiece Fieldhouse (home of the Gym Rats, quirky, love that name) is quite a place. We’ve been watching Landon play there occasionally for about 8 years. It has 7 basketball courts, a private workout gym for paying members, a shop loaded with t-shirts, shoes, and sports gear. But it’s the entrance and signage I find interesting. Everyone knows Indiana is one of the biggest basketball states around. There’s tons of framed uniforms from famous players (Larry Bird) and coaches (Hoosier’s Bobby Knight-I think I’m gonna be sick) hanging as you walk in the building. Plus a quote from the Fieldhouse owner Tom Spiece, bragging about the size of Indiana’s high school’s gyms. Funny.

I never think Landon’s team plays particularly well in the a.m. Might have something to do with teenage boys staying together in hotel rooms, video games, eating junk food and lack of sleep. I’m just guessing here. Naturally, The Family’s 2nd game is at 11:30. Could be worse, they’ve played as early as 8:30 before. Not a pretty sight. Lots of puffy eyelids (looks more like teenage girls who spent the night bawling). I should really be more clear when I say, The Family. At this tournament, The Family had 4 teams. One team for each age group, 14 through 17, all named, The Family. But only the 16U (U meaning 16 and under) has Landon (and his 2 doting grandparents).

The game is about to start. The coaching staff has not been very good about supplying water for the players, so we stopped at Meijer (yes, Fort Wayne has a Meijer-yay) and buy a 12 pack of water. John walks over to the team’s side of the court, hands Landon 2 bottles of water and 2 sticks of gum (Dude is coordinated. He can chew, run, dribble, shoot, set up plays, defend and make it look effortless all at the same time. Umm, Landon not grandpa). The whole team looks as though none of them feel very well. You gotta sleep guys. We hope for the best as the game starts. I’m determined to text a better game to Shannon and Tracey and keep Landon’s stats at the same time. No, I do not possess Landon’s multitasking abilities. Watching the game, using a smart-ass phone and writing down stats are approximately 2 too many things to do at one time for this gram. When Tracey is texting a game to me, he writes all kinds of stuff, floater, put back, terms I know nothing about, plus he includes the whole team. With me, unless someone gets hurts, a technical is called, the coach is being a pudgy jerk, or a kid (besides Landon) is having a superlative game, I concentrate only on Landon’s shots and stats, and both team’s score. Tracey seems content (I know it drives him batty not to be here in person) with what I send him. At least he always knows who’s leading and how many points our boy has. Had I known what was about to happen in the next 16 minutes, I would have/should have been recording. The entire half. Here’s the first half texts because I haven’t figured out how to copy and paste more than 1 text at a time. Ugh, my cross to bear:

Over 100 colleges had coaches watching players, ok Landon…

Warming up now.
Hugged me, told grandpa he doesn’t feel well. Starting.
6-0 us, L with a 3. Another 3 for L, 9 zip. Another 3 for L, 14-0.
Another 3 for L, 20-0.
(Shannon) WOW!
Another 3 for L, blocked a shot too. 20-1. He’s got 15, not many coaches here tho. 22-5, 10 min left.
Another 3 for L. For L, he’s got 18 of our 27.
Coach cannot find a reason to yell, though he did have a turnover.
Another 3 for L. First miss. 30-5. Not planted.
(Shannon) Michigan is there, so that’s good-Edwin is calling all excited and so is Rayshawn.
Jumper L. Time out, 3 min left, 36-12. L has 23.
Another 3 for L. Another 3 at the buzzer, he’s got 29. 44-14.
(Shannon) that’s 9-3’s?
Right and one short jumper, he missed one long shot all half.
Dad’s taking credit, gave him 2 sticks of Juicy Fruit. Oh boy.
(Shannon) apparently tl (Tracey Lowder) told him he’d buy him shoes if he scored 30 in a game. Or it could be the juicy fruit.

Well, what is there left to say? The Family went on win the game easily. Landon played very little during the second half-no need with the score that lopsided. And rest those starters for the next game, which just might be very close. Game 3 is Friday afternoon, then we’re done with seeding. Another easy win. Cute little 30 year old gal sitting next to me, not old enough to have a son on the team. No, she is dating one of the coaches of, The Buckeyes (from Chicago-I know, makes no sense. The team is from Chicago, but the coach graduated from Ohio State. Huh?) She politely asks if I’m # 4’s grandmother? No, # 0 is my grandson, I reply (# 4 is a big blonde-she seemed embarrassed). But she recovered nicely after Landon tossed in a couple of 3’s in a row. I said, yeah, he’s been having a good day shooting 3’s. She slapped a hand over her mouth and squealed, “is he the young man everyone’s talking about? Had so many 3 pointers in a game this morning?” “Yup, that’s Landon!” She looked confused until I explained that I’m the only one who calls Drew, Landon. Only because it’s his name.

Shortly after the game, I get a text from Landon: “I’m in a 3 point shooting contest tonight at Northside High School.” OK, now we have something to do that night. Can’t believe how many people show up, the gym is packed! (Remember how crazy those Indiana folks are about their basketball and gym size)? They start with the 14 year olds, one player on each side of the court. Five chairs, evenly spaced along the 3-point line, each chair holds 3 basketballs. The players start by one chair in the corner, shooting as fast as they can before moving to the next chair with another 3 balls. Perfect score would be 15. The shot clock is set at 30 seconds. You’re not really pitted against the other player as much as you are against the ticking clock. After all the players of that age group are done, there’s either a winner or a play-off of those who tied. Same set up, but timer is set at 15 seconds. Landon’s 16-U division (only 1 player from each team can enter the contest) has maybe 14-18 kids in line. Landon scores 8 in the first round, tying with a couple other kids. But my man comes through, hitting 4 shots in 15 seconds to win his age division. Gets a round of applause and a winning plaque, which he promptly brings over to me. Hubs and I leave just as they’re starting the dunk contest. Unless you’re 7 feet tall, it’s impossible to see cause everyone is now gathered in a huge circle surrounding half the court.

Landon’s team wins both games on Saturday to qualify for the semi-finals on Sunday morning. Landon plays well in both games, scoring 11 in the first one. He does not feel well in 5th game, he’s pale and bending over a lot, so sits out most of the first half, sipping water. Landon ends up with 18 points, with several college coaches (including Michigan’s Beilein and MSU’s Izzo, sitting one chair apart from each other, but pretty much ignoring that fact, no love lost there I think) on one side of the court. Over a hundred colleges are represented with coaches watching certain players.

Landon, front row, 2nd from right. The reigning 16-U national champs, 2017

The Family landed a team in the semi-finals in every age division. Amazing. All 4 teams win their semi’s. We win by a dozen points, Landon’s game is solid, scoring 8, with several assists and rebounds. The championship game is better. Landon has 13 the first half, game total of 18, sitting out the final minutes because we’re up by 30!! Three of the 4 ‘Family’ teams win their divisions. Only the 17-U lose (we’ll remedy that little issue next year, Landon’s 17th birthday is in a couple weeks). Landon is picked as one of the top 5 players of the whole tournament, averaging 15 points a game. I truly believe it’s based more than on just his average point total. It’s the ‘way’ he plays. Intensity, court skills, unselfish play. After pictures with the trophy, we collect the kid and head back to Jackson. We’re all bushed but pumped. Shannon and Tracey will be home the next day and our super hero status will falter, although Landon’s team fared about the best with us as fabulous substitutes during their many tournaments this season. Just sayin. Landon tells me to keep the 3-point plaque, I’m thrilled, though his parents might be a lot less than.

A week later I’m sitting next to Landon at Peyton’s final concert at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. “Do you want your plaque back,” I asked? “No, why,” he counters? “Because I’m deciding where to hang it and don’t want to make a nail hole if you want it back.” He turns and says seriously, “pound the nail gram.”

It’s been a good summer. No, a great summer. Peyton with her European concert tour. Watching Jovi get cuter by the day. Landon with another great season of displaying his hoops talent. And growing a couple inches. Maybe the biggest news is getting his first 2 basketball scholarship offers from colleges, Toledo and Northern Illinois. Not the biggest or best baskeball schools-yet. So I guess it’s officially started. Let the bidding war begin. The line forms on my back deck. Do not park on the grass, Landon’s grandpa hates that. Now exactly who are you, why do you want my boy, and what kind of playing time we talking…

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