“You don’t want to get tired, you know.”

“Yeah, I know, but let’s do it one more time.”

This was before the ninth (or tenth?) try at my first dunk in yesterday’s dunk contest, put on by the Big Ten Network “Hoops on Campus” program.

The dunk was pretty standard. Basically, it was a far less-athletic version of Jason Kidd-Kenyon Martin circa 2003: My buddy and president of the Maize Rage, Nick Mattar, would lay the ball off the backboard and I would follow him and slam it home with one hand.

Nick was having no trouble running up and laying the ball off the backboard. It was me who was the problem.

I had two major physiological setbacks working against me: my pedestrian leaping ability and my small hands, which made it hard for me to catch the ball and throw it down in one motion.

“I don’t know if this is going to work,” Nick said.

I nodded. “Yeah, it probably won’t.”

Dunking is trickier than people think, especially when you aren’t blessed with prodigious fast-twitch muscles. There are questions: how much warm-up do you need? How much warm-up time will make you too tired? Do you stretch, or do you want to go in a little tight, like coils?

After practicing for a bit — sweating and breathing relatively hard — I was approached by one of the producers of the show, Lindsay Sikula. She needed me to sign a waiver, in case I injured myself in what would definitely be extremely embarrassing fashion.

“And don’t warm up too much,” she said. “Everyone does that.”

“Oh…thanks,” I said, immediately sitting down on the nearest bench, trying frantically to rest my legs.

Michigan coach John Beilein and players DeShawn Sims, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass were all in attendance at the event. Presumably, this would give them all a chance to critique my failure on national television, as I have done too many times to them this season.

Novak walked in the gym to find me sitting on my bench trying to rest. I was also stretching my calves, thinking it was best to go in loose. (Novak, in case anyone missed it, won the dunk contest at Michigan Madness at the beginning of the season. On his final dunk, he did a through-the-legs reverse. The man knows dunking.)

“You don’t want to stretch,” Novak said. “You want your muscles to be tight.”


The Big Ten Network didn’t half-ass this event. They sectioned off half the gym. They brought in their high-profile color commentator, Jim Jackson. They set up an entirely separate court with two mobile hoops. Big Ten Network banners were smattered all over the walls.

The evening started with a brief interview with John Beilein. While talking with reporters, Beilein called me over from my bench, insisting he saw me somewhere recently.

“Are you Catholic?”


“Where did I see you?”

I ran into him at the popular barbershop Coach and Four a couple weeks ago.

“That’s it! The barber.”

After that, he stuck around for a few minutes and left. I was just very happy he remembered my name.

After Beilein left, Jim Jackson did a short demonstration with Sims. Sims showed the viewers at home how to set a pick and close out your man on offense in order to establish position in the post. He’s one of the best in the country at this. After the segment, it was time for the 3-point shooting contest.

And it was an unmitigated disaster.

The first contestant missed every…single…shot. The second made four, which by comparison made him look like Steve Kerr circa 1996. The last contestant made one. Oy.

And then finally, it was time for the dunk contest. Despite my insistent pleas with Lindsay the producer to sandwich me in the middle, the order had me going last.


There were three of us dunkers: me, James and Seth. There was agreement between James and I — Seth was by far the best. He was just going to win. Period. We were fighting for second place.

Unfortunately, it was Seth who was slated to go first.

And on his first dunk, he proved us right. Seth did a two-handed 180, something I could do if the producers agreed to my original request of lowering the hoop to nine feet. James followed that with a relatively impressive dunk of his own, essentially a one-handed 180.

Then it was my turn. I called Nick out from the crowd. I figured I wasn’t going to wow anyone with my jumping ability, so I would have to get a little creative. I decided I had to go with the assist off the backboard.

Nick lined up at the free throw line, while I stood just beyond the arc. He laid it perfectly off the board…and I missed.

Undaunted, I picked myself up from the cheerleaders and dancers the Big Ten Network had lined up along the baseline and told Nick to run it again.

I caught the ball at the top of my jump, my stubby little fingers gripping the rock as hard as they could, and slammed it home. With authority.

It was a nice moment. I received some words of approval from Novak and Jim Jackson, and they told me I was moving on to the second round.

Wait — what?

See, I had only prepared one dunk. Never did I think I would get an opportunity for two dunks. But here I was, going up against a real leaper. I turned to Nick: What should we do?

Seth decided he would put the contest away quickly. He lined up his friend in front of the basket and promptly hopped over him like he was a puddle in the sidewalk, throwing it down with one hand.

I knew he had it. Nick and I tried a couple of feeble alley-oops before I just put down a resigned two-hander. Afterward, Novak just shrugged his shoulders.

“There’s not a whole lot to say,” he said.

Seth took home the trophy. He richly deserved it. Overall, though I had my time in the sun, I learned one important lesson:

Stay grounded.

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