My basketball talent is over my head

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Nearly everyone native to Indiana knows basketball, either from firsthand experience or from watching the high school and college games that afford Hoosiers a major source of entertainment. Moving here from another part of the country means learning fast. If you can't soon distinguish between a man-to-man and a zone defense, or spot a foul before the ref whistles, you may never fit in.

Oh, you can make friends, but you won't be exactly the life of the party, especially if it's centered around a televised game. Your responses will lag. People here notice.

I wasn't born in Indiana, and neither was my son, but by now we are Hoop-Hoosiers for sure, both passive and active. We attend games when we can and watch them on TV when we can't.

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Tim hasn't yet tried out for a team, but he gives his own outdoor court a good workout each day. And often enough when a peer friend isn't available, I get talked into a game of "Horse." In deference to our team of Belgians, we play "Horses," but ours is just a slightly longer version of the same game, the object of which is to make baskets that your opponent can't duplicate.

Tim and I take turns going for the hoop. When one of us makes a basket, the other has to copy the preliminary moves exactly, and shoot from the same distance. If I fail to make a shot that Tim has successfully modeled, I get a letter - and vice versa. The idea is to avoid becoming a H-0-R-S-E-(S).

We each bring advantages to the game. Mine is a careful conservatism. I shun fancy maneuvers and I never move too far from the key. I simply concentrate on putting the ball through the net, period. It is often a winning strategy for me. Not only do I make a lot of baskets with minimal effort, but I so thoroughly bore my son that he often misses the same shot out of pure yawning lackadaisy.

TIM would rather lose the game than play it so safely. He dribbles to three-point range and beyond, spins, twists back, spins again, and lets fly, all with a fluid motion and young athleticism I can almost never replicate.

And that's one of his simpler setups.

After a series of even more spectacularly complex gyrations he often misses . But when he does hear that delicious swish, he knows that I'll surely tack one more letter onto my tally.

I have another ace up my sleeve though, an almost uncanny ability to arc the ball backward over my head and through the net. I don't know how I do this, but I am sure it has nothing to do with talent. Perhaps it is some subtle intuition born of life as as a dairy farmer: I have long since learned to know where the bull is, even as he grazes and shuffles about behind my back. Bull, ball ... whether or not there's a connection, I score.

Tim is only half as good as I am at this particular shot, and it often helps even things out.

I once unwisely agreed to allow blocking if the game came down to a final deciding letter. Then there is no calm setting up, no chance to bore Tim to sloppy distraction. When I go for the basket he is in my face, his arms encircling but not touching me, his eyes wild with delight. There is no way I can get the ball up past my waist, yet he's doing absolutely nothing illegal. How, I wonder, do the men and women we watch in real games ever make baskets?

Tim provides the answer as soon as he gets the ball. He puts his twirling, luminous motions to good use then, leaving me spinning in the dust as he goes chuckling in for an easy lay-up. I suddenly understand his own frustration when I, in turn, face away from the hoop and send the ball sailing ridiculously back over my head for a big fat, effortless swish! There are just certain things in life that some of us are better at than others. And if you're a Hoosier, native or not, you'll find a sweet slice of life in basketball.

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