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|| News Item: Posted 2000-03-23

Hoop Dreams
By Robert Hanashiro, USA TODA

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today
With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, you CAN go home again.

For 10 years while I was the chief photographer at the Visalia Times-Delta, every Tuesday and Friday nights in the winter was the same: covering a boys or (horror!) girls basketball game in some high school gym in Tulare County.

So when I got a page during lunch after shooting an assignment at "Gladestones 4 Fish" in Malibu (honest!) asking if I wanted to work on my days off shooting prep basketball I did what any photographer would who spent over half his career in crummy dark gyms and stadiums: I said "Hell yes!"

While the venue wasn't the cave of a gym at Redwood High in Visalia ("dark " is defined as Tri-X rated at 3200 processed in Acufine) and it wasn't Woodlake High at Central Valley Christian, it was prep hoops nonetheless.

The California State High School Championships is a sort of hoop Mecca for West Coast basketball junkies. Held at the Arco Arena (home of the Sacramento Kings) it's 10 games in two days and has attracted crowds up to 15,000.

I arrived at the Arco Arena two and a half-hours before the first game I had to cover and while it was nice to see a lot familiar faces, I was tired of hearing the same comment from these photographers... "Hey, what the hell are you doing here?"

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today
I guess I've been covering the NBA and college basketball too long because I got to the arena early to mark my spot ... of course I was the only one doing this. As a matter of fact, I was the only photographer out on the court at that time! When a security guard saw me standing near one of the baskets (debating "inside or corner?") he laughed, "What the hell are you doing here so early?"


But three hours later I witnessed the most amazing thing: basketball!

What I saw were players hustling, scrambling for every loose ball, pushing the ball upcourt, pressing and playing defense. And at the end of the Division IV boys final with Tamalpais beating St Bernard 61 - 60 on a tip-in at the buzzer, I witnessed (and photographed) unabashed emotion.

There was no chest thumping, no finger waging or trash talking, just two dozen players screaming for joy and crying in disappointment.

There were no "rich and shameless" in $1,000 seats courtside, no valet parking, no agents or publicists, no slutty looking "dancers" gyrating during timeouts or dorks shooting t-shirts out of canons into the stands.

It was just hoops.

And later when I ran out on the court at the end of the Division I girls final (Narbonne High beat Berkeley 64 - 52) I had a 14mm on my DCS520 and
Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today
starting shooting the winning coach pumping his first in celebration, I stopped cold when I realized I was the only photographer out there. And I was using way too wide a lens. I guess I'm not use to shooting post-game without an elbow in my back and a friggin' TV boom mike in front of my lens!

I covered 6 games in two days and had as much fun as I've ever had a covering a sports event (though some things haven't changed much in 10 years, there are way too many jump ball situations in the girls game, though they now use the alternating possession rule).

I was in Sports Heaven.

Yes, you can go home again.

(Robert Hanashiro is the West Coast staff photographer for USA TODAY. Prior to that, he worked as the chief photographer for the 22,000 circulation Visalia Times-Delta in the Central Valley of California.)

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