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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

COLUMN: Free throws, pressure and time

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nate Christy [Order this photo]
With the game and an NCAA tournament berth on the line, Memphis freshman Darius Washington Jr. was fouled shooting a three, down two points, with no time left on the clock.

The Tigers were playing Louisville in the 2005 Conference-USA title game and Washington -- a high school all-American, the best player on the team, and a consensus first-round draft pick for the NBA whenever he chose to leave -- was confident.

He sank the first of three. Memphis trailed by one.

Washington was the first in a now long-line of freshman phenom point guards recruited by John Calipari.

Next came Derrick Rose, then Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague.

None, as a freshman, had the skill and athleticism of Washington. At the McDonald's All-American Game skills contest, he took second-place in both the three-point shootout and the dunk contest.

I can't remember anyone else competing in both.

Washington turned to his coach and teammates on the sideline, winked and said, "I got this."

He bricked the second.

Washington averaged 15.4 points per game as a freshman and made 73 percent of his free throws.

Against Louisville he had 23 points and six assists.

He was 3-of-5 from the line at that point with one free throw left. Make it and go to overtime with a chance to move on to the NCAA tournament.

He missed. He collapsed to the court, covering his head. Calipari rushed to comfort him, but Washington was inconsolable.

With his confidence shot, the guard struggled his next year. His averages dropped across the board and he left school to pursue the NBA.

Undrafted, Washington now plays in Israel on a Macedonian passport.

As a devoted sports fan, the memories of all this came crashing into me last Friday.

Greencastle outplayed South Putnam for most of the game but still trailed late.

Tiger Cubs senior Nate Christy took an outlet pass to the rim and was fouled, down one, with no time on the clock.

Christy was injured coming into the game and, during the contest, he fell and split his chin wide open.

With blood on his first jersey, Christy switched into a backup that was at least three or four sizes too big.

He approached the free throw line, bobbing his head, swaying with confidence, ready to shoot.

The referee called him back. Blood on the replacement jersey needed to be cleaned up. Christy had more time to think about the pending shots.

He nodded, stayed loose and sank them both.

The pressure of the lengthening moment should have dragged him in, should have weighed on him, but Christy ignored it.

He ignored the crowd, the players, the coaches and the photographer who ran to a place just above him in his line of sight.

There's no way to know what the consequence of missing would have been, both for Christy and the team.

Until the season is over, we won't know the importance of making the shots. But Christy stared at the pressure on Friday and made it back down to him.

The young Tiger Cubs began the year playing scared. They have now found a leader who is unafraid.

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