With fourth place on the line, Maloree Moss just needed to make a free throw to lead the Hermiston Bulldogs past West Albany in the 2010 5A state tournament. She made it. Was there ever any doubt?
Not for me. Not from my courtside seat last March in Eugene, broadcasting the game back to Hermiston. In my never-modest opinion, Moss is the best player on a team loaded with talent. I brashly declared her the best player in the Intermountain Conference before last season started on KOHU's Tailgate Show.
I'm not an official talent evaluator, and nobody in their right mind would let me recruit or run a college women's basketball program. The best basketball decision I ever made was pulling myself off the floor during city league as a senior in high school. Halfway through the season I threw on a suit and tie, slicked back my hair like Pat Riley, annoyed the referees and "coached" while my friends won the Lake Oswego city league championship.
Despite a resume that suggests I'm anything but an expert, I have no doubt that Moss can develop into a NCAA Division I basketball player if she wants to.
"I still haven't decided yet," Moss said. "I question myself, if I can play at that next level."
Obviously she isn't as confident in her skills as I am. Or maybe she is just smarter than me, which I can't rule out.
Moss said she is confident when she steps on the floor, but knows she can always get better. Usually a basketball player as skilled as her spends summer on the road with an elite traveling team, bouncing from state to state, tournament to tournament, gym to gym. Moss knows that high-level competition is what will help her get even better, and help her decide if she is good enough to play in college.
The offers were there, she could have played with just about any of the top programs in the Pacific Northwest. I'm sure we could have worked out a Tailgate Show on KOHU back in the spring to broadcast "Maloree's Decision" long before the concept ever crept into Lebron James' head.
While, James left his hometown to go to Miami, Moss went the opposite direction. She stayed home.
"I'm kind of a home person," she said. "I like to be at my house with my family and friends."
She knows it would have been a good experience to play on a traveling team, it would have helped her improve and it would have increased her exposure to college coaches despite the fact that decision can still be more than a year down the road. That didn't matter enough yet.
"I wanted my July," Moss said.
In an era where athletes with stand-out skill are expected to play that sport exclusively 24/7/365 starting even younger than Moss, the decision was refreshing. Moss wanted to be a kid this summer.
I think she knows that she has the skill set on a basketball court that she will get more opportunities to travel and play plenty of elite level basketball when she is ready.
People sometimes forget - and I'm guilty of this too - that high school athletes are just kids. For now, Moss gets to hang out with friends, play a little softball and vacation with the family. And don't worry, Bulldog fans, she's been spending a bit of time of the hardwood too. A majority of the boys and girls - including Moss - in the HHS basketball programs went to Lake Tahoe this week to play in a big tournament.
This week I support the virtues of Moss telling elite summer basketball to wait a year. Next Saturday, I'll tell you about the flip side of the coin about how joining an elite team can be just as good as long as it is what you want to do.
Erick is the news/sports director at AM 1360 KOHU/100.1 FM The Q. He is also the play-by-play voice of Hermiston High School athletics. Complain to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.