There was 0.6 seconds left in overtime. We were deep in the heart of Texas. My Doane College team was playing Wayland Baptist, the mother of women’s basketball. All the history of women’s basketball started in that very gym. Harley Redin, the frail, old coach of those first, great teams watched from the rafters. Harley is the John Wooden of women’s basketball. He was definitely rooting against us.
My team had the ball out-of-bounds under the Wayland basket. During a timeout, my instructions were clear. Throw the ball to the other end. Just make sure it touches a player. My best softball thrower had that single instruction. However, something happened from the huddle to the official, who held the basketball. What could go wrong?
The inbounder was Gina Milton, an over-achieving guard who shot right handed, but has a powerful, left-handed drive. She had played a great game. Amazingly, we held a one-point lead (at the same time a year ago, the same Wayland team beat my Doane team by 42 points at Doane). More amazing was who gave us the lead. Tracee Uldrich, a very smart, but very stubborn guard who grew up less than 20 miles from Gina, gave us the lead 20 seconds earlier with a 17-foot jumper (a year ago, in our 42 point loss, Tracee didn’t even get in the game).
Gina stood holding the ball with the official counting the seconds until she threw it. Tracee stood at the other end, waiting for Gina’s pass. If Gina just threw the ball, we could all start celebrating the unlikely win. However, Gina didn’t throw the ball. To my horror, she threw it at the feet of the Wayland player who was trying to bat down the inbound pass. So many things could have gone wrong. The ball may have ricocheted back off Gina. The ball could have stuck on the defender who would have had a final shot.
The pass hit the Wayland player at her feet and rolled inbounds toward the basket. Remember, there was only 0.6 seconds left. Where was that horn? Why wasn’t it going off? Who knew in Texas, a ball could hit someone’s feet, roll inbounds a good 10 feet, be picked up by Gina, and only then does time run out and the horn sounds.
The Tigers had pulled off the upset, but Gina knew she was in trouble with her head coach. I’m not sure if she rushed up to me to apologize or rushed to the locker room to avoid my ire. Probably the locker room if I remember correctly. Remembering correctly wasn’t a high priority this past weekend. I was invited by Tracee to join Gina, Tracee’s husband, Jeremy, and Greg Seier, the Doane athletic trainer in a foursome in the Doane Athletic Club Golf Event Saturday. We played 18 holes of golf, ate barbeque and sat around until way after dark seeing who could tell the best stories about each other. The Wayland Baptist story was one of the best.
Gina and Tracee were two special players for me at Doane College. Neither were All-Americans, but both were extremely important to our teams that usually ranked in the top 10 in the NAIA national polls. Tracee is married to a farmer that grows corn and soy beans on more than 3,000 acres, all of which are irrigated. Jeremy is such a big farmer that he doesn’t even know how many center pivot irrigation systems they run. It is somewhere between 26 and 32 center pivots. Thank goodness things slow down for him in the winter so he and his two young daughters can follow Tracee as she now runs the show for Doane women’s basketball.
Gina is married to Todd Johnson. Todd graduated from college to become a golf professional at the Kansas City Country Club. After a while, Gina and Todd moved home to Friend, Neb., to join in on the family farm business. When Gina’s dad, Bob, who is a great guy, decided to retire, Todd chose to leave farming. Apparently, not all of the Milton family is as great as Bob. Todd now works for a bank and plays like a golf professional. Speaking of great family members, Gina’s mother will always be one of my favorites. Shirley Milton is such a positive person, she could turn rotten apples into apple crisp.
Greg Seier is another Doane College alum who came home to work. He was recently named the head trainer at Doane after stints with Wayne State and Morningside. Greg’s sister, Lynn, played basketball for me at Doane, but only for a year or two. Greg and Lynn’s parents were terrific, too. Unfortunately, their father died suddenly of a heart virus while Lynn was still in college.
Spending six hours on the golf course, plus another three hours at the barbecue, gave me a chance to really tell a lot of stories about Tracee and Gina. The Wayland story was only one of them. My favorite Tracee story didn’t involve a last-second shot like she had in Texas. It was about the shot that never hit the rim. Getting Tracee to shoot was like pulling teeth. Tracee was probably the hardest working player on the floor. She was always the first player down court on fast breaks. Tracee always drew a tough defensive assignment, not because she was fast, but because she was very smart. I’m only guessing, but I think Tracee averaged about six points a game her senior year. However, she probably played more than 30 minutes a game during any game that was close.
One night, we played Nebraska Wesleyan, our arch rival and the college Scott Boswick, the Northwest football’s defensive coordinator, attended. The game was at Doane. It was probably about 1992. I know I was dating my wife, Michele, at the time. It was a time where Michele wasn’t sure how much she knew about basketball. Now’s she’s sure she is much smarter than her husband of 16 years. Back to the game where we had a big lead with only one possession left in the first half.
I decided to force the issue and run a play where Tracee had to shoot. She had to go through two screens and pop out at the free-throw line for a shot with only seconds remaining in the half. Tracee would have no choice; she would have to shoot or watch the clock run out in the half. The play worked like a charm. She crossed the lane and set a screen for our post player. A second post player, one of her best friends, Jessica Wilson, set a great screen for Tracee. The pass is perfect and Tracee is wide open to hit the final shot of the half. However it never happened. Tracee saw no one was guarding Jessica and decided to pass it to her good friend. The problem is Jessica had turned for a possible rebound on Tracee’s inevitable shot. The pass hit Jessica in the back of the head and the half ended.
Even with a big lead, I was furious. I stomped out on the court and yelled, “Tracee, why did I call that play!” Tracee looked me dead in the eye and softly said, “For me to shoot.” I countered with a very loud, “Thank you!” Then I stormed to the locker room. We won the game by more than 30 points and I went to see Michele after the game. She was really mad at me. I think she said, “How could you talk to Tracee like that? She’s the nicest girl on the team.” Then Michele stormed off. Eventually, all the women storm off.
You just heard two of my favorite tales from Doane College. We debated for most of 18 holes on who could tell the biggest tales. The golf from everyone but Gina was not good. Gina drew a lot of “Boom, choc-a-loc-a!” for her long drives. The stories were great.
I have to leave you with a golf story from many years ago. As a high school coach, I had a little more time in the summer to keep up with my golf game. My assistant coach, Jim Moore, was originally from Friend. He has a nice nine-hole golf course that we occasionally played. Every time we got to the seventh hole, we checked something out before we hit our drives.
The seventh hole is a par three has a house right behind it and a little to the left of it. We always checked to see if the back patio was occupied. If we got lucky, the mother and teenage daughter would be out getting a tan in skimpy swimsuits. If that was the case, we always tried to hit it long and to the left. The mother and daughter never seemed to mind the extra attention. They would wave and even offer a cold drink if they had a cooler on the patio with them. Yes, it was a sexist thing to do, but the Milton girls never seemed to mind. Can you believe that several years later, Gina would make up her own out-of-bounds play deep in the heart of Texas?