Butch recalls the greatest basketball shot ever made

OK, all of you basketball fans . . . what is the greatest shot that you ever witnessed? Perhaps you watched as a player heaved a last-second shot from mid-court and zipped it to win the game. Maybe you watched Larry Bird hit the nets, after an unbelievable move . . . or Michael Jordan slam dunk it while flying through the air. Or how about New Ross’s own Howie Williams, who was a two-year MVP at Purdue, make the last second winning basket against IU . . . while sitting on the floor? Yes, that did happen!

Well, I saw a few spectacular shots through the years at Darlington High School games . . . Winston Wilson hitting nothing but net in a game at Ladoga with a shot from the opposite free throw line . . . George Cox’s steal and lay-up in a sudden death overtime game against New Ross . . . Donnie Threlkeld’s 35 ft. shot to win the Sectional at Lebanon . . . just to name a few.

   But hold on, sports fans . . . the greatest shot ever made belongs to a boy on the 7th grade B-team at Darlington Middle School in 1980. How do I know? I was the coach of that team. Although it is nice to win games, my goal with the grade school and junior high boys was to let them learn the fundamentals, practice teamwork and get some playing time . . . hopefully making a few baskets along the way. Many of the boys in those age groups just don’t have the skills to go on and play high school ball later on. Their only chance for glory and playing in front of their classmates, parents and grandparents are the years before high school.

Mitch Maxwell, who had played on the B-team for three years, had never made a basket. He had taken several shots through the years, but just had no luck. In a game at Darlington, the opposing team had a commanding lead with about a minute left in the game, and we had no chance of winning. I called a time-out and designed a special play. (I had tried the same play a few years earlier for Ronnie Brown . . . yes, the same Ron Brown who works for York Automotive. Ron was a fifth-grader at the time, but unfortunately the play was unsuccessful.) I told Brian Breaks, our center, to bend down when our guard dribbled down the floor . . . and to let Mitch climb on top of his shoulders. Mitch was to wrap his legs around Brian’s neck and hold his hands up so our guard could pass the ball to him. After Mitch caught the pass, Brian was to turn around and walk up close to the basket so Mitch could get off a good shot. 

When the guard first attempted the pass to Mitch, he threw it over his outstretched arms. The other team grabbed it and went back down the court for an easy lay-up. I called another time-out . . . now with only 30 seconds left in the game, and I instructed my guard to make certain he got the ball to Mitch. It was our last chance. With 10 seconds to go, Mitch got the ball . . . Brian turned around and faced the basket . . . and Mitch heaved a two-handed shot from the TOP OF THE KEY . . . and ZIPPED IT as time expired! I jumped about three feet in the air, and the crowd gave Mitch a standing ovation. Brian carried Mitch off the court to the whoops and hollers of the Darlington crowd. The referees, both of whom were smiling, told me that they had never seen a play like that . . . and that they could have called a “traveling” violation, but they just didn’t have the heart to blow their whistles. Thank the Lord!

At the awards banquet at the end of the school year, I awarded the usual trophies for MVP, most rebounds and best free throw percentage . . . but I also awarded a special trophy to Mitch Maxwell for the “greatest shot in basketball history.” No, Mitch didn’t play any more basketball after junior high, but he will always remember that spectacular basket. Today Mitch lives in southern Indiana and is a very successful businessman. He visited with me here at the library a few years ago, and we both got a big chuckle over the successful trick play. Way to go, Mitch . . . you’re the man!

John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.