Friday Deep- Cameron Dollar

Posted on March 22, 2010

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Behind-the-back dribbles usually don’t get famous.  Frankly, in the repertoire of flashy dribbling moves that say “I just schooled you and made it look like a Broadway show, time to go into podiatry,” behind-the-back usually takes a backseat to between-the-legs and the killer crossover.  It’s been awhile since I’ve taken in an And-1 mix tape, but I doubt they’re chock full of some behind-the-backs.  It’s just a slower and less awe-inspiring way to get yourself to the rim these days.  It’s like driving a recent model Mustang- still pretty cool, but probably not as hot as one would like to think.

Tyus Edney didn’t care.  All he knew was that he was the point guard of UCLA in 1995, his team was one of the best teams in the country.  Yet he had the ball in an impossible situation: with 3 seconds remaining in the NCAA tournament against Missouri, UCLA was down one point and there was somebody in his way.  With a flash of his hand, Edney dribbled behind his back, around his defender to the rim and laid the ball in, finishing one of the most famous moments in tournament history.  This moment enjoys such fame that whenever CBS shows a highlight reel of great tournament events, his lay-up is sure  to be shoulder to shoulder with Christian Laettner at the foul line, Bryce Drew in mid-air and a euphoric Jim Valvano running around the court looking to hug everybody but the mascot

I bring all this up mostly to talk about the guy who inbounded the ball- Cameron Dollar.  Several games later, Tyus Edney hurt  his wrist in the semi-final against Oklahoma State and was out for the championship game.  Dollar, a sophomore guard who was not logging major minutes, stepped into the limelight in the championship game against the Arkansas Razorbacks, a team known for its full-court pressure defense, known as “Forty Minutes Of Hell”

In this press Corey Beck and the rest of the Razorbacks hounded and terrorized teams from the opening tip-off.   This constant harassment essentially lobotomized opposing point guards, grinding them into drooling basket cases incapable of bringing the ball upcourt.  It would have been a stiff test even for Edney, the experienced senior.  Cameron Dollar was a freshman, and would be asked to run the UCLA offense, on the biggest collegiate stage against the most intimidating defense UCLA would face that year.  In the history of understudies, this would be like replacing Laurence Olivier with Stephen Baldwin.

After the game, Tyus Edney graduated and went on to a modest professional career, first with the Sacramento Kings and later overseas.  Cameron Dollar stayed two more years and enjoyed good success, although he never became a star and never played professionally.  Just as Tyus Edney to this day remains known mostly for that behind-the-back dribble,  Cameron Dollar’s major claim to fame is his ice-cold performance against Arkansas.

I love the story of Cameron Dollar because it blows up the myth of readiness that I still buy into.  I routinely think that I shouldn’t go do something until I “feel ready”, and I have the axioms to back it up.  Look before you leap.  Measure twice, cut once.  Make the game come to you- all good pieces of wisdom, spoken to guide our actions with wisdom, and yet I often use them to justify sitting on the sidelines.  Cameron wasn’t necessarily called upon when he was good and ready.  There was no smooth transition or apprentice-ship where he could perfectly prepare himself.  Tyus Edney didn’t come up to him as a freshman and tell him “Listen Cameron, I’ll play a few championship games, and you just watch and play a little and then when the time comes you’ll play one and by then you’ll be totally and completely prepared.  You’ll never have to take on a situation that’s a little too much for you.”  Instead, Tyus Edney hurt his wrist, and 48 hours later Cameron Dollar went from no-pressure backup guard to running the UCLA offense against the most threatening defense of his era.  Think he felt “ready”?

I don’t know where I came up with the idea that I had to be ready for each and every situation I would ever encounter before I would embrace it.  It certainly wasn’t reality.  Life doesn’t treat us this way, nor does God do this with us.  There is never a balance between our feeling of readiness to do something and the necessity of the situation that calls us to do it.  More often the imbalance between our readiness and the need for action in life is so great it feels like it might topple our whole life over. 

Frankly, God loves to do this with us.  In the book of Judges, an angel appears to Gideon and tells him to lead Israel against the nation of Midian, which had trampled their crops and impoverished the Israelites.***  

When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”

  The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

Gideon’s feelings of unreadiness practically leap off the page at us.  He ignores that the Angel calls him ‘mighty warrior.’  He thinks God has abandoned the Israelites.  And he focuses on the smallness of his social stature- “…my clan is the weakest…and I am the least.”  Yet what does God say?  “Oh, I’m sorry, I must have the wrong Gideon… you’re Gideon Purcell?  From Manasseh?  Hmm, I’m looking for Gideon Ackerman, from Naphtali.  He must have moved and not left a forwarding address.”  Of course not.  He tells Gideon this:  “Go in the strength you have.”

Go in the strength you have.  Are we ready for the things God asks us to do?  Probably not.   The truth is, we’re always more ready than we feel but more un-ready than we’ll need to be.  That is usually where God had Gideon, and where he usually wants us- at the scorer’s table pulling off the warm-ups, with no choice but to play.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask Cameron Dollar.

***- credit for the Gideon portion of this goes to Dr. Richard Allen Farmer, whose sermon on Gideon is can be found on YouTube and fits perfectly with the theme of readiness I explore with Cameron Dollar.

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