Long Shots Chapter V: The Angry Young Prince
National Newspaper Award
Long Shots — Part 5 of 8
Mavericks star Oliver’s toughest opponent is the one he meets at every game: his own rage. A thorny medical history buys him some slack from his coach but, as Morgan Campbell writes, toleration can only go so far.
4 June 2003 – Toronto Star
Sunday, Feb. 9, 2003
Oliver Prince rips a rebound from the air and races down court. Teammate Nedrie Simmons claps his hands and calls for a pass. Oliver zips past him.
Head down, eyes wide, Oliver chugs past half-court. Alone against four defenders, he makes a wild drive to the basket. The ball goes up and caroms off the rim.
“Where are my offensive rebounders?” Oliver screams.
Earlier in the season, coaches and teammates brushed off Oliver’s sporadic temper tantrums, figuring he would outgrow them. Instead, the outbursts have grown so frequent they’re starting to wear down Oliver’s team. These days, a mistake by a teammate can trigger a tirade. Defend him too closely and you risk a forearm shot to the chest. Stern words from a coach can draw a curse or cause a pout.
Now, here he is in the title game of a tournament – the championship for the province’s Catholic high schools called the Ontario Catholic Classic – spewing insults at his teammates.
Steve Meehan, who helps coach Oliver’s team, the Jean Vanier Mavericks, has grown concerned with Oliver’s increasingly strange behaviour.
Just a few days ago, after being taken off the court in another game, Oliver walked past his team and slumped against the wall with his shirt pulled up over his face. He sat there motionless for 10 minutes.
That day he turned his anger inward. Today will be the day he lashes out – and not just at his teammates.
When Oliver Prince – the star basketball player at Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School – was seriously injured in a car accident in August, 2001, it was a huge blow to the school and the team. It was especially upsetting for head coach Don Marchione, who had grown to care deeply for Oliver.
Marchione would say that Oliver’s recent behaviour would get most people kicked off the team. But Oliver’s not most people. Marchione appreciates what Oliver has had to overcome since his life-threatening head injury.
He remembers when Oliver awoke from a coma after nine days and needed help to walk the halls at Sunnybrook hospital. He provided the shoulder that Oliver leaned on when he wasn’t sure his legs would support him. He’d show up every night after school, and the two men would just walk.
Meehan would also visit the hospital daily. While Oliver lay comatose, the assistant coach would simply kneel next to Oliver’s bed and pray.
As a devout Roman Catholic, Meehan knows how it feels to need a prayer. When he was Oliver’s age, growing up in Montreal, he hung out with hoodlums. Some nights he’d stumble home a few hours before dawn after a fight or too many drinks. Passing his parents’ bedroom he’d see his father, a former CFL player named George Meehan, kneeling next to his bed. He was praying for his son, Steve.
Eventually the Meehan family moved to Bramalea. Steve’s own dreams of a football career collapsed on creaky knees – he has had three knee surgeries. But he discovered something he loved more than football: teaching.
Now, with a wife, four children and a career he enjoys, Meehan is convinced his father’s prayers straightened him out.
One day at Oliver’s hospital bedside, Meehan sprinkled holy water on Oliver’s forehead and prayed that he would come out of the coma. The next day, Oliver awoke.
On Friday night, shortly before the first game of the Ontario Catholic Classic, Meehan prayed for Oliver again. In the locker room before every game, he gives a speech that’s half pep talk and half prayer.
He doesn’t normally single out a player, but he did that night. He asked God to help Oliver control his temper; to help him be a good teammate; to help him be a man.
Oliver responded with 35 points. He played defence. He even encouraged his teammates. Vanier thrashed the St. Augustine Falcons from Brampton, 89-49.
The next morning Vanier played their second game and won, with Oliver scoring 25 points. In the third game, held that evening, Vanier won by 10. Oliver finished with only four points, but he left the gym with five phone numbers from female spectators.
By Sunday, however, Meehan’s prayers began losing their power and Oliver began to get cranky.
He refused to go to mass with his team that morning, suddenly proclaiming he’d become a Hindu. When he did enter the church, he hung out in the foyer. And before the day’s game against Hamilton’s Cathedral Gaels, he criticized Marchione – in front of the whole team – for suggesting a new game plan.
By the time he had taken to the court that afternoon, Oliver looked like he was ready to explode. He just needed a reason.
In the first half, Vanier misses 10 of 13 layups. Their biggest players – Drew Lomond, Brian DaSilva and Oliver – are catching the ball close to the basket, but they’re not making their shots. The team also shoots 10 free throws and misses every one of them.
Vanier manages only 11 points in the first half. Cathedral scores 41.
In the locker room at half time, the players hang their heads. Oliver clasps his hands and grumbles to himself.
Marchione’s not happy. “Tomorrow morning I’m going to read the paper and it’s going to say, ‘Vanier Crushed.’ I don’t even want to read tomorrow’s paper.”
Oliver’s head jerks up and he glares at Marchione. “Why does it matter?” he shouts.
“Because I don’t ”
“Why do we care?” Oliver shoots back angrily.
“Because I don’t like ”
“Who cares? Why does it matter?”
“Because I don’t like being embarrassed,” Marchione states firmly.
“WHO CARES about the Toronto Star?” Oliver booms. “It’s black and white. It’s paper. Who cares if we get crushed? Who did we crush this weekend? By 89 points. 89-49. That’s all this team cares about. Toronto Star. HooptownGTA. The Sun.”
Marchione sighs. “Anyway.”
Oliver snatches his Toronto Raptors warmup jacket and stomps out of the locker room, into the gym to Vanier’s bench. He slumps against the wall, seething with rage. The teams return to the court and warm up for the second half. Oliver doesn’t budge.
His mother, Yvonne, watches the scene from the bleachers. She knows her son’s moods, how widely and how quickly they vary. As she watches Oliver scowling on the bench, she knows something is wrong.
Vanier manages to keep pace in the second half. They lose by 30 and collect their silver medals. Nedrie also receives a small trophy for making the tournament’s all-star team.
In the locker room, Brian DaSilva changes his clothes slowly. He sighs and shakes his head.
Marchione sits on a bench with his arms folded across his chest, right leg crossed over his left. A strand of hair that would normally have been combed over his scalp now droops by his right cheek. He shakes his head, too.
For him, the second half was a series of wild drives to the basket. He’d get the ball and race from end to end, head down, eyes wide, bottom row of teeth exposed. He’d dribble with his right hand only, sometimes outrunning the basketball. Alone against four Cathedral defenders, he’d fling the ball at the hoop, then scream for his teammates to grab the rebound.
Despite scoring 60 points in Vanier’s first two games in this tournament, he didn’t make the tournament all-star team. Marchione can’t figure out what triggered today’s tantrum. He knows, though, the outbursts can’t continue. They’re wearing him out and they’re grating on the other players.
“Brandon,” he calls, summoning Oliver’s younger brother. “Tell your mom I want to talk to her.”
Oliver and Brandon seem to have little in common, other than blood ties and a taste for expensive clothes. Oliver plays basketball because he wants to go pro. Brandon plays for fun. Oliver’s attitude and anger bother both coaches and teammates. Brandon obeys his coaches and says little during practice.
He, too, is disappointed with the loss today, but Brandon’s glad to have a medal for his trophy case. It’s around his neck already.
Brandon leaves the locker room to find his mom.
As players linger in the school lobby, waiting to pile into vans for the ride back to Toronto, Oliver huddles inside the gym with his mother and Marchione. The coach wags a finger. The mother lectures in her son’s ear. Oliver clasps his hands behind his back and listens. The muscle in his jaw twitches.
Then Yvonne Prince marches into the lobby. Oliver skulks a step behind, hands still clasped behind his back.
“Oliver, apologize to your teammates,” Yvonne demands.
He sighs. “I’m sorry, guys.”
“Tell them it won’t happen again!”
“Tell them, or you won’t play basketball anymore!”
He sighs. “It won’t happen again.”
“Good. And the same thing goes for you, Brandon. Let’s go.”
Brandon jumps. He hasn’t done anything wrong today, but he’s not about to argue. Yvonne wheels and marches toward the exit. Oliver and Brandon fall in step behind her.
Two days later, before another important game, Oliver stalks through the halls at Vanier, still angry about Sunday’s match. He wanders into the library. Somewhere in the stacks of books he sees a flash of red and the word “ANGER.” He grabs the book and reads:
I’m a person who has had a lot of anger in life and I’ve finally learned how to deal with it. I’m someone who has botched up relationships, lost opportunities, hurt myself and others because of anger. I’ve been a victim, thrown violent temper tantrums, I’ve been defiant, wilful, reactive and stubborn.
Oliver sees himself in those words. As his eyes follow his index finger from line to line, Oliver makes a decision: He doesn’t want to write a book like this. Five years from now he doesn’t want to lament all he’s lost to his anger.
He signs the book out. Celebrating Anger: Creative Solutions to Managing Conflict.
Andrew Lomond will laugh when he learns Oliver has an anger management book. Oliver will tell him to be quiet. That book, he says, keeps him calm.
A few hours later, Vanier takes to the court again and defeats the team’s chief rival, the Mother Teresa Titans, securing first place in the East division of the Toronto District Colleges Athletic Association (TDCAA). For Vanier, it’s the sixth division title in eight years.
During the game, a scout from Central Connecticut State University shows up. He has come to check out Mother Teresa’s star player, Jemino Sobers, but he leaves the gym thinking of Andrew Lomond, whose play has improved all winter. NCAA rules prevent the scout from talking to Drew, but he drops off a business card and a schedule for Marchione.
Oliver has a good game, too. He scores 15 points and holds his temper in check.
Following the game, he sits outside Marchione’s office. He digs into his knapsack and retrieves his book. He holds it like a jewel. He opens it and reads.
|Copyright ©2003 Toronto Star|