When you’re young, you think you know it all.
You go out to your driveway or the local park—not to practice fundamentals, but to just dribble the ball between your legs. You don’t practice mid-range jump-shots. You practice reverse layups. No matter the advice of your coaches and parents, you never think their words will produce results in the long run.
But Tuesday night, when Julian Welsh-White remembered advice his father gave him years ago, the memory produced quite a miracle.
During his youth, current Collingswood senior center Julian Welsh-White put a piece of his father's advice into storage. But years later, it led to the Panthers’ 54-53 victory over the Haddon Township Hawks Tuesday night—and, more importantly, led to the team’s fourth-consecutive Colonial Conference Liberty Division championship title.
But at Tuesday night's game, Welsh-White didn't remember those critical words from his childhood until, literally, the last possible second.
With 12 seconds remaining in the game—and the score tied 53 to 53—Collingswood senior guard Karon Waller, who led the team in scoring yet again with 25 points Tuesday, called for an isolation at the top of the key. He penetrated left to no avail. He went right and couldn’t find an opening. He drove right down the middle and, standing roughly two steps in front of the foul line, released a floater that hit the back of the rim, then the front of the rim, only to land in the hands of Welsh-White.
Welsh-White, who watched most of the game from the bench, due to foul trouble, attempted a put-back after his offensive board—and with .05 seconds remaining in the game, and the score still tied, earned two free throws and the chance to clinch for the Panthers.
“When I was younger, my dad always told me ‘It’s free throws,’” said Welsh-White. “He used to want me to shoot a 100 a day. It really pays off in the end. Free throws win ball games.”
Free throws win ball games.
Welsh-White knew it. His teammates knew it.
And Haddon Township's student section—who aptly chanted “Choke!” as they awaited their home team’s destiny—soon knew it, too.
Welsh-White took two dribbles and released—his first attempt to win the game.
It was a miss off the back rim. Haddon Township called a timeout.
With less than one second remaining on the game clock, both teams re-assumed their positions on the court, Welsh-White again positioned at the charity stripe.
Again, he took two dribbles and released the ball.
“I was pretty confident about the second one,” said Welsh-White. “I can’t believe I missed the first one. I usually knock that down. I knew I wasn’t missing the second one, though.”
The ball clanked off the inside of the front of the rim, lightly tapped itself against the back of the rim, and, after seemingly taking forever to make up its mind, sunk itself through the net nearest the exit of Haddon Township High School’s gymnasium.
His hand held high in the air, proudly presenting four fingers, one for each of the team’s consecutive division titles, Welsh-White jumped into the arms of teammate B.J. Jones, then of Collingswood head coach Joe McLoughlin—and then, finally, into the arms of his father. A father who, so many years ago, had urged him to remember the importance of basketball’s least glamorous, yet most important asset: the free throw.
The most perfect piece of advice of Welsh-White's career.
But at first, Collingswood’s victory over Haddon Township Tuesday was far from perfect. There was questionable officiating, two sloppy offensive showings and unimpressive defensive plays by both teams.
Sometimes, though, it takes imperfections to pave a perfect road.
And on Tuesday night, no blemish was substantial enough to leave a mark on the Collingswood Panthers. There was only one way to describe the way the Panthers clinched their fourth-consecutive Colonial Conference Liberty Division title:
“Picture perfect,” said Welsh-White.