By Cole Johanson, junior & Benchwarmer
An AAU basketball team gathers around their coach after practice to look at the bracket for the tournament they are playing in this weekend. Their first round opponent: The Benchwarmers. The teammates look at each other and burst into laughter. And this is exactly what we like.
As a proud member of the Benchwarmers, there is nothing I like more than a team underestimating us. It happens a lot too, not only because of our name, but the way we look in warmups, too. We’re basically just a bunch of small skinny guards who look like they should be playing in a Rec league at the YMCA. And we never win the tip. But when we get the ball in our hands, magic happens. The ball flies around the court like a hot potato when we have it, and before the other team knows what hit them, one of us is jacking up an NBA-range three-pointer and it’s hitting nothing but net. We can absolutely shoot the lights out, and when you combine that with our ball movement, you get an offense that is much different than you would expect from a bunch of 5’9 guards who can’t touch rim.
The name “Benchwarmers” comes from myself and my good friend Jackson, who lives in Seaside. In 7th grade, we were brainstorming what our team name should be, and he jokingly threw in the Benchwarmers – but I saw the value in this name. If you’ve ever played or been a part of the AAU system, you know that the team names are absolutely ridiculous – 90% of them have the words “select”, “elite”, “all-star”, or “platinum” in them. Here are some sample names from the last tournament we played in:
Elite Sports Academy
Total Package Elite
NW Vision Phenom Elite
Platinum Select All-Stars
Yes, those are all real names. Anyways, my point is, the name “Benchwarmers” is basically making fun of all the crazy names in the AAU circuit. I won’t lie, there are some downsides to having that as your name though. When you strike up a conversation with a 6’8 phenom who is going to Kentucky for basketball and he asks you who you play for, it isn’t the greatest feeling to mumble out the word “Benchwarmers”.
It’s a Friday night in April, and the Benchwarmers are taking on Washington Elite. And this Washington team ain’t no joke. The previous weekend, they won the NW Premier Shootout up in Bellevue, Washington. There were 70 teams in the top division – they went 8-0 and came out on top. They are arguably the best team in the Northwest.
At least 10 college coaches are sitting in the bleachers under the hoop towards the south side of the gym, all of them scouting the 4 players on Washington Elite that are expected to play division one basketball. As I’m warming up, I glance over towards the other end of the court, where Washington players are laughing hysterically and throwing up half-court shots minutes before our game starts. They win the tip and hit a 3 on the first possession. The 6’8 guy flashes a smile over to his bench after effortlessly splashing that 3 on the lowly Benchwarmers. The game is already over.
But it’s not. We come down on the other end, whip around ten quick passes, and hit a 3 to tie the game up.
It’s an absolute battle the whole way, as the best team in the Northwest is suddenly caught in a dogfight with the… the Benchwarmers. Back and forth they go, as the Benchwarmers, who are giving up about 5 inches and 50 pounds at every position, somehow hang in there. We take them down to the wire, the whole crowd in awe.
20 seconds left and the Benchwarmers are down 3. I put up a three to tie the game that goes in and out. As tough as the loss is, we walk off the court with our heads held high, knowing that we surprised everyone in the gym. And with about two seconds left, one of Washington Elite’s players catches the ball from his teammate, rises up, and throws down a windmill jam.