DENVER — At some point the breaks will turn in favor of Nieyeme Smyer-Williams.
They must. Because there’s no way the world can be this hard on a young man with this much promise. One parent's in jail, the other's in a gang, according to the Pueblo West View. Nothing in hoops or life has come easy for the 5-foot-10 point guard. For a guy who spends his free time visiting nursing homes, working with special education kids at Pueblo West and, long before that, playing pickup games against men twice his age in Denver's Montbello neighborhood? His luck must change.
“People flock to him,” Pueblo West coach Bobby Tyler said Friday. “They’re addicted to him.”
And you know what? It was a bad call against Smyer-Williams. No, it was another bad call against Smyer-Williams, after years of bad calls against Smyer-Williams. The call that delivered Lewis-Palmer to a 56-54 win against Smyer-Williams and Pueblo West in a Class 4A semifinal Friday should never have been whistled. It was one of those last-second plays that make March, well, March, and it happened with 0.1 seconds on the clock above the basket at Denver Coliseum. Because of course it happened with 0.1 seconds on the clock above the basket. This time of year, that's how these things go.
The whistle heard 'round southern Colorado unfolded like this: Trailing by two, Smyer-Williams made his move with 3.6 seconds left. (The quickest guy in the Class 4A field didn’t need any more time than that.) Smyer-Williams blew past his defender and found only one guy in his path. That was L-P's Carter Kreischer, who did exactly what he should have done, exactly what the senior's been coached to do — take the charge.
“We probably have 20 drills on taking charges,” Kreischer told me afterward.
And that’s what Kreischer did. He took the charge. When the whistle blew — with 0.1 seconds left, remember — it was the fifth charge taken by Lewis-Palmer, which is why Lewis-Palmer is still playing for a state title and Pueblo West is not.
“They took five charges in this game. We took one,” said Tyler, the Pueblo West coach. “Stats like that skew a game.”
Nieyeme Smyer-Williams did everything he was supposed to do. Pueblo West put the ball in the hands of its best player, and Smyer-Williams made a potential game-winning play. He drew the contact and made the layup — a twisting, awkward, left-handed layup that banked off the backboard and slid through the net. Carter Kreischer did everything he was supposed to do, too. He stood his ground, outside the paint, very much in time and position to draw the offensive foul.
But it should have been a no-call, if we’re being honest and impartial. Even Lewis-Palmer coach Bill Benton — the winning coach — said so.
“I would probably say the majority of times there’s a no-call,” Benton said.
The guy who drew the charge thought it was the right call.
“It was a great call,” Kreischer said, and his reaction was "pure bliss, ecstasy."
The guy who had the game-tying basket taken off the board — not to mention a free throw that could have won the game — thought the opposite.
“I think it was a terrible call,” Smyer-Williams said. “I thought it was an ‘and-one.’”
I asked Colorado High School Activities Association associate commissioner Bert Borgmann for a comment from the officiating crew — he said that’s against CHSAA policy — but what’s an explanation really going to solve? Between ill-tempered coaches, emotional players and overzealous parents, high school officiating crews hardly need me second-guessing their whistles on snap-quick plays.
“Nieyeme has had so much adversity,” Tyler said. “That kid’s gone through 150 things tougher than this game.”
Oh, we can tell Nieyeme it’s all going to be cool if he stays the course — like I told him after the most heart-breaking way a high school career can end — but at some point his luck must change to good from downright dreadful. He's going to Trinidad State Junior College on a basketball scholarship, and the Trojans stole a good one. If Nieyeme plays like I think he’s going to play — and studies like he needs to study — in two years we’re going to see him at CU, CSU, Northern Colorado or some other lucky Division I program, hopefully here on the Front Range, because I want to see what this guy becomes.
“I want to play professional basketball,” he said.
Joel Scott led L-P with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Matthew Ragsdale added 12 points. The Rangers are tough as sandpaper, though Smyer-Williams made them work for their state-title game return with 22 points of his own.
Lewis-Palmer (25-2) gets Longmont (25-2) in the Class 4A title game Saturday. The Rangers are the better team, from what I witnessed in both games Friday, and have a fine chance to pin another banner on their brick wall.
But you never know, you know? Because sometimes there's 00.1 on the clock, one guy gets the call, the other guy doesn't. The tough part is when the same guy keeps getting the wrong call. That's when March goes from bliss to brutal.