Interviewer: Let’s start with the info on the book, the blurb, and then we will explore the book a bit further. All right?
“The Last Shot” is told from my point of view.
Interviewer: First of all, why your point of view, when it’s a story about a team? Weren’t there any other voices available?
Thomas: Good question. I contacted the members of the “starting five, directly or indirectly – that is to say, by direct means or if that was not possible, then through indirect means. However, I only got one response, from Bill Patterson, and he basically told me to go ahead with the story, that I was capable of telling it.
Interviewer: But doesn’t it lose something by not having more voices?
Thomas: Yes, and no.
Interviewer: How do you mean that?
Thomas: I agree with you, in principle, that had I been able to provide another pair of ideas, then a comparison or even a contrast emerges. For example, Randy Porter carried the team, as its scoring leader, throughout the entire season. He averaged 28.0 points per game during the 1979-1980 season, at a time when there was no such thing as a shot clock or a 3 point field goal. What makes that even more amazing, today, is that 30 years later, that performance of his is still in the Arkansas High School Athletics record book. In other words, his performance still ranks as one of the most productive ever, in the history of the high school game in Arkansas.
Interviewer: I get your point. Only he would have been able to talk about what that was like, to include the attention he was getting from the media.
Interviewer: Let’s turn to the figure of Coach Charles Strong, a legend in his own time. I understand that the gym was renamed the Charles Strong Recreation Center, in his honor.
Thomas: Yes, that’s correct. But shouldn’t we let the rest of the blurb about the book go first, and then we pick up the conversation? Besides, there is an actual Youtube video of the 1980 team, silent, but showing the team in the dressing room before the game, dunking during warmups, and then playing smothering pressure defense.
Interviewer: OK Thomas. Let’s have a look at the blurb and the video, and then we will pick up with the interview.
The Last Shot: A Season Like No Other: Available in digital format and paperback at Amazon)
Blurb continues: Yet, in a larger sense, it’s a story that makes the effort to keep something alive, a memory of a moment in time I shared with some very special people from a small town called Luxora, Arkansas, my hometown, population 1,317.
Don’t bother looking for it on the map. You won’t find it unless you know exactly where to look…
Be content to know it is located about 4 miles east of Osceola, Arkansas on Highway 61… or 12 miles west of Blytheville, Arkansas, same highway.
One of the most defining characteristics of a small town in Arkansas is the quality and traditions of its local high school sports teams.
In 1980, I had the great fortune to be a member of two of Luxora’s greatest sports teams ever: the State Championship track and field team of 1980 and the State Runner-Up basketball team of 1980.
I graduated on May 17, 1980 and since I left, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been back to Luxora. This book, about the Luxora Panthers basketball team of 1980, is a memoir of sorts, pieced together from my memories and from news clippings about our team.
It’s a way for me to go back, in my mind’s eye, like a bird high in the sky, and look once again upon my Luxora, as I remember it to be.
I thank you kindly, if you decide to join me on this journey back to Luxora, Arkansas, home of the mighty Luxora Panthers…
The interview continues: That’s an awesome video. It verifies what you say about the team spirit, the camraderie on the team, the aggressive run and gun offense, and the smothering defense. The Panthers played that way all year long.
Thomas: Yes. Even 30 years later, these points are fresh in my memory, because that was the way Panther basketball teams always played. We didn’t invent it for the 1979-1980 season.
Interviewer: Yes. In the book you use the term “DNA” to talk about your style of play, and the video clearly shows that’s the way it was. OK, let’s turn to Coach Strong. You talk about him early in the book.
Thomas: Yes, there was a temptation to let his figure play a huge role in the book. He’s passed away and surely gone on to coach the starting five for the team they have up at Pearly Gates Fieldhouse, located at Number 1 Avenue, Heaven. There are so many people whose lives he impacted positively, above and beyond the game of basketball. For me, Coach Letroy Gathen (another legendary coach in his own right) sums up what Coach Charles Strong represented to all of us, when he says, about Coach Strong, “He was a class act.”
Interviewer: Explain what you mean by that.
Thomas: Sure: That’s a phrase that has the implication that someone is admired, respected, and a worthy role model for the personal characteristics and values that you live out, on a daily basis. Obviously, Coach is entirely deserving of such consideration based on what he shared with us who were blessed to have known him, in any capacity.
Interviewer: So, with such a great protagonist, you elected not to build the story around him. Why not?
Thomas: Firstly, I wouldn’t have been able to do so, in a way that was adequate. Secondly, I needed to accept the role of narrator, and to give the reader a perspective, a point of view, from which to experience the story, grounded in reality as best I could provide this. At all times, I wanted the reader to have the awareness that we were “seeing” real events, that had happened to one group of basketball players, and have one person who had been there, telling the story, unfolding the events that culminated in us in the finals of the State Championship in 1980.
Interviewer: No easy task, but you handled it well. You had the newspaper clippings of the Blytheville courier to support you, though. How helpful was that?
Thomas: It was a tremendous help, because it made me able to show the way in which the team was performing, and also, to put the proper perspective on a team that would lose 9 games playing for a state championship. We played an extremely tough, demanding schedule that year, and when you play the best teams in the state, during the regular season, you are obviously going to lose some basketball games.
Interviewer: Your point is that when you played Hardy Highland in the semi-finals of the Northeast Regional Tournament, in their gym, you were a much better team than your record at the time indicated. You had only won 14 or 15 games, and they had won 23 games, including a win over the Panthers. On paper, they were the stronger team, and should have won easily.
Thomas: Exactly. Coach Strong wasn’t interested in having an undefeated season when he put together our schedule, because in a big game, it would have been utterly meaningless, if we had beaten up on a lot of weaker teams, but not been able to play at a high level. Coach Strong was a very wise coach in that sense of knowing what teams would serve to prepare us for our last shot at a State championship.
Interviewer: OK, Thomas, this has been a great interview. Before we finish, can you tell me why people should go out and buy this book?
Thomas: That’s an easy question to answer. Besides being a great book about the game of basketball, full of insights and tips about how the game was played, and continues to be played, especially when you look at coach Strong’s philosophy of the game, which I call “West Coast basketball”, but there’s also a human element in the book. Redemption, a second chance, for a person, for a team, permeates the book. It is rare nowadays for people to be given a last shot at redeeming themselves, of righting past wrongs, and in this book, that element is there, which is real, and dear, to all human beings. Redemption makes this book one that you will read, enjoy, and then recommend to your family and friends, because you want others to benefit from the book as well.
Interviewer: (holding up the book) OK, so there ytou have it. Go out and buy this book. Read it, write a recommendation on Amazon so others can find out about it, and even buy a copy for your family, friends, sons and daughters. Everyone will enjoy this book.
Thomas: I guarantee it. This is one of my best books, and I’ve written 45, so that’s my best recommendation…
Luxora: My Hometown
I am very pleased, happy, and proud, to share my Luxora with you.
Click on the link below to be taken to a mythical, magical, mystical place, Luxora.
Luxora is located near the mighty Mississippi River, home of the mighty Luxora Panthers.
Enjoy your visit to a special place, to the Luxora of my past, of my present, of my always, my Luxora…
This book is autobiographical.
It relies on my subjective remembrance. There is a clear delineation between fact and fiction. I have tried to be true, above all, to my own Luxora experience. Everyone who is a Luxora Panther, with black and gold blood flowing through our veins, will find a bit of their story, told in my autobiographical essays. For this reason, I wish to share with you and thus dedicate this book to all the people of Luxora, my hometown.
As is often the case, there are other people, who although not born or bred in Luxora, Arkansas, will nonetheless hear their own story being told through my voice. They will see the pictures of my teachers and my sports teams, and rather than see what I see, or hear what I hear, they will instead hear their story.
Luxora, my hometown, is not only my story, but the story of every man, woman and child on Earth who has been nurtured in the small town atmosphere, who has experienced the uniqueness of a place that is timeless, a time that is placeless, and although fades away into our collective memory, is never forgotten.
Luxora, my hometown, is also your hometown. It doesn’t belong to me. Luxora belongs to all of us…
The global search for high-quality education, embedded in high-performing education systems, has taken on mythical proportions, almost resembling the alchemists’ quest to turn common metals into gold.
It is my hope that the present day search for global education, equitable and providing equality of opportunity for all, shall not cease until the “gold” we seek, has been found.
I therefore dedicate this book to all the educators, researchers, parents and students the world over, who strive to achieve this elusive goal,high-quality education for all the citizens of the world.
In this endeavour, it is my belief that the International Baccalaureate merits a closer look, based on their more than 40 year history of delivering consistently excellent results.
I add that all of the reflections and views in this book are mine alone, unless otherwise noted, and can not be attributed to my employer or any other organization I am affiliated with, past or present. For any errors or oversights, I bear the complete responsibility.
Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He is the Head of the English Department at Colegio Internacional SEK in Santiago, Chile.
He is the Co-Founder and Co-Organiser of EdCamp Santiago, free, participant-driven, democratic, conversation based professional development for teachers, by teachers. EdCamp Santiago 2012 was held at Universidad Mayor in Santiago.
Thomas is also a member of the Advisory Board for the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association (HETL), where he also serves as a reviewer and as the HETL Ambassador for Chile.
Thomas enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. Thus far, he has written the following genres: romance, historical fiction, autobiographical, sports history/biography, and English Language Teaching. He has published a total of forty four (44) books overall.
The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family, his wife Gabriela, and his son, Thomas Jerome Baker, Jr.