And then the games began.
Everybody in the main draw makes the playoffs at the Big Time so Billy Shepherd's 1-2 mark in pool play mattered little. On the surface, it only should have served to reinforce what most would know to be true: Vegas was not going to be the greatest basketball experience this team would have.
And then the playoffs began.
On Thursday, Billy Shepherd – currently a team without a shoe sponsor – began its assault on those owning sponsorships. The first playoff win was an upset. Though not a power, Inland (CA) has some players. Certainly they have more than the boys from Carmel. Billy Sheppard 71, Inland 63.
OK, one win. Call it an upset and a great week but with the Atlanta Celtics looming, better return the rental cars and check out of the hotels. To put this game into perspective, let's use simple terms. The Celtics have at least two guys who will play in the NBA. Billy Shepherd has 9 guys who will have to pay to watch them play. A mismatch of epic proportions.
Billy Shepherd 67, Atlanta Celtics 61. Somebody forgot to assign one of those NBA guys to guard Peyton Stovall.
It's Friday and waiting for Billy Shepherd is Ft. Sooy, the No. 4 team in the country according to BasketballAmerica.com. This is where it ends. Getting to the Elite 8 of a 340+ team tournament is quite an accomplishment. Big enough that these kids will be telling their kids about it someday. No way they beat a team that has two kids already committed to Illinois on the roster.
Well, not since the Princeton-UCLA NCAA Tournament game a few years ago had we seen so many layups.
Billy Shepherd 96, Ft. Sooy 83.
Back in Carmel, girls who previously haven't given these guys the time of day are making plans to meet them at the airport. Here in Vegas, phrases like "don't get caught watching the paint dry" and "nice shot, Ollie" are resonating from the stands. I even saw a guy I thought resembled Jimmy Chitwood. Turns out it was an Elvin impersonator sitting in the stands but that's probably another story (hey, it's Vegas, baby).
Waiting for Shepherd this time was the mighty New York Ravens. These guys have killed a giant or two and squashed an underdog in their day. The boys from the Big Apple identify more with Lil' Bow Wow than Jimmy Chitwood when it comes to movie basketball heroes. They were all that stood between an appearance in the finals or a plane ride back to the Midwest.
"Don't let them French Lick you. I don't want to see them making a movie in this joint," one NY Ravens fan said to coach Artie Green minutes before his game against the Billy Shepherd.
They didn't. The Ravens ran the Hoosiers, I mean Billy Shepherd Sports, right out the gym. The final score, 75-42.
So what if it wasn't a storybook ending. It sure was a feel good movie.