Slam dunk. This figures to be an easy column. A lay- up. It's a feeling that newspaper writers experience far too infrequently when bellying up to an empty, demanding, unforgiving laptop computer.
Sensing a rare subject that, before a word is typed, seems especially rich in phrase-turning possibilities. You're eager to experiment. To try out lines. Seeking to be clever/funny while informing.
Even so, this one's different.
Forty years in journalism remind me to be megacareful. But how does anybody, upon initial introduction to Providence's exceptional basketball point guard, not become a bit slack-jawed and wide-eyed? There is an instant hunger to know more about the 6-footer from Harlem.
We're talking God.
A kid named God Shammgod.
It's no nickname. God Shammgod is real, like the chances of Providence, appropriately on a Sunday, of advancing to NCAA semifinals. Teammates call him "Shamm." God was the most heroic of Friars on Friday as they earned a shot at Arizona, with the winner moving to the promised land of the Final Four.
There I go.
Hey, let's make a deal. Why not get the obligatory wisecracks out of the way? Then we'll use the remainder of my space to learn more about this gifted sophomore around whom Providence hoop dreams revolve. I'd like to say something I deeply believe; that the real God, according to my own chosen faith, is plenty complete as to include a marvelous sense of humor.
So grant me, please, a paragraph...
In the Providence offense, God is the creator. Can do miracles. Friars have enormous faith in God. As a child of the 20th century, he cannot be confused with the real God. There is an occasional sin by No. 12. They're listed as turnovers. But by the basketball grace of God the point guard, the Friars keep inching toward NCAA heaven.
Everything okay upstairs?
God Shammgod is the latest of many splendid Providence point guards, a tradition born with the elegance of Lenny Wilkens, a basketball Hall of Famer who now coaches the Atlanta Hawks. It has been perpetuated by Ernie DiGregorio, Jimmy Walker, Vinny Ernst, Johnny Egan, Kevin Stacom and current University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan.
Shammgod is not a sensational scorer, averaging 10 points, but he triggers Friars offensive machinery, averaging close to seven assists, before sprinting downcourt to play marvelous defense.
Always, in media conversations, Shammgod's unusual name is addressed. "It's just a name," he says. "If I weren't playing basketball, putting me in the spotlight, nobody would notice."
Well, maybe not.
Shammgod's dad, a Muslim, has same first name. Makes him God the father, right? There I go again. As the youngster was growing up, God Sr. wasn't around, so God Jr. decided to honor his mother's name, becoming Shammgod Wells.
Shamm began making basketball impact in junior high, where his coach was a superlative old NBA point guard, Nate "Tiny" Archibald. "All around me, there was huge talent to provide playground competition," Shammgod said. "My neighborhood was 155th Street, around Rucker Park, where Julius Erving grew up. Every day, I went against Stephon Marbury and all the rest."
As the teenager developed into a New York City basketball sensation at LaSalle Academy, his dad returned. They reconciled. Son re-assumed his father's name, God Shammgod. Providence's hero had by then fathered a son of his own, God Shammgod III, now almost 3 years old.
"We're a Catholic school, so there was a concern about a backlash from priests," said sports information director Tim Connor. "But it's been smooth. This isn't a youngster who'll yell out, "Hi, there, my name is God.' To him, it's just a name."
Signs in the Friars rooting section will read, "In God We Trust." You sense no sacrilege.
The God of Providence
God Shammgod, 6-0, 165, sophomore, point guard, New York. Stats: 10.5 points per game, 234 assists (6.7 apg), 85 steals (2.4 spg), 33.7 minutes.