How would you fare against a Michigan student-athlete on the field of play U-M assistant media relations director Richard Retyi decided to find out for himself, tackling potentially (um, almost assuredly) embarrassing moments with a humorous approach and without fear. The challenge began with three sports (volleyball, swimming and gymnastics) for an article in the spring 2007 issue of M Magazine, and the series will continue until he runs out of ideas (or injures himself).
The Challenge: A slam dunk contest against high-flying men's basketball senior Brent Petway, who is preparing for a March 29 college dunk contest in Atlanta.
Retyi's Resume (Air Canada): Basketball is arguably the sport I was most successful at as a youth. I played seven years, from fourth grade to 10th, and was part of one Ontario Provincial Bantam Championship team. I excelled at the power forward position, using my hefty carriage to develop into a solid rebounder. I also played untold hours of basketball video games, from Double Dribble to NBA Jam and One on One - Dr. J vs. Larry Bird. We also used to lower as many backboards as we could at school or at neighbors' houses to practice our dunks. I was also nicknamed "Air Canada" (not really).
Air (Err) Canada vs. Air Georgia
Petway's Resume (Air Georgia): Brent has racked up 145 dunks in his collegiate career, earning seven ESPN "Top 10 Plays of the Day" mentions, including his first number one play with a sick halfcourt alley-oop conversion this year against Michigan State. Named the Big Ten's Best Dunker in 2006 in a player survey commissioned by Sports Illustrated.
I have a decent existing lexicon of the great dunkers and the greatest dunks of all time, but I wanted to become a scholar on both subjects before challenging one of the nation's best (I'm fairly certain I could teach an entry level class on the subject now). I studied everyone from Darryl "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins to Shaq to Dominique Wilkins, Shawn Kemp, Dr. J, Vince Carter and, of course, Michael Jordan. I focused on some of the seminal moments in Dunkology history. The 2000 NBA Dunk Contest, Scottie Pippen's slam over Patrick Ewing in the 1994 NBA Finals, Vince Carter's dunk vs. France in the 2000 Olympics, and that Tom Chambers dunk vs. the Knicks that always makes the best dunks lists, probably because its the best dunk by an athlete with feathered hair and a starter-mullet wearing white short shorts and athletic socks pulled to mid-calf.
You Tube is the Library of Congress for the dunking world, full of dunk clips and compilations. Everything from a seven-minute clip of Vince Carter's top 100 dunks to various compilations of Michael Jordan's 10 best dunks to the top five dunks of all time, set to a profanity-laced DMX soundtrack and spliced by some guy named Fred.
I even delved into the outlaw underbelly of Streetball videos featuring colorful characters like Kevin "Bizness" Butler, Cardell "Ballaholic" Butler and Taurian "Air Up There" Fontenette, whose Wikipedia entry states that "Fontenette can jump so high that most reasonable intellectuals cannot comprehend such a feat." I also consulted Dunkologist and Athletic Media Relations web project manager Jon Ripperger, who suggested a few makeable dunks for someone of my stature. "Maybe you should just start off with a simple two-handed jam and then move on from there," he advised.
I also read a considerable amount of literature on the subject but was misled by the titles of some of the books I checked out from my local library, such as "Dunk Skunk" by Michael Rex, "The Case of the Slam Dunk Mystery" (The new adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley) by Cathy East Dubowski, and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Slam Poetry" by Marc Kelly Smith. And I used the vast library of basketball video games that have been released in the last 20 years, focusing on the original NBA Jam, which popularized the phrases "he's heating up" and "boomshackalacka."
From this massive amount of information, I short-listed a dozen dunks that I had a chance to pull off successfully. I concluded that one was too "high-flying" and could result in joint dislocation, and my boss, Bruce Madej, crossed two more off the list because, and I quote, "We can't risk those precious, precious fingers when there are so many more press releases, media guides and 'In Their Shoes' features you have yet to give to the world." I saw his point. The list was reduced to nine.
I got to Crisler Arena a half hour early to stretch my legs, practice a few preliminary dunks and eat my grapefruit (footnote 1). I have been on the Crisler Arena hardwood before, but never in shorts, never with a basketball and never with three cameras present. That's right. Three. The crew from "Wolverine Sports Magazine" (the enigmatic Patrick McLaughlin and the man with the nicest watches I have ever seen, Collin McCarty) as well as photographer extraordinare Amir Gamzu, who has been with me for every step of "In Their Shoes." A new face, a photographer from the Ann Arbor News, was also present for Brent. But I'm used to the pressure now.
Brent was given the main-stage hoop, and an ancillary basket on the side was lowered to my specifications. This is the first time we've leveled the playing field for a challenge, but if I attempted to dunk on the regulation rim without outside assistance the action would be pretty boring. The rim was never measured, but I'll estimate that it was set at about seven feet. I could have probably dunked on a rim a little higher up but my dunks would be vanilla all the way (perhaps a caramel swirl here or there, but nothing like the "Moose Tracks" I planned to unleash on the assembled).
Since I cannot palm a basketball and my ballhandling skills are extra rusty, fancy attempts in the air were rendered impossible. I also tried a single reverse dunk -- no frills, just a two-handed stuff -- and I was so paranoid that I would brain myself on the rim that I decided to cross the reverse dunk off my list. These cold hard facts pushed me to cross five dunks off my list of nine. All my studies in Dunkology for naught.
Brent showed up looking tall and ready to jam. He warmed up on his hoop with some jumpers while I polished off my grapefruit and tried to obtain a women's basketball for my small hands.
While we warmed up, I picked Brent's brain about some of his favorite collegiate dunks. Petway has converted 145 dunks in his college career, which means he has a few more dunks to sift through than most. He talked about a memorable windmill dunk he threw down in his first collegiate game as a freshman, an exhibition against the Fayetteville Patriots of the National Basketball Developmental League. Petway stripped eventual NBDL All-League honorable mention Bryan Lucas (photo 1, left), dribbled down the court and finished with a thunderous slam (footnote 2).
Another memorable dunk from his freshman season was at Illinois when he dunked over Roger Powell at Assembly Hall. Petway also remembered an alley-oop dunk against UCLA as a freshman (photo 2). "I got pretty high on that one," Brent chuckled. "I dunked it with my right hand off a high pass from Daniel Horton."
The most recent highlight dunk was against Michigan State in the final week of the regular season. Brent took a halfcourt alley-oop pass from Jerret Smith and jammed it home over Drew Naymick in the Wolverines' win over the Spartans (photo 3). That one wrapped up SportsCenter that night as the top play of the day.
I saw head volleyball coach Mark Rosen walk into Crisler Arena with a recruit and her family and wondered if I might be costing him a future student-athlete if she figured out that her future media relations director was the stocky guy in the long shorts smelling of grapefruit and trying desperately to dunk on a lowered rim. I moved to the far end of the arena and tried to stay invisible. A few preliminary dunks gave me a little bit of confidence, but like most other challenges, I was afraid of running out of gas with too much preparation, so I limited my dunks to very simple one-handed and two-handed stuffs, saving the goods for prime time.
(1) It must be grapefruit season because there are some sweet deals on 20-pound bags at Meijer. Not that I am shilling for Meijer, which I have mentioned in two columns now. If anything, I am shilling for grapefruit. They are just delicious (and high in vitamin C and lycopene).
(2) Lucas went on to play in the NBDL and in Austria before moving to Germany to continue his career. He currently plays with Ratiopharm Ulm of the German 1 Bundesliga and is the third leading scorer on the team.
Check back Wednesday, March 28, for the results of the challenge and more photos.
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