by Jeremy Woo
Nine days ago, Tyquone Greer was shot in the calf. The high school senior was at a party on the West Side of Chicago. An argument broke out. He was indoors, among friends. Five other people were wounded.
Wrong place, wrong time.
This is not to fetishize the violence that often characterizes Chicago to the media, to the rest of the country, and at times to itself. These are facts. This isn’t a story about “Chiraq,” an epithet you see and hear far too frequently. This is a story about a comeback. It’s a story about basketball.
Because on Tuesday night, Tyquone nailed the game-winning three for Orr Academy with three seconds left in regulation and the game tied. That shot sent a gritty North Chicago squad back home. It booked Tyquone and Orr a trip downstate to their second straight Class 3A Final Four.
This was the right place, the right time, from the right corner.
Tyquone Greer just hit the jumper of his life.
He doesn’t seem to be sweating it much.
An hour or so after the North Chicago game, his 6-7 frame slides into the seat next to me and drapes over the table, clad in a puffy gray Nike jacket and black jogging pants. An oversized, shiny square-shaped earring conceals his left earlobe. His mohawk could probably use a trim.
We sit at a dimly lit TGI Fridays in Chicago’s north suburbs: the two of us, Tyquone’s family, and my friends, who have been filming a documentary about Orr’s team for the last two seasons. We all have reason to celebrate. Tyquone’s timely bucket has extended both the Spartans’ season and the film’s production into this weekend.
Hunched over his phone, Tyquone answers texts from friends. Messages pop up from numbers he doesn’t even have in his address book. He says he’s tired of the anonymous congratulations, and jokes about turning his device off. He never actually does.
We conjecture about his teammates’ stat lines and discuss the big charge Tyquone took in the second quarter. His mom mentions that he’s never been the most comfortable shooting the corner three. He shrugs it off.
As we wait for our food, I get to ask Tyquone some questions. His answers are matter-of-fact.
Me: What’s for dinner?
Tyquone: A big, stanky burger.
Me: How’d your leg feel tonight?
Tyquone: I can’t really complain. I’m just happy I can walk, and at least jog on it. It feels a lot better than it did right after the incident.
I ask him to describe the final play called by head coach Louis Adams out of that final timeout. Seconds earlier, North Chicago star JayQuan McCloud had drained a cold-blooded NBA three to tie it.
“We didn’t really even run a play.”
But the plan, Tyquone adds, was for the ball to go to Adams’ son, “Little Lou.”
Little Lou is a 6-3 athletic freak of a guard. He’s been acknowledged on Twitter by his peers as the best dunker in Chicago. He’s always tough to stop off the dribble, he’d scored 20 points, and was particularly feeling himself from three. Orr was going to let him go to work.
It wasn’t the play a vicariously inclined father calls for his son—it was the play a smart coach calls for his best scorer, with the game tied and the season on the line.
“Wasn’t nobody gonna stop him going to the basket,” Tyquone adds as his burger arrives.
And North Chicago wouldn’t take that chance. Little Lou took a couple hard dribbles to his right. The Warhawks quickly sent a double team. Tyquone’s man left him alone in the corner.
The strategy appeared well-calculated. I didn’t see Tyquone hit a jump shot in warmups. His left calf was bandaged, and he was having a hard time elevating off it. Little Lou skipped a pass to him anyway.
Between bites, Tyquone attempts to take me through the moment. He reasons through the events: “By me being that open…I guess it was meant for me to take the shot.”
Maybe he’s right. It feels way too easy to call that shot lucky.
Tyquone knows lucky. Tyquone was lucky to be on the court in the first place. He was lucky that the bullet went cleanly in and out of his left calf. He was lucky to be in and out of the hospital a couple hours later.
Draining an open corner three? That was the result of hard work.
Tyquone began physical therapy the Monday after he was shot. His rehab took priority over his participation in practice. Amazingly, he suited up for the sectional championship a few days later.
Up until that point, the local papers had reported Tyquone was out for the season. Nobody outside that locker room would have guessed he’d be ready. And it was easy to see he wasn’t himself.
His fourth-quarter appearance felt ceremonial at best. Tyquone subbed in, got his ovation and sat back down. Orr defeated Fenwick by 20 and won the sectional.
So before the North Chicago game, nobody expected the kid to do a whole lot. And for the first 31 minutes, he didn’t. Tyquone saw the floor in calculated spurts. He was out there to help on defense (read: to be tall and do anything he could, unable to really jump) against undersized opposition.
That North Chicago team looked hell-bent on going downstate. Orr had knocked them out—blown them out—in the same round, same gym, one year ago. They were led by talented seniors who were still licking those wounds.
After McCloud tied it up so convincingly, while a father planned to feed his son the ball, I wondered if this game would be the end of Orr’s run. I shouldn’t have. They had gotten used to those questions. And it was Tyquone who came up with the answer. He’d tell me about it later.
“People doubted us from the beginning,” Tyquone says, finishing his last two fries. “Even when we made it to the Final Four the first time, they said it was a fluke. With us making it downstate two years in a row, two Final Fours? There’s no doubt that we’re good.”
And although nobody at our table has any reservations about Orr’s ability, it appears the local media hasn’t quite caught on—at least not to what happened tonight. I swivel around—everyone else is looking at the flatscreen behind me. It shows highlights from other state playoff games.
Three scores flash across the screen. The names are familiar to fans of Chicago basketball. City powerhouse Whitney Young won its game handily. South suburban Marian Catholic narrowly lost. Both teams boast McDonalds All-Americans on their rosters.
The third score reveals that Morgan Park, last year’s 3A state champs, edged Public League rival Bogan by a point. That means Orr will see them in the semifinals in Peoria.
I ask Tyquone about added motivation. He tells me he’s excited to face an opponent from the city, especially one Orr hasn’t gotten to play this season. But right now, he’s frustrated about something else.
“Man, Orr still doesn’t get shown,” Tyquone says, voice slightly cracking. Everyone’s heads shake in unintentional unison. The Spartans never make it onto the broadcast.
On another screen, SportsCenter airs the day’s top 10 plays. Hockey highlights, a diving catch, some March Madness. But still no Orr, no Tyquone.
It’s one thing to be an underdog and be accustomed to it. It’s another to have your success forgotten entirely. I empty the remnants of my beer.
Then someone sees the tweet. It’s from SportsCenter. The waitress, earnest, asks what’s going on. At first I wonder if my friend is pranking her. He turns the screen so Tyquone and I can see.
Why We Love Sports Today: Chicago high schooler Tyquone Greer was shot in the calf 9 days ago. Tonight, he hit a game-winning 3 in playoffs.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 19, 2014
It’s been retweeted nearly 3,000 times in the past 10 minutes. All 140 characters wouldn’t be enough to describe the look on Tyquone’s face.
“That’s a lot of people,” he says. His family orders dessert. I try to absorb the moment.
We’ll all drive to Peoria on Thursday for the final chapter of the season. Little Lou dribbles to his right.
We’ll continue to document events that almost feel scripted. Little Lou sees the double team coming and lofts the pass.
Orr will get a crack at Morgan Park on Friday afternoon, two wins from the first state championship in school history. Tyquone catches, and eyes the back of the net.
Tyquone just hit the jumper of his life.
We’re all in the right place at the right time.
Top photo by Dustin Nakao Haider. Second photo by Ben Vogel.