Tairi Ketner: Proud moment at the Palestra

Ketner’s story is the first of a series of memories written by Archbishop Carroll’s seniors.

Tairi Ketner

My favorite senior memory was playing in the Palestra:

It feels like an NBA game. Bright lights. Everybody focuses on you and your team as you get ready for war against the other team to win the PCL championship.

As we get on the bus to go to the Palestra, it is silent and everybody is focused and ready to go. I put my headphones on and I play my favorite playlist while I take a nap. I wake up just as we are pulling up to the gym and I’m nervous because we are playing in front of thousands of people and scouts. We approach the locker room and there’s nothing but silence as we change to warmup and the coach writes the tendencies and plans for the game that night. Everybody on the team is ready to go workout but the rules are we can’t warm up until 6 PM, which was 30 minutes before the game started, so I just decide to do ball-handling drills while we wait. Others decide to just listen to their music, or stretch and do light jogs on the baseline.

Coach calls us back into the locker room and tells us the tendencies and plans for us to win. The last thing he says is, “Play your heart out.” Once I hear that, I know that it is going to be a tough game and I knew I had to leave it out on the floor. “1-2-3 Together!” We run out on the floor to get ready for the game. We have 15 minutes to workout because the opposing team is late and they can’t push back the game. 

As we warm up, I’m dunking the ball, making my jumpshots, my foul shots, just out there trying to break a sweat, and sure enough I do. I put up my last shot and the buzzer goes off and it’s time to sing the National Anthem. I’m thinking to myself and I’m talking to my dad — he played in the NBA and passed when I was 13 — about what we are going to do tonight to help my team win this game, and put my name on notice because I’ve been underrated in the Philadelphia rankings of local basketball players and I have something to prove.   

The game starts with us winning the tip-off. Our starting center gets into foul trouble and the coach calls me to get into the game. The ball goes out of bounds and the ref subs me in for our center. As soon as I step on the floor, I become numb to the atmosphere. It is electric and fun to be out on the court. We get the basketball and I get the ball on the first play of me being in, and I get an and-one layup  and make the free throw to put us up three points.  We get on defense and I have to guard the big man, who’s 6’10 and bulky. He catches the ball and tries to score on me. I block it and run back on offense and get a fastbreak layup. I am playing well, but the coach thinks it is best for our starting center to get back into the action, so I am subbed back out. Everybody slaps my hand and the coach tells me I did a nice job.

It’s getting toward the end of the game and we are down two points with three seconds  seconds left. We run the play Coach gave us but a turnover costs us the game. We lose in a crazy ending. Everybody is sad and walks to the locker room. The coaches, the players and I are all sad and crying because that game meant everything to us. Our coach says, “I know this one hurts, but I can’t be more proud of a group of guys in my entire life.” That gives me a little sense of joy because we mean that much to him.

We all get dressed and give each other hugs and prepare for states and walk out to our families. I see my mom and cry in her arms, and she says that I played a great game. On our walk home somebody says that I played really well and that I’m a really good player. They end up taking a picture with me and I get very excited.

I learned a lot during that game, but, more importantly, it was the hardest game I’ve ever played because I was a difference maker, and I affected the game so much that I gave my team a better chance at winning the game. I learned that somebody is always watching and it means a lot to get recognized for doing well.