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Whilby's all-important free throws
LeVaughn Flynn, Entertainment Editor
In the space of 20 seconds, Andrew Whilby defined the importance of the free throw.
The Urban Knights captain was perfect from the line in the final seconds of last Wednesday night's National Basketball League (NBL) championship game against Port Royal Bulls at the National Stadium court.
In the high-energy, action-packed encounter, it wasn't a fairytale buzzer-beater that won the game. It was won from that simple, unpretentious, unassuming stripe that runs parallel to the basket 15 feet away. And Whilby achieved what many have failed to do, from the scrimmage game to the ranks of the NBA, in the decisive Game Three.
It was his team's second straight title and third in five years.
Timing was critical for Whilby, who earlier missed two of four attempts. Ten seconds remained in the game and his team trailed Port Royal by a point after Rookie of the Year, Dovian Wade, converted his pair of free throws moments earlier.
Whilby sank the first shot to tie the game and the relief was as vivid on his face as it was on coach Calvin Martin's.
"At least we'll go into overtime," Whilby must have thought.
After taking a deep breath, he sank the second one, the symbolic 'trigger finger' went skyward and his teammates rejoiced.
The game was far from over, with 10 seconds still on the clock, but the nerve-wracking free throws at the death had been conquered and it was reason enough to celebrate.
"I just blocked everything out of my head and said 'I have to make the free throws'," Whilby told The Gleaner yesterday, after his team collected the Patrick Ewing Trophy on the weekend at the awards ceremony.
"I wasn't nervous, nor did I have any jitters. I knew I just had to make them because I promised some people we were going to win."
As is often the case, the win depended on the free throws. Whilby's shots from the charity stripe gave Urban Knights a 62-61 lead. With time running out, Leighton Meeks' desperation jumper rolled off the rim, ending what, otherwise, was a tremendous season for the first-year team.
Whilby, who ended the game with 16 points, was delivering his second big performance in an NBL final. Last year, the 6' 9" forward posted 22 points and 18 rebounds in Game Two, as the Knights swept Blazing Panthers.
"Last year it was less pressure. This year it was more responsibility because of the captaincy. I was told by the management staff that if the team failed it's my responsibility," Whilby revealed.
"However, it was good. It helped me to be more responsible and kept me grounded. People were counting on me so I had to step up to the challenge."
He certainly did that in more ways than one.