• Ian Hyde-Lay

Not the Lone Ranger

Victoria. March 1976. An impressionable 18-year old, I sit mesmerized, high up in the bleachers.


Down below, on the floor of the McKinnon Gym, players ready for the Canadian Senior “A” Men’s Basketball tournament.


One captures my complete attention. 6'3", lithe and athletic, he stations himself some 30’ from the hoop, effortlessly draining shot after shot. Textbook mechanics. The ball tracing a perfect arc, tearing through the net before, as if a yo-yo on a string, spinning back to him.


I discover that, though a native of Forest Hills, New York, he has just completed a stellar four-year collegiate career at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. Well on his way to becoming an adopted Nova Scotian, he figures prominently on the Atlantic and national hoop scene. Racking up All-Star, MVP and All-Canadian awards wherever he goes.


His name is Mickey Fox.


Little do I know that, down the road, our paths are destined to cross again.


Flash forward to September 1978. I train like a demon all summer, desperate to recover fully from off season knee surgery. Along with other members of the Victoria Vikes varsity, I keenly anticipate the upcoming university campaign. One possession away from reaching the CIAU final six months earlier, we return the bulk of a powerful squad. A national title is in our sights.


Still, we understand St. Mary’s will, as always, be a formidable opponent. The Huskies roster is also stacked, a hugely underrated front court bolstered by the addition of two talented fifth year transfers from the USA. All this underpinned by even bigger news. Fox himself plans to return for a final year of eligibility.


Immediately, basketball fans across the country circle three dates on the calendar. The teams, Victoria and St. Mary’s, will clash in two Christmas holiday Invitationals, then quite possibly again at the national finals.


Round 1 tips off in late December, Winnipeg the battle ground. An enthralling contest goes right to the wire. Assigned to cover Fox, I am instructed to deny him the ball in order to limit his scoring opportunities. It is a difficult assignment. He moves so smoothly, gets his shot away so quickly. And has the green light to fire away from anywhere and everywhere.


Indeed, he is even better than advertised.

I chuckle now when thinking back to that opening half of play. Fox, perhaps not anticipating such tight coverage, manages only nine shot attempts. A win for me I think. Until I consider he makes 8 of the 9, with me fouling him once for good measure. Though seemingly on the periphery of the action for much of the time, he still registers 17 points!


However, from my point of view at least, the second half is certainly an improvement. For whatever reason, Fox is uncharacteristically out of sorts, missing jumpers as a result. Improbably, he does not add to his point total. I am delighted with my efforts. Even more so when, led by starry point guard Robbie Parris, we scramble back to triumph 88-84.


The rematch takes place a week later, this time in Calgary. Fans at a packed, sweaty Red Gym watch a classic. Fast and furious, the two teams wade into each other like heavyweight contenders. Both offences click on all cylinders. Parris and St. Mary’s Kevin Wood offer up a scintillating backcourt duel while the Vikes’ Kelly Dukeshire and the Huskies’ Percy Davis take turns thrilling the crowd with gravity defying, high wire acts.


Meanwhile, Fox is Fox.


Again we employ the overplay tactics. Yet, this time they are less fruitful. The Huskies adjust, set multiple screens, get the ball to their star more often and in better positions. Regardless of the pressure, he never seems to miss, especially when his team desperately needs a hoop.


One bucket in particular leaves me shaking my head. St. Mary’s trails 90-88 with ten seconds to play. Fox dribbles from the wing to his right. I dig in, slide across, level off the drive. As he elevates to shoot, I swipe at the ball, knock it loose from his hands. Only to see him, while still in the air, regather, recalibrate, then calmly nail the foul line jumper. Tie game.


We hustle down court, draw a loose ball foul. But miss the front end of a 1 and 1. The end of regulation chance gone abegging, overtime looms. In the end, we drop a 102-96 thriller, due in large part to Fox’s 36 points.


The rubber match duly takes place on March 10, 1979. Again in Calgary, this time at the venerable Corral. “Best of the West” vs “Beast of the East”. Bragging rights at stake. Not to mention the national championship.


For me, one last chance to hound Fox. Supported by my teammates, to try and limit his space, time, and touches. For a while we prosper, but slowly, inexorably, he takes over the game. On several occasions I am literally draped all over him. Yet, in a zone all his own, he records 19 first half points as the Huskies lead 41-37 at intermission.


The second stanza sees more of the same. Huskies go up 7. Led by Parris and post Reni Dolcetti, we claw back within two. But a pair of Fox bombs, the latter from a different area code, keep St. Mary’s in control.


We close to within one, 64-63, midway through the half, but Fox responds yet again. This time, three straight hoops. My frustration mounts. Regardless of what I do, or what we do, he finds a way. The final, agonizing minute plays out with me on the bench. Inconsistent rebounding and eight missed free throws don’t help our cause, but, in the end, it just does not matter.


St. Mary’s prevails 90-83. Wins the title. Fox finishes with a gaudy 37 points. 14-27 field goals plus 9-9 from the foul line. To absolutely nobody’s surprise he is named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.


The game and presentations over, I retreat to the locker room. I am disconsolate. The moderate success I enjoy when guarding Fox in Winnipeg ten weeks earlier is nothing but a distant memory. While my dream of a magical, final game shutdown performance proves to be just that. I get torched instead.


I shower, change slowly, head out to meet family and friends.


My father waits on the concourse. He appreciates my extreme disappointment, offers whatever solace he can.


Still, it is a newspaper reporter standing nearby who sums up the situation best. Having watched and followed Fox for the better part of a decade, he declares him the finest player and most accomplished shooter he has ever seen.


“He dominates everyone, not just you,” he informs me. “You are not the Lone Ranger.”