When people ask the question, “What happens when an unstoppable force collides with an immovable object?” they usually don’t have an answer. The better question is “What happens when a very large object propelled by an unstoppable force meets an incredibly movable object propelled by a negligible force?” The answer is a beat down—the likes of which no one could have imagined.
That’s what happened when I played one-on-one with junior Bulldog Ashanti Day.
I dreamed of being a basketball player when I was kid for a very short amount of time. I liked playing basketball more than any other sport, but even as a kid I knew I probably didn’t have what it would take to become a great player. I was—and still am—small, passive, not particularly fast, lacking hand-eye coordination and panicky under pressure. Not really the makings of a future All-Star.
Day probably didn’t let that thought enter his mind even though his initial basketball experience didn’t go much better than mine. Growing up, Day played football more, but his mother forced him to give basketball a try.
“When I first started, I did everything wrong,” Day said. “I traveled, double dribbled and made a lot of mistakes. But it was a lot of fun, so I kept playing.”
Over time, Day became much better in high school and started all three years he has been at Union.
Watching guys I go to class with, like Day, play basketball at such a high level made me wonder how I would measure up. I never thought I’d actually go up against a Union Bulldog, so I dreamed up scenarios playing against different guys on the team.
For every 10 imagined games, I would put up a good fight in one and lose the other nine. In most of those “good” games I hit a couple three-pointers and came out maybe losing 15-8 when playing by ones and twos. I envisioned leaving the game with a bleeding lip or nose but feeling good about it.
When I asked Day if he would play me and he actually agreed, my blood ran cold. I am 5’11” and weigh 140 pounds. I have small hands for my size, and my skinny limbs make me look like a cross between a human and a stick bug.
Day is a 6’6,” 220-pound Adonis of a man. We don’t play the same position—he’s so out of my league, we barely play the same sport. Day once scored 18 points against Oak Hill Academy, the best high school basketball team in the nation. I once scored 10 points in a church league game my freshman year of high school.
Nevertheless, I knew I had to play him. I asked a friend on the team if he had any advice.
“Try to make him shoot,” Quinn Beasley said. “If he decides he wants to get the rim he will, though.”
While these weren’t exactly encouraging words, Beasley was supportive in a “you’re going to get trashed, but I hope it’s not too bad” kind of way.
About an hour before the game I was in my room by myself, and I don’t remember ever feeling so alone before. My hands were shaking out of fear as I imagined Day dunking on me in a way that would break some part of my body—maybe even my whole body. I started listening to DMX and Public Enemy to get pumped up, but it didn’t work. That just made me more anxious, so I listened to Bon Iver to calm me down instead.
I got to the gym before Day did, so I started warming up, and a couple of my friends Adam Reinhard and Connor Bailey came to watch the show and give me a pregame talk. While shooting threes I realized I was pretty on, which usually happens in warm-ups by myself. (I hit a couple in a row and then shoot well for the next 10 or so shots, my arm gets tired and I stop making anything outside the free-throw line.) I decide to “save it” for Day as I walk from the small gym to meet him in the big gym on his domain: David Blackstock Court.
I was wearing a white Kentucky Pharmacy shirt and gray Asics tennis shoes. Day wore a plain black shirt, sweatpants and Nikes. As I greeted him on the court, the first words out of my mouth were sad at best: “Hey Ashanti, I’m Caleb, and just so you know I’m pretty bad at basketball.”
I didn’t want to come off as cocky in any way so I figured I’d lead with humility, but I realized as I blurted out those words and shook his hand just how superior he was to me on the court.
He just laughed and told me not to worry about it. Day is incredibly kind and gracious through the entire initial conversation, putting me more at ease. Plenty of college athletes get labeled as the prototypical meathead jock, and while that is true even in Christian schools, Day is not that guy at all. He joked with me, almost like he didn’t want me to just assume I was an inferior player. He seemed to be encouraging me early on.
After we got basic formalities out of the way, I put on a headband to keep my hair out of my eyes. Day, Reinhard and Bailey all laughed at me because I looked like an old guy trying to play ball with teenagers.
We decided to play first to 12 by only ones, so the three-point arc didn’t mean a thing. This was a little disheartening because my whole strategy in intramural basketball has been standing on the wing and shooting threes. All of my good scenarios required a three-point shot, but I agreed to it anyway.
“My jump shot’s broke so this’ll be good practice,” Day said as he swished the first shot. I instantly knew I had no shot of winning or even competing in this game.
The very first possession, I checked the ball to Day, and he pulled up behind the arc and drained his first shot of the night. We were playing make it-take it, so Day got the ball back and scored on another pull-up jumper. He then drove right by me on the next possession and dunked it softly (if any dunk could actually be soft) as I just watched still three steps behind.
“You can hang on the rim a little bit,” Bailey said. “It’ll be better for pictures.”
Reinhard and Bailey were laughing the entire game and videoing the spectacle with their phones so they could continue to laugh at me later.
Eventually, the score was 5-0. Day had made five of eight shots and blocked me twice already. He played me the same way my dad used to when I was little by not jumping to block the shot, and he let me drive on him but wouldn’t let me get closer than six feet from the rim.
“You have a good defensive stance,” Day said. “You’ve played some ball before.”
I just kind of smiled and shook my head because I was getting tired and didn’t have the breath to really talk.
Day kind of strolled around the court during the game and didn’t have to hustle to score or play defense while I was trying to get to the rebounds and contest his shot. He’s so tall that I was just trying to get a hand in his face, but I was always playing so far back that by the time I got to him the ball was basically in the air.
I eventually got a rebound, drove right and took a weird hook shot that I have a tendency to use. It went in, Bailey and Reinhard kind of laughed and cheered at the same time and Day laughed too. He said it was a nice shot, but I knew it was just a desperation shot because it was so high and was the only thing that was even remotely working.
I missed my next shot, and Day took the opportunity to drive past me and dunk while I watched from the free throw line. I never stood a chance.
I hit two more desperation shots before the score was 11-3, and Day had the ball six feet behind the top of the arc. I was playing off so he wouldn’t drive again, but he pulled up from that far out and nailed the shot. Game over.
I was sweating and breathing heavily as Day walked over to the scorers’ table to sit down a bit to talk. He didn’t break a sweat and showed no signs of fatigue. The game probably looked like a 4-year-old playing against his big brother. Day never really tried, nor did he have to.
One thing I said before the game was I had never been dunked on before, and I was proud of that. I’ve also never played in a game with someone good enough to dunk on me, and if I did I was not the one guarding them.
“Ashanti, will you dunk on me?” I asked. I just kind of blurted it out, and it even shocked me. I knew it would make for a good picture, but I was scared and knew it would take out what little basketball pride I had left.
“Sure,” Day said as he laughed with our friends about the carnage about to take place. He placed me under the basket where I needed to be then warned me that he couldn’t just dunk over me. He was going to “jump through me” for it to work. I thought I was nervous before the game.
I was fidgeting as he started running at me, and when he left his feet I realized his knee was going to clock me in the jaw so I kind of jumped backwards. He still hit me and sent me flying all the way back to the pads on the wall.
As I hit the wall and started making sure I was still in one piece, I realized that compared to Ashanti Day, I’m not a basketball player. When an unstoppable force meets a movable object, the result is a 140-pound mess smeared onto a wall in a nearly empty gymnasium.