Shaw column: Kimber thinks team, not pain

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 5, 2011

GREENSBORO — The twisted, stomach-wrenching grimace on Jordan Kimber’s face told the story better than any sentences, paragraphs or photos ever could.
In simplest terms, North Rowan gave its all Saturday afternoon at UNC-Greensboro. And Kimber, stricken all season with a pair of mysterious, undiagnosed shin injuries, was the poster boy for a double-overtime challenge met.
“Put it this way,” teammate Javon Hargrave said. “We wouldn’t have won without him.”
Kimber nearly collapsed in the Fleming Gymnasium lobby just moments after the triumphant Cavaliers punched their ticket to next week’s 1A state championship game in Raleigh — a testimony to willpower and human perseverance. His performance against perennial power Winston-Salem Prep was more symbolic than spectacular — 11 points and three assists harvested from 28 pain-filled minutes.
But the fact that he was there — dribble-driving like a runaway horse through maze after maze of defenders, feeding Hargrave and Malik Ford for pivotal baseline layups — truly spoke volumes.
“No matter what, if he’s hurt or whatever, Jordan tries his best,” North senior Sam Starks noted after playing less than half the match. “We don’t expect that of him, but he does it anyway. He handles things. Today he was a leader. That’s just the way he is. The only weakness he had was, was….nothing.”

Well put. Kimber, a 6-1 junior who has spent six of North’s 31 games shackled to the bench, played hide-and-seek for much of the game. He made only two baskets, both memorable, despite the incessant pain he must have felt. The first was a 3-pointer from the left side that drew North within 34-32 with less than two seconds remaining in the first half. As he stood and admired the shot, like an artist signing his work, teammate T.J. Bates was fouled away from the ball. The four-point possession pulled the Cavs within one at halftime.
His other field goal came early in the fourth quarter — a coast-to-coast jailbreak drive that culminated in a power layup that sliced Prep’s lead to 57-55.
“This was the most-focused I’ve seen Jordan since he started with us,” said Andrew Mitchell, the rookie coach with two state championship rings in his jewelry box. “I know he has all that pain in his shins and on his kneecaps, but come gametime, he’s always ready.
“When he came to the bench in overtime I could tell he was still up for anything. Right then I turned to the (assistant) coaches and said, ‘This is going to be his day. He’ll lead us through.’ ”
Kimber spent the rest of the game directing traffic and sinking free throws, including two that put North ahead 80-77 late in the first OT period.
“When we had to have it,” Starks said, “he gave it to us.”

By game’s end, after the teams had spent 40 minutes fighting like dogs in the street, other snapshots had developed. More compelling pictures, like Bates knocking down 7 of 13 field goal attempts on his way to 22 points and the regional MVP award. And Ford scrambling feverishly for a loose ball underneath North’s basket, then elevating for a game-clinching layup in the waning moments.

And of course Starks — the starting guard who celebrated his 18th birthday and the acquisition a slightly used BMW, courtesy of his parents — draining a 3-pointer in the frantic fourth quarter and another in the first overtime.
“Honestly, I almost forgot about Sam,” Mitchell later confessed. “The other guys were playing so well and he was just sitting there, waiting his turn. When I looked down the bench, it just happened to be right at the right time. I put him back in and he immediately produced.”
He did, just like the rest of the Cavs, including one who let his anguish tell the story.