Sugar-Salem basketball team manager Kimball Miller shooting a buzzer-beater. | Courtesy Ruth Miller/Jill Sakota.
SUGAR CITY — The star of Sugar-Salem’s men’s basketball senior night game wasn’t on the roster to begin with, but after his buzzer-beater, he won’t be forgotten.
There was 7.7 seconds left in the game verses Snake River High School when Sugar-Salem Head Coach Shawn Freeman told the team’s team manager, Kimball Miller, he was going in to play. Miller has Down syndrome and has attended basketball practices for four years. He spent this season going to varsity practices and cheering the team on at home games from the bench.
But Wednesday, the senior stepped foot on the court and made the shot of a lifetime.
“It’s a joy to have Kimball included with the team that he hangs out with all year,” Kimball’s mom Ruth Miller said. “It’s nice to have that moment of actually being on the court himself. It’s a joy for parents to see that.”
Courtesy Jill Sakota
The coaching staff wanted Kimball to feel part of senior night, so they gave him a jersey to suit up. That act alone had Kimball “amped-up” and doing pushups pregame in the locker room.
Freeman said he hoped to get him in the game, but he wasn’t sure it would happen. Neither Kimball or his parents were expecting him to play.
With 30 seconds left in the game, the team was anxiously waiting for Freeman to call Kimball’s name. Instead, he called a timeout and taught his team a valuable lesson.
“I said, ‘Hey, you know I want to get Kimball in there, but you guys have got to do it. We got to get a couple stops to make it happen,’” Freeman recalls.
Sugar-Salem quickly ended up with possession of the ball after the group huddle. That final timeout was then taken.
Freeman sent assistant coach Troy Sakota over to Snake River Head Coach Robert Coombs to explain that their team manager was going to play the remaining seconds.
“Coach Coombs looks at Troy and goes, ‘All right, get him the ball and let him shoot,” Freeman said.
The ball was inbounded to Kimball and he dribbled a few bounces before the gym full of fans went quiet as the basketball left his hands and went in the basket.
“We were sitting there rooting for him to make a basket without a doubt, but make or miss, you’re so excited for Kimball and for both teams to display that kind of sportsmanship and love,” Freeman said. “For him to hit it was the cherry on top.”
Kimball’s teammates lifted him on their shoulders and some students stormed the court after his basket.
“They were celebrating that layup like they’d won state,” Freeman said.
Courtesy Jill Sakota
Freeman constantly explains to his players how there’s more to life than basketball, he said. Wednesday’s game was the perfect example.
“The life lessons we learn are to serve those around us and that’s what our boys did. They went out and worked hard, not for themselves or any personal glory, but it was for Kimball,” Freeman said.
Kimball’s confidence, intelligence and his positive example on and off the court catches Freeman’s eye, but the team brotherhood is what stands out to Kimball.
“They are my best friends,” Kimball said.
What both teams did to make a moment like this possible is something that Ruth said Kimball is still smiling about.
“You couldn’t have scripted any better storybook ending,” Freeman said.
Sugar-Salem won 53-42.