The Moonshiners and the Spirits played a very close game tonight, with Tennessee managing to pull out a 4 point victory. Jamie Velasquez (Seagull, G/F) seemed to be back up to her usual standard of play after her previous injury and a relatively quiet performance two nights ago. She and teammate Paul Teronura (Otter, C) were a force to be reckoned with, with PT Cruiser putting up the night's only double double. The Spirits, as seems to have been their style this playoffs, relied heavily on their bench for the game tonight, but the sharing of time didn't pay off quite enough for them this time. The series now sits at 3-2 for the Moonshiners, meaning that the Spirits will have to win 2 in a row if they hope to move onto the Eastern conference finals.
Meanwhile, tonight's game in Edmonton marked both the end of the San Jose Thrust's Playoff run and the end of an era in the FBA. The Thrust, who've had trouble keeping up with the younger and larger Totems squad for the entire series, managed to just eek out a 2-point lead going into the second half. The effort seemed to be too much for the Thrust to keep up, though, as the Totems rolled over them in the final half of the game. Captains Rocky Caracal (Lynx, G) and Devon Kellendyne (Cacomistle, G) kept up their consistently strong levels of play from throughout this series, and they both encouraged strong performances from their starting lines. However, in a reflection of the first game of this series, it all came down to the performances of the bench players. Renee Fiora (Malamute, F), Cho Song-Hwa (Chinese Fu Dog, C), and several other key Totems bench players were the ones that ultimately made the difference and pushed what might have been a close game to a 20-point blowout. With this victory, the Totems are the first team to move on to the conference finals.
Most important of all, though, this marks the final game of FBA legend Shane Rufus (Red Wolf, G)'s career. Rufus's time in the FBA has been anything but typical. Spending 10 of his 14 seasons with the Montana Howlers, Fang became the team's public face. His dominating performances on the court and brash attitude gained him quick fame, and even earned him the 2013 Most Valuable Player Award despite having to sit out almost two months of the season.
Has it all been pretty? No. You don't get the nickname 'Fang' for making friends. From the start, Rufus has been known as a loose canon, and he has many fines and suspensions to show for his time in the league. Among these are such infamous incidents as the 2009 New Year's Eve game at Rocky Mountain House, when Fang bit Bruce Bounder (Hare, G)'s ear. Later that same season, Shane was involved in an incident where he grabbed a fan at a game in Tennessee by the t-shirt. Last April, he even pushed rookie Dylan Redfield (Red Deer, F) so far that the deer gored him in the middle of a game; the first ever incident in FBA history of a prey-on-predator attack.
Possibly the only thing more nerve wracking than playing against Fang is playing alongside him. Rufus has a long history of being argumentative with staff and teammates. Fellow guards Jeff Random (Pit Bull, G) and Devon Kellendyne can attest to the difficulty of managing Fang. Despite their long partnership, you can't count the number of public spats between Fang and former Howlers' GM Robbie Bourne over the years.
But mixed in with the horror stories, it's impossible to ignore the awe that Rufus's playstyle can evoke. He's the ultimate clutch player; when a game seems hopeless, coaches just put Fang in and let him loose. He can slash with the best, and when all else fails, there aren't many players that can hold their ground when Shane Rufus charges them. At only 6'4", when Fang gets going, he's one of the few players that can make Nohea Holokai (Orca, C) look small.
Along with his own contributions, Fang has played a huge role in bringing new talent into the league and helping to grow talent that was already present. It was Fang that pushed for the Howlers to trade the Huntsville Mayors for now superstar Rocky Caracal when every other team wouldn't touch the recently out-of-the-closet lynx. It was Fang that mentored Rachel Barsky (Alaskan Malamute, F), leading her to win the 2013 Most Improved Player award. Fang was one of the first players to work alongside Kwaku Bbwaddene (Jungle Wolf, F), and the two of them have become one of the most impressive and storied duos in the league. Ask anybody that's ever been a rookie for the Howlers under Shane's leadership: he'll work you to the bone. Hell, he might even make you think that he's going to hurt you. But you will get better working under him.
For all this, though, Shane Rufus's past has been an even larger source of disagreement and controversy than his career. He was the first player to ever enter the league with a criminal record, and his inclusion in the 2000 draft can still cause arguments to this day. If you ask any of our draft candidates this year, they'll tell you how big of an impact Fang has had on them, even those that have never met him. I recently met with Underwood bigfur and current draft candidate Hiroyuki Matsuura, and we got to talking about his inspirations in basketball. I asked him about Fang, and he had this to say:
"I never really got why people were so passionate about Fang until the year after I graduated high school. I started volunteering at a penitentiary in Vancouver; there was this new initiative going on to introduce more standardized sports programs in prisons, and I figured I would help with the basketball. Every now and again I would go in just to watch pro games with them, and people always wanted to watch the Howlers games. It didn't make sense to me; most people in Vancouver are either Edmonton or Spokane fans. When I finally asked somebody, they told me it was because Fang was on the Howlers. The inmates loved watching him. There were people in there for all sorts of reasons; some on pretty minor crimes, others for more major ones. Watching Fang playing brought them together, though. When they saw Fang, they saw somebody like them, somebody that had screwed up, gotten out, and gone on to do amazing things. I would never list him as one of my inspirations. For a lot of people, though, even people that don't care about basketball, he provides more inspiration than a clean-cut player like Healey Davis ever could."
You can love Fang, or you can hate him. You can say that he brought new life into a dying league, or you can say he tarnished the FBA's otherwise stellar reputation. Ask any player that's ever wound up toe to toe with him, though; those opinions aren't going to save you when you're facing down 200 lb of the most confident, focused, and purely talented aggression to ever walk on an FBA court. When that scarred face breaks into the cocky grin that's been on more replays, ads, and posters than you can count, all you can do is swallow, hope that Shane 'Fang' Rufus is feeling generous, and then see just how well you measure up against an FBA legend.
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