FOXBOROUGH — About once a year, Kyle Darr receives a request for game film. Even without a detailed subject line, Darr, the associate head coach of the boys’ varsity basketball team at Chandler High School in Arizona, can probably guess which clip is of interest.
“It’s the last thing you expect to see happen in a high school basketball game,” Darr said during a recent telephone interview.
In the final minutes of a regular-season game against Mountain View in 2015, Chandler senior N’Keal Harry fielded an outlet pass, took one dribble, and went up for the two-handed jam. When he slammed the ball home, however, there was a loud crunch. Nearly the entire bottom half of the backboard had shattered.
Shards of glass filled the bottom of the key. As the rim fluttered, still recovering from the force of the dunk, a few fans made their way from the bleachers to the floor, where they jumped up and down in excitement. Harry’s teammates on the floor scurried over to chest-bump him, while those on the bench popped up in awe.
“It was just surreal,” said Harry, now a rookie in the NFL after getting drafted 32nd overall by the Patriots. “It was probably the most memorable thing I’ve ever done as far as sports.”
On the sidelines, Darr remembers being in shock. “Wait, did that actually just happen?” he wondered, before his mind quickly shifted to the logistical complications. Were they going to finish the game? If so, how? When? “High schools don’t have backboards just on hand,” Darr said. “Even if you do, you don’t have somebody there to put that backboard up.”
The game was suspended with 77 seconds remaining. The teams initially planned to resume action in another gym, but Chandler, leading 62-47, was ultimately awarded the win. The backboard was repaired the following day.
“It was a typical day with a not typical ending,” Darr said. “N’Keal was incredibly gifted and talented, but you don’t expect him to go up and dunk a basketball and then the game to end because we no longer have a backboard. You just don’t see that often.”
Even Harry, who says he first dunked when he was 12 or 13 years old, needed a second to process the moment that December day. Once he saw his hands bloodied and the crowd buzzing, everything quickly hit him.
“He was in shock for the first second and then was like, ‘Woo!’ and started flexing,” recalled Chandler head coach Jonathan Rother, then an assistant. “I’ve been around basketball my whole life, and I looked and was confused, like, what was this? What am I looking at?”
The first request came in later that night. ESPN had reached out to Darr, as the highlight earned the No. 1 spot in SportsCenter’s “Top 10” plays. Then, when Harry was a wide receiver at Arizona State, the Pac-12 Conference reached out. Then, when Harry was preparing for the draft this spring, NFL Network reached out.
“It’s just something that you don’t see,” Darr said.
In the Patriots locker room at Gillette Stadium on Friday afternoon, I showed a few of Harry’s teammates the viral clip. Some, like running back Damien Harris, had already seen it.
“I used to tease him all the time because I didn’t think he was good at basketball,” Harris said. “Everybody always talks about how they’re good at other sports, especially basketball. Everybody thinks they can play basketball. So, I was like, ‘You probably suck.’ He didn’t say nothing. He just showed me the video. I was like, ‘OK, I take it back. You win.’ ”
Others, like fellow wide receivers Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers, watched the video for the first time. While they were impressed, they couldn’t help but slide in a few digs, too.
Joked Dorsett: “The backboard probably already had a little crack in it. It was about to give out. Backboard weak!”
“It’s all that weight,” added Meyers. “I don’t know what they was feeding him.”
For Darr and Rother, the feat was just one example of Harry’s gifted athleticism. In Harry’s first game back from the football season that year, he notched a double-double with 25 points and 12 rebounds — a stat line Rother says should not happen when a player takes several months off.
Both praised Harry’s body control at his size (6 feet 3 inches, 210 pounds), as well as his strength. Harry played the sport with a unique balance of aggression and grace, explained Darr.
“He moves so well and so elegantly, but he’s a beast,” Darr said. “He had this ability to make spectacular plays that looked easy for him. For some other guys, it’s spectacular. For him, it’s ordinary to average.”
Harry and his Patriots teammates don’t play much basketball now, other than a few friendly rounds of HORSE. You can probably guess who won the most recent go-around.
“Me, of course,” Harry said with a smile.