THE INFAMOUS ‘SLOCK SHOT’
By BRANDON HURLEY
Cocked behind her head, two hands grasping each side of the ball, she flicked it sky-ward, above the out-stretched arms of defenders, and as it had reached its peak, trickled its way back down through the net as a spattering of cheers bounced off the gym walls.
She repeated that process thousands of times, captivating her teammates, coaches and six-on-six purists.
Pam Slock’s shooting form wasn’t the prettiest, but it was a trademark – smooth, eloquent and unguardable. She was a symphony in basketball sneakers.
Slock, now Pam Sanders, personified East Greene basketball, owning a rightful place in the pantheon of Greene County basketball greats, next to the Jefferson-Scranton legends of Kathy Krieger, Kristi Kinne and Trisha Waugh as well as the Paton-Churdan dynasty of the 60s.
Sanders, more than any woman before her, set the bar for the blossoming phenomena that would become six-on-six basketball, especially within Greene County
The 1961 East Greene graduate finished her high school career a game short of the Iowa girls’ state tournament and less than 200 points shy of the prestigious 3,000 point club. She poured in a school record 2,873 points, 1,000 more than any other girl in East Greene history.
It’s a mark that will likely stand the test of time.
Sanders averaged a staggering 51.2 points per game during her senior campaign, which was a state record at the time. She hung up her sneakers with a 33.7 ppg career average, engineering the Hawkettes to a record of 39-4 over her final two years .
If the history igniting stats weren’t enough, Sanders possessed one of the purest jump shots in state history. It’s a tale that is forever etched in Greene County lore, a story that deserves to be retold as 25th anniversary of the last Iowa High school six-on-six game nears.
The Iowa High School Girls’ Athletic Union went to a state-wide five-on-five program following the 1992-93 season, as Atlantic and Hubbard-Radcliffe squared off in the final game, with Hubbard-Radcliffe claiming the last inklings of six-on-six glory.
Three decades prior, though she never set a competitive foot on the famed Veteran’s Auditorium court, Sanders made a name for herself in her local gym.
She even caught the attention of the established Boone radio broadcaster and newspaper writer, Mo Kelley. The veteran journalist saw his fair share of girls’ six-on-six basketball, yet Slock’s pure shooting touch – jumpers from 20-30 feet – still resonates.
“She played everywhere, it didn’t matter where she was, she could hit the bucket,” Kelley said. “She was able to score in a million different ways from all over the floor. Ever since then, I’d say – I mostly broadcasted in central Iowa – there wasn’t anybody that came as close to her as far as offensive ability.
There were two or three excellent (players) in the area, but she was far and away the best.”
Sanders’ practice habits were almost as legendary as her jump shot, from the old-fashioned school of hard knocks.
The Beaver, Iowa native launched thousands of shots on a nearby concrete slab in the town of a little more than 100 people. Or she’d stay home and lob shots at a hoop planted above the garage on a sloped driveway. Sanders even had a shovel in tow during the winter, clearing the snow off the court for extra practice. Mother Nature would not get in her way. A key to the local gym was her prized possession.
Rain or shine, the basketball court – no matter where – was her sanctuary.
She’d even tag along on scouting trips with coach Otis Roby, because, in her eyes, there was always room to improve. It was he, as well as her father, who planted the basketball bug in her.
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Sanders fell in love with the game of basketball in junior high thanks to her father, Don Slock. To her, six-on-six was beautiful. She marveled at the subtleties of competition interwoven with excitement and strategy. Sanders was immediately hooked.
“It had a design to it,” the all-state scorer said. “The plays, the positioning. It was like a religion. Every gym was packed.”
Roby ushered in the jump shot to the surrounding areas when he arrived in Grand Junction in 1957. Sanders wasn’t familiar with it, but never one to settle, gave it a spin.
“No one shot jump shots,” she said. “I had never seen anyone shoot one before. I liked the challenge.”
Her famous shot originated out of curiosity, involving a bench, her coach and a basketball hoop. Roby wanted to try and take advantage of the freshman’s natural shooting ability.
The former East Greene coach, the now defunct Hawk logo bears his name (EGOR - East Greene’s Otis Roby), had Sanders leap off a bench to improve her balance and strength. She’d cock the ball back, jump forward and flick the ball over head toward the basket.
The duo practiced three times a week during the summer, Roby often coming by to play her one-on-one. The coach became close with the family, believing his players should be stand up citizens.
“He wanted good people, no rules would be broken,” Sanders said of her former coach. “He even had a curfew for us. He was very intense, always learning.”
Sanders was a member of the second ever East Greene graduating class. She started her high school career at Grand Junction before Dana and Grand Junction consolidated.
Her varsity playing days took on a steady arc, snatching third team all state honors as a junior, averaging 32.3 points per game while leading the Hawkettes to a 17-3 record.
She made a spectacular leap the following winter, as fans - and writer’s - took notice.
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The five-foot-six-inch forward, who could shoot rolling to her left or right, was at her best when squaring off against intra-country rival, Rippey. Sanders averaged an incredible 75 points per game in three meetings during the 1960-61 season – all wins, of course – including 78 points in not one, but two games.
Sanders had to raise her game against Rippey, they had a pair of forwards that could light up a scoreboard as well. One particular game reached an astronomical total score, with East Greene prevailing 102-86. Rippey’s Sharon Bardole, who battled with Sanders throughout her career, sank the third most free throws in a single game in state history, with 33. She finished with more than 50 points.
“It was fun playing them,” Sanders said. “Charlie Tipton and Sharon Bardole – they were scoring machines.
During one of her spectacular 78 point games, Sanders drilled 30 of her 43 shots, an astounding 70 percent clip. Just bonkers.
She scored more than 60 points on four other occasions, setting the Iowa high school mark for per game average, a record that stood for six more years. The guard had gone to another level, cementing herself as one of the state’s greatest shooters.
To put it into perspective – Sanders was the definition of a pure jump shooter. Steph Curry well before Steph Curry, before his dad even played in the NBA. Being five-six, she couldn’t maneuver the lane with post moves for easy layups from three feet in. She HAD to possess an above average jump shot to make an impact, and boy did she ever. Sanders never once shot worse than 40 percent in a game during her senior year, often hoisting up more than 40 shots with incredible regularity.
The small gym in Grand Junction was the place to be nearly 60 years ago. East Greene was a member of the Little Central Conference, which also housed Rippey, Paton, Churdan, Dayton and Grand Community (Boxholm). It was a hot bed for small-time six-on-six basketball and birthed many natural rivalries.
The rural bleachers overflowed parents and locals as well as real fans of the six-on-six game. The crowds included sportswriting legend Jack North, several Des Moines Register reporters, opposing coaches and outside spectators.
“It was packed,” Sanders said. But because her love for the game was instilled within her, she only cared about winning. She couldn’t have cared less who – or how many – were watching. The former Hawkette took a quick glance into stands, in search of two people before she locked in.
“I was oblivious to the crowds, I was so intent on playing,” Sanders said. “I spotted my mom and dad and that was it. I had to be focused on the game, it just came natural.”
Sanders was a humble superstar despite the accolades and attention. Even though she wanted to win at all costs, she kept her composure on and off the court. Of course, she read the press clippings and let reporters cover every move. She quietly relished in the attention.
“She deserves a lot of credit, she was a pure shooter,” Kelley said. “I thought she handled the success fine. She wasn’t cocky or anything like that. Good players have egos, but I don’t think she did.”
Her opponents knew she was a rare talent, often double and triple teaming her, but they couldn’t stop that over the head shot. She was too quick, and too skilled. Sanders got her points, even as one of the smaller players on the floor.
Boone head coach Ralph Carroll admired the guard as well in an interview in 1961. He was astonished with how easy she made the game look.
“I’d say Slock is the most outstanding shooter I’ve ever seen,” he said in a local newspaper article. “She is truly one of the all-time greats of Iowa.”
This came after Sanders poured in 55 points against the Toreadors in a regional game.
She captured first-team all-state from the Iowa Daily Press Association and the IGHSAU, cementing her legacy.
It would all come crushing to a halt a few games later, and just short of her goal.
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The pain still coerces its way through her veins nearly 60 years later.
Everything had built up for this moment.
Sanders had shattered the single-season state scoring record, captained an undefeated season – 17 consecutive regular season wins, which had ballooned to 22 by the district final – complete with a No. 8 ranking. She was poised to lead East Greene to its first – and only – state tournament.
Third-ranked Cedar Valley dashed those lofty hopes and clinched a ticket to state with a pair of free throws in the waning seconds.
East Greene held a lead with 45 seconds left, but couldn’t snatch the victory.
It suddenly was over.
The agony and disappointment from the 54-52 loss – a game short – pushed her to quit the sport of basketball all-together to become a teacher.
Sanders, even as a teenager, had an overwhelming desire to improve. Something that’s stuck with her to this day. She never felt like she was worthy of all the accolades, because she desired more, even as she shattered state records. A reason why the career-ending loss hurt so bad.
“I kept trying to get better,” Sanders said. I never thought I was good.”
The defeat crushed her physically and mentally. She felt she let down not only herself, but her teammates, coach, fans and even the media.
The Des Moines Register wasn’t too kind to her either, with bold letters magnifying East Greene’s short-comings after 22 straight victories.
“The headline said, Slock Fails,” Sanders said. “That hurt, for a long time.”
Even the Cedar Valley head coach Bill Mazula, realized the greatness he witnessed that night, despite the victory.
“She’s the greatest shooter I’ve even seen,” he said, like a broken record. “I didn’t believe all that stuff I heard about her, but I believe it now.”
Sanders went off to college and took a brief teaching stint at Perry before moving on to teach at East Greene, for 17 years. coincidentally, she ended up teaching with the former Rippey girls’ coach, Charles Tipton, the team she continuously torched.
The two became instant friends, connecting through basketball and their laid-back personalities. Tipton would constantly prank Sanders, once even rearranging her entire room.
The healing had began, but not without its fair share of speed bumps along the way.
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Despite being inducted into the Iowa Girls’ Athletic Union Hall of Fame (Which was a treat in itself. The legendary Jim Duncan, state tournament PA announcer, called Sanders to let her know the good news), she has faced several battles off the court since her playing days concluded. Roby died from cancer a few decades after the magical season and her late husband, Bill, passed away from cancer as well.
Adversity struck Sanders physically, too.
While teaching in Florida, she tweaked her back which required surgery. The procedure went south and required a long, grueling recovery process which spanned four years. Doctors told her she may never walk again, or regain feeling in her legs or spine.
Four spinal transfusions later and Sanders was back walking, without a limp and free to help out with her local church near her home in Waukee. She moved back to Iowa roughly 15 years ago and enjoys watching her grandson Drew play basketball.
He’s even got a shot almost as pure as hers, but with the advantage of a three-point line.
She envisions big things in the high school freshman’s future, but it’d be hard to top what his grandma accomplished, though Drew’s keenly aware of her greatness.
The best he can do is pay homage to one of the state’s legends, by working on his craft and letting it fly.