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Chapter 11

Game 2

Once again, the week flew by and it was Friday. The gossip and rumors had been flying around all week as well, and by the time Friday came the noise from it all had reached a crescendo. Cindy Sandy was coming back to school this morning, and that added to the buzz in the air. Brian’s week had been filled with unwanted attention and undesired tributes. It had built slowly, as people tried to digest what had happened the previous Friday night. Everyone had heard the rumors of both Cindy Sandy’s accident and the excitement of last Friday night’s game, but it took several days for people to understand that the stories were real, and that Brian was at the center of both of them. The school insisted on recognizing Brian’s heroics. Over the week he had been cheered with ‘hip hip hooray’, made to stand up and take a bow, much to his disbelief, and had “Did you ever know that you’re my hero” sang to him by the glee club. And if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Brown had approached him with an idea for a Brian Ferco day. Brian had to literally beg him not to do it, and Mr. Brown, seeing how dead set Brian was against it, eventually agreed to drop the idea, but not before trying to convince Brian of how much it would mean for school morale.

The story of Cindy Sandy’s rescue was front page of the mid-week addition of the local paper, and reaction was split. Some people accepted Brian’s act for what it was, a self-less deed that saved a fellow classmate from tragedy. Others were more critical, insisting if the group of students had not been “goofing around at the head bridge” that night, Cindy Sandy would not have needed saving. Regardless, Brian’s ‘fame,’ wanted or not, was making the build up to tonight’s game the most anyone could ever remember for only the second game of the season, especially a road game. Over at Franklin high school preparations were under way for the game as well. Half the tickets sold were to Greenville fans, so a standing room only crowd was expected, and Franklin was making sure they were ready for the sold-out game. Word was out already about Brian, and they were all coming to see the amazing kid from Greenville who dunks “Like Mike”.

Since it was an away game, there was no time for Brian to go home, so he headed right to the locker room. There were several students milling around right outside the locker room doors. Brian knew most of them from classes they shared.

“Excuse us, Brian” one of them said as Brian approached.

“Hey guys” Brian greeted them with a smile, glad to see some familiar faces. “Why so formal?”

“Um, can we have your autograph, Brian, so we can say we knew you when?” and the group laughed. Brian suddenly felt foolish, fighting the urge to say, “not you guys too,” but forced a smile and reluctantly took the notebooks and pads they passed to him and signed his name.

“Thanks Brian, really, this is so cool.”

Brian stood not saying anything until it began to feel uncomfortable.

“Any chance for some tickets to tonight’s game?” one of them asked finally, breaking the awkward silence. Brian had been asked that question all week.  Students, teachers, and everyone in between was looking for tickets to the Greenville versus Franklin game.

“Sorry guys, can’t help you there” Brian said, finally. He paused another second, then said “excuse me, guys,” before slipping around them and into the locker room. The locker room was becoming more and more a sanctuary for Brian. A place where he could escape. A place where he could actually relax.  He opened his locker and put his away uniform and sneakers into his bag just as Tray walked up.

“Hey man, sorry about all the publicity this week, I know how much you hate it.”

“Not that I hate it, it’s just not me. And it’s not your fault.”

“I know, but I didn’t help with that hero comment Monday morning. So, how about we make a deal” Tray continued, breaking into a smile

“What kinda deal?’ Brian asked suspiciously.

“How about tonight, you let me win the game, and I’ll take all the glory, and they’ll all want my autograph, and they’ll leave you alone?”

“Deal” Brian said breaking into a smile himself. Tray laughed and held out his hand. “Shake Ferco, no fist pump.” Brian took Tray’s hand and they shook.

“So, tell me” Brian changed the subject. “How do you defend small, quick, 3-point shooters?’

“Very carefully” Tray offered. “They love to square up to the basket before releasing their shot, so if can stop them from doing that, it’s a win. But that is not easy to do, especially the way these guys set picks and screens. But, if you can’t do that, at least let them know you are there, so you affect their shot. In your case, Ferco, smack their junk right back at them” Tray concluded, laughing.

“Right” Brian nodded, starting to understand more of the street slang. “Block everything within my reach.”

“I love you scientists” Tray said, still laughing. “You get right to the solution.” He looked at the wall clock. “I gotta get ready, see you on the bus.” Brian nodded and Tray headed to his locker. Finally, coach Miller burst into the locker room. “Okay, ladies, listen up. Bus leaves in 15 minutes with or without you so take care of whatever it is now, understood?”

“Yes sir” the team responded, unenthusiastically. Coach Miller opened his mouth to say something, but instead turned and walked back to his office. Brian grabbed his bag and headed out to the bus. It was a 30-minute ride to Franklin and Brian couldn’t wait to get going. He was anxious to leave Greenville behind even if it was for only a few hours. The rest of the varsity and JV players began filing on as well. The bus was unusually quiet, broken occasionally by talking and laughing. Some of the younger players sat fidgeting in their seats, earbuds on, trying to tune out the pre-game nerves. Finally, coach Miller and coach Hunt boarded the bus. Coach Hunt slid behind the wheel, started the bus, and wheeled out of the parking lot. Coach Miller stood in the isle facing the players. “Listen up ladies. Franklin will run a 3-guard offense on us most of the night and these guys are gonna throw up 3’s like they’re going out of style, but they only shoot 32% from that range. That means rebound opportunities for us, and that’s where we have an advantage. Eyre, Simmons, no excuses tonight for not dominating the boards. Harden, Gilmore and Bear make sure you guys stay close. No open looks. Make them fight for every shot. Got it?’

The players all nodded. Coach Miller sat down in the seat behind Mr. Hunt, leaned forward, and began speaking to him low enough so the players could not hear what he was saying. After a few minutes he turned around. “Ferco, get up here.” Brian looked up, surprised to hear the coach call his name, but stood up and made his way to the front of the bus. “Yes coach?”

Coach Miller lowered his head and spoke in a low voice, so Brian leaned in to hear him. “Listen, Ferco, it’s going to be crazy tonight I just want to warn you. Don’t let it intimidate you. Chances are, I am going to use you tonight to help us rebound especially if these guys are shooting cold. You stay loose and be ready to go, okay?” Brian nodded and headed back to his seat, no sooner sitting down when Tray slid into the seat next to him and Dino took the seat behind him.

“Hey, Brian, what did coach want? You can tell us.”

“He told me to stay loose and be ready to play.”

“Wow, never seen the coach talk to anyone one-on-one other than Kirk.”

“That makes me even more nervous you guys.”

“Just stay loose Ferco, stay loose.”

It was already dark when the bus pulled into the parking lot of Franklin high, and as Mr. Hunt positioned the bus into a parking spot, Tray said “oh, wow” and the players all turned to look out the windows. A caravan of Greenville supporters were pouring into the parking lot, banners streaming, horns honking, fans cheering as they leaned out the windows of cars and pickup trucks, many painted and decorated with Go Dragons and Beat Franklin.

“Can you believe this” Tray said.

Coach Miller looked out the window. “Don’t let this distract you from why we are here ladies” his voice trailing off as he took in the chaotic scene. The Greenville fans spilled out of their cars, several of them jumping on their hoods while other students circled the bus, jumping up and down, yelling and screaming.

“Is it always like this?” Brian said to Tray before turning to look back out the window.

“Not for the second game of the season.”

“No way” Dino added.

“Okay, guys, listen up” coach Miller said. “I admit I didn’t expect this. Please, stay focused.”

It was the first time the senior group had ever heard the couch sound worried. Coach Miller stood like he wanted to say something else, but then turned back toward coach Hunt and began talking in a low voice again. Kirk took charge. “Okay guys, grab your stuff let’s go and no lingering in the parking lot. Rookies, equipment.”

Brian picked his bag up from under his seat and scooped a bag of balls up with his other hand. He fell in line behind a couple of his teammates filing off the bus. The Greenville fans who made the trip formed a friendly gauntlet leading from the bus to the gym doors, and the screaming, sign-waving fans made Brian pause just as he was about to step off the bus.

“They won’t bite you dude” came a low voice from behind him. Brian turned around. It was Kirk. Brian made eye contact and thought he saw a small smile on Kirk’s face, but the guys behind Kirk started complaining about the holdup and after the second “come on Ferco, move,” Brian stepped off the bus into the parking lot.

“It’s Brian Ferco” came a yell from somewhere in the crowd, and it was enough to cause the over excited group of supporters to start to crush toward Brian. Again, it was Kirk’s voice Brian heard from behind him. “Ferco, put the bag of balls in front of you and start walking toward to the doors. Just don’t knock anybody over.” Brian hesitated, then, positioning the bag of basketballs in front of him, started slowly toward the Franklin gymnasium locker room doors, and sanctuary. Brian moved slowly past the screaming kids and, to his shock, adults too, some moving as close as they could to Brian’s face as they yelled his name or “yeah, man” or even the occasional “I love you” from a female fan. But the bag of balls was working, as Brian was able to keep moving, the adoring fans sliding around him. Brian glanced back over his shoulder. His teammates had formed a queue behind him and were snaking their way through the fanatical fans as well. Finally, Brian pushed open the locker room doors and stepped inside, the noise from the parking lot fading as he walked deeper into the school. But the noise from the parking lot was soon replaced by another sound. It started faintly but grew louder and more intense the further into the school the team walked. They walked through a darkened hallway, the noise growing with each step, then found themselves in a well-lit hallway. Suddenly, a man appeared in front of them and without hesitating said, “Greenville players follow me” and Brian kept moving, his eyes glued to the man who just took charge. They moved past the attending Franklin staff, past the Franklin security guards who turned to watch the Dragons stroll by, and, again to Brian’s surprise, right past the boy’s locker room.  Brian started to pause, but feeling the rest of the guys behind him, kept following the Franklin escort, right up to the doors of the girl’s locker room. Brian stopped. “Let’s go, Ferco!” It was coach Miller. He gave Brian an annoyed look as he squeezed past the line of players, coach Hunt in tow, and through the doors of the girl’s locker room.  Brian learned something else new. The visiting team’s locker room is the girl’s locker room.
“Get dressed ladies” coach Miller barked, then he and coach Hunt disappeared out the door.

Brian entered the girl’s locker room as if he was entering a sacred shrine, pausing in the middle of the floor to look around. He looked to see if anyone was watching him, then seeing the rest of the team busily getting ready for the game, casually edged over to the locker room bathroom. The only difference he could see was the girl’s locker room lacked urinals. He shrugged, then moved to an empty locker between Shane and Tray and began getting ready for the game. As he dressed, the noise from the crowd continued to grow, a combination of anxious fans, school bands, cheerleaders, and pa announcements, all of it pushing through the walls of the locker room until it seemed to Brian like they would soon crumble and the entire fanatical scene would fall in on them. The rumble of students pounding their feet on the bleachers added to the tension. Brian tried to tune it all out, just as the coach had instructed him to, trying to think of the game and his role. It was simple, really. Grab any loose balls out of the air and block as many shots as possible. Brian gave no thought to offense. The Dragons had plenty of guys to handle that. If he scored as a result of grabbing an offensive rebound, well, that was simply sauce for the goose.

Suddenly coach Miller and coach Hunt appeared. “Harden, Gilmore, Eyre, Bear and Simmons” coach Miller barked, announcing the starting five. “Ferco, be ready” he added. The shock of hearing coach calling Ferco’s name was already beginning to fade, and beyond some mild reaction, the guys were already accepting Brian as a contributing part of the team, despite being only the second game of the season. High school basketball teams are short-lived, and they bond together quickly. The Dragon’s were no exception. Brian was already being thought of less as an oddity, and more of an athlete who could outjump anyone around him. And you didn’t need to be a basketball fan to understand how important leaping ability is to the game.

 

“Up here, ladies” coach Miller began, slightly yelling over the din. He looked slowly around the locker room.  “You hear that?” he said finally, pointing his hand at the rumbling ceiling. “You need to tune that out. Concentrate on your opponent” he said emphasizing each sentence. “Think about your role in this game. Think about how you will support your teammates. Put the words win, hustle and defense into your minds and focus on them. That’s how you tune out distractions.” Brian was mesmerized. Up until tonight, Brian thought coach Miller’s only motivational technique was yelling…loudly. He was shocked to hear the coach using the psychological technique of performance que words, staying in the present, and controlling the controllable. “Remember guys we are bigger, taller and stronger than these guys, but they are fast and quick and remember, speed kills. Every rebound HAS to belong to us, and every opportunity off the glass HAS to belong to us”. He paused again, looking around the room before saying “Ok, Hardin, they’re yours.” With that, both coaches disappeared out the doors again.

Kirk moved to the middle of the locker room. “Do exactly what the coach has instructed you to do” he started, and the players all nodded. “But there’s something going on here that I’ve never seen before, and there’s a lot of Greenville fans out there. I say let’s take advantage of that. Ferco, you go out the door last tonight.” Brian looked up at Kirk, who was looking straight at him. Brian glanced over at Shane, who was clapping his hands and saying ‘alright Ferco,’ so Brian looked back at Kirk and nodded his head slightly. “Okay” Kirk continued. “Give them their monies worth Ferco, make it a good one” and again, Brian nodded slightly. “Let’s roll” Kirk added, and the players stood, exploding towards the locker room doors. Tray grabbed a ball from the ball boy and tossed it to Kirk, who was leading the team onto the floor. Brian took his spot, last, behind Shane Simmons and tried to think about what he would do when he got the ball. First, he said to himself, don’t mess up your dribble. His head spun as he sprinted out the doors onto the gym floor, watching each teammate ahead of him leaping in turn to bounce the ball off the backboard. Brian burst toward the basket just as Shane’s touch came off the glass. Leaping, he grabbed the ball with both hands, took it back as far behind his neck as his arms would stretch, then slammed it home, the breakaway rim opening fully before clanging back into place, the sound reverberating through they gym. Needless to say, the Greenville fans packing half the gym and beyond went into a frenzy. The Franklin home fans, however, not to be outdone, began to boo. Brian touched down and quickly joined the layup line forming for warmups. He looked over at coach Miller, who was looking at Brian with a slight scowl on his face but turned away and started plotting strategy with coach Hunt.

Brian took a rebound pass and moved for an easy layup, and an audible “aww” could be heard from the Greenville fans, expecting another dunk from Brian, but dunking during pre-game warmups is a technical foul. As he took his turns, he searched the stands. He found his parents right away, and to his surprise Missy and Angela were sitting beside them. They all waved, and Brian nodded, pretty sure waving in the layup line is not something coach Miller would approve of. No Bug, however, and Brian justified it by saying it’s an away game, she wouldn’t be here anyway even if he wasn’t on the team. Suddenly, Brian realized he was doing the opposite of what coach Miller had just told him. He was allowing distractions to take his mind off the game. “Have to get my head in the game” he said to himself, just as the horn sounded to begin the game. The teams hurried to their benches.  “Okay, ladies” coach Miller began. “Franklin is running with 3 guards and 2 forwards tonight. No excuses for not dominating the boards.” The 60 second horn sounded, and Kirk and Woody joined the refs and captains of the Franklin Warriors at center court for pre-game instructions, then hurried back just as the game horn sounded.

The players lined up, Shane Simmons standing tall over Sean Scott, the Franklin Warrior who would be jumping center against him. The rest of the Warriors lineup featured Tim Baker at the other forward, then Jessie Smalls, Aubrey Thomas and Trent Thomas running out of the guard positions. The ref tossed the ball up to start the game, and Shane easily leaped up and tapped the ball to Kirk, and the game was on. Brian took his place at the end of the bench, taking it all in, the noise from the crowd making it hard to concentrate. Kirk and Shane were joined by starters Woody, Billy and Ed Gilmore. Kirk dribbled slowly into the Warriors end of the court, trying to feel out the Franklin defense. Franklin dropped into a zone, conceding the height advantage to Greenville. Kirk passed to Woody, who was immediately doubled teamed by two Franklin guards, so he passed off the Billy, and again, two Franklin guards, switching with the precision of an army drill team, swarmed on him. Billy searched for Shane, and, seeing him in a one on one matchup, fired a pass down low to him. Shane went up for an easy layup and two points. The Greenville fans cheered even louder, and the Dragons spun, heading down court to set up for defense. Greenville barely had time to set up, however, as the speedy Warriors were on them just as they turned around. The Dragon’s were also playing a zone defense, conceding the speed advantage to Franklin. Coach Miller was going to avoid playing man to man as much as possible, afraid the Warriors would blow right by his taller but slower players. Height versus speed. Whichever one held the advantage in tonight’s game would secure the win.

 

To be continued...

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 


Submitted: July 20, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Gary192837465. All rights reserved.

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