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Chapter 5

Practice makes perfect

Brian sat on the bench in front of his locker dressing for practice. It was Friday, and the week had flown by. Despite missing the first day, Brian had done enough on the practice court to stay with the team through the week, but he wondered if it would be enough to make the varsity squad. It had become obvious to even the most skeptical of the team, coach Miller most of all, that Brian could not only hold his own, but could actually contribute, his ability to jump and grab rebounds a key factor if Greenville was going to be competitive this year. Brian had been careful not to do anything freakish. He made sure that he never jumped higher than he needed and always made sure he extended his arms when grabbing a rebound, so it looked as normal as possible. He still had not scored a basket yet, and Brian wondered if rebounding a basketball, as good as he was at it, would be enough. He had spent the nights after practice during the week studying the offensive plays and the defensive alignments the team used, that part coming easy to Brian, well used to mathematical formations.  Practice was in full swing when coach Miller yelled. “Okay ladies, half-court drills, and can we move it ladies, you are not impressing me at all today.” The senior squad hustled to set up for half-court. “Starters on…” and coach Miller hesitated, but Kirk instinctively grabbed the ball and the starters began moving into their offensive positions, “defense” the coach finished, and the players, caught off guard, scrambled to change sides, Kirk Harden flipping the ball to Skylar McCabe. Skylar took the ball, bounced it to Kirk for a check, who bounced it back to him, then got ready to pass it in.
“Wow, five on four, this should be good” he said. Kirk, however, never changed expression, instead squatting in front of Skylar in a defensive crouch. Skylar, sensing that Kirk was trying to send a “let’s just play ball” message, smacked the side of the ball with his free hand, and both sides burst into motion. Brian spun and moved toward the basket, his role was to set a pick on the small forward, and he moved into position to screen Ed Gilmore. Dino Adams cut across in front of Skylar and Skylar snapped off a pass to him. He dribbled to his right, then spun and passed back to Skylar, who immediately passed off to Tray Timmons, who squared up to take a shot 10 feet out from where Brian was setting his pick.  Brian, not having to worry about defending anyone, was roaming just outside the foul line, following the shot. The ball hit the top of the rim, bounced up and off the backboard, and fell back down, bouncing off the rim a second time before heading back into play. Brian, who had been automatically drifting toward the basket, timed his jump perfectly, and, rising above the other players, grabbed the ball with both hands and squeezed it against his chest. Woody Bear had planted himself right under the basket, and when he saw Brian coming down with the ball, slid to his right to undercut him. Brian, both hands clutching the ball to his chest, was unable to protect himself, and fell to the gym floor with a loud thud. Coach Miller blew his whistle. Skylar, Dino and Tray hurried over to Brian. “You okay, man” Skylar asked, bending over Brian.

“I think so” Brian answered, then, aware he was the focus of attention, rolled over and got to his feet.

“Good to see you’re still alive, Ferco” the coach yelled without coming over.

“He’s good coach” Skylar answered for Brian.

Coach Miller turned back to the players on the court.

“Bear…out!” he yelled. And take 5 laps.”  Woody stood with his hands on his hips, staring at the coach. “Let’s go Bear, move.” Woody glared over at Brian, then glanced at Kirk, who just stared at him. Woody dropped his head, then started into a slow jog around the gym. “No room for that in this gym” coach Miller said as Woody jogged past him. “And don’t take all day” he yelled over his shoulder. “Brendt, in for Bear. Atwood in for Reardon” he continued. “Harden, run the offense” and Kirk picked up the ball, moving to the outside of the 3-point line. The rest of the players set up, and Kirk smacked the ball, just as Skylar had, to start play. Kirk threw an inbounds pass to Billy Eyre, who quickly passed off to Hazel Brendt, who was getting into position behind the 3-point line. Receiving the pass, Hazel set up to shoot the ball. Brian was trying to position himself as before, but this time both Shane Simmons and Billy Eyre moved to block him out. Sensing what Shane and Billy were trying to do, Brian instinctively took a step away from the basket and turned to face Hazel. Brian was at least 8 feet away when Hazel released his 3-point attempt, but Brian, again with perfect timing, rose to meet the shot at the top of its arc, and, with his outstretched arm, tipped it just enough to throw it off course. The deflected pass came straight down to Skylar, who grabbed it and quickly dribbled back past the three-point line to reset the offense. Seeing Brian unguarded under the basket, Skylar snapped off a quick, unexpected pass to him.  Brian, surprisingly, caught it. Looking up at the basket, he gave a short, gentle push with his legs and rose easily off the gym floor. At the peak of his perfect jump, he stretched out his arms and shoved the ball down through the basket with both hands before dropping back to earth. The coach blew his whistle long and loud but there was no need to. Every person in the gym, coach Miller, coach Hunt, the varsity and the JV, the cheerleaders and Fuzz were all motionless, stunned at what they had just witnessed. Brian looked around. He still had not broken a sweat or taken a heavy breath.

It was Kirk Harden who broke the silence. “You guys never seen anyone dunk before” he yelled, snapping the players, and the coach for that matter, back to reality. “Starters…ball…” he continued and smacked the side of the leather to start the play. Kirk tossed the ball to Billy, who dribbled to his left, right toward Brian. As Billy set up to shoot, he saw Brian drifting toward him, setting up to defend him. Billy, intimidated by what he had just seen Brian do, turned and passed back to Kirk. Coach Miller blew his whistle. “That’s not the play, Eyre, you’re supposed to take that shot when your open.”

“I wasn’t sure I was open, coach.”

“You mean Ferco? He was 10 feet away from you.”

“I know, but…”

“Are you ladies trying to tell me Ferco is already making you adjust your shots? That’s bull. I want my starters to run the offense, as drawn up.” He looked right at Billy Eyre, then back at the rest of the team. “Make Ferco earn it if he’s trying to block your shot. Now let’s go offense. One!” he yelled, blowing his whistle.

Kirk again slapped the ball and again passed in to Billy Eyre, but this time, using an option on the play, he snapped a quick pass off to Shane Simmons, who had shaken Ty Taylor and was alone at the low post. Shane took the pass and gave a half-hearted jump to lay the ball in, but before he could, Brian came sailing in from left of the foul line, and launching himself, pinned Shane’s shot against the backboard. He was unable to control it, however, and the ball slipped from his hand right back to Shane, who followed up for an easy lay-up. The players once again paused when they saw what Brian did, but the coach yelled “nice try Ferco, way to play defense. Taylor, where were you on that play are you telling me the shortest guy on the court has to save your butt?” Coach Miller scolded. Now, I want my starters to run the offense, number 2 this time, and I promise you ladies, we are not going to leave this court today until you score.”

Woody sided up to the coach. “You done Bear?” coach Miller said, looking at him.

“Five laps coach.”

“That’s not what I mean” and he stared Woody.

“Yes, I am coach. I just wanna play ball.”

“Good. Atwood, out. Bear, in” coach Miller yelled, then blew his whistle. Woody jogged onto the court and took his position on offense. He didn’t look at anyone, least of all Brian. Once again, Kirk slapped the ball and the players exploded. This time, however, he tossed the ball in to Ed Gilmore, who dribble to his right, trying to draw the defense. Skylar yelled “shift” and Brian, following Skylar’s defensive call, moved to his left, leaving Tray Timmons to cover Ed. He found himself matched against Woody. Woody took the pass from Ed, and Brian immediately moved to cover him. Woody gave Brian a head fake, and Brian, not used to the move, left his feet. As Brian came back down, Woody took an easy jump shot for 2 points.

“Watch those head fakes, Ferco” the coach yelled, and Brian nodded.

Skylar took the ball, checked to Kirk, then fired an inbound pass to Dino. Dino, a 3-point specialist, drifted behind the 3-point line and launched a shot. The ball hit the back of the rim and fell directly to Brian. Not having to take the ball back, he poised to go up for a layup, but suddenly Shane Simmons and Billy Eyre appeared right in front of him, arms extended, moving to shut him down. Brian jumped. Billy, off balance, was out of the play, but Shane was in position for a clean block, rising to meet Brian at the top of his ascent. Brian rose with the ball in both hands, his arms extended, when he saw Shane trying to swat his shot. Brian quickly pulled the ball down, causing Shane to swipe at empty air, then pumped the ball back up and slammed it through the hoop, hanging briefly on the rim before dropping down. This time there was no shocked or surprise pausing by either side. Instead, Dino Adams yelled “alright Ferco” and Kirk quickly grabbed the ball. “3” he yelled, and the players again moved with the precision of a well-oiled machine. Brian was no longer lost on the court, for the most part, his nights studying the plays paying off. Kirk passed in to Woody, who dribbled to the corner, hoping to avoid Brian’s defense, then spun back toward the basket, looking for a screen from a teammate. Making eye contact with Kirk, he gave a brief nod of his head to the right, and Kirk slid down the foul line, moving into position to block Brian out, giving Woody an open look at the basket. Kirk, 3 inches taller than Brian, was in perfect position, and Woody elevated into a jump shot and released the ball. Brian allowed Kirk to put his weight on him, then slid sideways. Kirk, caught off balance, fell backwards onto his butt, and Brian, now in the clear and unblocked, easily rose up, meeting Woody’s shot at its peak, palming the ball before pulling it back down to earth.

Coach Miller blew his whistle. Brian walked over to Kirk and, with the ball in one hand, reached out his other hand to him. Kirk looked at Brian, then letting out a short laugh, shook his head and took Brian’s hand. “Nice job, Ferco” he said as Brian pulled him up. Brian looked at Woody, who just stared.

“That, ladies, was impressive” coach Miller finally yelled. “Looks like we’ll have to start accounting for Ferco on the court. Ferco, switch with Woody.” Brian didn’t move. But Woody did, turning to face the other way before looking at Brian. “Get on your side, professor,” and Brian moved to side with the starters. “Run number 2” coach Miller hollered. Kirk slapped the side of the ball and Brian, knowing he was to receive the inbound pass, moved toward Kirk, using Ed Gilmore to screen off Dino Adams, who was trying to cover him. Brian took the inbound pass, turned toward the basket, then exploded toward it, springing off the court. Ty Taylor, Woody Bear and Skylar McCabe all collapsed on Brian, all three of them rising with him. Brian reached the peak of his leap and was met by a tangle of limbs, all clutching, clawing and swiping at him, but it didn’t matter. Brian’s forward thrust simply powered him through their futile slaps, and he again slammed the ball through the net. Tray, Ed, Skylar and Dino all gathered around Brian. Tray held out his fist and Brian looked at him. “Fist pump” Tray said, taking Brian’s hand, making a fist, then touching it against his. “Fist pump” Tray said, and Brian said “cool” and smiled, turning to fist pump Dino, Ed and Skylar in turn. Kirk said, “nice play Ferco” and coach Miller added, “I have to agree, nice job ladies, looks like we have a team here. Now huddle up” and the players formed a half circle in front of the him.

“Okay ladies, that’s it for today, and no laps, you ran around like fools enough already. The list of this year’s team will be posted on the bulletin board right after practice today. That’s it” and coach Miller headed for the locker room. The players began gathering up their gear to follow him. “Timmons and Ferco, balls” the coach added, and Brian and Tray began gathering the practice balls and placing them in the ball rack. Tray ran to the opposite end of the gym to grab the last stray ball. “Hey, Ferco” he yelled. “Check this out, full court, last second shot to win the game.” Brian, who was standing under the basket Tray was about to shoot at, stopped and looked at Tray, as did the rest of the players. Tray dribbled twice then picked up the ball. “3…2…1” and launched it with one hand. The ball sailed high over the basket, jamming itself between two of the pipes that suspend the backboard from the ceiling, at least 15 feet up.

“Nice shot” Nick Reardon said.

“Halftime…” Tray added, laughing. “Hold on Ferco, I’ll grab the ladder” he added, jogging to the side to grab an extension ladder.

Brian looked up at the stuck ball. Bending his legs slightly, he pushed off, leaped up, and slapped the lodged ball free with his outstretched hand before dropping back down. Brian picked up the ball and placed it in the ball rack, then turned to his teammates, who simply stared at him. Brian walked off the court into the locker room.

Submitted: April 01, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Gary192837465. All rights reserved.


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