Reads: 376

Act 2 Basketball

Chapter 7

Game on

Brian paused in front of Bug’s house, checking the time on his phone. There was a fall crisp in the air, but the October sun shone brightly, warming the day. Bug came bounding down off her porch, the smile of the carved jack-o-lantern sitting on the top step dulled by the smile beaming on her face.  She ran toward Brian, kicking a pile of autumn foliage into the air, the auburn, orange and russet colored leaves spinning, dancing and floating around her. “I love fall” she said, smiling. “The colors make me feel so happy."

“The temperatures are cooler" Brian said.

“The temperatures are cooler” Bug repeated back to him, making a grumpy face. “Is that all you see in this beautiful day?” she added as she closed her eyes, tilting her head back to let the sun hit her face. Brian looked at her. Her long, brown hair fell straight to almost her waist and it shimmered under the glint of the fall sun. Her white skin looked smooth and soft, and even without any makeup, he noticed how pretty she was, her natural beauty making make-up unnecessary. She opened her eyes and looked at him. “What?” she said, still smiling widely.

“Bug, listen”

“Yes?” she answered, looking at him. Her brown eyes were sparkling so brightly, and her smile was so wide that all he could bring himself to say was “I am really nervous about tonight.”
“As you should be” she answered. “So, tell me” she continued, grabbing Brian’s stomach. “Mmm” she said, feeling his hard stomach muscles. "Maybe I’ll climb these first” she added, smiling.

“Bug, come on” Brian said, taking both of Bug’s hands into his.

“Okay, okay tell me, what’s in your stomach right now? Papiliones or rudem nodis?”

Brian thought for a second. “Butterflies or nervous knots?”  Bug smiled and nodded her head. Brian thought for another second, then said “papiliones sunt usa est nodums,” and he let go of Bug’s hands. She stopped walking and put a finger to the side of her chin. “The butterflies are tying the knots?” she said, looking partly confused.

Brian smiled.

“That, Brian Ferco, is poetic. Oh, I can’t wait until tonight. I am so excited.”

“I see that” Brian said. “I thought you were against” and he paused. “Ludis ludos.”

“I am, but that was before you were on the team” she said smiling. “It’s kinda like a guilty pleasure. Plus, I get to see you in shorts” she added, still smiling and raising her eyebrows playfully.

“Bug, listen, I have to tell you something” Brian said, sounding serious.

“No, no, no Bug said, making a serious face herself.  I just want this day to fly by so I can watch you play tonight. Tomorrow…tomorrow you can tell me whatever it is you need to tell me.”

Brian looked at her and smiled.  I was just gonna say I need to stop at the store and get a bottle of water for tonight’s game.”

“Great, I’ll come in with you” and her smile came back.

Brian held the door for her and as she passed, she smiled and half-curtsied. They headed to the back of the store and stood in front of the drink coolers.

“Do you want regular water or an energy drink?” Bug asked.

“Actually, vitamin water.”

“Look at all these energy drinks” Bug continued.

“I know, there are over 500 energy drinks in the world now, can you believe that?”

“If Fanucci says $500, he means $500” Bug said as she followed Brian to the counter.

“$2.29 the clerk said after scanning Brian’s drink.

Brian started counting change from his pocket, to the annoyance of the clerk.

“Just let me swipe my card” Bug offered.

“I could do that” Brian answered, “I’m trying to get rid of some change.”

“You need a job Spicoli” was all she said back.

Brian looked at the clerk. “Forgive her.” The clerk, however, perked up. “Hey, I love Fast Times” he said.
Brian looked at Bug, who shrugged and smiled, before turning to head out the door, Brian right behind her.

“You know, Bug, there is a chance I won’t even get in the game tonight.”

“No way. Speaking statistically, it just makes sense. If coach Miller just wanted a role player for the bench, he would have chosen a regular basketball player. He didn’t do that, he kept you on the team. That can only mean one thing. You are viewed as an asset.”

“Okay, okay, maybe you’re right.”

“Maybe? she said, smiling.”

“Now I’m more nervous than ever” Brian said, pulling the double doors of the school open for Bug.

She took a step up, then spun around to face Brian. “Look, I’m as tall as you now” she said, looking down at her feet as she shyly pulled the strings on her hooded sweatshirt.

“Bug, you are so goofy” Brian replied, smiling.

“No, listen, I need you to promise me something” she continued, lifting her eyes to meet Brian’s.

“What?” Brian asked.

“That no matter what happens tonight, and even if you win the game and become a big hero, you will still carry my books to school on Monday” Bug said, staring into Brian’s eyes.

“Carry your books?”

“Promise me we will still walk to school together on Monday no matter what.”

“I promise” Brian said, and the smile came back to Bug’s face. “Besides, who else would I speak Latin with at 7:30 in the morning?”

“Exactly” she said, spinning to dash up the steps. “Manere auream” she added back over her shoulder.

“Now that’s a book I love” Brian returned.

“It’s from the movie” she yelled before disappearing down the hall.

Just as Bug had hoped the day flew by and Brian found himself in the locker room after school. The game was not until 7:00, but today was the day uniforms were issued, so the players had to be in early.

Coach Miller strolled into the locker room. “All right ladies, listen up, uniforms. Just a reminder, returning veterans go first so they can keep the number they’ve had. Next, new players by grade.”

Brian waited patiently for his turn, not believing in luck, but still hoping he was lucky and number 7 was still available.

“Ferco” coach Miller bellowed. “You’re up.”

Brian walked into the storage room. He thumbed through the uniforms and, amazingly, number 7 was still available. He pulled it off the shelf and returned to the bench in front of his locker. He looked down at the White and Green jersey, then ran his hand down the number. The sewn on seven was edged in green, and Brain thought to himself that 7 really is the complete number. Suddenly, the uniform was yanked off his lap. He stood up. It was Woody.

“No way, sorry Ferco, you can’t wear 7.”

“Why not? Brian said, surprised himself at his forwardness.

“Because this belonged to Steve Jones, and he was a legend at Greenville. Our league doesn’t allow retiring numbers, but it’s just understood, nobody wears number 7, least of all a fronter like you.”

Brian didn’t back down, instead, moving toward Woody. Skylar, Ed, and Shane moved to keep the two apart. “Hey, knock that crap off” coach Miller yelled. Woody and Brian stared at each other briefly, then Brian turned to coach Miller. “I’ll pick another number coach” and the players broke up. Brian returned to the storage room, this time settling on 14.

“Okay, listen up ladies” the coach said. Tonight’s starters, Harden, Gilmore, Bear, Eyre, and Simmons. Ferco” the coach said, and Brian looked up. “Be ready to go.” The players exchanged surprised looks, but the coach broke the tension. They’re all yours Harden, see you guys out there” and coach Miller headed out the door.

“Okay you guys” Kirk said. “Standard opening. Ferco, you’re shortest, you go first. Simmons, you go last and dunk the ball. Shane Simmons nodded his head. “And Simmons, make it look good.”

“What am I going first in?” Brian asked, confused.

“Give Ferco a ball” Kirk instructed, and Tray took a ball from the rack and tossed it to Brian. “Just dribble out to the basket at our end and bounce the ball off the backboard, we’ll do the rest.”

Brian stood and moved to the door leading to the gym, and the team lined up behind him shortest to tallest. “Go” Kirk said, and Brian bolted through the door, dribbling toward the home team’s basket. The gym, packed with faithful fans of the almost champion Dragons, exploded into screams and cheers. Brian tossed the ball off the backboard, then peeled away, turning to see what the team would do. Each player leaped in turn, grabbing the ball and bouncing it off the glass just as Brian had, until Shane took the last touch, slamming the ball through the hoop. The crowd got even louder, and Brian couldn’t help but notice that every bleacher was full, the overflow of the crowd lining any and every walkway and wall. Brian also noticed how awkward Shane looked dunking the ball. Brian moved to take a seat in the last chair of the bench. Suddenly, Bug appeared behind him. “Here” she said, handing him a bottle of Gatorade. “In case you need it” she added. She kissed him on the cheek, and Brian briefly hoped no one had seen her do it, mostly Doris, but feeling guilty, he quickly said “thanks, Bug,” and smiled.  She smiled back and hurried away. The starters stripped off warm-ups as the horn blasted overhead.

“Remember,” coach Miller instructed the team over the din of the crowd. “Number 55, Badlin, for the Cougars. He’s only 6’4”, that’s an inch shorter than you Simmons, but, sorry son, he can still out jump you. Gilmore, Eyre, you two have got to help Simmons on every defensive rotation. If we let this guy set up on Shane, he’ll kill us all night.” Billy and Ed nodded. “Okay, huge test for us. First game, opening night, at home, and we have our work cut out for us. Bring it in. 1…2…3” and the team yelled “Dragon’s” in unison. The starters took the court, and Shane Simmons lined up the jump ball. The ref stood at center court, whistle in his mouth, ball resting in the palm of his right hand. The ref tossed the leather Spalding straight up and high, and both Shane and Badlin leaped, stretching to control the ball. Badlin reached the ball first, outjumping Shane easily, and tapped it to the Cougars point guard, Swift. He sent a quick outlet pass down court to his small forward Sundan, who hit a wide open Badlin breaking toward the basket. Badlin went straight in uncontested and slammed the ball through the net, pulling on the breakaway rim, then letting the rim snap back into place. The small visiting section of the Westfield Cougars exploded into a frenzy, while the home crowd’s enthusiasm dimmed from the surprise start. Billy Eyre tossed the ball in over the end line to Kirk, and the Dragon’s moved down court as the home crowd’s cheers again began to build.

“Were you asleep on that play?” coach Miller yelled to Shane as he jogged past the Dragon’s bench. Kirk brought the ball across half court, then seeing Woody open on the wing, fired a pass to him. Woody looked to shoot, but instead began to dribble and move toward the basket. Woody jumped to lay the ball off the backboard when Badlin came swooping in, smacking Woody’s shot away. The ball flew to Frost, who started the Cougar’s fast break. Kirk Harden moved to cut Frost off, but he simply dropped a pass to a trailing Sudan for an easy layup. Rattled, the Dragon’s looked confused, and Shane Simmons’ weak inbound pass was picked off by the Cougar’s Frost, who passed to a wide open Badlin, who slammed home another two points. Just like that it was 6-0. Coach Miller caught the attention of the referee with the time out sign, and the ref blew his whistle to stop play. The two teams jogged back to their benches.

“That is the sloppiest two minutes I have ever seen in my life” coach Miller screamed. “Eyre, Gilmore, didn’t I just tell you guys to back Simmons up. And Simmons, do you think you can dial it up a little you’re getting embarrassed out there.” Shane nodded his head, but not convincingly. The horn blasted and the teams again took the court. Woody took the ball from the referee and tossed it into Kirk, who dribbled free to the half court line, the Cougars already set in a zone defense, ready to protect their 6-0 lead. Kirk crossed the half court line then dribbled to his left toward the free throw line extended. He spun 180 degrees and snapped a pass back to Ed Gilmore, who received the pass and sent it off to Billy Eyre on one motion. The rapid passing worked, as Badlin was unable to move out quickly enough from his zone position in the middle of the key, and Billy hit for 2 points from 10 feet out. The crowd, dulled by the earlier offense of Westfield, was now back on its feet, urging more from their Dragons. Greenville responded when Woody stole the Cougars inbound pass and went up for an easy layup, making it 6-4. That was the closet the Dragons would get, however, before halftime. The Cougars Badlin began to settle in, and the Dragon’s had no answer for him. Despite being an inch taller, Shane Simmons was unable to establish any kind of offense against Badlin, as the latter outweighed him by 20 pounds, and could out jump him by 5 inches. Kirk and Woody were able to feed Shane at the low post, but Badlin was there every time, either muscling Shane off the play or changing his shot by his ability to elevate, several times stopping the shot altogether with one of his 3 blocks for the game. Defensively was worse, as Badlin enforced his will on Shane, outjumping him on the offense boards for easy scores or finishing a set play against Shane that Shane was physically unable to stop. By the time the buzzer sounded for halftime, the Dragons were down 32-20. Badlin had 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots for the cougars, while Shane’s line read 5 points and 2 rebounds with no blocked shots. The Dragon’s dream season was already in jeopardy, and the home crowd, used to the offensive displays of last year’s Dragons, were subdued. Brian grabbed his water bottle and jogged to the locker room with his teammates. Despite what the coach had said during pre-game about being ready, he hadn’t so much as even looked at Brian during the whole first half.

The players sat demoralized on the bench when the coach exploded through the doors. “What does the word ‘help’ mean ladies?” he bellowed.

The players looked at him in silence.

“Ferco, what does the word ‘help’ mean?”

Brian paused for a second. “To give assistance or support to?” he said, finally.

“To give assistance or support to” coach Miller repeated, although at a much louder volume. I don’t see any assistance. I don’t see any support. All I see is my center, alone on an island, while his teammates sit in folding chairs, sipping on cocktails, watching him get his lunch handed to him.”

Brian tried to follow the comparison. “If I don’t see at least three players, and those three players are Simmons, Gilmore and Eyre, collapsing on number 55 EVERY time he touches the ball, then I will put three players in who WILL collapse to the ball. Got it?”

“Yes, sir” the players mumbled in unison.

“That, ladies, was pathetic as well” the coach added. “Okay, I knew Badlin was going to be a problem for us tonight, so there was a method to my madness in the first half. Anyone know why I had you guys keep feeding the ball to Simmons even though it wasn’t working?”

The players exchanged looks, except for Brian.

“Ferco, tell them” the coach said. Brian looked around sheepishly before saying “to establish our game plan as feeding Shane at the low post.”

“Exactly, now, we’re going to do the same thing in the second half.” The players exchanged looks again, this time thoroughly confused.

“But we’re gonna run the feeder offense” the coach added, and the players perked up.

The feeder offense was simple. Kirk and Woody would feed the ball to Shane, or if he was covered, Billy or Ed. If Shane received the pass, he would immediately kick it out to one of the 4 other guys, based on who was in the best position to score. The second option for Kirk and Woody would be to pass in to Billy or Ed, who would then look to pass to Shane, who would do the same thing, kick it out to whoever was open.

“Any questions? Good. They’re all yours, Kirk” and coach Miller spun to head out to the floor.

“Bring it in” Kirk ordered, and the players piled hands on top of each other. “1-2-3 Dragons.”

The possession arrow favored Westfield, and they got the second half action started from the half court out-of-bounds line with a pass in from Sundan to Swift, who slowly dribbled toward the Cougars offensive end with his finger in air. “One” he yelled, and the Cougars burst into movement, shadowed by the Dragon’s man to man defense. Tallis, the Cougar’s power forward, broke toward Swift to take a pass, then spun to hit Badlin breaking toward the basket. Badlin grabbed the ball and leaped to drop it through the net, a slow-to-react Simmons could only watch. Coach Miller shook his head, then clapped his hands together as the teams passed to head up court. 34-20 Cougars.

“Feeder” he yelled, and Kirk and Woody moved to opposite sides at the top of the key. Billy and Ed drifted down to the corners, and Shane began moving in and out of the box, being careful to avoid 3-seconds. Just as the coach predicted, Badlin moved to cover Shane, while Sundan and Tallis cheated down to assist him. Kirk fired the ball into Shane, who immediately pushed it back out to Ed, who, wide open because Tallis was cheating to cover Shane, hit a 10-footer for 2 points, bringing the home fans to their feet, encouraged by the quick score. The Cougars quickly moved the ball down the court, and after several passes around the perimeter, Swift hit a 3-pointer, and the Dragons were still staring at a 15-point deficit. Gilmore inbound to Kirk, and the Dragons moved down the court with the urgency of a trailing team. Kirk fired a 25-foot pass to Shane, open for a split second as the Cougars set up their defense, and Shane fired a pass out to Woody just outside the 3-point line on the wing. Woody released his jump shot for nothing but net, and the Cougar’s lead was cut to 12. Westfield set up their perimeter offense, then fed a pass into Badlin, who’s 5-footer banged off the rim, falling to Shane, who passed off to Kirk, and the Dragons sprinted down the court on a fast break. Kirk, Woody and Shane were in a three on one. Kirk passed the ball to Shane heading for the basket, but as two Cougars collapsed on him, he kicked the ball out to the wing and a waiting Woody, who again nailed a wide open three. Greenville 28. Cougars 37.

The Dragon fans were back on their feet, sensing the comeback unfolding on the court, but Greenville was still down by 9 as the 4th quarter started, eight minutes showing on the scoreboard.

Westfield threw the ball in, and Swift slowly dribbled down the court, in no rush with the lead. When the shot clock reached 10 seconds, he dribbled hard to his left. Badlin had position on Shane, and his layup put the Cougars back up, 39-28. Again, Kirk sprinted down court, racing the clock. Staying faithful to coach Miller’s offense, he fired a pass to Billy, who fed it low to Shane, who quickly tossed it back out to Billy. Billy, using the screen of Shane, rose for a 3-pointer that spun around the rim but fell in. 39-31. The crowd was now in a frenzy. Woody inbounded to Kirk, but this time he was immediately met by the Cougar’s Swift, at the point of the Westfield full-court-press. Kirk, uncharacteristically, picked up his dribble, and, spinning on his pivot foot, desperately looked for help. Woody managed to free himself from his defender for a split second, running behind Kirk to take a pass and move up court. Again, Woody hit Shane with a pass at the top of the key, and Shane, not waiting to move into the box, tossed it underhand right back to Woody, who rose for a three, releasing the ball just as the Cougar’s Badlin sailed by him, his lanky arm barely missing the ball. Woody’s shot swished home. 39-34.

The Cougar’s coach called time out and the teams huddled up.

“Okay guys,” coach Miller began. “Stick with the game plan” he added, looking up at the clock. 4:10 to play. The horn again blared, and the teams took to the court. Westfield’s Swift leisurely walked the ball up the court, checking the shot clock as the seconds ticked down. Kirk moved in to pick him up, and when Swift glanced over at his coach, Kirk broke toward him. Swift, seeing Kirk out of the corner of his eye, spun to avoid the steal, but Kirk’s finger tipped the ball loose, and he grabbed it in a fast break to the Cougar’s basket. Kirk fed Shane, who kicked it out to Woody, but this time his three-point attempt clanked off the side of the rim, and Badlin grabbed the rebound, holding it safely against his body before tossing it to Swift. Swift again brought the Cougar’s slowly down the court, Kirk and Woody moving to double team him at half-court. The double team backfired, however, as Swift managed to squeeze a pass between Kirk and Woody to an uncovered Frost, who drove in for an easy 2 points. Coach Miller called time out and both teams hurried to their benches. The Dragons were trailing 41-36 with :59 seconds left.

Coach Miller stared for a few seconds at the clock then looked at his team. “Okay guys, feeder is working, when we’re hitting our shots.” He glanced back up at the clock, then looked at Brian. “Ferco, in for Eyre and McCabe in for Gilmore.”

Brian and the players could not hide their surprise, but the coach ignored their reaction and continued. “Ferco, if the shooters miss, and hopefully they won’t, clean up the boards, got it?”

Brian nodded his head and sprang off the bench, just as the horn sounded, and started onto the court. “Ferco, take your warm-ups off” coach Miller yelled, giving Brian an annoyed look. Brian stripped off his sweats, then took his place at the Dragon’s offensive end.

“Now in for Greenville, number 14, Brian Ferco” the announcer’s voice boomed over the pa. At the mention of Brian’s name, Bug, working in the snack bar, perked up. She hopped onto the counter, spinning to exit the stand, then ran over to the open gym doors, squeezing by the overflow crowd to where she could see the court. When she saw Brian, she broke into a wide smile and clapped her hands together lightly, but then, seeing the clock and the score, changed from a smile to a worry. Westfield’s coach, meanwhile, turned to his assistants. “What do you have on Ferco?”

“He’s number 14” one assistant answered while a second assistant looked on.

“I can see that myself” the Cougars coach replied with annoyance.

“That’s it” the assistant continued. “He’s never logged a second of time with the team in fact, he wasn’t even on the team last year.”

“He must be a three-point specialist” the second assistant offered lifting his shoulders

The Westfield coach hesitated, then turned to his assistants. “Ignore him and double Simmons.”

Woody rolled the ball in to Kirk, who let it roll as far as he could before picking it up, delaying the start of the clock for as long as possible. Kirk tossed the ball down to the low post to Shane, who was struggling to fight off a blanketing Badlin. Shane looked briefly at Brian, who was wide open, but instead passed to Woody. The Cougar’s Tallis, finally adjusting to Greenville’s feeder offense, was close enough to Woody to affect his shot, and the ball missed badly, hitting the rim before bouncing up and off the backboard. Brian, unguarded, broke toward the basket, and, rising above the other players, grabbed the top of the ball with one hand, then tomahawked it home for a resounding dunk. The crowd exploded. Bug, watching the whole time, jumped up and down clapping, her smile lighting up. 41-38 Cougars.

Once again, the Cougar’s Swift fed to Badlin, who pushed Shane down toward the basket before spinning for a 5-foot jumper. Just as the ball reached the top of its arc Brian, who had timed his block perfectly, swatted the ball away with the loud smack of hand on leather. The ball fell to Kirk, who fired a fast-break starting pass to Woody, sprinting toward the Westfield basket, Brian trailing right behind him. Suddenly, Woody half spun and tossed the ball back to Brian. Brian, close enough to the basket that he didn’t even need to put the ball on the floor, sailed high threw the air, jamming the ball through the net with authority. The home crowd was in a double frenzy now, and even the Dragon’s bench was on their feet, jumping to encourage the comeback. Woody held his fist out to Brian, and Brian touched it with his before they both wordlessly hurried down the floor to set up for defense. 41-40.

Coach Miller looked up at the scoreboard as the Cougar’s inbounded the ball. “Full court press” he yelled above the deafening crowd, and the Dragon’s moved to press the ball. Swift took the inbounds pass and was immediately swarmed by Kirk and Woody. Swift, looking for help, saw what he thought was an open Frost and yelled his name, but Frost, unable to hear above the noise from the crowd, failed to spin for the pass and Brian, unaccounted for and unmarked, broke on the loose ball, tipping it ahead of himself and toward the Cougar’s unguarded basket. This time, he dribbled twice, then rose for a gentle dunk, the ball hitting the floor just as the horn sounded to end the game. The home crowd, already in a double frenzy, spilled onto the floor as the players lined up for congratulations, the Cougars quickly clearing the floor.

Bug practically bounced back to the snack bar, a huge smile on her face. “Brian just won the game” she said to the Mrs. Stanton, who was working in the booth with her. “Can you believe it” she continued, still bouncing. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and Mrs. Stanton smiled too. “Very nice, she said.”

“Nice” Bug said. “This is stupendous…it’s stupendum.”

Mrs. Stanton looked at her, puzzled.

“That’s Latin for stupendous” Bug said, and Mrs. Stanton smiled at her politely.

“I need to finish so I don’t miss Brian” Bug added. Mrs. Stanton, seeing the smile on Bug’s face, said “go on, get out of here, I got this.”

“Are you sure?” Bug asked, kissing Mrs. Stanton on the cheek before bursting out the door.

The overflowing gym was now exiting, and Bug fought against the crowd flowing the opposite of her. She moved to the side of the lobby and stopped to wait for Brian, searching the doors to the locker room. Tom and Carolyn came toward her from the gym. “Did you see, Bug?” Carolyn asked, and she jumped up and down, smiling as she said “yes.” Tom and Carolyn looked at each other and smiled. “Well, we saw Brian when he came off the court and we can talk to him at home later. See you, Bug.” Bug didn’t answer, completely absorbed in looking for Brian. They smiled at each other again, then left the lobby. Finally, players started coming out, and Brian appeared. He made eye contact with Bug and he smiled and waved, and she waved back. Suddenly, Ed and Skylar grabbed Brian. “Hey man, you’re riding with us. Pizza then we have to show you something.”

Brian looked at Bug, her smile instantly vanishing when she saw him being pulled away. Brian gave her a “what can I do” look and shrug just before his celebrating teammates moved with him out the side lobby door. Bug watched the door for a few minutes, then, feeling the loneliness of the crowded lobby, turned to join the revelers funneling out the doors, disappearing into the chilly, October night.



Submitted: April 17, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Gary192837465. All rights reserved.


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