Alex breathes deeply. Game day, he thinks.
Sitting on the steps of the gym, he ties his shoes nervously, wondering about the challenge he might have to face. He practiced basketball a lot, of course, but Pennel Creek was still such an overwhelmingly strong team. He remembers it so clearly. How could so much effort yield no results? Michael couldn't do anything. Jackson couldn't do anything. I couldn't do anything.
Not even halfway through tying one of his shoes, Alex buries his head in his arms, in fear of the possibilities. If it was the same team, Marble Creek wouldn't stand a chance.
Someone taps him on his shoulder, and Alex looks up. Standing there is Chris, in his practice jersey and completely tied shoes.
"Why so sad?" Chris wonders, staring up at the sky. Alex looks up, too, noticing beautiful clouds.
"Not important," replies Alex, "Nice weather today."
Chris nods in agreement, smiling, "You know, if the reason you're sad isn't important, then it shouldn't affect our upcoming game, right?"
Alex chuckles, again realizing that Chris and Dwayne really aren't that different. They both have such stubborn, straightforward personalites, although Dwayne is a bit more on the stupid side.
"You're right. I shouldn't let the decisions of my past dictate how to live my future," Alex stands up, giving Chris a grin.
"Also you're shoes are still untied, idiot," Chris adds, his warm smile unchanging.
Alex shoves Chris through the double doors in annoyance and sits down again, tying his shoes
However, he barely gets started before he's interrupted again.
"Hello?" a voice asks him from above. Alex cranes his head upward, his eyes finding a tall latino boy, most likely around the same height as Chris, if not taller.
"Yes?" Alex replies, noticing around ten people behind him, all wearing basketball uniforms and jackets.
"Marble Creek?" the boy inquires, staring at Alex's uniform, "We are at the right gym, right?"
Alex violently shoots up from his sitting position, "And you're Pennel Creek?"
"Indeed," he nods, "My name is Fernando. Yours?"
Alex hesitantly replies, "Alex."
"Well, I wish you good luck during the game," Fernando smiles, patting Alex on the shoulder condescendingly. Alex doesn't ignore it.
"Same here. We might be stronger than you think," Alex replies in the same condescending tone. He isn't going to let some strange guy from another school push him around, especially on his home turf.
"Mocking is disrespectful, especially to guests," he comments, leaning closer towards Alex, close enough that Alex can smell his perfectly scented breath. Alex shoves him away gently, to not seem too hotheaded, although he wants to shove Fernando a lot harder than that.
"Come on in," says Alex coldly as he leads them into the gym, "Your side is over there."
He points toward a line of chairs on the other side of the court.
Dwayne walks over just as Pennel Creek starts toward their chairs. He's wearing his uniform, and it frankly looks a bit too big. I'll need to tell Jacob about that, if he doesn't already know, thinks Alex, amused.
"Roll your shorts up a little bit so it's not covering your abdomen. It looks kind of weird," Alex suggests. After doing it, Dwayne still looks a little strange, but at least the shorts seem to work.
"This was the smallest size," Dwayne frowns, "Honestly, it's like they're assuming that all basketball players are fat and tall!"
"I wouldn't say fat . . ." Alex blinks.
Dwayne looks down and gapes in astonishment, "Dude! You were out there for, like, ten minuteschapter and your shoes are still untied!"
. . .
After returning to the gym (with tied shoes), Alex grabs his water bottle to place it on his chair. He notices there are only six chairs, and realizes ruefully that only six are needed. One for the coach, and five for the players.
"Pretty depressing," Jacob says from behind him. Alex turns to see the coach wearing a comfortable jacket and sweatpants, along with a whistle attached to a necklace, and a ball in his hand.
Alex asks Jacob, "Do you think this team even has a chance?"
Jacob stares at him curiously, "What do you mean?"
"There's only five of us. How can we beat stronger teams?" Alex places his water bottle down, "We won't stand a chance."
Jacob nods, "I understand your concern, but look."'
He tosses the ball to Alex, and Alex catches it. Jacob silently stares at Alex for a moment.
Suddenly, he shoots his right hand forward to slap the ball out of Alex's hand. He reacts immediately, pulling the basketball away.
"That's what I'm betting on," Jacob smiles, holding his hand out for Alex to return the basketball, "Don't think I didn't notice your talent."
Alex reddens, unsure how to reply to such a compliment. Instead, he returns the ball silently.
"Now warm up for the game," Jacob gives Alex a push towards the rest of the team, "We didn't practice for nothing.
. . .
Chris stares at the basketball rim thoughtfully, wondering why it was created with a red color. Clearly, since red often means 'stop', 'danger', or 'blood', it must be a warning to stay away. People who attempt to score on the inside are just muscleheads, in Chris's opinion. Lay-ups are definitely the most accurate shot, but it also comes with the risk of being hurt, and being hurt is the most counterproductive thing that Chris can do for his team.
A ball strikes the back of Chris's head, and he's knocked forward. He turns around in agony.
Chris was never a muscular boy. His bones seemingly protruded from his joints, and many past teammates feared his elbows. With a body like that, how exactly could Chris play physically?
"Who threw that?" Chris asks in a low, threatening tone. In front of him is Spencer and Dwayne. Spencer, a cheerful and bubbly amateur, and Dwayne, the antagonizing, ever-hateful shorty.
"Sorry, my hands slipped," Dwayne replies in a tone indicating that his hands definitely did not slip.
Chris turns his head away in a cocky manner, which seems to really piss Dwayne off.
"The game's almost started. Coach wants to talk to us," Dwayne says accusingly. Reluctantly, Chris trudges back to the benches. Everyone is standing in a semi-circle in front of Jacob, because he hates having to talk to people behind him.
"Now that everyone is here, let me formally introduce myself. After all, new day, new game," Jacob smiles, looking everyone in the eye, "I'm Coach Jacob Miller, Head Coach of the Marble Creek Middle School's Boys' Basketball Team."
"Nice to meet you," Alex grins, "I'm Alexander White, I can play any position, and I'm a player for the Marble Creek Middle School's Boys' Basketball Team."
Dwayne catches on, "Oh! I'm Dwayne Lawrence, I play center, and I'm a player for the . . . whatever, it's too long."
"Lazy," Chris comments disdainfully, earning a violent glare from Dwayne, "I'm Chris Miller, I play guard, and I'm a player for the Marble Creek Middle School's Boys' Basketball Team."
"Do we really have to say the entire thing?" asks Colin, uncertain.
"Yes," replies Jacob, Alex, and Dwayne in unison.
"I'm . . . uh . . . I'm Colin," he says quietly, and then finally realizing that he has to say it, he adds,"And I play for the Marble Creek Middle School's Boys' Basketball Team."
Even quieter, he asks, "Why does Dwayne get to skip it?"
"Because he's an idiot," Alex whispers loudly in a dramatic tone.
Dwayne reacts almost immediately, "I play for the Marble Creek Middle School Boys' Basketball Team!"
Spencer grins, "Same here!"
"Say the whole thing, man," Alex pokes him in annoyance. Spencer looks away sheepishly.
"Alright," he inhales deeply, "I'm Spencer Br-"
The sharp noise of the referee's whistle echoes around the gym.
Since it's a practice game, there are very few people sitting in the bleachers. It's mostly a few parents, but Jacob had told Chris that there would be a bigger turnout for official games, especially in later rounds, or against stronger teams.
"If no one wants to do the jump, Chris will do it," Jacob says quickly.
"The what?" Spencer asks, and Chris can hear a slight disappointment in his tone; he's still bummed out from the fact that he wasn't able to say the dramatic intro like everyone else.
"The jump. At the beginning of the game," Jacob explains anxiously, since the referee is starting to seem annoyed, "Basically, one player from both teams jump to get the ball. Okay, we're out of time. Chris, you do the j-"
"Tiger on three!" a booming voice echoes around the gym even louder than the whistle, interrupting Jacob. He tries to talk over their cheer, but he isn't loud enough.
"One, two, three, Tigers!" shouts the entirety of the Pennel Creek team in perfect unison. Chris scowls at how organized they sound. In contrast, the Marble Creek team quickly says 'Go Wolves' at slightly different time frames and rushes onto the court in a daze.
Chris quickly jogs over to the center of the court, reaching the half-court circle before Pennel Creek's jumper.
The jumper is a tall latino boy with streaks of red highlights in his black hair. The hair was very perfectly straightened, and Chris could sense that this boy had spent a lot of time and energy to get it that way.
"Nice hair," Chris smirks, attempting to throw the boy off balance.
He isn't thrown off at all. Instead, he holds out his hand to shake, "My name is Fernando."
With a mocking smirk, he forcefully grabs Chris's hands and shakes it, "Nice shoelaces, Chris."
Chris blinks, curious as to why this 'Fernando' knows his name. With a sneer, Chris kneels down to tie his shoe, and while doing so, the referee walks onto the court, preparing for the game.
For some reason the shoelaces are thoroughly messed up, as if someone had intentionally wanted him to tie his shoe for a millennia. Chris starts getting fidgety as he fixes the laces on his shoe. The referee starts to get a bit irritated as well. Finally, Chris finishes, and he stands back up, his knees cramping from the strain.
"Blue!" the referee points at the direction that Chris is facing, indicating that the Wolves's will be attacking in that direction.
"White!" the referee shouts, pointing the other direction. Almost all of the time, the home team will be white, and other team will be their other color, most commonly blue. Chris noticed that, for some reason, most teams absolutely adored the color blue.
Strangely enough, Marble Creek's actual color is closer to a shade of purple. Perhaps he's too lazy to enunciate two syllables, thinks Chris.
Chris bends his knees, lowering his body to nearly a squat, and Fernando does the same. And suddenly, the cramp strikes his knees again. The referee blows his whistle, and the ball is thrown in the air. Although Chris holds the advantage of height, Fernando jumps a second earlier, getting the tip-off, and the possession is sent to a short and skinny boy with glasses. His height can compare even with Dwayne.
"What was that jump, man?" Dwayne complains quietly to Chris.
Chris retorts, "Shut up, we're in a game."
Glasses dribbles up right next to the three point line. Since Marble Creek isn't very experienced, they begin with a two-three defense, which entails that two people stand further forward, and three people stand further back, in a trapezoid shape.
"Unfortunately, just like basically every defense, the two-three has some weaknesses," Jacob explained to them when he first introduced it to them.
"Logan! Here!" Fernando shouts. Glasses sends a strong pass to him, and Fernando grins, seemingly amused at the two-three defense.
Four feet behind the three-point line, and no one guarding him, Fernando jumps high into the air, as if floating, and shoots a three-pointer with a beautiful arc and perfect spin. His right hand curls down after he shoots with perfect form. Chris can't help but gape at the shot.
Even though it's so far away, he already knows what will happen. There's no way that a shot with such majestic form could miss.
Chris can even hear Fernando barely whisper, "Splash."
And going through the hoop like a pebble into a pond, the net flies up as the ball drops through with a swish.
The entire court is silent for a moment. None of Fernando's teammates even cheer. Fernando himself begins to walk back for defense, as if the shot was something that happened every day. Chris realizes that this is probably the case.
How much time did he have to spend to get to that kind of accuracy?
Chris glances at some of Pennel Creek's players, and none of them look happy.
Colin steps out of bounds to throw the ball to Alex. The score is 0-3, with Pennel Creek leading.
Despite Alex being more suited for playing as a forward, Jacob had decided that he would play as the point guard, because none of the other players could do so.
Alex brings the ball up slowly, and shouts, "Let's get a few shots in, guys! They can take as many threes as they want, alright?"
Fernando is clearly displeased by this, and he scowls in Alex's direction. Alex suddenly increases his speed, getting past the first defender, and coming up against their biggest man. Unable to get around him, Alex dishes the ball out to Chris, outside of the three-point line, and wide open.
Instead of taking the three, he dribbles further in, readying himself for a jump shot. However, once the ball leaves his hands, Fernando comes out of nowhere, slapping the ball straight out of the air.
Logan gets the ball at half-court, and faced with no resistance, he dribbles down and shoots a lay-up. However, it misses. The other team's center snatches the rebound and throws it out to another player. For some reason, they seem to be avoiding Fernando, who is wide open.
The player with the ball passes it back to Logan. He watches Marble Creek's defenders carefully before dribbling. However, before he can even dribble, Fernando walks up next to him and wrenches the ball from his hands.
Everyone, including the referees, pause for a moment, clearly unsure what had just happened. Chris sprints forward towards Fernando, because he already knows what Fernando will do next.
Just as predicted, Fernando jumps up, shooting a three, but not before Chris gets a hand on it. However, Chris's block misses, and he ends up slapping Fernando's hand instead.
Fweeeeet! cries the loud whistle of a referee, signaling a shooting foul. However, the ball still splashes through the hoop, and Fernando gives Chris a smirk.
Fernando then steps up to the free-throw line as Chris glances helplessly at the sidelines. Jacob stands there with a stoic expression.
Fernando takes a shot, throwing the ball with an enourmously high arc, and it, just like all the rest of his shots, goes through with a splash.
Colin steps out of bounds, dismayed. He throws the ball slowly, in a high, lazy arc. Pennel Creek's center, quickly positions himself in front of Alex and grabs the ball. He jumps up, throwing the ball in.
"Time-out!" shouts Jacob. With two minutes left in the first quarter, the referee motions to the scorekeepers that a full one-minute time-out is called on the white team.
Everyone starts walking back.
"Run!" Jacob growls, "Get over here and hustle!"
For some reason, Chris already feels tired, even after only four minutes of play. With everyone standing in a semi-circle, Jacob glares at them for a moment, but then his face softens.
"Alright, so obviously, they've got a hot-shot on their team," Jacob explains, "The other players aren't that bad either, but you can compete against them."
Alex whispers with wide, fearful eyes, "You really sure?"
"Alex, don't look at the scoreboard. Don't ever look at it," Jacob says sternly, "I don't care what that score is, if you're not giving your 100 percent out there, I will make you run suicides by yourself until you throw up."
Alex seems to be slapped awake by the statement.
"We'll switch our defense up," says Jacob, satisfied with Alex's reaction, "We'll play a box and one. Basically, two people will play front, and two people will play in the back, in a square defense. The fifth player will guard the point guard or a dangerous shooter. In this case, we'll have Alex guard you-know-who, since he's our fastest player."
Alex nods says, "I have something to tell you guys, by the way."
"Yeah?" Dwayne asks, chugging his water at an extremely fast pace. Chris notices, but decides not to tell him. After all, he thinks it would be funny if Dwayne gets a cramp towards the end.
"I can probably start it up towards the end of the fourth quarter," he says, standing up.
"Start what now?" asks Colin as he rolls his shoulders, warming up.
Alex looks up at the ceiling, grinning, "My strongest engine."