A/N: rereading this, i realized that Chris's little 'drowning in his eyes thing' (LMAOOO NOT LIKE THAT) >/////>) could have been more suited for Colin, especially cause colin barely gets screentime, and Chris has already had his share of fun, if u get my drift. but anyways, what's done is done, i'll def try to remember that when i revise it.
Spencer launches himself into the air, imagining the wind in his face. As a child, Spencer had always idolized astronauts. Astronauts were those who could break past the atmosphere, bravely venturing into the unknown, where a single mistake could leave you tumbling through endless oblivion.
He's even able to reach the rim now if he jumps high enough. Even though Spencer is shorter than Chris, his vertical makes him higher.
He had come a long way. Spencer thinks it's unbelievable that he was still learning basketball when he first joined. Now he's nearly on the same level as his teammates. Dwayne, who can get any rebound. Colin, who may seem nervous, but can keep the ball away from any defender. Chris, who can shoot from any angle. Alex, who can brush past entire teams with ease, using his unbelievable speed and his desire for victory.
Even Spencer himself has improved. I learned basketball. But deep in his heart, Spencer knows that he needs to do more than just 'learn basketball'. He knows that while he may be moderately good at the game, he lacks the uniqueness in his game that his teammates have.
Spencer throws another ball up at the hoop, purposely missing the shot. The ball bounces off the rim, and Spencer shoots up, snatching the ball from the air.
If there's one thing I can do, I can get rebounds.
But no matter how hard he tries to imitate Dwayne's ability to get rebounds, Spencer can't seem to wrench the ball away from Dwayne during practice. He knows that in a team, only one rebounder is not enough. If Spencer can get rebounds, too, then the team's strength will be boosted.
"Rebound practice?" asks a familiar voice. Spencer turns and sees Coach Miller standing there.
"What do you need?" asks Spencer.
"I can coach you," offers Coach Miller, putting down his bag, "We just finished dinner, and my little brother decided to go to bed immediately. I needed to check up on things in the gym, but I can coach you for a second if you want."
"Coach me for a second?" Spencer repeats.
"Sure. Do you know what rebounding is?" Coach Miller asks.
Spencer groans. He didn't sign up for a lesson on how to rebound.
"Of course I do. Rebounding means getting the ball after a missed shot," Spencer replies impatiently.
"Wrong," Coach Miller says.
"Huh?" Spencer raises an eyebrow, "Then what is it?"
Instead of answering, Coach Miller says, "I assume you're looking to be as good at rebounding as Dwayne."
"Well, what else do rebounders do other than getting the ball?" asks Coach Miller.
"Um . . . what?"
Coach Miller sighs, "Did you think that all Dwayne does is jump really high to get the ball?"
"Y . . . yeah?" Spencer shrugs, "Isn't that what rebounding is about?"
"You have the wrong idea about rebounding," Coach Miller replies, "Rebounding isn't about getting the ball after a missed shot. It's about preventing others from getting the ball after a missed shot. No matter how short Dwayne is, he can still do that very well. That's how he competes with giants. He can make sure they don't get the ball, allowing himself to get the ball in the process. Think about it. Does Dwayne have a good vertical?"
"Wait, so you’re saying that my jump doesn’t matter in basketball?" asks Spencer.
"Of course not," Coach Miller replies, "It’s helpful when rebounding, too, but it’s not everything."
"Also, Spencer," Coach Miller adds, "If you’ve got a good vertical, there’s something else you can do."
Coach grabs a basketball, and approaches the basket. He jumps, and gets the ball through the hoop with an amazingly powerful and deafening slam dunk.
Spencer's mouth hangs open.
"Now go home! Practice your rebounds another time. Your parents must be worried," harrumphs Coach Miller.
. . .
The moon is still out, and darkness encircles the town. Dark gray clouds ominously float on the horizon, and the streets are silent.
It's 2 in the morning, but Alex can't sleep. He can hear his little sister snoring in the room next to him, and the crickets chirping their loudest.
Alex has heard terrible things about Jackson Wills Middle School from Jeremy and Ethan. Their basketball team is huge and strong. Anyone who comes up against them is steamrolled. Alex remembers something Ethan had told him while he was talking about the Jackson Wills teams.
[their teams don't have any super good players like you or Jeremy, but the team is strong because not a single player leaves any openings whether on offense or defense]
Saint Helena was different. The team itself had only two focal points: Jeremy Copeland, who was a little monster on the court. The other was Ethan Copeland, who pushed Jeremy from behind, offering support and extra strength. As an additional bonus, they also had the step-back shooting guard Max Morgan, a player who Jeremy also mentioned to Alex.
After watching some film on Jackson Wills, Alex begins to understand how strong they really are. They aren’t flashy. They don’t have a star, but their defense is nearly impenetrable. What especially scares him is something that Jeremy said.
[watch out for the smiling center and Connor Codell. Without them, the defense is no joke, but with them, their defense gives me nightmares]
[you should definitely watch some film on them.]
[whats special about them?]
[playing against the smiling center is like playing against many centers at once]
[it's like he has two sets of hands]
[yikes, what about Connor?]
[he’s a bit strange. im not sure how to describe it but he always appears in the places that are the most annoying]
[that sounds crazy]
[it is. i dont wanna be negative but your chances are looking slim……….]
[yeah i get it]
[well good luck anyway]
[we’ll need it]
When Alex finally falls asleep, even his dreams are troubled by those dark gray clouds ominously floating at the horizon.
. . .
As the warmth of the sun finally reaches the sky, Chris follows Jacob out of his home, with a backpack holding the few things that he will need for a basketball game. His water, to stay hydrated; his phone, in case of emergency; his basketball uniform, to wear for the game; a sweat towel, to sweat on, obviously; and a light nutritious snack to eat after his game to replenish energy.
When the team finally gets to the Ryder Moore Basketball Complex, there is no lack of giddiness. The team had won against one of the indisputably strongest teams in the league two weeks before, and the week after that, they won again, without their talented captain. Now, their captain is back, albeit after an injury, but he looks okay.
Chris knows he can get through this game, because he has his teammates with him.
The team, just like before, goes to the locker rooms, then changes into their uniforms. Today, they’re the away team. They’re a dark, luscious purple. Not many teams have purple as their color.
Coach Miller gives them a brief pep talk and exits the locker room to go to the courts early.
Alex seems to be warming up his ankle a lot more than usual.
Chris asks him, concerned, "Are you sure you’re gonna be okay, man? I don’t think this team will be that strong, and you’re not exactly in peak condition. You can sit it out."
Alex shakes his head, "While I wasn’t practicing, I was researching. I think we might have a harder time than expected."
Dwayne says with disbelief, "Really? I mean, we beat Saint Helena, right? They’re really good. It shouldn’t be too hard."
"I shouldn’t get into the details without Coach Miller around, but I think of all people, Dwayne, you might have the hardest time," Alex replies.
"It’s about their center," explains Alex, "I’ll talk more about it on the court. Let’s get ready."
Chris stares at everyone’s purple uniforms. He knows that the color purple symbolizes royalty, but he’s not really sure if this team should be allowed to have that title. We’re inexperienced, small, and weak. Our captain just recovered from an injury, and we have the shortest center known to mankind.
Are we really ready for this?
Marble Creek jogs down to the courts. Today, they have one of the side courts. The familiar group of ‘JW’ boys are there already, and a few of Marble Creek’s players are taken aback, recognizing the group.
When everyone gets to the bench, Coach Miller begins.
"Alex," he says.
The captain looks at him, unwavering, "Sir?"
"Is your ankle completely fine?"
"I understand you wanted to tell us something about the team we will be playing?"
Alex nods, "This team is very . . . fundamentally sound. They’ve got no openings in their offense or defense, but you won’t see scary-fast players like Copeland from Saint Helena. In most games, this team squares up pretty well against opponents, but interestingly enough, they almost never bring out their captain, Connor Codell. He seems content to sit on the bench and just watch. When they do, he barely has a presence on the court. The one thing that he seems to do amazing at is blocking. By the way, Pennel Creek was eliminated in round one. Guess who beat them."
"No way!" Spencer exclaims, "They’re really strong! I mean, back when they were unorganized, Fernando could score 23 points. Now, they probably have Fernando and a working offense."
"In that game, Fernando scored 9 points," Alex says, "Basically all of them got blocked."
"In fact, this team is pretty much a defensive machine," Alex continues, "They have a player on their team that’s well known in the area as the ‘Smiling Center’. The reason that he’s called that . . . well, I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. He’s a monster in the paint, especially on defense, and he’ll be comparable to fighting Ethan Copeland, the giant from Saint Helena."
"Come on, Cap," Coach Miller shakes his head, "I expected you to tell them about the team we’ll be playing, not discourage them."
Coach Miller looks at the freshly discouraged team, "Don’t worry. I doubt it’s as bad as Alex says it is, and, well, if it is, then we don’t have anything to be ashamed about. If they win because they’re better, then that’s not our problem. What I don’t want to see is that they’re actually a weak team, but the second you walk out there, you tell yourself, ‘Oh my god, they’re so strong,’ and then you stop making points or defending as well as you usually would. We are the challengers! Challenge them!"
Coach Miller puts a fist in the middle of the group, and everyone else does the same.
"I want starters to be Alex, Dwayne, Colin, Spencer, and Malcolm."
"Two point guards?" asks Alex, "Are you sure that’s a good idea?"
"Play Root Beer," Coach Miller replies. Everyone nods in understanding– Malcolm and Colin are the two players who are actually relatively smart, and the Root Beer Offense requires a lot of quick thinking and quick movement.
"Marble Creek . . ." Coach Miller prompts.
As they walk onto the court, Chris glances at the opponent’s bench, and sure enough, the empty-eyed boy, Connor is there.
The opponent’s captain meets his eyes and smiles a blank smile. It’s empty.
Chris glares back, but Connor continues to stare with an immense lack of intensity that Chris is off guard. He's doing it again. His bored stare.
Connor turns away, and Chris finds himself scared of this person more than he was scared of Copeland or Fernando.
Speaking of Fernando, didn't this team beat him?
No, we're fine. We beat Saint Helena. This should be easy!
But when he thinks about drowning in Connor's terrifying eyes again, Chris almost wishes he were playing Saint Helena.
. . .
"Chris, go do the tip-off," Alex pokes him, "We believe in you."
As Chris walks forward into the center circle, the jumper on Jackson Wills' side goes in as well. He’s very tall– the same height as Chris, but a lot bulkier. And he’s smiling wide. It’s an innocent, happy smile. He looks like he’s enjoying himself.
The Smiling Center, thinks Alex.
Chris and the Smiling Center get ready for the jump.
The referee throws it up.
The two giants seem to touch the ball at the same time, and the ball, instead of going backward or forward, goes straight to Alex.
Alex catches it and shouts, "Root Beer!"
. . .
The ball flies around at lightning speed. In a flash, it goes from one player to another. Spencer can't keep up. His legs begin to tremble and his fingers begin to curl into a fist. He feels like an outsider at a fancy party. Like the one guy standing in the middle of the dancing, awkwardly going through the movements, but not really knowing what to do.
Why didn’t I feel like this in the last game? How come I’m only getting nervous now?
Spencer closes his eyes and breathes deeply. Every whoop and cheer from the crowd seems to make his heart beat faster. Every step he takes feels so indecisive and stupid. Every moment of the game makes Spencer want to puke.
"Stop," Spencer murmurs. Stop being nervous. Don't be nervous. I can't be nervous.
Do what you did at practice. Make sure they know how formidable you are. Be fast. Faster than anyone. Yes. Speed. That's it. I have to be faster. There's no other choice. To match lightning, be lightning.
Suddenly empowered by a surge of confidence, Spencer gets open and shakes off his defender, a blonde boy with a bowl cut. In fact, to shake him off is quite difficult. Spencer gets the feeling that all of the Jackson Wills players are great at not just defense, but in everything else as well. Marble Creek will have to fight back with their energy, to make up for their relative lack of fundamentals compared to Jackson Wills.
Colin sends the ball to Malcolm, who stares at Spencer. Spencer nods and Chris throws the ball quickly to him.
Every eye is trained on Spencer now. Especially the ferocious Jackson Wills players. I should dribble. Should I dribble? I've played in a game before. Maybe I shouldn't dribble. I even scored a bunch in past games, though. I can dribble. Why am I so scared? Don't dribble. Bad idea. I am not scared. I'm just thinking. I am capable of rational thought.
Spencer flinches at the sight of the blonde coming for him. Fumbling with the ball, Spencer throws it as hard as he can to . . . I need to find someone. Someone reliable. Someone who will definitely score. Someone who isn't as nervous as I am . . . Alex!
For some reason, when the ball gets to Alex, he fumbles a bit, too. Oh no. If Alex is nervous, too, then we're doomed.
. . .
This is not the same game. This is not Saint Helena. I am not going to die. I am not dead. I will not die. I will win. We will win. This is definitely not the same game. Not Saint Helena.
Alex knows he is nervous. He won't deny it. He hasn't felt like this in a long time. During the Saint Helena game, he was actually quite calm.
The game has started off shaky, and Alex knows it's already starting to crumble, and he knows exactly which way the debris is going to fall. Not the same game. Not the same game.
Alex can't forget the pain of his ankle spraining. He won't ever forget that moment, when he screamed, and screamed, and screamed.
Spencer gets the ball and immediately passes the ball to Alex. What is Spencer doing? He could have dribbled to the basket.
Alex reluctantly receives and immediately moves to the left— his automatic move. After all, he’s left-handed.
Like Alex expected, his defender expects the move, and stays in position, right in front of Alex.
Alex fakes left and right but can't get around the player. With no choice but to drive, Alex fully attacks the left. The defender stays close to him the entire time. Finally, Alex manages to get a bounce pass to Dwayne, and he makes an inside shot, giving them two points.
Jackson Wills immediately retaliates. Their passes are fast and hard, and every single one of their players are fast enough to keep up with each other.
The ball goes to a blonde boy with a bowl cut, who pushes against Spencer, who is guarding them. Both of them push against each other with all their force, with the bowl cut trying to force himself into the paint, and Spencer keeping him out.
Seeing this as his moment, Alex rushes forward and steals from the blonde, zooming down the court for a fast break. He’s not fast enough. Two of his opponents are there, right beside him. Alex nearly forgets to breathe.
Alex doesn't know what's gotten into him. He keeps on reminding himself about the game against Saint Helena, and that painful sprain. The defenders stay right next to him.
Frantically, Alex changes direction, switching to his right hand, but a defender immediately steals the ball during the crossover.
Alex feels his stomach churning. I was stolen from. He stole from me so easily. That's not possible.
The opponent passes around the defenders with ease, finally scoring a lay-up, as Alex is left to stumble around in the dust.