Seething with fury, Copeland sits down on the bench with a towel over his head. 10 points? Me? Ten points? In one quarter? I’ll kill him, that punk.
"Haven’t seen anyone give you such a hard time in a while," Ethan grins, sitting down next to his short brother.
"Shut up. I don’t want to hear that from you, having the time of your life in the paint," Copeland replies angrily.
"True, their center isn’t that strong, but I’m sure they’ll try something," Ethan replies, then after a moment he gets to the point, "Hey, wanna bet which of us is gonna get double-teamed first?"
Copeland grins, "You always lose that, though."
His brother continues, "If I win, you have to buy the new basketball."
"The old one’s not even that old yet!"
"I don’t care. Loser buys it."
. . .
Three minutes left in the second quarter. 180 seconds left until halftime. 1/20 of an hour before Marble Creek’s impending doom. To be honest, Colin does not believe that Coach Miller’s plan will work. It’s implausible. It’s improbable.
On paper, multiple centers sound good, but in reality, it leaves so many players open and slows down the tempo of the offense greatly. The score is 36-20, so we’re actually doing pretty fine, technically. But we’ll need more than a thicker inside to beat this team.
Of course, Colin knows better than to mention his concerns to the coach. Colin makes a conscious effort to not talk back to the coach and the captain, avoiding the lines of hierarchy that divide the team up. In fact, he also makes a conscious effort to not talk back to other members of the team, to not sow discord, and make enemies. In fact, he makes a conscious effort not to talk at all, so that he won’t embarrass himself by saying something weird.
Of course, Colin is aware of his anxious, timid, and overthinking mind. He’s spent hours researching (on trusted sites!) various ways to make a nervous wreck more outspoken. He joined a debate club and attempted public speaking a lot. Despite all this preparation, he still found it extremely difficult to hold a casual conversation.
The horrors of conversing have always been something that Colin mulls over every night. He likes to compare it to improvisation during a stage play. Not only does Colin have to say something to converse, but he also has to say something in response to someone, or ask a question that might bring about a response. The mental strain that it puts on Colin is severe. He can barely keep eye contact for even three seconds before breaking away in fear of being part of the standard self-esteem-destroying conversation.
"Why are you looking at me?"
"Oh- . . . uh . . . s-sorry . . ."
On his last straw, Colin attempted the one thing that might bring him up to mild popularity: basketball.
He joined the basketball team. Thankfully, basketball was a sport that Colin had been playing for years, and he was quite confident in his ability.
However, his confidence in his ability was very different from his confidence in his confidence.
"Colin!" Coach Miller calls out, and Colin glances up.
Coach Miller motions for him to come closer.
"Alright, Colin, you’ll sub in for Malcolm. You’ll be the point guard," Coach Miller pats him on the back, "Good luck."
A thousand thoughts start racing through Colin’s head. Malcolm? He’s subbing out? Who could be the point guard? Me? I’m the point guard? What does a point guard do again? Wait, why am I the point guard? Did he just assume I’m a point guard? Isn’t that kind of presumptuous? Is it because I’m not that tall? Maybe I’m not that suited for basketball if everyone thinks I’m a point guard when they first look at me. Wait, I am a point guard! What am I thinking?
3 minutes left in the second quarter. 180 seconds left until halftime. 1/20 of an hour left before Marble Creek’s impending doom. Colin finds it very difficult to believe that he will be able to perform well in the next few minutes. It’s implausible. It’s improbable.
. . .
"It’s only three minutes, man," Chris raises an eyebrow. Colin is frantic. He’s muttering to himself and glancing back and forth.
Colin responds very quickly and speaks at a speed that Chris did not previously think was possible for a human being to speak at.
"Three minutes is a long time in basketball if you consider timeouts, fouls, and inbounds. Especially since the clock is stopped frequently in the last minute of the game," Colin replies, then returning to his muttering and glancing.
Chris snickers, "What book did you read that out of?"
"Not a book. I researched on a website for basketball regulations," Colin replies, completely straight-faced.
This dude is for real? Chris thinks with disbelief, staring at Colin.
"How did you get started with basketball anyways?" Chris inquires.
Colin replies readily as if he already prepared an answer in his head and was simply waiting for Chris to ask the question.
"I started playing with friends on weekends," says Colin, "But I wanted to play at a higher level, so I put some effort into practicing.
"Uh-huh," Chris nods, but he really isn’t paying attention. Instead, he sits down, hoping for the time-out to end.
The buzzer blares, and Colin jumps up, looking at his teammates, to see if they’re going on the court.
When everyone else starts moving, he follows.
Chris shakes his head, What the heck is Jacob thinking by putting this nervous wreck into the game? There’s no way he’ll be able to do anything.
. . .
There is absolutely no way I’ll be able to do anything! Colin screams to himself, What is Coach Miller thinking by putting a nervous wreck like me into the game?
Colin closes his eyes and pinches his arm. Slow down. Slow down. Calm down.
He opens his eyes. The cacophony of noises in the stadium seems to dim down a bit. His heart beats a little slower, a little quieter. He steps with a little bit more confidence, trying to think clearly about what he must do.
"One," Colin whispers to himself, "Limit their points. We’ve got some experienced players on our line-up right now, so that shouldn’t be an issue."
Colin knows that the biggest threats in the game will be the two brothers: the small one and the big one. The former is fast and agile, while the latter is simply enormous. Colin suspects he is even taller than Chris.
Colin’s breathing begins to quicken. Jackson and Alex are pretty tall, but only Jackson is a true inside player, and I’m not sure if he can square up against that giant. Dwayne might be the only one who can in terms of strength, but no matter how much he boxes out a 6’4’’ player, he won’t be able to compare with that height. How are we going to deal with this? Tightening the inside won’t be enough!
Colin closes his eyes again, pinching his arm. Slow down. Slow down. Calm down.
"Two," Colin whispers to himself, opening his eyes, "Score our own points. Alex’s skill alone won’t be enough. Having some more experienced players should also fix this issue, though."
Colin starts to feel his breathing begin to quicken again. Before he can start overthinking things, he closes his eyes again, pinching himself again.
"Three," Colin whispers to himself as the referee blows his whistle for the inbound, "Keep up the tempo. We need a well-versed and calm point guard for this."
He pauses, looking at his hands. He refrains from pinching himself.
Am I really okay for this job?
"Colin, do you want to take the ball out?" Alex asks, and Colin doesn’t answer for a moment. However, he quickly makes up his mind.
"You can inbound," Colin says, trying to put a determined expression on his face, though he can’t really hide his intense nervousness, "I’ll . . . be the . . . the point guard."
Alex smiles, "All right! We’re counting on you!"
Alex steps out of bounds, accepts the ball from the referee, and passes it to Colin.
Colin doesn’t dribble at first. He simply holds the ball and pivots for a second. Slow down. Slow down. Calm down.
Colin starts to dribble.
He dribbles closer to the middle of the court.
Thump. Thump-thump. Thump.
Colin whispers to himself, "I’m a point guard. What would a good point guard do?"
He immediately remembers a moment in the past, playing against a very talented ball handler. He wasn’t a point guard, but he was just about as good as one. Fernando. He didn’t pass. He just . . . he just took a shot.
Colin dribbles closer to the three-point line. His defender backs up a few steps.
Do something that someone good would do. Just fake it. You’re not really a good basketball player anyway.
Colin picks up his dribble, ridding himself of all regrets that he might have for making this decision.
You’re not nearly as talented as everyone else, but if you pretend you’re like them, then you’ll be able to get by.
Colin raises the ball above his head. The move is almost an instinct to him now. After many days of extra practice with Chris, he practically refined his shot to a level like that of the talented shooting guard.
Colin jumps, and his defender curses, running toward him with his arms raised.
Then no one will ever know.
He releases the ball, and it zooms through the air quickly. His shot is a bit different from Fernando’s or Chris’, who shoots with high arcs and almost makes it seem like time slows as it goes up.
No one will ever know how weak you really are.
. . .
Alex gives Colin a thumbs-up. The captain can tell how much effort it took to take that shot. The fact that Colin was clear-headed enough, intelligent enough, and skilled enough to make that shot is very impressive.
Colin gives Alex an awkward smile and gives a thumbs-up back.
Alex turns his attention back to the ball. Saint Helena’s point guard has it, and he’s dribbling down steadily.
Alex shouts at his teammates, "Box and one!"
As practiced, they form a box centered around the paint, and Alex follows Copeland.
At that moment, the opposing point guard sends a pass to Copeland. Alex quickly moves to intercept it, but Copeland is faster. Copeland snatches it first, but thanks to the slight mishap, he’s closer to the sideline and is in a more difficult position.
"Eat my dust, punk," Copeland immediately rips the ball towards the center, then follows it. It’s a simple drive, but it’s very strong nonetheless. It’s all Alex can do to follow him.
Copeland crosses back to his right, immediately after crossing the three-point line.
Alex, who was expecting this move, is a step ahead and reaches for the ball to steal it. Copeland rips the ball away, but he’s picked up the ball with both hands and lost his dribble. He can’t attack anymore.
Luckily, Alex recovers and presses onto his opponent, forcing him to pass. Copeland sends it to the point guard, but Malcolm, at the front of the box defense, manages to slap it out of his hands.
Before Alex notices, Copeland is already running after the ball.
However, with a quick, explosive burst of speed, Copeland seamlessly grabs the ball back and restarts the offense.
Alex frowns, frustrated. He finds it quite annoying that Copeland is actually skilled enough to make up for his terrible attitude and sportsmanship.
Copeland sends a pass over Alex, and Alex automatically turns to see who it went to. It went into the hands of the 6’4’’ giant.
A moment after receiving the pass, the giant passes to a spot away from Alex, where Copeland is at.
Alex gasps, thinking, How did Copeland get there? He was clearly next to me.
Using the moment that Alex glanced at the giant, Copeland had moved away to get open.
Copeland takes a quick dribble and shoots a mid-range shot. He makes it.
After Colin’s three-pointer, Marble Creek went up to 26, but this lay-up is the fortieth point for Saint Helena.
There are a few seconds left before the buzzer blares.
Alex receives the inbound and dribbles down the court hastily, but calmly.
The giant is running alongside him.
Alex swiftly moves closer inward, getting closer to the big guy. Alex then jumps, pushing the 6’4’’ player slightly, so the referee can see that there’s contact.
There’s a flurry of sounds. The buzzer blares right as the whistle is blown, but not before Alex shoots a flawless hook shot that even the giant has trouble blocking.
Alex takes a deep breath before taking his free throw shot. He’s already done this many times, but each free throw is still an exhilarating experience for him. It’s one of the few moments on the court where he is alone.
It doesn’t bother him, though. For some players, free throws are the hardest shot to take, but Alex feels as if it’s the easiest.
No one’s blocking me.
I have a clear view of the rim, the board, and the net.
They’re lined up in front of me. They’re ready to rebound, but I know they won’t need to.
Above everything else, despite being a great team player, Alex does like to occasionally show off.
He doesn’t jump. He simply bends his knees and uses that upward force to shoot the ball calmly into the hoop.
It clangs the rim once, but it goes in perfectly.
Alex clenches his fists as he gets to the bench. It’s not clenching because of fear, anger, or frustration. He may be feeling these feelings, but he won’t let them affect him or his decisions.
His fists are clenched from determination. From excitement.
He raises his fist into the air.
Alex grins, It’s time to turn the tables.