Chapter 8:

Breathing Underwater

Would You Paint My Dunk

Sadness enveloped my heart, and helplessness engulfed my mind as I agonized over my fate. In a breakdown, I closed my eyes. Shortly, I was astounded by the sight in front of me.

Drowning in a deep sea, a glimmer of light shone above me, which got dimmer every second.

I felt something heavy keep pulling me down as I sank deeper, further away from the surface.

Looking down, I saw that I was tied with a rope with an anchor attached.

I tried to set the rope loose, but it didn’t even budge.

I tried to swim upward, but I kept sinking even deeper and deeper.

I tried reaching the light with my right hand, only for it to completely vanish as everything turned dark.

I tried everything…

I gave up.

I let myself sink further and further as I submitted to my helplessness.

As I lost my will to fight, I opened my eyes in sadness as the coach continued his speech.

“For now, learn from your teammates and focus on honing your skills. Even if you can’t beat them and take their position this year, you can make it to the roster next year.”

Thinking that the coach was trying to offer some empty encouragement, I got angry at him. After all, it’s just an excuse for the coach to not play the useless guys, not killing the players’ potential or whatnot.

By saying that the players couldn’t improve themselves, he could make an alibi for himself. He can put a few players in reserves for an entire season, or even until graduation. They won’t even play in the matches until it is over for their careers.

“This is just the start, don’t give up!” The coach shouted.

Did he just say ‘Don’t give up’? It’s easy for him to say that! He doesn’t know our struggles

Wait, struggles?

The memories of the girl I met in the library flashed through my mind. I clearly remember she was sad as she talked on the phone. We are both struggling like stranded fish.

We are quite similar.

But there’s a clear difference between her and me. Even though we are both struggling, she stayed strong and was able to smile. And here I am, depressed beyond the point of saving. I can’t believe I have lower mental fortitude than her.

I’m so pathetic.

On top of it, I remembered that I spoke boldly to her.

“Nothing in this world is easy, you know?”

I could only laugh at myself, eating my own words.

Closing my eyes once more, I could see that the situation hasn’t changed at all. I'm still drowning in the sea, and my hands are reaching toward the surface, trying to grab into something in between.

As I looked closely, I caught a glimpse of light in the distance. The sliver of hope recharged my willpower to full capacity.

I must stay strong!

I started to swim upwards, much harder than before, stopping myself from sinking even further. However, I couldn’t move any closer to the surface either.

Contemplating, my struggle reminds me of my father’s. I vividly remember how he was still trying to play a match with an injured ankle. Even with such an injury, he was still trying to achieve his goals and didn’t give up until the end.

He had faced bigger hurdles than me, yet he fought to the end. And here I am, on the verge of giving up, while trying to fulfill his unrealized dream.

What a fucking joke!

I quickened my swimming pace, but I was still stuck in place.

I started to imagine the burden that the real players carried on their shoulders. How they train every day, honing their skills even further. Despite making it there, they still practice hard every day. How about those bench warmers or reserves in the team? They are still fighting for a spot to this day.

I have to try harder!

I started to swim even harder and started moving upward. However, the rope in my waist pulled me down again. I looked downward, only to see that the anchor was now entangled between two corals. This reminds me of my limits and my incompetence.

Is this the end? Can’t I change anything? Is this my fate?

Turning my face upward, I see Jessica’s smiling face flashing before me, encouraging me to keep going. Her encouraging voice echoed in my ears.

“Keith! I’m rooting for you!”

How stupid of me to give up again because I was stuck. If I give up here, then it’s all over.

I must not give up!

With each passing moment, I started swimming upward again, pacing myself to swim harder and harder. I felt pain in my waist as the rope was pulling me down.

Is this my limit?

I started wondering: If our body is our limit, then why does Iverson excel at basketball despite his short stature? The reason is obvious.

I’m not desperate enough!

Building on the momentum, I swam to my limits. My waist was aching, but I didn’t care. All I want is to reach the light once more.

Push harder!


The rope started to make a cracking sound. I mustered all my strength as a surge of adrenaline flowed in my veins.

Keep pushing!

‘Krrk… Tasss…’

The rope snapped, and nothing was weighing me down anymore.

I have been set free.

Feeling light as a feather, I kept swimming toward the surface. The glimmering ray of light became brighter, which blinded my eyes. With everything turning white, I slowly opened my eyes, tears cascading down my cheeks. As my welled eyes impaired my vision, I wiped them off, clearing my sights.

As a grown man, I have to stay strong. Crying isn’t for men.

Looking forward, I saw the coach talking with Carlos and one upperclassman. If my memories were correct, the upperclassman was Carlos’s matchup in the scrimmage.

“It’s so unfair, coach!” The upperclassman was angry at the coach.

“How come a freshman like him….” He pointed his right finger at Carlos. “Becomes the sixth man of the team? I had been here for three years, coach. Three years! And you always treat me like this, moving me down the rotations all the time! First, it was Tony, and now him? I can’t accept this!”

“Whoa, buddy, calm down. Don’t talk to the coach like that.” Carlos tried to calm him down.

“Shut up! I didn’t talk to you.” The upperclassman pointed his finger toward Carlos’s face.

“Ryan, look.” The coach closed his coaching board and walked up to the upperclassman. “I told you that I don’t care about trivial stuff. If your performance is good, you will play more. If you lack skills, your playtime gets smaller. It’s the same for everyone.”

“I’m giving the seat to Carlos because he won against you, fair and square. If you don’t like it, then practice harder and make some results. You need to perform to play longer, that’s all.” The coach concluded, turning his face away from Ryan and Carlos.

I see… The coach takes a result-oriented approach. No matter who it is, the coach will give players who perform well more time in the match, giving people who can’t make a difference on the field less time. It’s a cruel approach, and yet, realistic and makes sense at the same time.

As he said, I must hone my skills if I want to move up in the rotation. In short, I have to produce results.

Gripping my fist, I decided on myself: I have to train myself and practice to be good enough to move up in the rotation.

As I was thinking for myself, Carlos walked into me.

“Yo, buddy, we made it.”

“Yeah… You are the sixth man, though!” I chuckled. “You are far better off than me.”

“Nah, man… Don’t be like that.” He smirked.

He turned my head with his hands.

“Do you see these dozens of people? You’ve already beaten them to get yourself a spot on the team. Cheer up, brudda.”

That’s right. I had beaten them to get this spot. Even as a reserve, even as a bench warmer, I surpassed these dozens of people. I should be proud of myself.

As I thought about it, I remembered her speech in the library again.

“Seriously, you are too humble. Give yourself credit, you know?”

Heh, she was right all along.

I smiled, amused that I was indirectly motivated by her, instead of encouraging her. Looking at my buddy before me, I smiled wide as I responded to him.

“Yeah, thank you, buddy. I appreciate it.”

Carlos lightly taps my shoulder with his right fist.

“Sure, that’s what friends for, rite’?” He closes his eyes while tilting his head, smiling.

We were looking at each other, trying to hold our laughter.

“Pfft! Pua-ha-ha!”

Ultimately, we couldn’t hold it anymore and burst into laughter. A lot of people were looking at us, but we didn’t care.

Is this what it means to have a buddy? I thought to myself as we had our fun.

I ignited my passion to pursue my basketball dream once again. After all, my basketball journey at the university had just begun.

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