Chapter 23:

Minutes to Play

Would You Paint My Dunk


As we survived the storm and sailed into the calm sea, I began to think that our journey would be smooth from now on. But what awaited me at the basketball club was a slap of reality. It shattered my naivety to pieces.

When I arrived at the club in the evening, I saw people gathered around a poster on the wall. It listed our lineup for the upcoming regional tournament.

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Play Minutes Assignments (2x20 Minutes)

Starters:

No  | Pos | Name                         | Minutes

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S     | PG | Brandon Stafford      | 24+*  

S     | SG | Tony Phillips                 | 28 

S     | SF  | Edward Page                | 28

S     | PF  | Aaron Keene                | 24

S     | C    | Sean Hammock            | 28

Bench:

6th  | PG | Carlos Stewards       | 12+*

7th  | SG | Jake Carter                  | 12

8th  | SF  | Gordon Weaver         | 12

9th  | C    | Xavier Fletcher           | 12

10th| PF  | Ivan Woods                | 8+*

11th| PG | Ryan Higgins            | 4-*

12th| PF  | Jamal Stephenson  | 4-*

Reserves:

13th| SF  | Keith Wallace          | -

14th| SG | Alex Jefferson          | -

Notes:

* = the minute may change according to the + or -, the delta is 4 minutes. A player may able to play extra 4 minutes, or not play at all, depending on the situation.

Brandon Stafford: Team Captain. Primary playmaker.

Tony Phillips: The Ace. Pass him the ball whenever he is open.

Sean Hammock: The Defensive Anchor.

Carlos Stewards: The first to get switched in. Secondary playmaker.

Keith Wallace: Good potential, but not good enough to replace anyone. Needs some polishing and more training.

Alex Jefferson: Commits too many turnovers. Cannot play in a real match.

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Oof! As I suspected, I didn't make it to the bench. But it's written that I have potential and just need some polishing and training. Well, I cannot stay naïve and think that everything will be fine if I didn’t put some effort in. Time to train harder!

After we all knew how many minutes we could play, I was amazed by Carlos. He is the only freshman that is assigned more than 10 minutes. Moreover, he is also the only one that placed the highest aside from the starters.

If it was me from a month ago, I would be very envious of him. But now? I’m happy for my friend that is getting that spot and is able to showcase himself on the court. With my dreadlock-haired buddy in sight, I walked toward him to congratulate him.

“Hey, Carlos!” I waved my hands.

“Yo’ Keith. Wassup?”

Looking at my childhood friend’s success, I couldn’t help but joke around him.

"I just want to congratulate our freshman MVP over here. I'm happy for you, bro."

"Oh, come on, man! Coach is starting to notice you too, Keith. Look at his notes! He said you have the potential..."

"Nah!" I shook my head. "It's written that I'm not good enough to replace anyone, I still have ways to go. But don’t you worry, I'll catch up with you soon."

Before Carlos could answer, Brandon came in.

"Hey Carlos, I see your sixth-man position just became official. Congratulations."

"I haven't taken your spot yet. Don't congratulate me now." Carlos grinned.

"Ha-ha-ha. I'm not giving you my place, not while I'm still enrolled here." Brandon chuckled.

As we talked, the coach blew his whistle loudly for a few seconds. We quickly formed a few lines and lined up in front of him.

"Listen up! The Regional Qualifier begins next week. Starting today, we will intensify our training, and I don't want to hear any excuses. But even though our training will be harder than before, you must take care of your body. I have no use for cards that I can't play because they have injuries. Is that clear?"

“Yes, coach!” We shouted back at the coach.

“Our first match is against Hayward Vikings on Monday 11th. On that day, I expect you to gather here at five for a briefing before the match. At five thirty, we will ride our bus to Oakland Arena. If you aren’t present by then, we will have to leave you behind and move you out of rotation. Don’t be tardy!”

I never heard about Hayward Vikings. Well, since I pretty much remember all Basketball universities in Division One, it is probably a university in Division Two or something.

Still, we can’t underestimate our enemies. If we are going to play, we are going to do it right. Training ourselves as we can, pushing our limits, and giving it our all-in matches. We can’t afford to be careless, or it will spell our doom.

I steeled myself with that degree of resolve as the coach ramped up our daily practice. Countless water droplets fell to the floor as our sweat rained down on the court.

Jessica was there, watching us from the spectator seat. She drew in her sketchbook, while the sound of the basketball bouncing and our squeaking shoes echoed through the air.

From Monday to Friday, I relentlessly hone my skills every day under the guidance of the coach with everyone else, while she sat on the spectator seat. But starting from Tuesday, I couldn’t see Alex at the club anymore.

Well, maybe his heart was broken. The note left by the coach was harsh after all.

However, his presence would be the least of my worries as the coach threw us harsh drills on our way. It kept me completely occupied, unable to think about anything else.

Even with such harsh training on the weekdays, I didn’t slack off on the weekends. On Saturday, I trained with Carlos and my seniors at the park. On Sunday, I practiced alone at the park, polishing my skill even further.

It's Monday, September 11, 2023, the first day of the preliminaries. In the morning, I told my parents that I will come home late to attend a basketball match as a reserve. My dad shows his enthusiasm to see his son on TV, just before I told him that I would be lucky to be recorded on the screen. He looked disappointed as I left for my studies.

After finishing my classes at the university, I went to the Sport Aula 3 to attend my basketball club, only to see that everybody has already been there. Well, everyone except Alex. He was nowhere to be found.

At first, I thought he was late, but that wasn’t the case. Even after the coach finished explaining to us… Ahem… The players that would play today about the strategy that we will use against Vikings, Alex didn’t come.

Why did I correct myself, you ask? Because I am in the reserve, remember? I’m not gonna play in any matches unless an accident happens or something.

Thirty minutes had passed, and we started walking toward the bus. Arriving at the bus, I put my hands on the grab handle on the bus door and looked back. He wasn’t there.

Realizing that I didn’t see him anymore for four days already, I suddenly thought that he had already quit basketball for good. But shortly, I realized that it’s not good to jump to conclusions.

He probably has something that takes more priority than basketball. He is just a reserve like me after all, we won’t play until there’s an emergency, so it shouldn’t be bad for him to do whatever is more important first.

I stepped into the bus and took a seat in a vacant seat on the bus. Hugging my backpack, I turned my face to look at the night scenery beside me. Shortly, Carlos took his seat just next to me.

“Keith, this is our first match. Are you nervous?”

“What? How could I be nervous if I’m not playing, buddy?”

“Oh, you are right!” He chuckled. “Anyway, I’m quite nervous, I hope I’m not going to mess this up.”

“Carlos, just trust yourself and everyone else. We got this!”

While we talked, the bus started moving. Not long after, our bus was driving on top of Oakland Bay Bridge. With an astounding sight just right off the window, we stopped talking, gazing at the night city view of San Francisco. Glimmering city lights are blinking left and right, and it was enough to captivate the eyes of two young men like us.

It was such a breathtaking sight. In my heart, I secretly wished that she could see this and capture this scenery in her painting.

A few minutes later, we passed the bridge and arrived at our destination. As we arrived, we unloaded our stuff and went inside the big stadium. Shortly, we arrived at our locker room, and the coach gave us a final review of our team’s strategy. Everyone looked focused, except Carlos who looked nervous.

Looking at their junior nervous on his first match, Brandon, Tony, and Sean approached him.

“Hey, Carlos!” Brandon taps Carlos’s back. “Just chill out. Don’t be nervous.”

“Well, this is my first match, so…” Carlos replied.

"Carlos, we're going to score so many points early on that you won't have to worry about anything but keeping the lead. Don't worry about it." Tony grinned while giving him a thumbs-up.

“Right, take it easy. Besides, you will do well if you just do as we practiced. You are a good player, Carlos.” Sean assured him.

With his senior assurance, I could see that his expression had changed. He is no longer nervous.

A few minutes later, an official asked us to get ready for the match. Our coach nodded and asked the official to give him a minute to give the team a final pep talk. After the coach was done with his talk, Brandon took over the lead of the conversation.

“Guys, we come here to win. Put everything that we had practiced into this match. Come on, give me your hands, everyone.”

We put our hands together before yelling.

“Astro Jets… BLAST OFF!”

Tossing our hands up, we started walking into the stadium. Entering the stadium, we were greeted by flashes. Before our team could even see the other team, the cheers of the fans were already clashing in the air, showing the rivalry between the two teams even more.

“Astro Jets! Astro Jets! Astro Jets!”

“Vikings! Dum Dum Dum! Vikings! Dum Dum Dum!”

Looking around, I saw Jessica in the distance. She was sitting in the spectator seat and waved her hand at me.

Considering that she isn’t knowledgeable about basketball, I started to wonder if she would enjoy this show. She originally came here not to watch us play basketball, but to solidify the new rumor of being a basketball girl, and also maintain her front about ‘dating’ me.

I sincerely hope that she won’t get bored watching this game, hoping to hear from her that she didn’t regret coming here to watch the match. The chances are slim, but I still hung on to that tiny chance.

Well, I’ll ask her later tonight.

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