Chapter 24:

First Match

Would You Paint My Dunk

The announcer started introducing the starters from each team as they entered the court one by one. Our starters lined up against the Vikings’ starters. They politely respect each other before going to their positions. The match started as the referee blew his whistle and threw the ball upward.

Sean won the tip-off, and the ball fell into Brandon’s hands. Swiftly, they stormed into the enemy’s defense. Passing the ball around, Jets got a big opportunity as Tony managed to distance himself from the defender. With an open look, he nailed a three-pointer.

For a few minutes, the two teams trade blows with each other, scoring points alternately. The players demonstrated their brilliance on the court, showing us their high-level moves. It was fascinating to watch them, and I can’t help but be excited about the match.

However, ten minutes in, the score gap was starting to build up as the other team’s shots started to get blocked by the Jets’ starters. Most of the blocks were Sean’s doing, as he denied his matchup about three times in just ten minutes.

Fourteen minutes in, the score was 40-22. Forty for the Jets, twenty-two for the Vikings. And so, the coach swapped Carlos in. He performed so well, showing no sign of his cowardice earlier.

Soon, the bench player is brought in as well. Although they didn't play as well as the starters, they still managed to widen the gap. The scoreboard read 59-35 when the buzzer rang, marking the end of the first half.

Both teams walked off the court for the halftime break. We went to our locker room and sat on the benches. I saw some players wiping their faces with a towel, breathing out their exhaustion. Another was drinking from his water bottle with the towel around his neck.

Carlos sat on the bench as the senior trio came over to congratulate him, saying he had done well. In a few minutes, the coach gave them a review of the situation and revised the strategy. They listened as the coach explained the new plan in detail.

A few minutes later, the second half was just about to start. The coach gave them a final pep talk before they went into the court. However, what happened after the halftime break was nothing but a one-sided massacre. It seems that the coach gave them a good strategy, it was so good that it countered the style of the Vikings.

The starters of our team managed to score every single run, and they even managed to force the Vikings to commit turnovers. Tony and Brandon even went so far as to steal a couple of possessions away from their matchup. The sheer margin of the score put pressure on the Vikings, causing them to make even more mistakes as the game progressed.

Thirty-four minutes into the game, Carlos is subbed in as the scoreboard reads 112-48. Opposing player’s breathing looked heavy as they wiped away their sweat.

By the time the bench was brought in for the final minutes of the game, the Vikings showed no more resistance. They had no chance of making a comeback.

Outclassed and outmatched, their players looked like they had given up, pretty much like warriors waiting to die at the hands of their enemies. There's not a shred of fighting spirit left in them, they're in despair as we continue our siege on their rim.

The final buzzer sounded, signaling the end of the game, and the scoreboard read 135-54. We had emerged victorious, leaving the court with our heads held high. The entire stadium was filled with chants of our team’s name, drowning any other sounds in the air.

After finishing the match, we went to our locker room to take our belongings before we went back to our school. Looking at my teammates, they looked so exhausted. One of them was laying on the bench, putting his towel on his face. A few of them are sitting on benches with towels on their heads. Lastly, I saw someone take his water bottle and rained his head with it.

After Carlos changed his clothes, he sat right beside me.

“Yo’, Keith. How did I perform? Rate me out of ten, please.” He grinned.

“Hey Carlos, you performed well!” I nudged at him. “If you ask me, uh… Maybe eight from ten?”

“Just eight? Come on Keith! Don’t be that stingy to your friend, you should have rated me ten…”

Then why do you ask? I just gave my honest opinion, man.

However, it’s not like I can say that directly to his face.

Before I could talk, the senior trio came. Tony grinned as he chimed in into the conversation.

“Carlos, if you think that you should go all out from the first match, then you are a moron. You must hide your cards well, and only play the necessary cards to win. Only an idiot shows his trump cards early on.”

Wow! Tony, I know you are giving us good advice, and I acknowledge that. But would it kill you to be a little nicer to us? You could have used better words. Why did you have to be such a jerk?

I wanted to tell our rude ace here to be a little more polite, but I couldn’t say anything to him. After all, he is the one who scored the most points, and there’s nothing wrong with his advice.

Though, I started to wonder if they actually purposely held themselves back in that match. I mean, they were demolishing the other team like a bulldozer squashing everything in its path.

“Wait, did y’all play around in that match?” Carlos was confused.

Whoops, Carlos took the words out of my mouth. But it’s a little extreme, to call them playing around…

“That’s right! That was nothing but child’s play.” Tony retorted. “Seriously, I was getting bored by just standing in the court. To be honest, I would rather go home and play Mr. Kart 8 with Brandon. Is that right, Captain?” Tony looked at Brandon in the face, grinning.

What?!? Child’s play? Tony must have been exaggerating…

“Well, while I can’t call that as far as child’s play, that was the essence. That was nothing but a practice drill for me. I mean, none of us three used our trump card after all.” Brandon chimed in. “Tony, I’ll take your offer on Mr. Kart 8 again tonight. Prepare your puke bags again.” The captain looked at Tony and grinned.

And now the captain called it ‘a practice drill’? Holy hell! I know that they didn’t face another Division One university, but to think that they didn’t even exert their full power and are still hiding their trump cards…

Thinking about it, I realized that I was just a tadpole in a dried well. Even the well’s edge that I saw from here was merely the ground for them. I’m but a small droplet in a big ocean. It was a miracle I could make it to the reserve of this team in the first place.

The difference between the Division One team and those that aren’t was pretty much like heaven and earth. And now, I suddenly regretted my naivety on my first day.

I’m really a nobody! Seriously, why did I even expect that I could snatch their position and get on the bench? I’m even glad that I got into this team, even just as a reserve.

Hell, I would even go as far as to say that I would rather put in reserve for years in this team than be a star player on a Division Two team.

By just being on the team, I could learn a lot from them. Not to mention, three of the prominent starters are teaching us every Saturday. I couldn’t be more grateful to our kind seniors.

Well, Tony isn’t that kind of likable, but he still gives us pointers and teaches us, so he also deserves my thanks. I can’t forget their kindness to teach a nobody like me to play basketball the right way.

Okay, I have decided. I’ll listen to their teaching well. I’ll practice as much as I can to catch up with them. They may be harsh like this, but they managed to prove themselves.

With that line of thought, I decided to thank them for reaching their hands to me. While Carlos looked perplexed at their responses, I bowed to the three seniors, showing my gratitude toward them.

“Brandon, Tony, Sean, thank you for teaching us basketball every Saturday. I couldn’t express my gratitude enough that players as good as you all are willing to teach your juniors, especially a good-for-nothing reserve player like me. I hope you all will keep being patient while teaching us. Once again, thank you very much!”

That action of mine drew the attention of the whole locker room. Even Sean got perplexed as he looked at me, rubbing his head as he was confused. Meanwhile, Brandon tapped my shoulder and smiled at me, starting a barrage of words at me.

“Keith, I told you to chill out. We had our fun teaching you, and we are more than willing to keep training you guys… Because you guys are so fun to teach. Especially you, Keith.”

“I heard from Sean that on your first day, you could do nothing but dunk or layup. But now? You could do fakes and even score from a distance sometimes. Looking at your growth already gave me a form of satisfaction.”

“You know, that feeling when your disciple becomes strong, it really warms your heart. Teaching you gave me some sort of achievement. Your humility was the icing on the cake. As I said, you are my favorite junior, don’t sell yourself short!”

I snorted. How could I not, the captain is flattering me like that. Shortly, Tony performed a group hug, and we laughed as time went by.

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