Chapter 42:

Step Up

Would You Paint My Dunk


With a few minutes of driving down the road, the clinic was finally in sight. The driver made a stop at a dropping point, and now we are slowly hopping off the bus. After everyone had gotten off the bus, we made our way into the lobby… Well… everyone except the driver…

Entering the sliding glass door, I saw Jessica and her uncle standing beside the front desk, and her uncle was arguing with the receptionist. Slowly, she turned around and was surprised to see me. With a face brimming with happiness, she waved her hands at me.

“Hi Keith. You are late.”

“Hello Jess. How come you arrived first?”

“Ha-ha. My uncle just put the pedal to the metal. Anyway, the receptionist didn’t let us see Sean.”

“As I said, unless you are a relative, I can’t let you disturb the…”

Before the receptionist could finish her sentence, our coach walked to the desk and approached her.

“Hello, I’m the coach of the Astro Jets. I believe my team member named Sean Hammock is admitted here, and we are here to pay a visit.”

“Ah, in that case, then you may visit. But I will only let a small group enter. Our place is quite small and I don’t think it would be wise for a dozen people to occupy the space.”

“I see… Well, is anyone here close with Sean?”

Brandon, Tony, Carlos, and I raised our hands. The coach looked around and counted.

“Okay, that’s four of you. So, can five of us visit…”

Knowing that the coach didn’t count Jessica in, I stepped forward toward the coach to speak up.

“Coach, can I bring her in? She is my girlfriend and she came all the way here. She is also somewhat close with Brandon, so…”

The coach turned around and faced the receptionist.

“Is that alright, receptionist?”

“Six, well, it’s fine. You six can enter.”

“Thank you.”

We went in, only to see that Sean was put on a small sports bed while a personal trainer was stretching his legs. Sean looked at us and smiled.

“Oh, it’s you guys. I’m sorry to let you see me in this sorry state.”

“Aw man! Don’t be like that! Just rest, big man.” Carlos chuckled.

Hearing the impolite gesture Carlos made, I looked at him with an angry face.

“Carlos!”

Sean chuckled again.

“That’s okay, Keith. I don’t mind. It’s lively with you guys here.”

“Sean…” Brandon looked concerned.

While we were looking at Sean’s condition, my coach approached the personal trainer.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Trainer?”

“Jacob. My name is Jacob Lark.”

“So, Mr. Jacob Lark… How is his condition?”

“Well, it’s not that bad. He will easily recover in two weeks’ time.”

Two weeks?! Oh no! That means he wouldn’t be able to play in the cup. At this point, he will miss his chance to get scouted…

“Sean, this is your last year, and this is your last chance to get scouted. At least you have to play once…”

Sean tried to wake up as he looked at me.

“Keith, I know that my body condition more than anyone else. If I can’t play, then it can’t be helped. I guess I have to continue my family business…”

I looked over to the trainer to make a plea.

“Sir, can you make his recovery faster? He has to play or it’s over for his career. I beg of you, please help him…”

“Nah!” He shook his head. “If you take the treatment lightly, it could affect his future. Recovering in a fortnight is pretty quick if you ask me.”

“But…”

The coach looked at his phone and showed me the schedule for the tournament.

“Keith, this is March 19th, two weeks means he is getting discharged on April 2nd. The final game is on April 3rd, so he can play in that game.”

He pocketed his phone and continued for a while.

“Rather than his playing chance, you should be worried with the next matches without him in the roster. We have to win three matches if we want him to play again at the final.”

“As we are missing our primary center and the anchor of the team, it’s going to be tough. Not to mention I have to reorganize the whole strategy and play times. Sigh…”

“Coach,” Brandon interjected, “How about putting Keith into the roster? With now Sean out of the equation, we could put him as the twelfth man. Not to mention that he made a big improvement compared when he just entered the team. I could vouch for his ability as we trained every Saturday without missing a single day.”

“Well, I have to play with all the cards in my hands, of course I’ll put him in.”

The coach tapped my shoulders and looked me in the eyes.

“Keith, you will get in as a replacement. I’ll get a game plan ready tonight. Since I don’t know how you will fare at an actual match, don’t expect me to give you a lot of minutes.”

“Coach, I just want us to win so he can play in the finals. I know I have yet to prove myself, and I won’t be greedy for playtime. Once I prove myself out there, then please consider adding into my minutes. Until then, I’m determined to be able to play in a match, even if I could only appear for a short while.”

“Hmph,” The coach snorted, “You have a nice attitude for a player. Well, we are going to hold the fort until Sean’s recovery. Don’t you dare to slack off or get an injury. We have no more spare players now, so take care of your body, is that clear?”

“Yes coach!”

“That’s the spirit! And for Mr. Jacob…” He looked at the trainer. “…make sure to make him ready for the final match in two weeks.”

“We’ll do our best. We will give it our all to get him in shape before that happens.”

“Alright!”

The coach looked toward the injured giant before leaving.

“Sean, see you later. Get well soon, you hear? If your condition doesn't allow you to play, I’ll not going to use you in the final game.”

“Coach, I’ll be ready for that final match. I promise.”

“Okay everybody, time to go home.”

We started walking our way outside. However, before I could arrive at the entrance, Jessica nudged my arm with her elbow.

“Keith, you are going to make your debut tomorrow. Should I call you ‘Hidden Dragon’ now?”

She ended her sentences with a smirk. Facing off her playful teasing, I decided to tease her back.

“Nah, I’m just a spare wheel that got put into use. How about you? I believe your painting skill has become better these days. Who knows if you could overtake Leonardo Da Vinci soon?”

“Oh my God! Why did you compare me to a legendary painter? It’s not fair, Keith.”

“Fair? Talk about comparing a basketball player with a term for a martial artist, ha-ha.”

“Ah, I see. If I could be compared to Leonardo Da Vinci, then you would be as good as Michael that you talked about.”

“Damn. You are now comparing me with the G.O.A.T…”

She tilted her head and put her finger on her chin.

“Goat… What now? I’m not comparing you with an animal, Keith.”

“Jessica, it’s a short of ‘Greatest of All Time’.”

“Ah, I see. Sorry, I’m not versed with basketball terms. But if it’s art like brushes and acrylics, then I know the stuff.”

We laughed for a while, and we were too focused on ourselves. We didn’t realize that we had arrived at the entrance.

Now, it’s time for us to wave each other goodbyes.

“Keith, see you later!”

“See you!”

We parted ways as I followed my teammate into the bus. Before I hopped into the vehicle, I looked back for one last glance, only to be surprised by her playful teasing once again. She winked her right eye and tilted her head right, walking backward as she made a playful wave. It had succeeded in making me snort.

“Keith, come on, get in.” The captain urged with a beckoning hand.

And so, I went inside the bus, and now we are on our way to go back home.

The next day, I went to the basketball club once again, only to see a lot of people gathering in one spot. They are looking at the poster that was plastered on the wall right beside the coach. Curious, I also went to take a look, only to get surprised as it mentions the new minute placements.

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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              | 24

S     | PF      | Aaron Keene              | 28

S     | C        | Xavier Fletcher          | 28

Bench:

6th  | PG    | Carlos Stewards      | 12+*

7th  | SF     | Gordon Weaver        | 12

8th  | SG    | Jake Carter                 | 12

9th  |C (PF)| Ivan Woods                | 12

10th| PF    | Jamal Stephenson   | 12

11th| SF    | Keith Wallace           | 4

12th| PG   | Ryan Higgins            | 4-*

Notes:

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

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That poster shook things up. Ryan looked angry at the coach.

“Coach! Why did you place Keith higher than mine in the rotation?”

“Because I had an important role for him.”

For a short while, the coach and I had our gaze locked into each other.

“Ah, Keith, come closer.”

I walked toward the coach, and now I stood right in front of him. He started his lengthy explanation.

“So, I’m going to play you at the last two minutes per half. I’m not expecting much from you, and I won’t blame you if you can’t score a single point in the game. I just need you to distract the opponent and drain their stamina as much as you can.”

“Tight markings and on-ball defense, denying their shots, setting screens on offense… Do anything to exhaust their energy and make yourself annoying enough to make themselves focused on you, and try to get your teammate getting open opportunities. You can do that, right?”

So… I’m just… A decoy?!?!? Oh well, Carlos is definitely a better player than me, and probably Jamal too. I guess it is what it is. I just need to do my role without complaining.

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