Chapter 43:

Fill In

Would You Paint My Dunk


Even if the coach thought of me as a decoy, I decided to accept the opportunity he gave me. After all, I can only earn more time and recognition by playing on the court. And with that, I shouted at the coach with enthusiasm.

“Yes, coach!”

“Splendid! Now, look at this…”

The coach pointed at the planning board and explained a few plays, and almost half of it was some kind of screenplay.

Well, the screenplay is an offensive basketball play in which a player without the ball is standing still, while placing their body between a teammate and the teammate’s defender. This creates space and breathing room for that teammate to do a play, for example, catching or distributing passes, attacking the hoop, or shooting a jump shot.

Following the coach’s instructions, we continued to train until it was late, and we went home. After a nightly call with Jessica, I threw myself to sleep for tomorrow.

The next morning, we flew to Las Vegas by plane. Well, the venue is in the Mobile Arena, Las Vegas. It would be ridiculous if we were going to go there by bus. It would take eight… No, nine hours to arrive. In the end, we accepted the event committee arrangement and took our flight.

Arriving at the Harry Reid International Airport, a bus picked us up and dropped us in the designated hotel by the committee. Well, the hotel isn’t as comfortable as my sweet bed at home, but that can’t be helped.

Also, Carlos became my roommate. I never knew that he was contacting Maria in secret with his phone. Well, I’m not different as I’m texting Jessica too. We laughed as we teased each other for a while, right until we decided to practice outside at a nearby park.

We spent the following days training. On top of the regular session with the team, I also practiced the plays the coach told me about.

Saturday, March 23th, 2024 was the date of our match. An hour before the event started, we departed from our hotel and went our way to the venue. The stadium was quite large, and there were big LCD screens hung across the outer walls, advertising today’s match.

We took our belongings and went to the locker room. After we settled and changed, the coach cleared his throat to grab our attention.

The coach pointed toward his planning board, explaining the game plan for the last time. This time, I paid attention to the coach’s explanation. I couldn’t afford to mess up on my debut match.

Soon, we entered the arena, with the crowd cheering for both teams. As usual, I sat on the bench, watching the starters taking their positions. But since I would be playing today, I decided to pay my utmost attention to analyze my opponent's habits, quirks, strengths and weaknesses.

Without Sean around, our team struggled against the enemy starters. The scoreboard indicated a tight score as both of the teams kept stealing leads, back and forth. Brandon and Tony looked frustrated as they couldn’t make a lot of plays without the giant.

Soon, Carlos and other substitutes got subbed in. Well, it’s not my time to play yet. I should be playing in the last minutes.

With two minutes remaining on the clock, the coach called timeout to make a substitution. And now, it’s my time to play. The score was 43-44, with the opposing team in the lead.

I went to the court replacing Gordon Weaver, the bench Small Forward on our team, and Ryan went in replacing Carlos. Jamal stood outside the line as he prepared for a throw in. One of the officials gave him the ball and he started looking around for someone to pass.

The match resumed as Jamal made a swift pass to Ryan who was open. Realizing that he had a good scoring opportunity, he pulled a quick trigger, only to miss the mark as the ball hit the rim. As none of my team members were in the paint, the opponent Center took the rebound easily.

While it wasn’t a bad choice for Ryan to take the shot, it gave the opponent a fastbreak opportunity. The opponent Point Guard dashed toward our rim, and that Center guy just threw a long pass to the forerunner, piercing through our defense like a lance.

The situation wasn’t looking good. Jamal and myself are the only people defending our rim, and the opposing Point Guard, Shooting Guard, and Small Forward are rushing on us. It’s three-on-two on a fastbreak.

We have to stop them! Otherwise, we will concede a few points. But… How? How can we stop three people with two? I have to buy time for my remaining teammates to arrive… Buy time... That’s it! I just have to keep him occupied for a few seconds.

I dashed to his vicinity and spread my arms wide, blocking his path to go through. I rapidly swung my hands up and down, while waving my body posture left and right, preventing him from passing to his teammates in the front.

Sure enough, that maneuver of mine was able to hold him for a few seconds, and it was enough for my teammate to come back. Now it was back to five-on-five, but I didn’t realize that this action of mine caused a mismatch to happen.

Because I was guarding a Point Guard, Jake Carter, our Shooting Guard had to guard a Small Forward. Not only that, Ryan had to take the opponent’s Shooting Guard despite being a Point Guard.

With the mismatches behind me, the Point Guard that I’m guarding made a pass to the Small Forward who managed to pass through Jake’s defense. As he made a drive and performed a layup, Jamal chased after him and slapped the ball away. It went off bound and the opponent was given a throw in.

Looking backward, there is only thirteen seconds on the shot clock. In basketball, you need to shoot within twenty-four seconds or you would commit a shot clock violation, giving the opponent the ball as turnover occurs. We just had to defend the rim for thirteen more seconds at most before it’s our turn to attack.

After the throw in, the opposing team played cautiously, passing around the ball instead of charging inside. It seems that the block Jamal performed earlier made them wary of him. In the last four seconds, the Shooting Guard attempted a shot, only to miss and rebounded by Jamal.

Now it’s our turn to make a counter-attack. I dashed forward like a rhino as Jamal threw the ball toward me. I quickly threw the ball downward and stabilized the ball as I drove the ball toward the rim. But this time, it’s not a fast break, it’s two-on-three.

Jake was on my left wing as we pushed toward the opponent. There’s a Small Forward in front of me, guarding the right side. The Point Guard that I managed to hold earlier is now guarding the middle three-point line. On the left side, the opposing Shooting Guard is marking Jake. And now, I’m thinking of the best course of action at the time.

Should I overpower the Small Forward?

Or should I pass the ball to Jake?

No, Jake is heavily guarded… How should we do this?

Suddenly, Jake ran toward the right side, followed by his matchup. The left side of the court was left empty.

I see! He cleared a path for me. Now, I just have to push through toward the rim from there.

With that decision, I went toward the center to go left. The Point Guard tried to guard against me by spreading his arms wide. I performed a crossover to the left and broke free from him.

As the Small Forward tried to catch up with me, Jake put himself in the path of the bigger guy for a screen, and it was enough to slow him down enough, letting me a free pass to the rim. Like an airplane taking off from a runway, I leaped forward for a dunk.

*BANG!*

The net shook as I slammed the ball down the rim. We managed to score despite the number disadvantage and closed the small lead they had. The score is now 45-44 as I scored two points with the dunk.

As soon as I landed, I started to make my way back to defense. My matchup tried to do a post-up on me, but my post-defense locked him in place, leaving him no option but to pass the ball around.

Eventually, they passed the ball to the Point Guard and tried to make a three pointer, only to miss and be rebounded Jamal.

Again, we pushed forward. This time, I remembered the trick I learned from Brandon. I faked a forward drive, which made my defender step backward as he bought my feint.

Performing a step-back to distance myself further from him, I managed to get an open three-pointer jump. The ball made its way to the net, extending our lead by another three points.

I continued to play the game until the buzzer rang. The scoreboard showed 62-56 with us in the lead. But before I could celebrate, my fatigue caught up with me all at once. I didn’t realize that my body was screaming in pain until we stopped. With the split-second decisions I had to make, two minutes felt like eternity.

And with that, we went back to the locker room. Feeling all sore, I sat with a towel on my face, trying to recuperate from the fatigue I have. Now I get why they acted like this after the first match. The pressure made the difference.

Shortly, the coach approached me with a surprised face.

“Wow, Keith, you are doing better than expected. I didn’t expect you to score a few points. Great job. Keep it going, and I’ll get you more minutes to play.”

Shit, more minutes to play? I’m dying here… But if I reject it outright, I wouldn't have another opportunity like this. Argh! I have to accept this.

“Alright, coach!”

After the coach left, I let out a big sigh. But before I could take a break, Carlos and Brandon came.

“Hey Keith, you are doing good. I’m quite impressed. You are applying my teachings and adapted well in your first game. I had no regret teaching you.”

I chuckled after I heard my captain’s flattery. But I realized I’m far from being good, and so, I decided to be humble.

“Captain, I still have ways to go. I’m not a player that deserves that much praise.”

“Still, you are doing way better than Ryan. Maybe you will keep your spot after Sean gets back, ha-ha.”

“Man, I really hope that’s the case.” Carlos chimed in. “I want to make a double play with Keith soon.”

Looking at each other, we burst into laughter. The sound reverberates in the small locker room. And soon, it was time to continue to the second round.

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