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3, 2, 1, Swish.
Dribble, dribble, cross it over, pump-fake and let it go. Swish. Okay, next move: behind the back, through the legs, and shoot the bank. Splash. Swishing, splashing, and the ball hitting the hard wooden floor, were the sounds that filled the gym that Samantha spent hours working in, every single day. It was what she did; it was her thing.
Samantha, a fifteen-year-old girl, wasn’t interested in shopping, or anything like that; she instead devoted her time to basketball. Along with her individual practices, Samantha was also a part of a travel team, on which she was the starting point guard. Nationals were going on and Samantha’s team, the Lady Hoops, had breezed through the opening rounds, and was going to the finals.
The game was the following Sunday, and Samantha was ready. It seemed like she had been waiting for ages for that day to come and she could almost reach out and touch it; it was only four days away.
The next couple days were a blur of lay-ups, jump shots, and sprints, as Samantha’s team was prepping for the game. The game would be in Philadelphia, almost three thousand miles away from sunny California, on a neutral court due to the rules of nationals. Their plane would leave on Saturday morning, and they would arrive in mid-afternoon, allowing them to practice just once on the court before game time.
When they arrived in Philadelphia and then at the gym, Samantha and her teammates were exhausted. The plane had been delayed, then delayed some more, and had finally gotten in over two hours late, forcing them to get to the gym much later than their allotted slot. As a result, the team did not practice well. They dribbled off one another’s feet, their shots went wide right or wide left, and they were always one step slow on defense. After what seemed like days, their practice was finally over and they hit the showers. Samantha chalked up their lousy practice to fatigue and their anxiety to play the actual game the following night.
The next morning, Sam woke up and saw the red flashing light on the hotel phone, signaling that they had a message, and called up their voicemail.
“WHAT?!” Samantha practically screeched, as she slammed the phone down on the receiver.
“What’s wrong?” Isabella, Sam’s roommate on this trip asked, suddenly at Samantha’s side.
“Game time is changed. We only have a couple hours.” Samantha said as she started to throw her stuff together for the game. She realized that she was probably overreacting, but she took game-day very seriously. She had been doing the same routine throughout her days of park basketball, school basketball, and club basketball, and she didn’t think that today would be the day to mess with it.
Just as all of this was going through her mind, two of their teammates, Noelle and Luna, barged into the room.
“Did you guys---” Luna started, before Isabella cut her off.
“Game time? Yeah. When are we heading for the arena?” Isabella said.
“Twenty-five minutes. Breakfast in the form of balance bars is waiting on the team bus.” Noelle answered.
A few minutes later Noelle and Luna left, leaving Samantha and Isabella to rush to get their things together, take quick showers, and scurry down to the lobby where the rest of the team was congregated.
The entire way to the arena, Samantha was again feeling jittery. She couldn’t shake the feeling during warm-ups either; she just wasn’t feeling like herself today.
The first-half of the game was more of the same. Passes were getting stolen, people were getting beat, and even Isabella, who was the best shooter on the team, couldn’t get her shots to fall. By halftime, they were down 36-26. Samantha yelled out in frustration, she was not playing well.
After an attempt of a pep talk from their coach, Noelle pulled Samantha aside when the rest of the team was heading out to the court once more. Noelle was a captain and the entire team looked up to her. She was incredibly well respected and an amazing player.
“Sam. This is your time. Your game. Your arena. We have twenty-four minutes left to play, show them what you’re made of.” Noelle said, looking straight into Sam’s eyes.
Samantha took a deep breath and realized Noelle was exactly right, and by the end of the third quarter, thanks to Noelle and Sam, their deficit had been cut down to two points.
The start of the fourth went back and forth, as both teams fought for momentum. Sam’s team was losing by one when it seemed like all the breath collectively whooshed out of the Lady Hoops. Noelle was down on the floor and clutching her ankle, crying out in pain. Sam knew she was hurt. Noelle never let her injuries show.
Noelle was carried off the court. As she was leaving, she looked right at Sam. “Remember what I told you. It’s your time,” she said, as she grimaced in pain once again.
Once again Sam found herself taking another deep breath. Noelle was right, she had to do this. For herself, for Noelle, and for the team. There were twenty-four seconds left in the game and the Lady Hoops were down by one point. It really was her time, and she knew exactly what to do with it.
Isabella took the ball out of bounds, and passed it to Sam. Sam slowly dribbled up the floor, letting time tick off of the clock, and getting herself in the position that she needed to be in. With seven seconds left Samantha started her move that she had practiced so many times before. Dribble, dribble, cross it over, pump-fake and let it go. As she released the ball, it seemed to hang in the ball for ages. When it finally came down, she only heard one sound. Swish.