One Team One Dream

May 6, 2011
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This story isn’t one of those stories that have a fairy tale ending, or a tragic conclusion based on love, but it does have one team’s insane drive to be the best. The team I am talking about, although short in population, and lack of natural talent, has something far greater, HEART. Having heart means you dive for loose balls, scratch and fight for rebounds, and above all treat your team like family. With heart, anything is possible, anything.

This town is no Los Angeles, Detroit, or New York where kids with unreal talent are born and shipped off to the NBA. This is one of those towns where everybody knows everybody; where you know your mailman’s full name by heart, or say you were caught treating someone bad, your momma would know before you even got home.

1567, is the city’s population; with two pregnant moms; that are eight months seventeen days pregnant and four months… seven days pregnant. That would make it 1569. So, as you can tell, it’s puny, and awfully weird of me to know the exact days they have been pregnant. That’s just how it is though, everybody knows everything about everybody.

I am Jake, born and raised in that very community described above, West Webster. I have dark brown hair, fierce brown eyes, and lately have been shooting up corn in July. I have many tight friends, and to others may be seen as a jock. No part of me will ever do bad things like smoke or do drugs because that will change my goals, and my goals are everything. There was one time I lost my head, and I will never forget how stupid and naive I was. I was hanging with a crowd I usually don’t, and they brought some alcohol. One bottle was all it took for me to lose all body control, and lose my sense of right and wrong. I was in no way used to this and wound up spray painting houses and driving drunk. When I woke up my head was throbbing and I swore to myself to never be in that kind of position again.
Ever since I can remember I have had one dream, to win an Iowa High School Basketball Title. The thing is, it is almost an impossible task, because it doesn’t matter what the size of school you are, everyone is together whether a school of fifty-four versus a school of three thousand. My time is running short also. I am a senior now, with one final shot to do the unthinkable. This year I will be thrust into the leadership position, and I have some fluttery butterflies in my stomach about it. If I am unable to handle it, we will be without a crucial part that separates good teams from great teams.

A smell of old musty socks, and intense body odor makes my eyes water as I enter the old crackly gymnasium. It’s the first day of the most important season of my life, basketball. My dedication to the sport is easy to spot out, since I am an hour and a half early to practice. Instead of just wasting my time like watching a full NASCAR race, I pick up an ancient, flat ball and put some shots up. About and eternity passes, or forty-five minutes, our coach walks in, clipboard in hand. His thick brown hair magnetized to his head, most like from nerves. He has a dry gray shirt on, (bad choice if you ask me, the sweat will bleed right through, poor guy) and some baggy shorts. Coach Mike is his name, and he lives for basketball.

“Geez! Somebody is a little eager to get going on the season.” He spoke in a deep tone.

“Ya well; I figured it’s better to be early then late.” I replied.

Some more minutes tick by and one by one the full ten players show up. They range from 6’4” all the way down to 5’4”. All have one thing in common, that is how much they all want to win a title. Coach gathers us up and starts saying some John Wooden, a famous coach from UCLA, quotes. We all hear him out, but are like kids on a rollercoaster, jumpy to get going. The first hour or so consisted of strictly running, although we hated it with a passion, we knew we had to be in shape. We then went into some grueling defensive drills that resulted in my calves completely worn down. Next, we went through the offense, and got a good idea of what we will be running this year. Then, we shot thousands of free throws. Coach wanted to stress most of the time the team with the higher free throw percentage wins games. Our first day ended on that note. We had a long way to go for us to accomplish our ultimate goal.

The practices all blended in after that, and before I knew it, I found myself trembling at the locker room door. As soon as I heard the roar of the roar of the crowd, I snapped into reality. It was game time. Reality wasn’t kind to us unfortunately, and we found ourselves down twenty to one of the biggest schools in the state at half. When I entered the locker room I heard the silent whispers of players giving up on themselves and the team.

“Why are we even trying, we suck.”

“Ya, let’s just pack it up and go home.” Another player chips in.

“We can make up an excuse, something like our water bottles were filled with poison, and we have to go to the hospital.” Our point guard says.

Now a majority of the players say in unison. “That’s perfect!”

“Guys, are you kidding me? One bad half and you want to give up? You are one of the most talented teams I have ever coached. I thought you guys wanted to win a title, I guess I was mistaken,” said Coach Mike.

The line that came next from Coach not only changed the game but our whole future.

“The size of our school doesn’t show the size of our hearts.”

That was all it took, we stormed out on the floor and played the next sixteen minutes like it was the last sixteen minutes of our lives. The result ended in our favor, a win. After that come from behind win, we really started playing as a unit. We were untouchable, you could say on top of the world.

The season progressively came to an end and our record stood at 19-3, good enough for a first round bye. After the bye, was a nightmare, there were powerhouse schools left and right. We met at practice the next day, and instead of the usual routine; Coach had a surprise for us. We were to grab a piece of paper and a pencil. Our assignment was to write what our goals were for the rest of our season, a list of actions of how to accomplish these goals, and write how badly you wanted to win this. There was not one person who didn’t take this seriously at this point. All we could do is eat, think, and sleep basketball. When we were finished with this little task we were to put them somewhere we could see every day. If we wanted this bad enough, we wouldn’t let anything or anybody get in the way.

February 2nd was the day the tournament started. As I mentioned before, we had a bye. So, we sat at home, all nervous to hear who we were up against. Nearly ten o’clock we got our answer, Waverly. Our scouting report was that they were quick and played nose to nose defense. Hearing that, I knew it would be a tight game throughout.

The first minutes of the game, belonged to us. We started out hot, making six out of seven shots to give us a commanding early lead of 12-2. The rest of the first half we just maintained our lead. We would score, and then they would score. 32-22 was the score at half. We entered the locker room not sad about how we played; just a little disappointed is all. Coach came in and really stressed moving the ball and hustling on “D”, but above all he told us to not let these guys hang around to the end of the game. What Coach said must have stuck with us because we strutted out with an unexpected confidence in us. We raised the lead to eighteen after the third quarter. The fourth quarter was a completely different story though. When one of our “Bigs”, (taller guys) and another starter got four fouls on them, and were put on the bench, the other team went on a furious rally. With two minutes left they cut our lead to three, anybody’s game. We had the ball and were desperately trying to kill the time. They tried for some traps, but it resulted in a foul. The person they fouled was me. To tell the truth, I was very nervous. I mean heart beating fast, sweat drizzling down my face, the whole nine yards. I got to the line, the crowd was stomping their feet crazily, and there were high pitched screams of some girls. It was a one and one; I bounced the ball twice, and fired it up. I swear it was cash the minute it left my hand, but it nicked the back of the rim and ricocheted. The other team snagged it with thirty seconds left, drove down the court and swished a deep three, tied up now. Coach then was forced to call a timeout. The momentum had completely shifted to the opposing team. We approached the huddle expecting an ear full from Coach, but got a calm response. “Guys, you all need to calm down, and think. You cannot lose your heads out there… How bad do you want it?”

Our thirty second time out was up. We got the ball in to our best shooter just before the five seconds was up. The only thing was they had a trap ready for him moments after he caught the ball. The other team was all over him, nearly suffocating the boy. Luckily he had the brains to jump up and launch the ball to the closest player in his vicinity, me. When the ball touched my sweaty palms, something inside of me sparked. For some reason I knew what to do, and how to do it. Two players charged at me, I took one step to the right while crossing over behind my back, then a dribble through my legs back to the left. Those poor players didn’t stand a chance, and I sped past them. The next thirty steps, my body did things I couldn’t imagine! I was dribbling behind the back, spinning, and moving at an incredible speed. The time was down to five seconds when I hit the three point line. For some reason I knew I couldn’t shoot a deep shot with this much pressure, so I hunkered down and took it to the net. One dribble, two dribbles, three dribbles and the hoop was in reaching distance. I skyrocketed myself for the layup, knowing everything was on the line, everything we had worked for. I was just getting ready to release the ball, when a monster of a player came right into me from the right. I lowered my shoulder into him, on my decent, and heaved the ball up. The buzzer blared and I was flattened by that big player. Everything was so dark and very blubbery under his belly. “Too many HoHos.” I thought. When he finally got the energy to move his body off of me, another supply of energy picked me up. This time it was my teammates.

“You made it! We did it, we won!” was what I heard. Then slowly but surely a small grin crept across my face. Game one was in the bag. How we were to win the remaining two games to get to the title, I have no clue.

The next war was against one of the largest schools in the state, Iowa City. We all came in expecting the hardest game of our short lives. It wasn’t though, not even close. We started with a lead and just kept it all the way through. It probably wasn’t the most fun of a game to watch, but a wins a win, and we will take it.

Now it was the semifinals, up against a team that handed us two of our losses this season. I’d rather not say their name because we despise each other. Arch rivals are what we are. You could tell by the opening tip-off that this was going to be a physical game. We were already elbowing each other and talking trash. The first half had barely any scoring, but it did have action. Both teams had players with three fouls, and scratches and bruises. At halftime, with the score tied 23-23, Coach blabbered on about a lot of stuff, but one thing stayed inside of me, “Don’t let them out work you!”

We all stood by the door to exit the locker room and all our eyes met. You can tell by the seriousness that there’s nothing more we wanted than to make it to the finals. At that moment, something urged me to be a leader, to step up. I’ve kept quiet for too long, I needed to get this team fired up.

“Guys, let’s go, we cannot lose now. We have made it so far! We all need to work together as one, and dig down deep… Sixteen minutes left, let’s win this for the small schools out there.”

The third quarter immediately shifted in our favor. We were hitting shots and busting our butts after everything. Although we grasped a lead, the other team did not let up on their intensity. They were making us work for everything we got. The minutes were closing in on that one final horn, and we had a ten point lead with a minute left. With that lead and the time as it was, we started to get a hold of what was happening. We had done it, made it to the finals. Look at us now, I thought, all those who doubted us saying; we were too small of a school to do it. What were they thinking now? When I got out of fairy-tale land I realized the game wasn’t over. Another type of action was just beginning. The opposing team was not as gracious in defeat as others, our guard, John, was dribbling, and one nasty player whipped him hard to the ground and navigated the ball directly square in the face. When I gained hold of what was happening I sprinted to the dirty player, and clenched my fists, wound back, and let go… Oh, how sweet I thought it would feel to pound his face in. To see him scared and his face looking like an innocent baby. I was within a fraction of a second of making contact when an unexpected force held me back. It was Coach, he always had my back. Thank goodness he stopped me from doing it. I would have felt awful the second my fist hit his arrogant head. I shook off my anger and joined the team in our celebration. We can do this I thought, we really can.

February 9th, it was the day before the big game. Coach decided instead of sitting around and letting the nerves build up practice in the gym we will be playing in for the championship. We opened the gymnasium doors and were instantly in awe. The floor was sparkling like diamonds, the lights shined brightly down on us, and the size of the whole thing was unbearable. It looked like it would hold 100,000 people. I felt like I was a superstar.

February 10th, it was the final game day. We rode the bus to the court. Not one person said a word the whole way. The next hour went like lightning, and I was getting introduced in front of thousands of people in no time. The whole thing was so surreal, just a month ago I was home with my mom in little West Webster. The starting lineups finished for us and Des. Moines. The national anthem began. I stood beside my teammates and noticed that they were shaking, and sweating with nerves. Hopefully it won’t faze their game I thought.

The game started with a bang, in a bad way. The nerves did come back to bite us, and we were moving like zombies. The whole first half it remained that way, we were down fifteen points. In our locker room you probably would think somebody died, it was so quiet. Coach broke the silence and said, “I will be happy win or lose, if you guys play your hardest.”

Then one player spoke up saying, “We can do it!” Then one by one we all chipped in. It was crazy; our locker room went from a funeral to a party in a couple seconds.

The third quarter started, and we knocked down a couple shots to keep us close. We were doing everything we could do to put a stop them, but they were far superior. The fourth quarter began with us down ten. We just couldn’t break out though; they were all over us, forcing us to shoot bad shots. The minutes became seconds, and the loss began to set in. Tears started emerging from all of our eyes. We came so close, so so close. The final buzz went off, and the season was over. We all comforted each other. We win together and we lose together I thought. We went through ups and downs, but we always stuck together and never gave up.

The night of the loss was quite depressing, to come that close but just miss out on the top was the hardest to cope with. But, instead of wishing what I could have done, I remembered the highlights of the season. There was one thing that took us on this wild and crazy journey, and that was Heart.

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