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Just Give Me a Shot
Although I’m not one to showboat, I couldn’t resist. I let loose a big smile and screamed, “AHHHH!” In the stands, boys and girls alike were on their feet, going crazy. I caught my little brother’s eye, and saw he had a smile as wide as his face. That’s how proud he was of me. The ref blew the whistle; the other team had called a timeout. They knew it was over.
As I slowly jogged back to the bench, I could still hear the fans, most of whom were my friends, screaming my name at the top of their lungs. I began to wave my arms to pump up the crowd. The noise only got louder. When I got to the bench, one by one my teammates jumped on me. I recall thinking: this is what dreams are made of.
Fourteen days earlier, I had stood on the same court, on the verge of tears, as my world came crashing down. The teams for the Owners Cup, the brand new, under the lights, annual basketball game against our camp rivals, had been posted. With an 8 p.m. tipoff, a pep rally, cheerleaders, customized jerseys, and a halftime show, it was poised to be the perfect night. Even better, the entire camp would be watching. My last year as a camper, and my last chance to make it into the game. But, as I scanned and then re-scanned the list, I didn’t see my name. I couldn’t fathom this; it had to be a mistake since I was generally regarded as one of the most capable players in the grade.
Back at the bunk, my friends tried to comfort me. Devastated, I shrugged them off. I threw myself on my bed and stayed there for what seemed like hours, until our counselor barked: “Time for soccer. Let’s go. We’re leaving for the field ASAP.” His words evaporated into the air. I had no intention of playing soccer. I found myself walking toward the basketball court, unsure of what I was going to say when I saw the coach.
He was in the middle of a conversation. On a nearby bench I waited, wiping the sweat from my forehead. The coach turned his head briefly, and our eyes locked. I had a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach as he made his way over.
“How could I not make the team!” I blurted out. “I have been one of the best players here for as long as I have been coming to camp, and everyone knows that.”
“Listen,” the coach said uneasily, “You’ve got some darn good friends- they came to me after I posted the teams, and well, they were pretty upset. Said they couldn’t believe you got cut. So…” he began. “So”, I thought. “So” sounded good. “So,” he continued, “I thought it over, and I’ll put you on the team.” He didn’t look pleased as he explained, “I can tell you right now though, you are starting on the bottom of the depth chart. You’re the last one off the bench as of now. Practice in two hours at the upper courts. See you then. You better bring your A-game!”
At practice over the next two weeks, the coach held true to his word. I was usually the last one off the bench when we scrimmaged, and wasn’t given much consideration. I knew that I could be out there, starting, but I was stuck as a reserve. Frustrated, I spent much of my time sulking and thinking about “what if”, even though my conscience told me that was the wrong attitude. A few days before the big game, after a morning practice in which I had played pretty poorly, my buddy Reed pulled me over.
“Man, what the heck is wrong with you? I watch you every day playing like garbage out there, moping around, and it’s pissing me off. Why you being such a damn baby? You’re on the team. Make the best of it!” he yelled at me, giving me a shove.
His words stung and his frankness surprised me, but this “tough love” pep talk was exactly what I needed. At the next practice, all I wanted to do was show the coach- and Reed- that I was ready. I played hard and pretty much dominated the court. There were high fives and lots of cheering for me and boy, did it feel good. Coach even managed to give me a smile. The next few days were similar, and I felt really good going into that final day.
During the pep rally, my mind kept racing, worrying about how the night would unfold. “Would I get a starting spot?” I wondered. I knew I had played stellar in the last practices. Walking on to the court, I could feel the electricity in the air. The music was blasting and the fans were spirited. My heart began to beat harder, faster. With two minutes left before game time showing on the clock, the coach called us in to the huddle. I still was holding on to some last bit of hope that I would be starting.
“Reed, Brandon, Jason,” the coach said, reading off the starting lineup, “Jordan and Evan.”
No hesitation either. Well, that was that. If I wasn’t starting, it was fine; I would be ready to go in when called.
I soon realized that it wasn’t when I was called on, but if I was called on. Both teams were playing well, and through a quarter it was tied. Four players had come off the bench in that first quarter, but I was not one of them. My stomach churned. Then, I heard my name called to start off the second quarter. I jumped a few times to get loose, and headed out. Looking into the stands, it seemed like the crowd had multiplied, but I couldn’t tell if that was just my imagination.
The first time I got the ball on offense, I didn’t hesitate; I was coming for blood. I took the ball and drove hard straight to the hoop. Basket. I scored six more points that quarter, grabbed plenty of rebounds, and the team went into halftime up by four points.
I got the start for the first quarter and I was ecstatic. Both teams came out of halftime sluggish, and with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter we were tied. Feeling the pressure, our team began to pick it up, and after a few steals and a few clutch baskets, we were up eight points with two minutes left. We needed one more defensive stop to put the game away. Forcing a bad shot, we got the rebound and pushed it. I can still remember the moment perfectly: Reed drove towards the basket and was immediately double-teamed, leaving me wide open. He whipped a pass my way, and with all the time in the world, I let loose a perfect shot. I kept my arm up, extending my follow through while watching the ball go straight through the hoop. Nothing but net.
It was my moment of sheer bliss. I was named MVP of the game that everyone wanted to be a part of. And now, years later, I still love to tell the story of the time I didn’t even make the team, and then ended up leading it to victory