Basketball season began, and my free time dissipated like morning fog. I worked on my computer, I ran practices and I worked out to stay in shape.
I told myself that I was exercising so that I would be able to show the girls new drills without getting winded. But I was also hitting the free weights. After getting out of the shower one night, I found myself checking the mirror, hoping to see some muscle definition.
Was I working out to impress a younger woman?
Maybe, but we’d hardly seen enough other since the birthday party and certainly hadn’t had any heart-to-heart talks, or physical contact either.
Maybe it was just a one-time thing. She had this curiosity about me that she needed to satisfy, and now that she’d scratched that itch, she moving on someone more her age?
Maybe I was a letdown. Maybe she had some big fantasy about an older man, and I didn’t live up to it, and now she doesn’t want anything to do with me.
In the meantime, Heather was turning out to be a great assistant coach. Rather than focus on big things like running plays, devising a game plan and strategies, Heather had a real knack for the little things. She could see when a girl wasn’t cutting right off a screen, wasn’t getting her feet squared on a shot. She made little tweaks that were starting to pay off.
Lori and Kim were developing into real threats from long range. Autumn and Crystal weren’t going to scare teams from the three-point line, but they were both getting much better at foul shots.
I started spending more time down in the low post guarding Paige and Carrie.
The old coach used to have Paige trying to guard Carrie because she was the only one who could even come close to Carrie’s size. Still, at 5-foot-8, she was giving up 5 inches to the center.
I was almost the same height as Carrie and wider. She couldn’t just shoot over me or bull her way through me. I worked with her on developing some feints and moves. She was starting to develop some of her raw potential.
Our point guard Tessa didn’t really need much coaching. She proved to be very heady, our own coach on the floor. Mostly with her, it was about becoming even scrappier than she already was. Her petite size didn’t matter with the kind of effort she showed in games.
One day in the locker room before a game, I told the team, “There is no written bayan escort test you can take, no electronic sensors that can be hooked up to your body to tell the most important fact of all: how much you want to win. All the talent in the world is no good without desire.
“When I look around this room, what I see is nice talent, but even better, I see heart. You keep this up, and we’ll not only qualify for the playoffs, but make some noise in the conference tournament.”
Out on the floor, I gazed over the crowd. Since Paige’s birthday party, Ricky had become a fixture at all the games and had been to the house a couple of times like an old-fashioned courtship.
I tracked the faces, finding myself looking for Ricky because I knew that Paige would be looking, too.
To my surprise, Ricky was sitting with a very attractive young woman. And to my further surprise, it was Randi. When the recognition clicked in my brain, she smiled and gave me a wave. I’m sure a big, dopey expression crossed my face just then.
Randi hadn’t been coming to the games — maybe she was avoiding me, or maybe she was working too much to get time off. I didn’t care why at that moment — I was just happy to see her.
I knew going into this game that we were taking on the top team in the conference. This school was a private prep academy and had lots of private money feeding the program.
I had to get a commercial drivers license to handle the old school bus we used for away games. It was a bus so old that it had been retired from the daily transport of kids to and from school, but was supposed to be okay for us driving 30-40 miles to play ball (I kept waiting for it to break down on us).
The prep school had a fancy new bus that looked like it could say Greyhound down the side.
The prep girls even had matching backpacks with the school logo on them.
But fancy backpacks, buses and warm-up suits don’t win ball games, so I thought we had a good chance of winning.
The first quarter did its best to prove me wrong.
My girls came out a little timid and made some mental errors, looking very unsure. We were down seven by the end of the first period.
My pep talk didn’t do much good as we continued to fall further behind, trailing by 11 when the halftime buzzer sounded.
I looked up at escort bayan the stands on the way to the locker room. Some of our fans looked stunned, others appeared to have given up hope already. I could feel my forehead tensing up — I hated to see people quitting on us.
Then I saw Randi.
She was clapping, and when our eyes met, she yelled out, “Hey! We got this!”
That made me smile. As I was passing by some guys from the football team, I called out, “Get your heads up, boys. This ain’t over.”
The players immediately started hollering out to the girls and clapping their hands. It was just the kind of emotional boost the team needed going into the break.
My first move was to step into the coach’s office with Heather. We chatted for a moment about what we’d seen on the court, then I walked into the locker room.
“Alright, Dean Smith used to say that the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. That was his way of saying that you make a lot of mistakes before you figure how to be productive.
“From that first half, I’d say we figured out all kinds of ways NOT to be productive, so let’s try something else.
“They’ve had us on the defensive too often, so let’s turn the tables. Let’s go with our 1-3-1 halfcourt trap off made baskets. Tessa is out front; she’ll funnel the dribbler toward the sidelines where Autumn and Lori will cut her off. Paige is in the middle, playing center field on any long passes, and Carrie is back protecting the rim.”
I could tell from the subdued expressions that they weren’t sold on the idea.
“Look, we’ve gotten some good looks that just haven’t gone in. Sometimes all you need is to take the lid off the basket.
“I guarantee you: we run these traps aggressively, we’ll force them into mistakes. Then we grab those turnovers and run up the floor for some easy baskets. After that, the rim will seem twice as big when you shoot.”
After a couple more comments from me, my assistant came forward to pump the girls up before we went back out.
Some of the fans cheered when the team came out, but not enough for my taste, so I swung by the student section and held out my hand as I jogged past. The guys began high-fiving me one after another, getting them more wound up as I went. When the girls went through their layup bayan escort gaziantep drills, I could see a little more bounce in their steps.
I felt like one more nudge might be needed, and I felt like saying something to my daughter. But my gut told me that wasn’t the right girl. Just before the second half started, I pulled Tessa aside for a quick word.
“Tessa, some of these girls are playing scared. I’ve never seen you scared of anyone. Go out there and lead by example. Show these pampered private-school brats what an old-fashioned butt-kicking feels like.”
My point guard, who always had such a determined expression during games, broke into a grin.
“Sure thing, Coach.”
Then she did it. She simply went out there and willed her teammates to follow her example.
Tessa hustled all over the floor. The smallest player harassed dribblers with her most tenacious defense. One time a player saw Tessa running at her and promptly let the ball bounce off the side of her shoe and out of bounds. Another girl got so scared she would lose the ball that she picked it up before she could stop her momentum and was called for traveling.
And her energy became contagious.
When I subbed in Kim and Crystal, Lori stopped in front of me on the way to the bench.
“You were right, Coach. That rim looks like a hula hoop right now.”
“Well then don’t take too long catching your breath. I’m sending you right back in there.”
The 11-point deficit shrunk to four by the end of the third quarter. Then we took the lead just a couple of minutes into the fourth.
The prep school girls were starting to argue and point fingers after every mistake.
“You were supposed to break to the left,” one fussed after her pass went into the stands.
“Who’s girl is that?” demanded a defender after Kim got free for a three-pointer.
Once we got the lead, some of the girls might have slacked off, but not with Tessa around. She kept her throttle wide open the rest of the way, and we won by eight points.
The crowd went nuts at the final buzzer, and I couldn’t help but beam with pride.
In the stands, the students were jumping up and down, so it was hard to spot Randi, but when I finally saw her, she was pumping her arms in the air. When her eyes found mine, I hoped she would blow me a kiss.
That was ridiculous. Such an open show of affection would surely be spotted by someone, and I would be raked over the coals about my potential relationship with a student — albeit a legal adult.
She didn’t send me any kiss, but there did seem to be some gravity in our locked eyes, and I felt warm and gooey inside.