Mr. Basketball Ch. 08bybetweenthesheets©
Everything was in slow motion now. The background noise seemed so far away as I knelt down on the sideline and watched the game. I glanced up at the clock and watched one second tick away. It felt like one hour. My head thumped as my heart pounded the blood through skull. This was far worse than the feeling I had when I was playing and the game was tight. I had no control over anything other than what play to call. The girls' had to do their job and execute.
"Can't this go any faster?" I asked myself.
I looked over at Teagan and watched her tapping her foot impatiently. She was just as ready for this to be over as I was. I checked the clock again to see only three more seconds had ticked off. Teagan left the bench now and walked towards me.
"Why can't the dam clock go any faster?" she huffed in a low voice so only I could hear her.
"Relax," I sighed trying to sound calm myself. "Don't get the girls' nervous by worrying."
"I'm trying," she breathed.
The crowd started cheering but I was still stuck in that slow motion state and I barely heard them. It felt like I was underwater as they grew louder. I checked the clock again and saw five seconds had come off it and the other team had tied the score. 1 minute and 23 seconds remained as Mandy brought the ball down the floor and looked for me to give her advice.
The whole game had been very close and very well played. Both teams were worthy of winning this state championship that was on the line. Neither of us had led by more than five points. We had run our go to sets in the first half and did well. The possessions were long and we had to reset a few times but we always got a good look even if we didn't score. The second half became more difficult as they made adjustments at halftime and were more focused on where the play was going. The scoring became much more difficult for both sides as we had done the same thing. I was debating on whether to revert back to a simpler high low post play but it wouldn't work since we didn't have good post players this year.
My mind was working quickly even if time seemed to stand still. We needed good movement and some solid picks to get the shots we needed. I knew just the set that would get us what we needed.
"Georgia Blue," I called to Mandy as she passed half court.
Mandy got the play going as they worked it around. It was the same motion offense we had been running in the first half but it varied by changing where the ball rotated to. It worked after two resets and 32 seconds clicked off the clock. Now there was just over 40 seconds on the clock.
They called time out to discuss what they needed to get done. I reminded them to play smart and not give up the three pointer. Play resumed and they quickly moved the ball around as they ran their offense. We did a good job shutting them down. They resorted to trying a risky cross court pass from the top by the three point line to the baseline.
"Dam it," I hissed in a low voice.
Their girl caught the ball and quickly shot it over Cassy who was undecided on what she wanted to do and was out of position. If Cassy would have just gone for the steal she could have had it but she was frozen as her mind said I can steal it but her legs didn't move her to make the play.
I didn't dwell on that. Cassy was a young player who was still learning the ropes of varsity after I called her up from JV late in the season. Normally she wouldn't be in with the game this tight but Rachael got tangled up fighting for the ball and fell. She hit the back of her head hard off the floor as they tumbled. She sat out as a precaution since she had some signs of a concussion. Cassy was my best option at this point since I needed some size on the floor. It was my turn to call time out.
I checked to be certain how many I had left. One full time out was all I had and was more than I needed at the moment.
"I'm sorry coach," Cassy said looking down. "I should have gone for the steal or fouled her."
I learned quickly that yelling at them didn't work to motivate them. It just made them scared and more stressed out which carried over into the game. The best way to get my message across was to be calm and very deliberate. By me being calm it kept them under control and made them focus on what I needed them to do and not what they should have done. The only time I raised my voice at them was when they had been told more than once to fix a problem and they continued to make the same mistake.
"Don't worry about it," I said quickly and smiled at her. "It's over and forgotten about already. Look at the score, it's tied up and we have the ball. Next time you will be ready."
She just gave a soft smile as I patted her on the back. The current five sat on the bench as the rest of the team gathered around me.
"Listen to me now, run Duke. Dribble the ball around and let some time run off the clock. Mandy, don't watch the clock, listen for my voice to say go. I want you focused on your defender and nothing else. Taylor, you are the shooter. I want a dagger. Give me a three pointer."
"Why me?" Taylor asked nervously.
"You have been open at the line all game. They won't expect a three. They will be playing you for the drive. You've beat them all game off the dribble so this is the perfect time to hit a three."
I could understand her reluctance with my request though. She hadn't taken that many three pointers in a game this season. When it was just us messing around at the gym she would hit a little better than half. I knew she could shoot she just needed to convince herself she could too.
I put my hand under her chin and tipped her face up so she would focus on my words. "Take the shot, you can make it, I know you can do it. At worse we play another quarter."
"Ok," she said with some confidence.
We huddled up now. "One, two, three, team," they cried.
They took the floor and got ready. Mandy got the inbound and focused solely on her defender. She dribbled around near half court and kept her space from her defender. I let the clock tick down. It felt like 10 hours instead of ten seconds.
I called for Mandy to go. They started running the odd play that I designed which had some screens to distract them from Taylor. Mandy broke past her defender as they moved to close the gap. This left Taylor open on the side at the three point line. Mandy's pass was right on target. Taylor caught it, squared herself and shot the ball. It banked off the glass, hit the front of the rim and rattled around before dropping in. It wasn't the prettiest three pointer she had ever made but it got the job done. They instantly called their last time out as the crowd roared. I hardly heard them as I looked at the 2.5 seconds on the clock.
"See, I told you it would be there," I cheered as I gave her a high five.
"Ok, you know what is coming now," I called. "They have to make a three. Cassy, you get right up on the inbound pass and make it hard. The rest of you form a line along the three point line and play tight. Do not foul. Don't worry about a two pointer, you know that won't do them any good. Just contest the shot but do not foul."
"One, two, three, defense!"
I took a big sigh now as I tried to calm my nerves. Only two seconds and we would be state champions or be playing another quarter. The ref blew the whistle and handed the girl the ball. Cassy toed the line and jumped around doing her best to make it more difficult. Their girls ran a play that created a wall separating us from them. It was a long shot as Mandy finally got around the wall and tried to contest the shot. It sailed high through the air and hit the rim. It bounced and rolled around as the horn sounded. It seemed to stand still on the rim as it spun around. I felt like I was in a time vortex as I waited for it to fall off the rim. It finally fell through tying the game and sending it to overtime.
Their girls cheered for joy as it went in. My girls held their heads high with Mandy leading the way with encouragement. She held her hand high in the air with all five fingers extended saying quarter number five.
"Alright," I said. "Sometimes they fall and sometimes they don't. We have to hold our heads high and play one more. You girls are playing great and you're going to win this. Continue to execute and play hard on defense and the state title is yours. Start off in Georgia Blue and I will switch it when I see fit."
I turned to Taylor. "Don't hesitate to take the three if they leave you open."
"Yes sir," she cried.
"Everyone needs to be focused and sharp. Take your time on offense and get a good look. Points are going to be hard to get so make a good shot."
"We got this," Mandy shouted. "One, two, three, win."
Even though this quarter was shorter it felt longer. I completely shut everything else out except for what the girls were doing on the floor. It was back and forth again. We would take our time finding a good shot and scoring. They would do the same thing. This was a very intense game with each team having good players who were well disciplined. It was what you wanted in a championship game. We ran away from the team we played in the semifinals which worried me. The girls didn't let the easy victory get into their heads. They were spot on tonight.
Time was winding down again. They had the ball and were once again down by two points. They kept passing the ball looking for something to open up. We were doing a great job of keeping the play in front of us and forcing them to reset. Their point guard called the ball back to the top to reset again and changed the play.
They set a screen and Taylor got tangled in it as she tried to get around it. She lost her footing and fell to the floor. Her girl got the pass and squared herself to the hoop. Cassy tried to switch over and stop the shot. Cassy got faked into the air as the girl side stepped her and got square to shoot again. Taylor had scrambled back to her feet by now and tried her best to contest the shot. She was just a little too aggressive and bumped the shooter. She was strong enough to control her hands and guide the ball on target getting it to bank home and get a foul called.
The game was tied now with them having a free throw coming. Taylor looked broken as she raised her arms and had this distraught look on her face. Mandy went to calm her as they lined up for the free shot.
"Pay attention to the shot," I called. "Four on the line, Mandy back."
They did as ordered and watched the basketball fall through and give them a one point lead.
"Fudge," I croaked. I wanted to say something much different but I knew we couldn't afford the technical foul now. "Time out!"
I grabbed the board and started drawing what I wanted for the last play. I could hear Mandy telling them that it was ok and everything was going to be ok.
"I'm sorry coach," Taylor said crying.
I looked up as I heard her voice weakly and was surprised she was actually crying. "What the hell are you crying for?"
"Because I just screwed up and lost the game for us," she choked. Being a freshman and playing a lot of minutes in the big game was emotionally taxing on her. I gave her a soft and calm expression as I spoke to her.
"Taylor honey, look at the scoreboard. Is there still time on the clock?"
"Yes sir," she sniffled.
"Then we haven't lost. As a matter of fact, we got them right where I want them. We got this. Here's the play."
Taylor wiped her face quickly and focused on what I had to say. All the girls focused now.
"It's real simple," I offered. "Mandy and Mindy, this should look familiar to you girls. It's Sam's old high low pick with the extra screen we put in. Cassy, you are here, Taylor, you are here, and Mandy, you are right here."
I drew lines getting them to understand how it was going to work.
"Start the play right after you get the ball inbounds," I ordered. "You have some time on the clock so don't rush a shot but don't take too much time to get a look."
I looked over the girls again. My gut said to switch where I had the girls playing. Rarely did I not listen to my gut.
"Real quick," I said deciding to change things up. "I want Taylor here, Mandy here, and Mindy here. I know that isn't your spot but it will confuse them." I quickly wiped the lines clear and redrew them where I had moved them to. "Do we understand where we are and what we are doing?"
"Yes sir," they responded.
"Listen, whatever happens out there in the next twelve seconds I just want you girls to know I'm very proud of the way you have played this season."
They huddled up and sounded off, "for the win."
We got the ball and got ready to inbound it. I was stunned that they didn't pressure the ball. Maybe they wanted to keep everything in front of them. Taylor got the ball and brought it to the right of center. Mindy circled around and got the pass about twelve feet away from the hoop. It wasn't as deep as I would have liked but it would have to do. She spun around and faked a shot as Taylor ran to set the pick against Mandy's defender. It wasn't a clean pick as Mandy's girl side stepped it and made it around Taylor. She was separated from Mandy by a step though which was all the space she needed. Mindy's pass was off the mark as she tried to get it to Mandy as she cut in. The ball got tipped.
My heart sank as I saw the ball free and bouncing. Taylor scrambled for it and grabbed it. She set her foot and spun away from the other sets of grabbing hands. She was moving back towards the center near the free throw line as she spun away. She took two quick dribbles on her way to the hoop. She jumped and sent the ball on its way to the hoop. She knew she couldn't wait as time was about to expire. She released the ball as she crashed into another girl trying to get a charge called. They both flopped to the floor as the ball went through the air. I was waiting for the whistle and some kind of foul but there was nothing.
The shot was a high arcing shot as Taylor had released it off balance. It was about half way to the rim when the horn sounded. It barely registered in my mind as I watched the ball hit the rim. It bounced from the rim and softly touched the backboard before bumping the front of the rim and falling through.
I leapt from the floor as the bench cleared. They ran for Taylor who was still lying on the ground with her arms stretched out celebrating. I can clearly remember the shrill screams from the girls as they piled on top of Taylor. They were so loud that it drown out the cheering from the crowd. Teagan wrapped her arms around me as I finished my third or fourth leap and hugged me tightly.
"You did it," she cried.
"No, we did it."
I kissed her before she released me and ran to the pile of screaming girls that had covered Taylor on the floor. I reached the pile as they cheered and cried tears of joy. Some of them left the pile and started hanging on me. More and more now got up off the floor and circled me in celebration. I let it go on for a minute before I settled them down some so we could line up and shake hands.
We started towards half court as I found Taylor and hugged her tightly.
"And you said you lost the game for us."
"Right place right time," she smiled. The tears of joy still running down her face as she hugged me back.
"But you had to hit the shot still. You did great. I'm proud of you."
"Thanks coach," she laughed. "Or should I say big brother."
I just laughed with her as we reached the first in the line of girls. This was the part I hated. They all had tears of sadness as I did my best to be courteous to them. I reached their coach and gave him my condolences as he congratulated me.
The next half an hour was a blur. I guess time sped up now to make up for how slow it had gone during the game. We got our medals and a trophy for the school. We had the group photo taken and I had a few interviews with our local press. I finally made it to the locker room.
Teagan met me at the door as she always did to let me know if it was safe to enter.
"Congratulations baby," she smiled and wrapped her arms around me.
"You were just as much a part of this as I was," I said kissing her.
"They couldn't have done it without you."
"Well, thank you baby."
She kissed me with a tender touch as we held each other by the door.
"Get a room," Mandy joked as she stuck her head out the door.
"You ready for me yet?" I asked.
"We have been waiting."
"Come on you," I teased Teagan. "You get yours later."
She roared with laughter as she followed me in. "Says who?"
I finally managed to stop laughing and talk to them.
"I will try making this brief. It truly has been a pleasure to coach all of you this season. You girls made my job easy. You played well together and you deserve this championship. Enjoy this moment and let it sink in. You girls did something special this season and nobody can take it from you."
I paused to look at Mindy and Mandy sitting there hanging on my every word.
"You two know how hard this was," I said. "We were here last year and came up short so you understand what it takes to get here two years in a row." They just nodded. I felt myself getting a little choked up as I looked at them.
"I'm going to miss you two. You really led this team and kept them going when things didn't look very good. I can't thank you enough for that. If you ever need anything from me don't hesitate to ask."
I stopped to search for the words now. I couldn't come up with anything as Mandy spoke.
"Let's hear it for coach."
They started clapping and cheering as I just smiled. I was really going to miss Mandy. She carried this team this year.
"Alright," I sighed. "Bring it in here."
They huddled around me as our hands came together in the middle of it all.
"What are we sounding off to?" I asked.
"Repeat," Taylor cheered.
"One, two, three, repeat," we chanted.
We broke apart as they cheered and carried on with each other. I heard an uproar as Mandy and Teagan started laughing. I turned to see Mandy holding an electric razor. She saw me looking and started waving it around.
"Come on coach," she called. "You promised you would."
"I said I would get rid of it when we lost a game," I laughed.
We hadn't lost since I started growing my beard. They said it must be a good luck beard and I wasn't allowed to shave it off until we lost.
"What?" Teagan roared with laughter.
"Fine," I sighed. "Just don't cut me."
I grabbed a chair and leaned back. They all gathered around a cut a little chunk of my beard off and threw it in the trash. They laughed and joked as each of them took turns. Teagan took the last turn and cut a big chuck out and held it high in the air.
"Finally," she cried. "I've felt like I've been living with Grizzly Adams for the past four months."
"Alright," I said laughing. "Let me shave the rest off. Then we can go out. Who wants pizza?"
They all cheered again as they jumped around.
"Go get a head count and get them over to the pizza place by the hotel in an hour," I said to Teagan.
She left and went to figure it out as I shaved my face so I didn't look like I had mange. This whole trip was getting expensive but seeing them so happy made the whole thing worth it.
"Everyone is going," Teagan confirmed.
"Alright," I smiled. "Let's go back to the room real quick so I can shower and change. I know I have to stink pretty bad by now."
Teagan and I went back to the hotel so I could clean up. I put on a different shirt that had the school logo on it. Teagan and I quickly cut across the street and went into the pizza shop to let them know we were coming. Fifteen minutes later the place was taken over by a bunch of teenaged girls and some of their parents.
We ordered a bunch of food and celebrated. I sat back and looked at all the girls with their medals around their necks. I actually felt more proud that I had coached them to this title than when I won my own. Maybe it was because I understood what it meant now that I was older. They were so happy as they laughed and told stories amongst themselves. I now understood what life wanted from me. I was to share my gift coaching and my life with Teagan. It was nothing glamorous or what I expected but it felt right and I was happy with it.