Johnny was determined to make the basketball team this year. After being cut at tryouts freshman and sophomore years, he was eager to redeem himself by earning a spot on the varsity team. He envisioned himself being the school’s big success story about how you should never give up, no matter how many times you fail. Thoughts about being the team’s star player, leading them to the state title, and being inducted into the school’s hall of fame flooded his mind. Despite his marvelous ambitions, Johnny had to start by proving that he was good enough to play ball.
The three-day tryout was set to begin in one hour. Johnny headed over to the main gym for the pre-tryout shootaround. He caught a ride with his buddy, Gregory, who was also trying out for the team. Just like Johnny, Gregory also failed to make the team for the past two seasons. While driving, Gregory felt the need to spout some words of encouragement.
“Things are gonna be different this year, Johnny. We gotta get in there and show them what we’re made of. I’m talking raining threes, breaking ankles, and poster dunks.”
“Since when have you been able to dunk?” Johnny asked jokingly. It was especially comical because Gregory was only 5’7” and he didn’t quite have the hops to make up for it.
“Just watch, man. Don’t be surprised when you see me soarin like Jordan.”
“Yeah alright, Greg. But I do agree that we have to get in there and make a statement. I’m tired of not hearing my name called at the end of tryouts. I am no longer going to watch the games from the stands. I have to go in there and play like I have nothing to lose.”
“What do you think about our chances of making the team? The competition should be pretty fierce, and you know Coach Adams is gonna have most of the team picked out before the tryout even starts.”
“To be honest, our chances are pretty slim right now because the coaches don’t know us that well, but that won’t matter once we prove how good we really are. We’ve put in many hours into improving our game. The two of us have worked on skills in our own time and gone to the training camps. I’d say our chances are better than what they were a year ago.”
They pulled into the parking lot. One glance at the school building caused Johnny’s heart rate to increase. He felt a combination of anxiety and excitement. When they parked the car, he held his fist out towards Greg.
“You ready?” asked Johnny.
“Yeah. Let’s do this.” He bumped fists with Johnny.
As they were walking toward the main gym, Johnny did a little bit of low-volume self-talk to calm his nerves.
“You got this. Just remember what you’ve practiced. Don’t let these guy faze you.”
They reached the gym and saw some familiar faces as well as a few new faces. Johnny could tell by surveying the gym that about half of the expected players were present. He noticed some of the heavy favorites to make the team like Marcus Horton, Joey Bates, and Kalvin Lewis. Despite seeing the talented and athletic players, both Johnny and Greg walked in with their heads held high and their game faces on. Johnny had to make it known that the 6’1” grade 11 shooting guard wasn’t scared of anyone. He set down his duffle bag, pulled off his sweats, and laced up his Kobe Mamba Rage Nike shoes.
“Let’s get some shots in Johnny.”
They shot around for about ten minutes. Then Ki’Mari Banks stepped into the gym. Ki’Mari, the 6’7” two hundred and thirty-five-pound senior was easily the best player in the gym. The nationally-ranked five-star recruit had scholarship offers from colleges like Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Seeing Ki’Mari walk in made Johnny question in his mind whether or not he really belonged at the tryouts.
Another fifteen minutes passed by and Coach Adams blows his whistle and has everyone meet at the center of the court. He welcomes them all to the tryout and goes over a few necessary things before they can begin. After his brief introduction, he wishes them all good luck and instructs the assistant coaches to get the first drill started. The first hour and fifteen minutes consisted of drills that assessed how good the players were with the basic fundamentals of basketball. Johnny held his own throughout the drills. He connected on his jump shots, displayed decent ball handling, and made good passes. He wasn’t sure how Greg was doing because Greg was in the point guard group which was separate for the wing and post player groups.
The last forty-five minutes were reserved for team scrimmages. All of the players were split into two teams and each received either a blue pinny jersey or a white one. As the scrimmaging began, Johnny started off waiting on the sideline until it was his turn to sub in. He was on the white team and when he looked across the court, he saw that Greg was on the blue team. Facing off against Greg on the court didn’t seem like a bad situation to Johnny. He thought it would be cool to play against someone who he has trained with for a while.
About five minutes passed when the assistant coaches decided to sub in five players on both for both teams. Both Johnny and Greg were selected as substitutes. However, Johnny took notice of another substitute for the blue team. It was Ki’Mari.
“Just my luck,” thought Johnny. “Why couldn’t they put him in the first group… or the third?”
The white team coach gave a command as the players stepped unto the court. “Everybody pick a man to guard.”
Johnny was ready to go stand by Greg to show he was guarding him, but as soon as he started to move, another player darted over to Greg to guard him. Johnny desperately tried to find another player but every one of them got claimed. That was, everyone except Ki’Mari. It was at this moment that Johnny knew he was about to get exposed in front of every coach and player in the gym.
Ki’Mari mercilessly mopped the floor with Johnny. Johnny was at a disadvantage in every aspect of the game. He was way too small. Ki’Mari was able to just blow past him to get to the rim and score. He was roughly sixty pounds heavier so he was able to body him in the paint and score at will. With the height advantage, Ki’Mari would just shoot right over Johnny and make the shot every time. Whether it was from deep, mid-range, or in the paint, Johnny could not guard him. Not to mention, Johnny had no chance of grabbing a rebound over him.
Despite getting totally annihilated, Johnny continued to fight. Even though things weren’t looking so good for him, he remembered the goal that he set coming into the tryout, which was to make the team. He kept defending Ki’Mari with all of his heart and managed to knock the ball loose from his hands. Without hesitation, Johnny instinctively dove to secure the ball. Ki’Mari did the same. The two player’s heads collided with one another’s and they both fell to the ground. Johnny’s head felt like it was about to explode. The pain was so bad, tears were starting to collect in his eyes. His vision was blurry and when he tried to sit up, the world seemed as if it was spinning. Ki’Mari just laid there with his hands on his head. It was obvious to everyone that both players were done for the night.
Later on, the athletic trainer diagnosed Johnny with a mild concussion. He was no longer permitted to participate in the next two days of tryouts. For the next two days, Johnny rested and didn’t even attend school. When he came back, the players for the team were already selected. On that day, Greg informed Johnny in the school hallway that he had made the team.
“Congrats Greg. I knew you had it in you.”
“Thanks man. By the way, how are you feeling?”
“Awful, but I think I’ll survive. It just really sucks that I couldn’t finish tryouts.”
“Yeah. It wasn’t as fun without you there, and I know it meant a lot to you.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny noticed that Ki’Mari was coming toward him while carrying a plastic shopping bag.
“Yo Johnny. How’s your head?”
“The trainer says I have a concussion and I gotta take it easy for a couple of weeks.”
“Yeah same here. Maybe next time I’ll just let you have the ball.”
“That would be very much appreciated.”
They both laughed at that comment.
“Anyway Coach Adams wanted me to give you something.”
He reached into the bag and pulled out a practice jersey.
“Coach said you gave a great effort and never gave up or something like that. The point is, you stepped up and challenged a future NBA prospect while those other guys were too afraid. Long story short, Coach was impressed. Just come to practice when you’re cleared to play.”
Johnny took the jersey from him.
“Wow, this is crazy! Thanks!”
“No problem. See ya on the court. You too Greg.”
As Ki’Mari walked away, Johnny punched the air with excitement.
“We did it, Greg. Now I gotta go write my hall of fame speech.”