Authors: W. C. Mack
For my brother, Ian McDonald,
who always smoked me at driveway basketball
And for Mike Smith, who wishes he were still
shooting hoops for the Estacada Tigers
The Woodlawn Wildcats were going down!
But not without a fight, it turned out.
It was late in the fourth quarter and my socks were so soaked with sweat, I felt like I was standing in the shallow end of a swimming pool instead of Woodlawn's gym.
My best friend, Chris, dribbled down the court and passed to Nate, the fastest guy on our team.
Nate took off, chased by a bunch of green and yellow uniforms, and dodged one of their guards with a couple of awesome moves that could have been ESPN highlights (if ESPN covered middle-school basketball).
The crowd was on its feet.
But then Nate was stuck dealing with Woodlawn's other guard, who wouldn't budge.
I watched my teammate try to work some magic, but he kept getting blocked by the guard's long, skinny arms.
“That guy's a freakin' octopus,” I said to Chris.
He nodded. “We've gotta help Nate out.”
I tried to get open by ditching the big Wildcat who'd been stuck to me like a brand-new Band-Aid for the whole game. The kid seemed to know every move I was going to make before
did. When I broke left, he was already there. If I went right, his freckled face and hot ketchup breath were waiting for me. I seriously couldn't get away from him, no matter what.
But luckily, I wasn't the only Lewis and Clark Pioneer out there.
“I'm open!” Paul shouted, and I watched Nate throw the ball right to him.
A perfect pass.
I rested my hands on my knees, catching my breath while Paul dribbled a couple of times and checked out his options.
He didn't have too many.
“Shoot!” The crowd yelled so loud I thought the backboard would shatter.
The Woodlawn cheerleaders started jumping up and down, screaming about “spirit” to distract him.
But Paul had two little sisters who were even more annoying than the cheerleaders, so he just smiled and got
into position. In about two seconds, the ball was in the air again.
I willed it to go straight into the basket.
, dropping through the net with a big, fat
“Sweet!” I cried over the cheers of our fans. I high-fived Paul and Nicky Chu, who were as amped as I was.
We had only two minutes left and we were still down by three points, but there was hope. Lots of it.
Coach pulled Paul out and it was Russ's turn to hit the hardwood. My twin yanked up his blue-and-white shorts so the tucked-in jersey I kept telling him wasn't cool was even more obvious.
Some things never change.
I nodded at Russ and he smiled back with a flash of his braces. Then he bent to retie the laces of the most awesome Nikes on the planet.
The next thing I knew, he was doing some stretch I'd never seen before, his elbows sticking out all over the place. It wasn't anything we'd been taught, which meant Russ probably read about it in a yoga book or something.
As I watched him, I was still kind of weirded out by how comfortable my brainiac brother looked on the court. After years of science fairs and nerd herds, he'd taken a chance on basketball and it had totally paid off.
Sure, his dribbling still needed work and he wasn't exactly the fastest guy on the team, but he had the third-best shooting percentage and his fan base was out of control.
“Let's see some hustle, Russell!” some eighth-grade girls shrieked from the stands, proving the point.
My brother's face turned bright pink.
The ref blew his whistle and Chris passed the ball to me.
I could hear the Wildcat behind me breathing hard, and I'm pretty sure he sprayed the back of my neck with ketchup spit.
I pivoted right, and by some kind of fluke he didn't see that move coming.
With nothing but open court in front of me, I could finally
“Shoot!” the crowd yelled.
But I wasn't going to rush anything. We had time on the clock, so there was no reason to waste the shot. With all the eyes in the gym on me, I took a couple of deep breaths.
When I was ready, I dribbled a little closer to the net. I stopped to bounce the ball one more time, then let it fly.
And man, did it soar!
I couldn't hear a sound as I watched the ball shoot through the air. When it found its target, it wobbled around the rim in slow motion for a second or two before finally falling through the net.
Two points for Owen Evans, thank you very much!
I jogged back toward center court.
Being so close to a win that we could taste it was nothing
new. After all, the Pioneers had been rocking a winning streak lately.
Okay, we'd won only two games in a row, but streaks have to start somewhere, right?
We'd smoked Roseglen by eighteen points, which was our biggest lead ever. But the Lincoln game had been more of a nail-biter, and we'd only won by six.
Now we had less than a minute left before the final buzzer and we were down a single point.
I could tell the whole team was feeling the pressure.
Nicky Chu was biting his lip so hard, I was pretty sure I saw blood on his chin.
Paul was cracking his knuckles fast enough that it sounded like he'd just added milk to a bowl of Rice Krispies.
Russ was mumbling something about the periodic table, which he only did when he was wigging out.
And me? I was watching the seconds on the clock tick by at double their usual speed.
Lucky for us, Russ got fouled about half a second later by a kid who'd been on the ref's radar since the tip-off.
I watched my brother walk up to the line, his blue-and-silver Nikes squeaking against the hardwood. He adjusted his glasses, which was another sign he was stressed, and licked his lips.
I watched him roll his shoulders like he'd seen Carl Walters do during Blazer games. Then he dropped the ball for the first of his usual three bounces.
It hit the toe of his shoe and shot out of bounds.
“Calm down, Russ,” I whispered, as the skin on the back of his neck turned bright red.
The ref tossed the ball back to him, and he bounced it three times with no problems.
The whole gym was dead quiet as he bent his bony knees, then straightened up to take the shot.
The ball seemed to hang in the air for about a year, but in reality it was barely long enough for me to blink.
I held my breath and then let it out in a big “Yes!” when it hit the backboard and dropped through the net.
The handful of Pioneers fans who made the trip with us cheered as loudly as they could.
We were tied!
The ref tossed the ball back to Russ, who went through his little pre-throw ritual again. Glasses adjusted, lips licked, shoulders rolled, then three bounces.
I couldn't help crossing my fingers as he took the second shot. All we needed was one stinkin' basket to take the win!
Russ threw the ball.
His arc was perfect, his speed looked good, and the next thing I knew, he'd sunk it.
I was the first guy to run over and slap him on the back. A month ago, I would have been totally jealous that he'd
won the game for us, but Russ and I had worked things out, on and off the court.
Instead of seeing that final shot as a moment of glory he'd stolen from me, I saw it for what it really was: the point we needed, right when we needed it, scored by an awesome teammate.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Pioneers were already celebrating the win by jumping around, high-fiving, and slapping each other on the back.
Coach Baxter looked as happy about the three-game streak as we were.
The rest of the guys and I got in line to thank the Wildcats, shaking hands with each of them. Mr. Ketchup wouldn't even look at me, but I thanked him, anyway. It's called good sportsmanship, and even though I didn't always show mine, I was working on it.
Coach pulled us into a huddle and his smile was huge.
“I like what I'm seeing out there, Pioneers,” he said. “You guys are really coming together as a team. Your passing game is improving and your communication is a hundred percent better than it used to be. Good job, men.”
I was smiling when I headed for the shower. Coach was the only person on the planet who called us men.
The visitors' locker room was loud and rowdy when I got in there, with everybody shouting stuff like “Three for three!” and “That was
When I was showered and dressed, I shoved my sweaty uniform into my blue-and-white team gym bag.
“Good game, Owen,” Russ said, reaching into the locker next to mine for his regular clothes.
“You, too,” I told him, dropping onto the bench to wait for the rest of the guys.
“Chris was just talking about play-offs. Do you think we could really make it?” he asked, as his head got stuck in his turtleneck.
I waited for his face to pop out again.
“It's still early in the season,” I told him. “But yeah. Totally.”
Coming up on our schedule was Hogarth Middle School, which was guaranteed to be a tough game. The Huskies were no joke, mostly because of their star player, Dante Powers. I'd never gone up against him before, but he was a freakin' legend. He was the first seventh grader in the state of Oregon to score over thirty points in a single game.
In a single game!
My record was twenty points, but I was working on that, too.
I sometimes wondered what it would be like to be Dante Powers. Everybody knew his name. Everybody knew his record.
Everybody wanted to beat him.
I was pretty sure he'd have a Nike shoe named after him by the time he graduated from high school. And no matter
how awesome they were, I wouldn't buy a pair, because he'd always be a Hogarth Huskie to me.
He'd probably go straight from twelfth grade to the NBA, like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. And then my mom would probably tell me that college is more important than basketball, which it isn't. Except to her and Russ, anyway.
As the Hogarth game got closer, I couldn't stop thinking about what was going to happen in that Huskies gym.
If the Pioneers beat them, it wouldn't matter how fast Dante Powers got drafted or how many millions of dollars his first contract was for, because I, Owen Evans, would be able to spend the rest of my life telling people that my team had taken him down.