Lay-ups and Long Shots

Lay-ups and Long Shots by David Lubar

Book: Lay-ups and Long Shots by David Lubar Read Free Book Online
Authors: David Lubar
SWISH:
A Basketball Story
    by
    Joseph Bruchac

    “What’s the difference between a fourth string basketball player and a masochist?”
    It was my second day of trying to become a high school basketball player. Thus it was my responsibility to reply to that question asked by Kelly Donahue, the team captain and leading scorer. And just in case I didn’t realize that was my role, I got elbowed in the ribs by him as he asked it.
    “I don’t know,” I sighed. “What?”
    “A masochist knows when to stop punishing himself.”
    If there’s one joke to sum up my attempted career in basketball, I guess that’s it. Even suggesting I might be a fourth stringer was a compliment.
    I’d practiced some at home next to the general store and gas station where I lived with my grandparents. I’d gotten a new basketball from them for Christmas. As soon as the snow cleared, Grampa Jesse had nailed up a bent basketball hoop with a torn net to the shingled side of the building as close to regulation height as the low roof allowed. There we played intermittant games of HORSE through the summer and fall—broken up by the arrival of customers when Grampa would stow the ball behind the door while he pumped gas. Since we lived way out in the country, there usually weren’t other kids of my age to play with. But even though I usually won against my seventy-year-old grandfather, I couldn’t seem to improve.
    Maybe it was also due to the peculiarity of that makeshift basketball court that had been set up for me. Their store on the corner of Route 9N and Middle Grove Road was called the Splinterville Hill Filling Station for good reason. It was halfway up a steep hill once paved with splintery planks. Our driveway, on the Middle Grove Road side of the store, had an outside slant toward 9N, the busy state road that my nervous grandmother always urged me away from. (Though I was fourteen I still wasn’t allowed to ride my bike there.) On 9N, a steady stream of cars and big trucks rumbled by. Even going uphill they traveled at a rapid clip because, as my grandmother put it, they had to “get up a head of steam” to make it to the top.
    I wasn’t allowed to play alone. Grampa had to be there to make sure the ball didn’t get away from me and go bouncing into traffic. The surface of my so-called ball court was only half paved, the old blacktop rippled with frost. A bounce might come back to your hand or careen off toward parts unknown. All I could realistically practice was shooting from ten or twenty feet out. No dribbling or passing or even lay-ups. However, I’d developed a few special shots in our HORSE contests, where you had to match the shot of the person ahead of you or earn a letter, with the first person getting all five being the loser. For example, I could sometimes make a tricky basket by throwing the ball down so hard on a certain flat piece of blacktop that it would bounce up high and go in. Not something you could do in a real game.
    By my second day of trying out for the team I’d discovered that there were only three things I’d excelled at during practice. The first was traveling.The second was double-dribbling. And if you don’t know what those two no-nos are, then you know less about the game than I did when I was an undersized teenager at Saratoga High School.
    And what was the third thing? I had a natural ability for fouling. Small as I was, when I went for the ball, I was almost always able to get it—along with a loud blast from the whistle because I’d knocked somebody down or accidentally popped somebody in the nose with my elbow and slapped their hands taking the ball away. To make matters worse, my first reaction whenever that happened was to complain.
    “I didn’t foul. I know I didn’t. Maybe somebody else tripped you. I didn’t do that, did I? I’m sure I just hit the ball and not your arm. Honest.”
    Coach Dalrymple called me over to him. “Bruchac,” he said, “what are you, a basketball player

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