I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it.
From when I was six years-old, I, Ben Taylor, was the best basketball player in my class. In fact, I was the only one who was able to shoot the ball into a ten-foot basket. As we got older, I was always the one picked first for recess games, and I was always one of the best players of my recreation league basketball team. The starting point guard, of course.
I wasn’t the fastest guy around, but I had skills, and I practiced a lot. Every day after school I shot and dribbled outside for at least an hour, working on set shots, jump shots, free throws, you name it. I earned my spot.
I was no slouch on defense, either. I prided myself on being a lock-down defender, and keeping the player I was guarding to a minimum of points.
And now? Now? Now I was in seventh grade, it was our team’s first basketball game of the season, and for the first time in my life, I was a backup.
There was another point guard this year on our team, the Ridgeview Eagles, who had moved in from out of town. His name was Gerald, and I had to admit, he was pretty good. We had been competing for the starting point guard spot since team practices had started in late fall, with Coach Jones always telling us whenever we asked that he hadn’t yet made his decision on who would be the starter. Just last week, Coach Jones had told us the rest of the starting lineup, but said that he would have to let us know on game day who would be the starting point guard. Gerald was good, but I never believed that he would actually get the starting spot.
And now? Now? Now I was sitting on the bench as the game began, watching the team play the first quarter from the sidelines.
Just fifteen minutes before, during layup drills, Coach Jones had taken us both over to the bench to speak with us privately.
“Listen, guys,” he had said, “You both are really great players, and have both earned your spot on this team. There can only be one starting point guard, though. It was a really tough decision, but I have decided to make Gerald the starter. Nothing against you, Ben, but Gerald’s just a little bigger and stronger.” Coach paused for a second before concluding, “Okay, go back out there and finish warm-ups, guys.”
I watched as Gerald ran back out to the team and said something I couldn’t hear to some of the guys. They gave him high-fives before walking back into the layup lines. I needed to speak to Coach Jones.
“Coach?” I asked with a tone that wasn’t as polite as it should have been.
“Yes, Ben?” Coach responded.
I stared down at the floor while I said, “You know this is the first time in my life that I’m a backup. Why am I not the starter? I’ve always been a starter.”
“I know, Ben,” Coach said, looking me in the eyes, which were tearing up. “And your fundamentals and court awareness are really great. It’s really nothing against you. Gerald’s just a little bigger, stronger, and faster, which makes him harder to stop. But don’t worry, Ben. You’re going to get some playing time, also.”
The truth was that Gerald was more than a little bigger than me. The last time I measured myself, I was 4 feet, 7 and three-quarters inches tall, which made me the shortest guy on the team. Gerald must have been almost six feet tall, and loomed over me when we stood together. And he had real muscles, too, while I was as skinny as a rail. It was true that his size and strength gave him an advantage, but I didn’t give up trying to change Coach’s mind..
“But maybe we could both start, and someone else could sit on the bench,” I said to Coach Jones.
“I thought about that also, Ben, but I don’t think there’s another player you could replace that would leave our starting lineup with the pieces that it needs,” Coach responded. Then he added, “It’s going to be okay, Ben. You’re going to get your time to play and contribute as well. Besides, it’s what’s best for the team that’s important, right?”
“Right,” I said meekly, feeling discouraged. Coach was of course right that what was best for the team is what was best, even if it meant me losing my starting spot. But that didn’t mean that it didn’t still hurt for me to start the game on the bench. And besides, maybe Coach wasn’t right that the team was best off with me on the bench…
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