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The referee blew his whistle to signal that our timeout was over. Our team needed to inbound the basketball and play the final moments of our playoff game against the Woodmont Bucks.
My name is Ben Taylor, and I’m in sixth grade at Ridgeview Academy. My best friend is William Lee, who shares my favorite thing to do at school. Nothing to do with class, of course. My favorite thing to do in school, and out of school, for that matter, is to play basketball.
William and I surprised everyone but ourselves some months back when we made the starting lineup on our school basketball team, the Ridgeview Eagles, in only our sixth grade year. William plays shooting guard alongside me, and we always have a ball together on the court. I mean, we obviously have a ball. You can’t play basketball without a ball. I mean that we have a good time. It’s an expression, you know?
I’d say that the Eagles’ season had gone pretty well to this point. We won just over half of our games, and were now in the final tense minute of our playoff game against the Woodmont Bucks. Our team was down by three points, and we really needed to score a field goal on this possession to stay in the game.
Our power forward, Gabriel Moreno, passed the ball inbounds to me with 47 seconds left on the game clock, and I dribbled it over the midcourt line. I fired the ball over to William, who passed the ball to our center, John Green. John pivoted, turned, and shot the ball off the backboard and into the basket. Two points! We were now only down by one, 48-47, with 34 seconds left to play in the game.
The Bucks brought the ball up the court slowly as we set up in our halfcourt defense. This was now really crunch time, which had nothing to do with chocolate bars made of milk chocolate and crisped rice. Zero. Okay, I guess we could have had Crunch bars as an after-game snack or something, but that’s not what I mean by crunch time. It was an important, pressure-filled moment. If we got a defensive stop here, we’d get the ball back with a chance to win the game.
I stood with my weight on the balls of my feet as I crouched in my defensive stance in front of the dribbling Bucks point guard. A thought about sticking my hand out to try to poke the ball away flashed through my mind, but I restrained myself. It was a risky move, and a foul at this point would send the Bucks to the free throw line and give them an opportunity to increase their lead. On the other hand, if we didn’t pressure them and try to take the ball away, time might run out before we had a chance to score.
After a few seconds, the point guard passed the ball to the shooting guard, who passed the ball to their small forward in the corner. Our small forward, Michael Lopez, tried to play tight defense to trap him in the corner, but the Bucks small forward got around him. He dribbled toward the hoop, and got an open shot off at about 12 feet from the basket. The ball hit the rim and bounced out! John Green got the rebound, passed the ball to me, and our team ran up the court for what we hoped was our final possession, and our chance to win the game.
“Take it slow, Ben! No rush! 18 seconds left! We have time!” Coach Jones yelled from the sideline.
Neither team had a timeout, so we would have to suffice with Coach Jones yelling instructions from the sidelines.
We set up in our offensive positions, and began to pass the ball around the perimeter of the court. After we worked it around one time, and I had the ball back in my possession, Coach yelled again from the sidelines.
“P-R! P-R! G-B! G-B!”
Though it must have sounded like nonsense to everyone else in attendance, our team knew what Coach meant. He was calling for a pick-and-roll play between Gabriel and me. The play call didn’t surprise me at all. Gabriel was an 8th grader, our star power forward, and was our go-to-guy on offense.
The way the play is designed, Gabriel comes up and stands stationary in order to set a pick on my right side, a little above the foul line. I then dribble to my right around the pick, and Gabriel rolls off and runs down the lane, looking for a possible pass back from me. Under normal circumstances, we’d have two possible scoring options on the play. Either I would be open for a mid-range shot, or Gabriel might be open, or possibly covered by a smaller defender as he cut toward the basket, and it would be up to me to decide whether to pass or not. In a high-pressure situation like this one, however, everyone on our team understood the ball should go to Gabriel. In a high-pressure situation, he was the player who should take the key shot for our team.
It all came down to this moment. The game clock had now ticked down to 8 seconds. If we scored now, we would take the lead with barely any time left on the clock for the Bucks to score, and we would win the game. If we missed…well, I didn’t want to think about that at the moment.
Gabriel came up on my right side to set the pick. I faked as if I was going to my left, then drove to my right, around the pick. I looked back to my left, and sure enough, because our defenders had switched, Gabriel was cutting down the lane with a smaller defender guarding him. I lobbed the ball up to Gabriel, who beautifully caught it in stride, turned, and got off a shot at close range. The ball hit off the backboard, rolled halfway the rim, and out.
The Bucks center pulled down the rebound, and quickly threw it way upcourt to an unguarded Bucks teammate, who caught the ball as the buzzer sounded, signaling the end of the game.
And so, our basketball season ended on a disappointing note. Nevertheless, the younger players had a lot to look forward to next season. Except for Gabriel and one other 8th grader, the rest of our team would likely be returning to the team next season, one year older, stronger and more skilled.
With the basketball season over, I’m finally able to move my focus to other areas for a few months. I thought about trying to learn to play lacrosse, and join our school lacrosse team, but thought better of it when I watched some lacrosse highlights videos. At four feet, seven and a half inches, I imagine that my lack of size would be a disadvantage in lacrosse. Besides, who wants to get hit with a metal pole?
My older sister Liz recommended I try playing an instrument. She doesn’t play an instrument herself, of course. She just likes giving advice.
When I spoke to my parents about what to do, they recommended that I try spending extra time studying math in order to improve. A sensible idea, of course, but extra math? Come on! When I spoke to William about it, he predictably thought that I shouldn’t start anything new, and simply use my extra time to play basketball together with him. Basketball is definitely my favorite thing, and I enjoy it, but do I really have to spend every free minute playing?
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