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Patricia Calvin sat in the first row of the second tier of seats that ringed the arena, the location providing her a perfect view of the action taking place on the court below. She wasn't happy to be where she was, scouting talent for the Missoula Cougars, the women's professional basketball team that she coached. But the owner of the team had insisted she check out one of the players on the local amateur team. Pat was sure it was most likely at the insistence of the owner's niece, her administrative assistance and the woman sitting beside her, that she had been forced to spend most of the day cooling her heels in airport lounges waiting out extended gaps between connecting flights.
"Well, what do you think of her?" Mandy Christopher asked excitedly. "Isn't she wonderful?"
Pat frowned, wondering if her assistant had been watching the player's lackluster performance or had simple been checking out her lithe body. It wouldn't be the first time Pat had been forced to take on a player her assistant lusted after. She decided this would be the last time though; she planned to have a talk with her boss as soon as she got back to Missoula.
"Well?" Mandy insisted, interrupting Pat's thoughts.
"She doesn't put forth much effort," Pat grunted.
"Why should she?" Mandy huffed. "Look at what she's having to play against," she sneered, "and with."
Pat had been looking. In fact, she had been having trouble keeping her attention on the player because of the spirited play of the point guard on the same team. Pat forced her attention back to the player Mandy was discussing. After all she had enough guards on her roster and wasn't looking to add any more.
"I'm not impressed," Pat grumbled, having no intention of explaining her reasons to her assistant.
"Doesn't matter,' Mandy smirked. "Mac said to invite her to tryout camp." Mac being her aunt, Martha Ann Christopher, and the owner of the Cougars. "Come on, the game is over," Mandy leaped to her feet before the final buzzer had proclaimed the official end of the contest. "I'll go down and give her the good news."
"No," Pat stopped her assistant before she could leave. "You go get the car and pick me up out front. I'm tired and the sooner I get this over with, the sooner we can get to the hotel and I can get some sleep."
"But," Mandy started to protest.
"I can handle this, Mandy," Pat's tone was sharp. "You go get the car."
Knowing better than to push her luck with the coach, Mandy sulked towards the stairs that led to the arena's main corridor and eventually to the exits.
Pat watched the young woman go wondering again why she had allowed herself to be saddled with the worthless assistant. Shrugging, she shoved the notebook she used to jot down her observations during the game into the soft-sided brief case she carried. Then she stood and took the stairs in the opposite direction, making her way down to the court's hardwood surface. Several of the departing fans recognized her, some smiling or muttering a shy greeting as she passed.
Patricia Calvin had enjoyed a stellar basketball career. After being named Montana State high school player of the year for three years, she had attended her home town university and helped win national championships in her junior and senior years earning the honor of being the tournament MVP and a Kodak All American in the later. Fully intending to continue her career on the professional level, her dreams came to an abrupt end during a weekend pick up game a few days after graduation. While executing a spin move, her right shoe stuck on the asphalt court surface and, unable to withstand the pressure of the abnormal twist, her knee blew out. Surgery fixed the leg enough for her to walk but she would never be able to play again.
Dejected over the loss of her dream, Pat had spent her months of rehab struggling to come up with a plan for her future. She came home one day to find a message on her answering machine from Mac offering her an assistant coach's position with the Cougars. She wasn't a fool, she knew immediately what the offer was truly meant to be, a way for the Mac to fill the empty seats for the team's games. Hometown heroes pulled in lots of fans, even if they were only assistant coaches.
After considering her options, Pat accepted the offer and was surprised to find out she had a knack for coaching. Her playing experience gave her insight to how the players approached the game and she was able to reach them in ways others hadn't thought of. Two years later, the head coach accepted an offer from another team and Mac promoted Pat to replace her. She had been proud to coach the team all the way to the quarter-finals of the league championship that first year. Now she was set to start tryout camp with the talented athletes she had personally picked to mold into a team that would go all the way to the championship.
That is, she had picked all but one of the players who would start camp. And the one who wasn't her choice didn't appear to have the motivation to even survive the camp let alone play when the season began a few months away. Determined to put the distasteful chore behind her as quickly as possible, Pat marched across the hardwood floor to the passageway where the teams had disappeared after the game.
Still upset over the situation her unwanted assistant had forced upon her, Pat shoved open the door to the locker room almost crashing into a tall brunette. Only the woman's quick reflexes kept her from being knocked to the floor.
"Damn, Pat," the brunette smiled, as she regained her balance. "I saw you up in the stands and expected you'd be stopping by to say hello. Just didn't think you'd try to nail me to the wall to do it."
"Hell, I'm sorry, Karen," Pat reached out for her friend, "guess I wasn't paying attention. You okay?"
"Yeah, fine," Karen allowed herself to be pulled into a hug. "How are you?" she pushed back just enough to gaze at her friend.
Patricia Calvin looked like a basketball player. Almost six feet tall; even team programs listed her at six feet, Karen knew she was slightly shorter than that; her limbs were long and muscular from the countless hours she had spent in the weight room. Short reddish brown hair framed an angular face with features that could appear harsh or soft depending on the coach's mood. To Karen, her face showed a sadness of too many nights alone.
"Good," Pat smiled, releasing her college teammate.
"Come to get a look at Dawn?" Karen knew she had one of the hottest professional prospects on her team, Pat not being the first coach to take a look at her.
"You don't sound too happy about it," Karen motioned for Pat to follow her back out into the corridor.
"I'm not,' Pat answered honestly. "It was Mac's idea."
"She's a good player," Karen offered of her player.
"She's got potential," Pat agreed. "Unfortunately, she doesn't do much with it. I'm surprised you leave her in as much as you do."
"She's who the fans come out to see," Karen explained, resigned to having to play the lazy player in order to fill the stands with ticket buyers.
"Not much of a reason," Pat smiled to take the sting out of her comment. She knew Karen was in a tough spot, coaching in an amateur league full of college stars and pro wanna-bes that depended entirely on fan support for its revenue. Having a local girl on her team was a revenue producer she couldn't take lightly.
"That's the game," Karen shrugged. "You have time to grab a bite or is this just a quick turn around for you?"
"Sorry," Pat smiled, apologetically, "I've been up since four this morning and all I want to do is get back to the hotel and bed. Wish I had the energy for dinner but..."
"I understand," Karen said and she did. Being a coach of a professional sports team meant you had little time for anything but your team. "Go ahead. They all know you were watching them tonight so they're expecting you to show up," she said of her players.
"Thanks," Pat nodded. "Raincheck?"
"Sure," Karen grinned then gave Pat a quick hug. "Count on it."
"It's nice to see you again, Karen," Pat said as she turned to the door, this time being more careful when she pushed it inward. "You're looking good. Debbie must be taking good care of you. Give her my love."
"Will do," Karen was pleased that Pat had remembered to mention her partner, something that didn't always happen with her preoccupied friend. It probably didn't help matters that Karen and Pat had been dating when she'd met Debbie. It didn't take long for all three women to realize whose hearts belonged to whom and Pat had been gracious when Karen officially broke the news to her. Karen often wondered why Pat never had a serious relationship after that. It sure couldn't be blamed on a lack of opportunities. There were many women who had made overtures to the tall, muscular yet graceful athlete but all had been politely rebuffed. Karen asked Pat about it once and had received a shrug of the shoulders and mumbled 'guess I haven't found anyone worth the trouble' as an explanation. Hoping that someday someone would claim her friend's heart, Karen started for the other locker room to see if the visiting team needed anything.
"Hey, Karen," Pat stopped, calling out to her friend. "What can you tell me about number twelve?"
"Yes," Pat wasn't sure why she had asked the question. She didn't need a guard, hadn't she already told herself that?
"Good player," Karen answered. "Quick hands and feet. Smart. Thinks ahead. Hard worker. Why?"
"Nothing really, just wondering. Don't think I'm seen her before, where'd she play?"
"Western Arizona. Graduated this year."
"Oh," Pat made a mental note of the information. "Um, thanks," she said turning away.
"Far as I know," Karen added before the door shut, "no one's talked to her yet."
Pat walked into the locker room, unsurprised when the talking came to an immediate stop at her appearance. She looked around at the players; most were looking back their faces betraying the various degrees of awe they held for the coach. They knew who Coach Pat Calvin was and most would give anything to receive an invite to the Cougars tryout camp. But most also knew that they weren't the caliber of player that the coach looked for, if they had been they would have already heard from her or one of the other professional teams.
On the other hand, Dawn Montgomery stood in front of her locker, a smirk spreading across her face. She knew the coach was there to see her and she was enjoying all the looks of envy she was receiving from her teammates.
"Hello ladies," Pat greeted the players, "good game tonight."
"Thanks, Coach," the players answered almost in unison.
"Thanks, Pat," Dawn smirked, leaning back against her locker.
Inwardly, Pat cringed at the use of her name by the arrogant player but she didn't let it show on her features. "Dawn," she acknowledged the player as she crossed the room. "Cougar tryout camp begins in one week," she said, her teeth clinched together as she made her offer to a player she was sure would be more trouble than she was worth. "This will get you in the door. The rest is up to you," she held out an envelope.
"Thanks, Pat," Dawn reached out, snatching the offered envelope.
"Doors are locked at eight sharp. If you're late, you don't get in. Period."
"I'll be on time."
"Be early," Pat snapped. "Oh, one more thing," she added.
"My players call me Coach or Miss Calvin," Pat growled. That had been the first lesson Mac had taught her. Fearing she would be unable to be an effective coach to players older than herself, Pat had voiced her hesitation to the owner.
"You have to let them know you're in charge," Mac had told her.
"How do I do that?" Pat asked. She had just graduated from college, how could players several years her senior take her seriously.
"You tell them," Mac answered, as if the explanation should have been obvious. "You get in their face and you tell them."
"You call me Pat again and you won't play for the Cougars. Are we clear?" Pat asked Dawn, her eyes narrowing to slits as she dared the player to protest.
"Yeah, Coach," Dawn muttered, her cheeks turning red as she heard the snickers of the other players. She bent down, snatching her sports bag off the floor at her feet and rushing out of the room.
Pat took a deep breath, attempting to calm her racing heart before she had to turn around and face the other players who had again become unusually quiet. "Joys of being the coach," Pat shrugged, sheepishly smiling at the players.
The players laughed, relieved for the tension breaker.
Out of the corner of her eye, Pat noticed the point guard, Sherry sitting quietly in front of her locker. Without thinking, she walked over to her. "You made some nice moves out there tonight," she smiled at the young woman.
"Thanks, Coach," Sherry smiled, self-consciously.
"I, ah," Pat paused momentarily while she dug around in her bag for something. "If you're interested," she pulled an envelope out of the bag and held it out. "I'd like to see you at tryout camp."
"Really?" Sherry asked, her eyes bulging wide in surprise. She had always dreamed of playing professional ball but never actually thought it would ever happen.
"Really," Pat grinned at the bewildered look on the player's face. "That is, if no other team has made you an offer."
"No. I mean yes," Sherry blushed with embarrassment over her unintelligent behavior.
Pat waited patiently for the player to compose herself.
"I'd love to come," Sherry finally forced the words out of her mouth. "And no, no other team has approached me."
"Their loss," Pat smiled. "See you at camp."
"Thank you," Sherry called out again as Pat walked away.
"Be on time," Pat called back over her shoulder.
"I'll be early," Sherry said, remembering the coach's advice to Dawn.
As soon as the door closed behind Pat, the other players rushed to Sherry's side all talking at the same time. Sherry heard none of it as she stared at the envelope she held tightly in her hands.
Pat quickly made her towards the front of the arena, cringing when she saw Mandy rushing across the lobby in her direction.
"What took you so long?" Mandy asked from several feet away, her voice harsh.
"Thought I told you to wait for me in the car," Pat muttered as she brushed past her agitated assistance. "Let's go," she commanded when Mandy started to argue. "I'm tired, hungry and in a rotten mood. I strongly suggest you don't try anything tonight," she snapped as Mandy followed her outside where their car sat idling at the curb.
Pat sat at the large conference table in her office. Occupying chairs on the opposite side of the table were her two assistant coaches, Marcie Thomas and Kelley Stockley. The women were going over the list of players who would be attending Cougar tryout camp the following morning.
"That's all of them," Marcie said, ticking off the last name on the list in front of her.
"There's one more," Pat passed a folder across the table. "Sherry Gallagher. Point guard, graduated from Western Arizona this past fall."
"Thought we had enough point guards," Kelley commented as she picked up the folder and opened it.
"We do," Pat shrugged, waiting for the inevitable questions as to why she had invited another to tryout camp. She wished she had the answer.
"So, what makes her so special?"
"She was playing the night I went to see Dawn. She's a solid player. Smart, quick, and not afraid to take on her opponent."
"That describes most of the point guards in the league," Marcie muttered. "Not to mention the ones we already have on our roster."
"Look," Pat glared across the table. "We had an extra spot after that player from Australia backed out. So I offered it to Gallagher. What's the harm in trying her out?" she asked a little too angrily. She wasn't mad at her assistants; they were only asking the questions they got paid to ask. "Sorry, guys," Pat smiled, apologetically. "It's been a long day and I'm sure you're as tired as I am. Let's just give her a look, okay?"
"Sure, Pat," Kelley smiled back. "Fact is I've seen Gallagher play. She's got some real talent, too bad her coach at Western Arizona didn't know how to draw it out."
"Yeah?" Pat asked, maybe her impulsive decision wasn't such a bad one after all.
"Yeah," Kelley pointed at some numbers on one of the pages in the folder for Marcie to look at. "Good averages, over 14 points a game and 12 assists. She's a little short but she's got good speed and has quick bursts. I've seen her make some players look like statues when she's put a step or two on them in the paint."
"We've still got too many guards on the roster," Marcie reminded the other coaches as she read the stat sheet.
"We do," Pat agreed. "But Pete has had knee problems the past two seasons and Kinsey is..." she paused unsure how to appropriately phrase what she wanted to say.
"Kinsey is getting old," Kelley provided. "Let's be honest about it, she's been in the league almost ten years. Not too many point guards play that long."
"We've got nine, no ten, guards coming to camp," Marcie refused to let it go. She was responsible for the guards and she didn't like the high numbers of players she would be working with over the next few weeks. She would have help from the veteran players already signed for the season but she still wasn't happy. "With Gallagher, that makes eleven. That's too many for camp. I can't work with that many and be effective."
"You're right," Pat told her assistant coach, "I'll help you out with the guards. And to make matters easier, as soon as any of them look like they can't cut our style of play, we send them packing. Okay?"
"You're the coach," Marcie shrugged, shoving the folder on the unwanted point guard back across the table. She was a few years older than Pat and had been the other assistant coach when Mac had chosen Pat to take over as head coach. Marcie had argued with Mac about the decision, saying the younger woman was too inexperienced to handle the job. The unexpected recruitment of a player never discussed was just another example that she had been right.
"I'm the coach," Pat muttered, retrieving all the folders spread out on the table. She had hoped that Marcie would have accepted her as coach when the Cougars made it all the way to the playoffs the year before but it was obvious her assistant coach wasn't ready to do that. "Let's call it a night," Pat suggested. "Camp starts early in the morning and I don't want any of us to be late for the first day."
"Looks like it should be a good camp," Kelley said, trying to break the tension that had built between the other two women.
"Don't forget," Pat smiled at Kelley, grateful for her attempt even if it didn't seem to be working on Marcie. "I want you to work Dawn hard. No slack."
"Gotcha, Coach," Kelley nodded. Her assignment was the post players and Dawn would be in the group she worked with in camp. "Night, Pat."
"Goodnight, Kelley," Pat said as the assistant coach walked out of her office. She turned her attention to the other assistant coach. "Look, Marcie," Pat said softly. "I was kinda hoping we could put all the crap behind us this season."
Marcie took her time before answering, her eyes focusing on a rough spot in the table rather than looking at the coach. It wasn't so much that Pat was a bad coach as much as Mac had all but promised the job to her if it should ever become available. She raised her eyes to look at the woman across the table and discovered she was being watched anxiously by Pat's deep brown orbs.
"I'll try, Pat," Marcie sighed as she decided to give the woman a break. "But there are times I just don't agree with your decisions," she said honestly.
"I understand and I don't expect you or Kelley to always agree with me. I do expect that we keep the disagreements between us and that we don't carry them onto the floor. It's hard enough to coach some of these players. If they thought I didn't have the support of my staff, it would be impossible."
Marcie knew Pat was right and if they're positions were reversed she'd expect the same from her assistant coaches. "Okay," Marcie smiled for the first time all day. "Truce," she reached her arm across the table.
"Truce," Pat accepted the offering, shaking the outstretched hand. "Let's get out of here."
"You won't hear me arguing with that," Marcie said as she stood up.
Continued in Part TwoBack to the Academy