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The Cougar locker room looked like any one of the thousands of locker rooms that could be found in any high school, college or professional arena around the country. The only difference was that the Cougar locker room was a little plusher than most since Mac Christopher, the team owner, like to show she had money to spend.
Rows of lockers occupied the back end of the rectangular room shielding the entry to the shower area. Instead of the typical bench stretched in front of them each locker was fronted by a straight back leather chair. Mac thought the chairs were more comfortable for the players but the players hated them as they made even the simple task of bending over to tie one's shoes awkward.
Between the lockers and the front of the room were several rows of chairs brought in for tryout camp. They provided a place for the players to sit while listening to Pat and the other coaches who would make good use of the dry marker board that lined the wall in front of them. The walls on either side of the room were sparsely covered by hand drawn posters revealing Pat's thoughts on what made a good player and good team.
Sherry walked into the locker room a little before six, not too surprised to find she was the only one there at the early hour. Walking slowly around the room, she felt like pinching herself to make sure she wasn't still in bed dreaming. She'd always hoped to play professional ball but when no teams came calling during her senior year at Western Arizona, she'd been resigned to put basketball behind her. Playing in the amateur league had been simply fulfilling a commitment she'd made to a teammate, both promising to play at least one year just to give the pro scouts one more time to see them play. No one had been more surprised than she had, when Coach Calvin had offered her an invitation to the Cougar tryout camp.
Sherry stopped in front of each of the hand printed posters thumb-tacked to the wall.
'Follow your shot
No one makes it 100% of the time.'
'Protect the ball,
We can't win without it.'
'A champion plays hard every time she picks up a ball.
A championship is won one game at a time.'
"Guess that's my cue to get practicing," Sherry murmured as she read the last poster. She looked for a place to change and walked back to the rows of lockers. "Wow," she gasped when she saw the leather chairs in front of the lockers.
"You're here early."
Sherry spun around at the sound of the voice to find Pat standing in a doorway at the side of the room.
"I said I'd be early," Sherry grinned.
"So you did," Pat smiled. She had been getting out of her car when she spotted the player entering the arena. She hurried to her office, suspecting the early arrival would end up in the locker room. The door between the office area and the locker room was open and Pat leaned against the doorframe to watch Sherry as she wandered around the room.
Sherry was compact as most guards were, their bodies seeming to be compressed bundles of energy. Her profile listed her as five foot nine but her compact build made her appear shorter. Wearing a pair of shorts and sweat shirt with the sleeves cut off, it was easy to see that there was no excess weight on the guard's frame. Pat smiled when she noticed the well used pair of hiking boots that Sherry wore, not the usual foot gear for a basketball player.
"Pick a locker," Pat instructed. "We'll have lots more players than lockers so it's good to claim one while you can. It's one of the perks for being early. You have a padlock or do you need one?"
"I've got one," Sherry set her bag down in the closest chair. "I want to thank you again for inviting me to camp."
"Like I said, you had some good moves," Pat said but she knew that wasn't the reason she'd offered the spot to Sherry. She just wished she knew the reason. "You can thank me by getting through camp."
"I plan to give it my best shot."
"Good," Pat nodded. "I've got some paperwork to finish before the others arrive. You need anything else?"
"No," Sherry shook her head. "Oh, there is one thing."
"Is it okay if I shoot some before camp starts?"
"Court is out that door," Pat pointed to the door Sherry had entered through, "and to your left. Ball carts should be around there somewhere."
"Thanks," Sherry smiled.
"No problem. See you later," Pat disappeared behind the door.
"See you," Sherry whispered in the empty room.
"Cutting it close, Montgomery," Kelley growled as Dawn scooted through the arena door just before the assistant coach pulled it shut and locked it. "Coach is getting ready to talk to the players in the locker room. I suggest you bust your ass and get in there before she starts."
Dawn stood just inside the door looking around, two corridors took off from the doorway and she couldn't tell which of the unmarked passageways would lead her to the locker room.
"Not making much of a first impression, Montgomery," Kelley shouted over her shoulder. She was already several steps down one of the corridors before Dawn charged past her. "First door on your left," the assistant coach called after the racing player. "Oh, yeah," she smirked, "camp is going to be lots of fun this year."
Dawn's rapid entry into the locker room came to an abrupt stop when she spotting Sherry sitting inside.
"What are you doing here?" Dawn sneered.
"Coach invited me to camp, just like you," Sherry answered.
"Is there a problem?" Marcie asked.
"Yeah, she doesn't belong here," Dawn told the assistant coach.
Marcie laughed, "oh really."
"Problem?" Kelley asked when she entered the room to see the face off between Dawn on the other coach.
"Miss Montgomery doesn't seem to think the Miss Gallagher has a place in camp," Marcie smirked.
"Hmm," Kelley rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "I don't remember getting a memo about Miss Montgomery having any say on who attends camp. Did you?" she asked Marcie as several players in the room snickered.
"No, don't believe I did."
"I would suggest," Kelley's tone turned serious, "that you spend what little time you have before Coach comes in here getting ready to play. If she sees you like this," Kelley indicated the sandals the player was wearing, "your tryout is going to end before it gets started."
"We've got another one to tape," Marcie said to one of the trainers working on another player.
"I don't need taping," Dawn grunted, sitting in the only available empty chair which happened to be directly behind Sherry. "It's only a practice."
"Don't be a fool," Diane Sunndee, a returning starting guard hissed from where she was standing nearby. She stepped toward Dawn's seat, "you get hurt in camp and you can kiss goodbye to any chance of making the team. Mac doesn't give contracts to injured players."
Dawn was bent over, replacing her sandals with her basketball shoes. Luckily, she had put on her sweats that morning. Without lifting her head, she knew exactly who was talking to her. Sitting up, she said. "Hey, Pete," she smirked, "looks like we'll be playing together this season."
Diane Sunndee had earned the nickname Pete in high school. A natural shooter who could drop the ball into the basket from just about anyplace on the floor, she also had a habit of wearing socks with worn out elastic. Though her socks began each game pulled almost up to her knees, they would inevitably be pooled around her ankles shortly after play began. A teammate watching an old Pete Maravich game on ESPN began calling Diane 'Pete' and the nickname stuck.
Pete shook her head at Dawn, "boy, are you in for an attitude adjustment."
Dawn leaned forward to whisper in Sherry's ear, "keep out of my way."
"Montgomery," Kelley barked, pointing out the player for the trainer that was looking for the late arrival.
"This ain't over," Dawn warned before sitting back.
At five minutes after eight, Pat pushed open the door between the coach's offices and the locker room to see over forty women crammed into a space usually used by less than half that number. Some of the returning players stood along the walls on either side of rows of chairs occupied by the players out to prove they deserved a spot on the Cougar roster.
"Good morning," Pat smiled as she walked to the front of the room to a chorus of 'morning, Coach'. She stopped when she reached the center of the marker board and turned to look at the women facing her. Most of the new faces turned in her direction betrayed varying degrees of self confidence, while a few showed high levels of apprehension and nervousness. For some unknown reason, Pat was glad to see Sherry was in the first group.
"Welcome to the Missoula Cougars tryout camp," Pat greeted the group. "As most of you know, the Cougars carry a roster of sixteen active players and four reserves. Currently, we have fifteen of those positions filled." Pat smiled when she heard a few groans. Her eyes darted along the faces of the veteran players, pausing a second or two on each one. "However as every veteran on the team will tell you," she turned back to the rows of hopefuls. "There are no sure bets on the Cougars. You earn your position each practice, each game, each day," Pat's voice began to harden as she spoke to the women.
"You can forget everything you learned in high school and college. Pro ball is faster, rougher, and more grueling than anything you're used to. I don't care how big of a star you were a few weeks ago, starting today you have to start all over again with a clean slate. I don't have any stars on my team. I don't have any ball hogs, hotdoggers, or show-offs. If that's your style of play, there's the door, don't waste my time or yours."
Pat paused to make sure her message was getting through.
"For the first week, you'll be put through a series of drills that will allow us to see what your strengths and weaknesses are. You'll be split up by position so we can see how you compare to one another. If you plan to be here next Monday, I suggest you don't hold anything back. If I, or anyone of my staff, think you're not giving us everything you've got, you'll be told to leave. There are no second chances, once you're told to go you won't be coming back." She glared straight at Dawn when she said the last part.
"Here are you assignments," Pat pointed to the board behind her where three columns of names had been neatly printed. "Coach Thomas," Pat waited for Marcie to step up beside her, "will work with those listed as guards. Coach Stockley will work with the post players. I'll be working with the forwards. You'll also be working with Terry Peters, Val Jensen, Pete Sunndee, Tonie Jessep and Kinsey Donaldson, some of our roster players. Don't think they'll be easy on you," Pat smiled, "remember, you're trying to take their jobs. Don't worry if you're listed in a position you don't usually play. Remember this is a tryout and you may get moved around." Pat looked at her assistants coaches, "shall we get started?"
"Let's go, Coach," Kelley smiled back.
Pat nodded, "welcome to Cougar basketball, ladies."
"Alright, you wanna-bes," Marcie growled. "Get your asses out on the floor and I don't want to see anyone walking."
As the players leaped up, chairs tumbled backwards crashing to the floor causing some of the young women to have to fight their way through a jumble of chair legs to the door.
Pat grinned as she watched the commotion. She placed a hand on Kelley's arm when the assistant coach started to walk out of the room and waited until all the players had left.
"Was Dawn late?" Pat had noticed how breathless the player had seemed when she first entered the locker room.
"She made it in as I was pulling the door shut," Kelley told the coach.
"She's gonna be trouble." Pat's lips were pursed together as she considered the possibilities.
"Chances are she won't make it past this week," Kelley offered.
"No," Pat shook her head. "She knows better than that. She'll make it through camp. Her ego won't let her fail. Come on; let's get out there before they start to get restless. Keep a close eye on her, Kelley," Pat said as the women walked out of the locker room.
Continued in Chapter ThreeReturn to the Academy