This story is a sequel to my stories , Fast Break and Footsteps (Ghost Towning) . You may want to read the preceding stories before reading this one. Fast Break and Footsteps (Ghost Towning) can be found on my on my website – mickeyminner.com
Brenda Jackson drove her rented VW Golf into the players' parking lot of Cougar Arena and parked in an empty slot near the building. She shut off the engine, climbed out, and walked to the back of the car. Raising the hatchback, she lifted out the tattered equipment bag then locked the car and headed for the players' entrance at the rear of the arena.
The heavy metal door opened onto a wide corridor and she quickly spotted a woman sitting at a table set up about a third of the way down the hallway. As she walked toward the table, Brenda made note of the doors leading to the equipment, training, and maintenance rooms she passed.
“Good morning, Brenda,” Kelley cheerfully greeted the tall redhead as she arrived at the table set up for the arriving rookies to check into camp.
Kelly scanned down the list of players on her clipboard and checked off Brenda's name. “You're one of the first to arrive,” she said.
“I heard Calvin had a thing about that,” Brenda commented nonchalantly.
“ Coach has a thing about a lot of stuff,” Kelley informed the rookie. “You'll have a better chance of making the roster if you keep that in mind.”
“Is it true she plans to play this year?”
Surprised by the comment, Kelley looked up at the rookie. “How'd you hear about that?”
“It was on ESPN this morning,” Brenda said casually.
Kelley grimaced. “News travels fast.”
Brenda nodded. “I've heard a lot about Calvin's college career. Should be interesting to find out how much of it is hype,” she added with a grin.
“A little sure of yourself, aren't you?”
Brenda shrugged. “At least, it'll make camp interesting.”
Kelley looked up at the player. “Do me a favor... I'm the one who insisted you be invited to tryout camp. Don't make me regret that decision. Camp won't be easy and you'd be smart putting all your energy into making it through the next few weeks. So knock off the chest beating and just do what you were brought here to do.”
Brenda studied the coach for a few moments. “All right,” she finally agreed not too convincingly.
Kelley sighed. “Locker room is the second door on the right. Pick a locker, stow your bag, and get changed. Two more things, Jackson,” she stopped Brenda before she could walk away. “One, cocky rookies don't last long around here. We've seen more than our share of them and we don't like them.”
“She's Coach… not Calvin, not Pat, Coach. I suggest you remember that.”
Brenda nodded then set off toward the locker room.
Scowling, Kelley's eyes followed the rookie walk down the hallway. “Please don't be another Dawn,” she muttered.
Sherry stuck her head into Pat's office. She was dressed in the team's game uniform, her jersey and shorts were yellow gold with a royal blue strip running down the sides and around the neck and arm openings. On the chest of the jersey, COUGARS was spelled out in four inch royal blue letters with her number, also royal blue, set off center under the RS. Her name was on the back of the jersey and the head of a screaming cougar was on the left leg of her shorts.
Pat looked up from the notes she was reviewing. “You're a bit overdressed for first day of camp, aren't you?” she asked smiling. Unlike Sherry, Pat had on a practice uniform that lacked the lettering, number, and mascot.
“I thought I'd show the rookies what they're working for,” Sherry grinned self-consciously. “Do you think it's too much?”
Pat thought for a minute. “You might be on to something… maybe I should have all the vets wear their game uniforms.”
“Might be a little late for that,” Sherry replied stepping into the office but remaining just inside the doorway not wanting to disturb Pat's last minute preparations. “Most of them are already out on the court.”
Pat waved Sherry closer. “Something to remember for later then,” she said then set about straightening up the pages of notes spread out on her desk.
“Any last minutes words of wisdom?” Sherry asked dropping into one of the chairs opposite Pat's desk.
“Dealing with the rookies.”
Pat laughed. “If only I had some,” she said. “Best I can say is ignore their attitudes. Most will think they're better than they are and you're not going to change that by telling them they're not. Just show them what you want and keep notes on how well they do it. Once we start cutting players, the rest should adjust.”
Sherry nodded. “Okay,” she said nervously.
Pat looked across her desk and smiled. “You'll do fine, honey. Remember, I'm the big, bad, head coach so send any trouble makers my way. I don't expect you to deal with them.”
Sherry nodded again. “If you don't need me for anything, I think I'll go out and take my turn at some practice shots with Pete and the others. Maybe that will settle my nerves.”
“Could you go check in with Kelley instead,” Pat asked looking at the clock which showed less than ten minutes until the official start of training camp. “Hopefully, we won't have any stragglers this year.”
“Okay. You still want the door locked at eight?”
“On the dot. And gather up the veterans after you're done there. I don't any of them coming in late.”
“I don't think any of them would dare,” Sherry said with a grin. “Nobody wants to start out camp on your shit list.”
Pat laughed. “Good thing.”
After Sherry left and the quiet surrounded her, Pat felt free to admit, if only t herself, that she was just as nervous as Sherry had been about facing the rookies. “Wonder if this ever gets easy,” she murmured leaning back in her chair and closing her eyes. She was content to remain like that until she heard Sherry and Kelley enter the outer office several minutes later.
Kelley walked into Pat's office first. “Everyone present and accounted for, Coach,” she told Pat dropping the list of players on her desk.
Pat straightened up in her chair then glanced down the list of arrival times. “Any problems?” she asked standing up.
“A couple with attitudes… nothing unusual,” Kelley responded.
“Everyone in the locker room,” Pat asked Sherry.
“All right, let's go welcome our rookies?”
Pat let her assistant coaches lead the way out of her office. The three women weaved their way around the desks in the outer office then Pat hung back as Kelley and Sherry entered the locker room. Out of sight of the players, she smiled when the chatter quieted and the players settled down with the appearance of their coaches.
At precisely eight o'clock, Pat strode through the doorway separating the offices from the locker room and walked directly to the front of the room. While the returning players stood along the sides of the room, the rookies sat in rows of chairs between the lockers at the back of the room and the wall of white marker boards at the front. Saying nothing, she stood facing the players; her eyes moving to the face of each rookie and resting there for a few moments before moving onto the next. Unsurprised by the sea of anxious faces watching her every movement, she continued standing quietly for a few minutes before finally addressing the players.
“Good morning,” Pat's voice seemed extraordinarily loud as it reverberated off the walls.
“Morning, Coach.” Pete led the returning players in an enthusiastic reply intermixed with a few less boisterous responses from the rookies.
Pat acknowledged the greeting then continued. “Welcome to the Missoula Cougars tryout camp. As you may or may not know, the Cougars carry a roster of sixteen active players and four reserves. Currently, we have fourteen of those positions filled.” She paused to let the anticipated groaning fade. “However, as every veteran on the team will tell you, there are no sure bets on the Cougars. You earn your position each practice, each game, each day.” Pat's tone grew more serious as she spoke, her eyes constantly moving from one rookie's face to the next.
“You can forget everything you learned in high school and college,” Pat repeated the same speech she used for the beginning of each training camp. “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, today you are starting all over again to prove your worth. I don't have any stars on my team. I don't have any ball hogs, hot-doggers, or show-offs. If that's your style of play, there's the door,” she said pointing to the end of the white boards where a door led out into the corridor. “Don't waste my time or yours thinking you can get by on your reputation.”
“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.” Pat moved a few steps to where a large poster of the championship trophy had been taped to the white board behind her. “The Cougars have one goal this year—to keep this trophy. It isn't enough that we won last year, we want a repeat. So take me seriously when I say, I don't have time to waste on players who aren't willing to work hard. If I, or any of my staff, think you're not giving everything you've got, you'll be cut. There are no second chances; once you're told to go you won't be coming back.” Pat paused to let her message sink in while Sherry and Kelley moved to stand beside her.
“Here are you assignments,” Pat pointed to the board behind her where three columns of names had been neatly printed. “Don't worry if you're listed in a position you don't usually play. Remember this is a tryout and you will get moved around if we think your skills are better suited to another position. Coach Gallagher 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 some of our roster players.” Pat smiled. “Don't make the mistake thinking they'll be easier on you. Remember, you're trying to take their jobs. Welcome to Cougar basketball, ladies.”
“Alright, you wanna-bes,” Kelley growled. “Get your asses out on the floor and I don't want to see anyone walking.”
Pat fought back a chuckle hearing the command. She waited for the room to clear of players then turned to her assistant coach. “Marcie would be proud.”
Kelley grinned. “I figured since she left to coach college ball, she wouldn't mind if I borrowed it.” Marcie Thomas had been a long-time Cougar assistant coach but had resigned at the end of the prior season. It was her greeting that Kelley had appropriated as her own.
Pat laughed. “Probably not. Come on let's go.”
Sherry frowned when one of her rookies missed another shot from the free throw line. She had taken her assigned players to the far end of the court to shoot practice shots. Guards were fouled a lot during games and were expected to take advantage of the free shots they were awarded. “Hudson, you missed seven out of ten,” she told the player. “According to your stats, you shot eighty seven percent in college.”
“Sorry,” the rookie replied nervously.
“Get back in line. You better show me more your next turn. Wilson, you're up.”
“Sheesh, Hudson won't last if she keeps that up,” Pete muttered under her breath. She was standing beside Sherry making notations on a clipboard.
“How many more?”
“We're not even halfway through them. I've never seen so many contortions for a free throw. Half of them act as if they're being guarded.”
“Let's split them up. Pete, you and Wendy take six over there,” Sherry pointed to a pair temporary baskets brought into the arena for practices. “Amie, you can stick with me. Bring them back when they've each had two rounds of ten shots.”
Pete nodded than trotted to the end of the line of players waiting for their turn at the basket and directed the last six to follow her and Wendy. “Come on, move your feet,” she shouted when the rookies didn't run like she was. “Cougars don't walk,” she admonished the players.
With a shake of her head, Sherry turned back to watch Wilson take her shots.
Pat was running rebounding drills with her group of rookies and looked across the floor when she heard Pete's shout.
“Camp isn't starting off too good, Coach,” Val said quietly so that her comments wouldn't be overheard by the rookies moving on the floor nearby.
“Is it just me or do most of them look like they're moving at half speed?” Pat asked, not bothering to keep her voice low.
“It's not just you.”
Pat reached for the whistle hanging around her neck. Lifting it to her lips, she blew it sharply three times. “Everyone over here,” she yelled. “Sit,” she barked then waited for the players gathered around her to find a place on the floor. “All right, what the hell is happening here? I thought you all wanted a chance to play pro ball but I'm having some real doubts about that. We've only been at this for two hours and you all look like you're ready for a nap.” She took a moment to look into the eyes of each rookie, most refused to return the gaze. “What gives?”
“Come on, Coach,” Brenda spoke up. “It's only day one, you've got to give us a chance to work into this.”
Pat smiled grimly. “Do I?” she asked calmly. “Your chance was when you received your invitation to camp. Your invite told you to arrive ready to work.” She wandered over to where she had left her water bottle at the side of the court. She picked up the bottle and raised it to her mouth. “I guess none of you paid that much attention,” she commented after swallowing. So,” she paused as she walked back to the waiting players. “I guess I'll just have to take the time to get you all into the right mindset.” She turned to Sherry and Kelley. “Wind sprints, full court. Any player who can't do ten in five minutes, gets cut today.”
“Okay, you heard Coach,” Sherry addressed the players. “End of the court… NOW!”
“Come on, ladies,” Pete addressed the other veterans. “Let's show these wannabes how it's done.” She led the players in a full sprint to the end of the court.
Sherry handed her clipboard to Kelley then followed the players.
Pat beckoned Kelley to join her in a leisurely walk to the side of the court where they sat in the first row of seats to watch the drills.
“So she's good enough to play but not practice,” Brenda muttered after finishing her first full court sprint and spotting the coach sitting contently in the bleachers drinking from her water bottle. “Thought everyone had to earn their spots on the roster.”
“You got something to say, Jackson?” Sherry demanded hearing the rookie's mumbles.
Jackson glared at Sherry for a moment then dropped her head. “No, I got nothing.”
“Good. Don't take too long of a rest—makes you look like you're not in condition,” Sherry told the rookie then turned away to start sprinting toward the opposite end of the court.
“Wait for us,” Pete called out. She and the other veterans were standing in a group after finishing their first sprint. She smirked at the heavily panting rookies stretched out along the end line of the court. “Ready for number two?” she asked loudly.
“Say go,” Val answered with a grin.
“Go,” Pete shouted then set off back down the length of the court chasing Sherry with the other veterans hot on her tail.
“I might owe you an apology,” Kelley told Pat after dropping into the seat beside her.
“Jackson may be more mouth than anything else.”
Pat smiled wryly. “I've noticed.”
“Want me to send her packing?”
“No. I want you to work her butt off. Maybe she'll lose the attitude when she gets too tired to remember she has one.” Pat lifted her whistle and blew it sharply. “Gallagher, over here,” she called to Sherry who was racing down the court with Pete.
Sherry abruptly changed directions then slowed her pace as she trotted over to Pat. “What's up, Coach?”
“Sit. Sherry, I know you're capable of running sprints,” Pat told her assistant coach. “Right now, I need you to put on your coach's hat and fill me in on your players.”
Sherry smiled. “Oh. Gotcha,” she said taking the seat next to Kelley. “Not much to tell you… so far. I don't know if they're nervous or their stats are beefed up but I wasn't impressed with their efforts at the line.”
Pat ran a hand through her hair. “Any ideas how to improve the attitudes?” she asked her assistants.
Kelley shook her head the looked at Sherry.
“Well…” Sherry started then stopped.
“Spill it,” Pat demanded. “If you have an idea, let's hear it. We don't have time to baby sit these kids. I need to know what they're capable of… and I need to know sooner than later.”
“That was funny?” Pat asked crossly.
“Pat, these ‘kids' aren't that much younger than us.”
“Speak for yourself,” Pat retorted then grinned. “Okay, let's get serious… ideas?”
Sherry looked to the end of the court where most of the veteran players were standing around having finished their set number of sprints and watching the rookies struggling to finish theirs. “How about we bench the rookies for the rest of the day and let them watch a full scrimmage? Maybe when they see how we play the game, they'll understand what the Cougars are all about.”
Pat sat back in her seat. “That,” she said with a grin, “is a great idea. Kelley, you want to play referee?”
“Be my pleasure.”
“Okay, I'll go fill in Pete and the others. When the rookies finish their sprints, sit them down. Sherry, you come with me.”
Pat split the players into two teams with Pete leading one and Sherry the other. “Okay, let's not have any heroics out there. I don't need any of you getting hurt the first day of camp. Play hard but play smart. This is going to be full court— I want those rookies to see what we put into a game. Questions?”
“Yeah. What team will you be playing on?” Pete asked with a wide grin.
“I'll be starting on the bench.”
“Aw, come on, Coach,” Val protested. “You've got to play.”
Pete and the others instantly agreed.
“Oh, I plan to play,” Pat assured them. “But to be fair, I'll rotate in with the rest of the subs… onto both teams.”
“Hot damn,” Pete exclaimed, rubbing her hands together. “Let's get this game started then.”
“Hey,” Pat called to the players as they turned to run onto the court. “Remember, first day of camp… take it easy on each other.”
“Hell, Coach,” Terry responded, “what's the fun in that?”
The scrimmage was into its sixth minute and, although the pace had been fast, neither team had managed to score as they each stuck to executing standards plays that were easily defended.
Pete was guarding Sherry who was dribbling the ball across the mid-court line. “What say we liven this up a bit?” she asked after Sherry passed the ball to Val at the top of the key.
“What do you have in mind?”
“We leave the play book behind and go at it for real. You see if you can perform your magic and get through Tonie and Ashley.”
Sherry grinned. “Okay. But fair is fair… You have to do the same to Stacy and Val.”
“You're on,” Pete said then she spun around and ran to each of her teammates to inform them of the change.
“What's up?” Pat asked trotting onto the court to replace Sara on Sherry's team.
“You in to play?” Sherry asked.
“I believe I am.”
Sherry grinned. “Well, as Pete so elegantly put it… Hot damn!”
“Don't expect too much,” Pat warned.
“I won't… but just so you know, we're cranking things up a notch.”
“What's that mean?”
Sherry spotted Pete dribbling in their direction. “You're out of position, Calvin,” she snapped then sped off to guard Pete.
Pat looked around indecisively then hurried to her defensive position at the top of the key. She found herself guarding Ashley, a player an inch or two taller than herself.
“Hey, Coach,” Ashley said when Pat stepped in front of her with arms stretched out from her sides. “Hope you don't take this personal but…,” Ashley moved close to Pat, pressing her arm against her coach's back. “I do need to take this pass.” She moved her arm slightly to the right giving Pat the feeling she was planning to move in that direction. When Pat took the fake, Ashley spun to her left, coming free off Pat's side just as Pete's pass arrived. Ashley turned and buried a fifteen foot jump shot before Pat could react.
“Nice move,” Pat grumbled at the grinning player.
“I thought so when you taught it to me.”
“All right, stop the yakking,” Pete shouted catching the ball after it dropped through the net. “Ashley, get back on defense.” She tossed the ball to Sherry. “Your turn,” she said with a grin.
“You may regret this,” Sherry countered.
Pete was back pedaling down the court. “Never.”
Sherry started her dribble, easily trotting down the floor to where Pete stood waiting for her at mid-court. Just before reaching her counterpart, she turned her body to keep it between the ball and Pete's probing hands. She continued her dribble moving steadily closer to the basket.
Pat was trying to get into position but was frustrated by Tonie who was guarding her tightly. “Thought we weren't going for blood,” Pat grunted trying again to get position on Tonie.
Tonie laughed moving to block another attempt by Pat to get around her. “Heck, Coach, I didn't think you wanted us to take it easy on you.”
Sherry saw the interplay between Pat and Tonie. Knowing it would be difficult to pass the ball to Pat without Tonie stealing it, she looked to the opposite side of the key where Latesha had slipped past her defender. She gave Pete a head fake.
“Gotta try harder than that,” Pete said holding her position.
Sherry took a quick step forward then spun around to her left; Pete was staying with her step for step. Sherry gave another head fake but this time she followed it with her body. It gave her just enough of an opening to pass the ball to Latesha who took one dribble then laid the ball up against the backboard and into the basket.
Pete grabbed the ball as soon as it dropped to the floor and was racing back down the court with Sherry racing after her. Pete didn't hesitate as she crossed mid-court running full speed for the basket. She didn't have to look back to know Sherry was gaining on her. At fifteen feet in front of the basket, she pulled up.
Sherry, expecting Pete to go all the way down court, didn't react in time and flew past her.
Grinning, Pete shot the ball without her feet leaving the floor then stood watching the ball rise toward the basket. Suddenly her view was blocked out by the blur of a body passing between her and it. Her shot, on a perfect arc to the rim, was sent flying harmlessly to the side of the court.
Pat landed on the court in front of Pete.
“Thought you said you lost some of your speed,” Pete grumpily told her smirking coach.
“Seems I got it back.”
“Seems you did,” Pete snarled then smiled. “Rematch?”
Pat shook her head. “I think that's good for today.” She raised her voice so everyone would hear. “Okay, everyone hit the showers. We start again tomorrow at eight sharp.” She watched the rookies as, with few exceptions, they apathetically made their way to the locker room. “Hopefully, they show up with better attitudes,” she muttered.
Sherry dribbled the ball to where Pat was standing. “Nice block, Coach.”
Pat looked at her point guard. “You blew your defense,” she said seriously.
“Good thing you got that out of your system early.”
“Six didn't make their sprints, Coach,” Kelley said as she joined Pat and Sherry. “I'll post their names.”
“No,” Pat interjected. “Let's see how they do tomorrow.”
“Change of attitude?” Sherry asked.
“Not really,” Pat said then sighed. “No point cutting off our own noses. It was a bad day for everyone. Let's toss out today's results and start fresh tomorrow.”
“Sounds fair to me,” Kelley agreed.
“Sherry?” Pat asked.
“You're not going to get an argument from me. There weren't too many that made a good impression today. If we cut all the bad ones, we're not going to have too many left.”
“And that's something I don't want to have to explain to Mac,” Pat told them.
With a flourish, Kelley drew a line through her notes. “Second chance for everyone,” she stated.
“Let's not call it that,” Pat said with a groan.
Sherry snickered. “Don't want to lose your reputation for being a hard ass at camp?”
“Something like that. Come on, let's go get a shower. And then you can take me out to dinner.”
“Oooh, that sounds good. Can I come?” Kelley asked.
“No,” Pat and Sherry said in unison.
The women laughed and started across the court to the locker room.
To Be Continued...
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