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
Elizabeth Brown walked across the training room to her office. “Morning, Coach,” she said surprised to find her desk chair occupied when she entered the room.
“Giving you problems?” The dark skinned woman asked noticing that Pat was rubbing her injured knee. As the Cougars team trainer, Elizabeth had spent many hours helping Pat rehab after her surgery and was alert to any signs that the coach's knee was troubling her.
“Damn, Lizzie, it's only the second day of camp,” Pat grumbled. She was wearing her practice uniform and her heavy knee brace was loose around her lower leg.
“Sorry, if I jumped to conclusions but you are sitting in my office rubbing your knee.”
Pat pulled her hand back from her knee. “Habit,” she explained as Lizzie settled into one of the chairs opposite the desk. “Listen, I don't want to spend the season wondering what's going on behind my back.”
“Umm… okay,” Lizzie replied cautiously.
“Oh, let's cut the crap. I know damn well that Mac probably ordered you to keep an eye on me and my knee.”
Lizzie smiled. “So, you don't want me sneaking around behind your back?”
“So, you want me just to ask you flat out if you're having problems?”
“I would prefer that, yes.”
“Good. So would I,” the trainer said. “So, how is the knee?”
“Look, I'll tell you if I start having problems.”
“Pat, I saw the play you made yesterday and I'll bet your knee hasn't had that much stress put on it since you injured it.”
Pat's forehead creased as she gave the comment its due. “Fair enough,” she said after a moment. “The knee is good. See?” she asked flexing the leg in question. “Really, Liz, it's good. No pain… at least, not any more than normal.”
Lizzie nodded. “All right. I'll trust your word that if you have problems, I'll be the first to know.”
“You will… Well, how about if you're the second?”
“Thanks. I better get out there, camp started a half hour ago.”
“How is the class this year,” Lizzie asked watching Pat pull up the brace and adjust it around her knee.
“Most of them looked like old women yesterday,” Pat grumbled. “I'm willing to chalk it up to getting adjusted to the elevation but if they don't start to show something soon…” She straightened in the chair then looked across the desk with a frown. “Forty rookies and not one of them showed me anything yesterday. Not a single one. I need five good roster players out of this group.”
“Like you said, it's only day two.”
“Yeah.” Pat stood and started for the door.
“Hey, Coach,” Lizzie said before Pat disappeared through the doorway.
Pat stopped and turned around to face the trainer. “Yes?”
“That was a hell of play yesterday.”
Pat grinned. “Thanks.”
After the coach left, Lizzie stood and reclaimed her desk. “Gonna be a hell of a season,” she said leaning back in her chair with a smile.
Pat walked out of the corridor and into the arena to see the rookies were spread around in small groups working with her assistant coaches and the roster players. Detouring to retrieve a ball from one of the racks rolled out to the side of the court, she walked toward the group gathered around Val and Latesha, her two starting forwards.
“Morning, Coach,” Val greeted. “We just finished warm-ups.”
Pat nodded then addressed the players. “Good morning. It's time we see just what you can do on the court. We'll start with playing two-on-two. You're job will be to get the ball through the defense and into the basket. Val and Jade take the defense.” After the players acknowledged her instructions and took up positions on either end of the free throw line, Pat turned her attention to the rookies. “Being a selfish player won't cut it. If you plan to get into a position to score, you'll have to work together. Killen and Dimchek, you're up first,” Pat told two of the rookies. “The rest of you clear the court. But I suggest you pay close attention to how Val and Jade work together and look for a way to break through their defense when it's your turn. Okay, let's go.”
Casually bouncing the ball, Pat backpedaled to the cougar painted on the center of the court so she could watch the rookies and see where the pair positioned themselves. Killen, a willowy blond whose scouting report said she was tall and fast but lacked the strength to out muscle opposing players, was standing nervously near the right side of the court midway between her coach and the two defensive players. Dimchek, approximately the same height as Killen but was more muscular, had taken a position close to Val on the opposite side of the court.
“Ready?” Pat asked the players. When they responded affirmatively, Pat fired a pass at Killen.
The rookie almost dropped the ball when it smacked into her hands so hard they stung from the impact. But Killen managed to control the pass and turned to dribble toward the basket. Her path was immediately blocked when Jade ran out to meet her. Not anticipating the quick response, she looked helplessly at Dimchek who was having trouble breaking free from Val strong defense. Spinning around on her plant foot, Killen tried to find enough of an opening to pass the ball to the other rookie.
Pat blew her whistle to stop Killen's feeble attempts to maneuver out of Jade's trap. She motioned for the rookie to return the ball to her. “This time, catch the ball on the run. If you stand still, the defense will be on you before you can do anything. If you're moving, they have to move with you and still protect their part of the court.” Then she addressed all of the players. “Your chances to avoid being trapped are better if you keep moving. Let's try again. And Killen, don't forget you are allowed to dribble,” she told the rookie.
Chagrined that in trying to escape Jade's defense, she had failed to try to dribble out of the trap, Killen just nodded then returned to her starting point.
Pat slapped the ball to put the players in motion. When Killen started running across the court, she shot the ball to her.
This time the rookie grabbed the pass and immediately started dribbling. She angled for the far corner of the key and straight at Val. Jade edged over to close the gap and pin Killen between her and Val. Seeing Dimchek had managed to slip behind Val, Killen tossed the ball through the gap between the defensive players and toward her teammate.
Val snatched the pass out of the air and passed it back to her coach.
“Did you really think you could throw between them?” Pat asked in amazement. “Come on, you're dealing with pro players now. You're not out on your local playground. Think! Killen, your teammate made a good move, what should you have done to take advantage of it?” Receiving no answer, Pat addressed the other rookies. “Anybody?”
“Fake a shot,” Dimchek offered.
“Her defender would have had to move out on her.”
“Exactly,” Pat agreed. “Do something to make that defender come to you. If you can separate the defenders, you have a better chance of getting the ball to your teammate. Killen, off the court. Take some time to think about your options for the next time. Dimchek, take her spot. Leigh, you're in.” Pat waited for the players to switch positions then she started them into motion.
Dimchek caught the coach's pass on the run and dribbled up the side of the court forcing Jade to come out to defend her. Switching the ball to her right hand to keep her body between it and her defender, she watched Leigh work around Val's defense and come open at the free throw line. She spun away from Jade the fired a pass at Leigh.
Leigh caught the pass. Momentarily, free of any defense, she glanced at the basket but, instead of shooting, she started to dribble to move closer to the basket.
Anticipating the move, Val regained her defensive position and blocked the rookie's progress.
Startled by her defender's quick adjustment, Leigh tried to pass off to Dimchek but Val slapped the ball out of her hands. “Dammit,” she snapped as the ball bounced away from her.
Pat blew her whistle to stop the players. “Give the ball back to Leigh,” she instructed Dimchek who had chased it down.
Leigh caught the ball then nervously looked at her coach.
Leigh turned toward the basket and threw up an awkward shot that banged off the front of the rim.
Pat walked up to the player. “Was that your best attempt?” she asked.
“Um… no,” Leigh answered.
“Give her the ball.” After the ball had been retrieved and bounced back to Leigh, Pat told her. “Try again.”
Leigh took a calming breath then squared her body to the basket and executed a perfect jump shot.
“Good,” Pat said after the ball dropped through the net without touching the rim. “I never want open shots passed up,” she addressed the players, “especially, if you're in your comfort zone. And, on this team, I expect anything within twelve feet of the basket is within every players' comfort zone. Understood?”
“Understood, Coach,” the players confirmed.
“Good pass, Dimchek,” Pat acknowledged as she backpedaled to the center of the court. “Okay, let's try it again.”
“Who recharged their batteries?” Pete panted.
“Rookies too much for you?” Sherry asked.
Pete tossed a mock glare at the grinning assistant coach. “No. I just wasn't expecting so much energy from them after yesterday.”
With the help of Pete, Wendy, and Amie, Sherry had been running the rookies through several dribbling and passing drills. Both skills were essential to a guard's success on the court. “Me either. But it's nice to see,” she commented making a notation on her clipboard. “Take a breather,” she called out to the players. “Make sure you get some fluids.”
Pete walked with Sherry off the court and sat beside her in the first row of seats. “Got a couple out there that show some promise.”
“Care to share?” Sherry asked raising her water bottle to her mouth.
“Wilson. And I hate to say it but Hudson showed some nice moves.”
Sherry frowned. “I agree but her shooting is awful. Coach is never going to go for a guard who shoots less than twenty five percent from the field.”
“Maybe she's just nervous. Weren't the scouting reports on her better?”
“Yes. And so were her college stats. Something doesn't add up.”
“Maybe you should talk to her,” Pete offered.
“Think I'll talk to Coach first.”
“Nope. But hearing you call her Coach is a little hard to get used to.”
“Why? I called her Coach all last season.”
“True. But that sure isn't what you called her during the off season. After hearing all the honeys and sweethearts and dears exchanged between you two lovebirds, it just sounds funny now when you call her Coach.”
Sherry shifted in her seat to glare back at Pete's twinkling eyes. “It's a damn good thing there isn't a rookie within hearing of that comment,” she said angrily.
“Ah, come on, Sherry… you know what I meant.”
“I know. But, you, of everyone around here knows how hard we work to keep our personal life off the court. You could be a little more supportive of that.” Sherry stood. “It's time to get back to the drills,” she snapped through clinched teeth.
Pete jumped up then reached out to stop Sherry. “Hey, I'm your best friend,” she said keeping her voice low. “And Pat's. And you damn well know I support you two. I didn't deserve that.”
Sherry took a deep breath then released it. “It's just really hard sometimes to keep the two biggest parts of my life separate,” she told Pete. “I expect comments from some people… I just didn't think you'd be one of them.”
“All right, I guess I kinda asked for that,” Pete admitted. “I'll make sure to keep those thoughts to myself from now on.”
“Just keep them off the court… okay?”
“You got it. Still friends?” Pete smiled hopefully.
Sherry shook her head. “Not right now… I'm coach, you're player.” She lifted her whistle to her lips and blew one short blast. “Guards, back on court. You too, Sunndee, get your butt out there,” she told Pete trying not to smile.
Pete grinned. “Yes, Coach,” she shouted trotting back onto the court.
“Come on, Jackson, you didn't even try to block,” Kelley yelled at the rookie who was standing at the top of the key, hands on her waist, and breathing hard. She had been running the post players through drills for almost an hour. “You've got to show more than that if you want to make this team.”
“Jeez, you're running us into the ground,” Brenda complained. “I need a breather.”
Kelley smiled. “So, what you're saying is you don't want to be a Cougar?”
“No, that's not what I'm saying,” Brenda panted.
“Sounded like it to me. Stacy, take her place,” Kelley told one of the roster players standing nearby. “ Jackson , when you catch your breath, start running laps,” she instructed the rookie now walking toward the side of the court.
Brenda groaned. “For how long?”
“Until I tell you to stop,” Kelley barked.
“That's not fair, Coach,” Jackson protested.
Kelley signaled Stacy to begin the next drill then she walked purposely over to the rookie. “I had high hopes for you, Jackson,” she said in a calm voice. “But, so far, all you've shown in camp is mouth. If you don't start showing something on the court, you won't make it to Friday.”
“I'm better than most of—”
“Really?” Kelley cut off the boast.
“Yes,” Jackson said determinedly.
“Prove it,” Kelley growled then to return to her players. “I'm sick of your attitude, Jackson,” she called back to the disgruntled rookie. “Step it up or get the hell out.”
“Damn, she's full of herself,” Ashley, another roster player, said to Kelley when she returned.
Kelley nodded. “Sad part is, she's got talent if she'd just shut up and show it.”
Ashley watched the rookie start her laps, putting in as little effort to her running as she had shown in her playing. “I guess I'll have to take your word on that.”
Pat blew three sharp blasts on her whistle. “Let's break for an hour,” she called out loud enough for everyone to hear. Players, scattered about the arena in small groups, began to make their way toward her end of the court and into the corridor that would take them back to the locker room where lunch was waiting. She waited for Sherry to make the walk from the other end of the court.
“What a morning,” Sherry declared as she walked up to Pat.
“Damn, I'm hungry,” Kelley announced when she joined the other coaches. “Yelling at players can sure build up an appetite.”
“You're not supposed to be yelling at them,” Pat responded seriously. “You're supposed to be teaching, guiding, influencing.”
“Oh?” Kelley looked at the head coach in surprise. “And just how do you do that?”
Pat shrugged. “I yell at them,” she said with a grin. “Come on, let's exchange notes in my office.” She led her assistant coaches into the corridor and down the passage past the door to the locker room. They entered the next door that led into staff offices and between the office staff's desks to her office at the back of the room.
Kelley dropped her clipboard on Pat's desk then picked up one of the prepared lunch plates set out on the table at the side of the room. She snatched up two bottles of water before claiming one of the chairs in front of the coach's desk. “I have to say,” she stated un-wrapping foil from a turkey sandwich, “today was much better than yesterday.”
“I agree,” Sherry said carrying the other two plates from the table. She placed one on the desk then settled in the chair next to Kelley. “Much more energy out there today,” she added as she leaned forward to push the plate across the desk toward Pat.
“Thanks,” Pat smiled at Sherry. “I would say that I feel the same.” She unwrapped her sandwich and took a bite. “Okay, let's hear your thoughts,” she said after swallowing.
“Go ahead,” Kelley told Sherry between bites.
Sherry laughed. “Dang, you are hungry. So far, it's been a good day. Everyone is giving good effort.”
“But?” Pat asked.
“I'm not sure. It's Hudson. She's a good player. Fast, smart, shows some good moves—”
“Sounds like another player I know,” Pat said with a wink.
Sherry grinned knowing she had just quoted her own scouting report from a year ago.
“What's the problem?” Kelley asked.
“She can't shoot worth beans,” Sherry responded with a groan. “Except for lay-ups; she nails those every time but from the field or the line… it's ugly.”
“Hudson? Isn't she the player from Texas U?”
Pat rifled through a stack of folders on her desk. “Let's see… eighty three percent from the line; sixty seven percent from the field; and thirty four percent on three point attempts. Doesn't sound like a bad shooter to me,” she said tossing the stat sheet across her desk to Sherry.
“I know. I read it… many times. But she doesn't prove those numbers out.”
“All right, I'll give her a watch this afternoon,” Pat told her assistant coach. “Kelley?”
“Only problem I have is Jackson.”
“That and being lazy as hell.”
“I saw her running laps,” Sherry said.
“Thought it might get her attention.”
“Did it?” Pat asked.
“Want to cut her?”
“Yes…” Kelley sighed. “But I think we'd be making a mistake. She has what we need. I just need to find a way to get her to prove it.”
Pat studied her assistant. “All right,” she said after several minutes. “Give her an honest chance but, if she's doesn't come around, let's not waste our time. Agreed?”
Kelley nodded. “What about your group, Coach?”
“Couple of duds I doubt will last the week. But I'm impressed with Dimchek.”
“The gal from Slovakia ?”
“She played college ball at Washington,” Sherry said.
“She's got a good feel for the game,” Pat replied. “And she's in great shape—she was giving Val a run for her money this morning,” she added with a grin. “I suspect Val will be spending more time in the weight room after today.”
“I've got a few who would benefit from that, too,” Sherry noted.
“If you're talking roster players, assign them time,” Pat responded. “If you're talking rookies, wait until we know they're going to make it through camp.”
“Not from me,” Kelley said as she stood up. “If you don't have anything else for me, I want to double check some of my observations with Ashley and the others.”
“We'll see you out on the court in a few,” Pat told her. “Problem?” she asked Sherry after Kelley left.
“Um… not really.”
“Come on, Sherry, we agreed this will only work if we're honest with each other.”
“It's really nothing. Pete just made a comment that… well, I know she didn't mean anything by it…”
Sherry shook her head. “It's nothing.”
“It must be something or you wouldn't be stressing over it. Come on, Sherry, I don't have time for games right now,” Pat said forcefully.
“She just said it was funny hearing me call you Coach after the way we refer to each other at home. And I… I kinda over reacted.”
“Over reacted how?”
“I bit her head off. I said I didn't think I'd have to worry about her bringing up our relationship.”
“I'm sure she didn't mean anything by it,” Pat assured her lover.
“So, what's bothering you?”
“I guess I'm just concerned that if I snapped at Pete… how am I going to handle it if one of the other players says something?”
“Let's hope they don't.”
“But what if they do?”
“Then you'll take a deep breath, smile, and call me so I can punch them in the mouth.”
A startled giggled escaped from Sherry. “Honey, you're not helping. I'm being serious.”
Pat stood and walked around her desk to sit beside Sherry. “We can't stop the comments, sweetheart. All we can do is try to maintain our composure and go about our business.”
Sherry glanced up into Pat's caring eyes. “I guess you're right.”
“Of course I am. Feel better?”
“Good, because we just broke our rule about staying all business when we're at work.”
Sherry grinned. “We sure did. Do we get a Mulligan?”
“I sure hope so.” Pat stood then held her hand out to her partner. “Come on, we better not be late getting back out there,” she warned. “You can imagine what that might lead to.”
“Oh, god,” Sherry moaned as she allowed herself to be pulled up from the chair. “I don't even want to think about it.” She carried her empty dish back to the table then retrieved her clipboard from the desk. “Just out of curiosity,” she asked following Pat out of the office, “how many Mulligans do we have?”
Pat laughed. “Probably not enough to last the season.”
While Sherry went straight from the office to the arena, Pat had detoured through the locker room to catch any stragglers. She was happy to discover the room empty of players and was just about to walk out the door to the corridor when she heard a noise coming from the back of the room. She reversed her steps to walk back across the room. Rounding the end row of lockers, she found Hudson sitting on the bench outside the shower room. She had removed her shoes and socks and was staring down at them. “Giving up?”
Startled, Hudson's head jerked up. “Ah… um… sorry, I didn't know you were there,” she said tensely.
Pat leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. “I've had players quit camp before but never one with your potential.”
“I can't cut it,” Hudson said dejectedly.
“That's not what I've heard. Coach Gallagher has said some pretty good things about you.”
“What? That I can't hit the broad side of a barn?”
Pat pushed off the wall and sat on the bench leaving a reasonable distance between herself and the rookie. “She did mention you seemed to be having a problem with that.”
Hudson leaned back placing her head against the wall to stare up at the ceiling.
“Your scouting report said you were a pretty good shooter,” Pat continued. “And your college stats proved that out. I'm guessing by you being in here and not out with the rest of the rookies trying to win a spot on my roster that you're as confused by this as we are.”
“I don't get it,” Hudson said with a shake of her head. “I can't figure out what I'm doing different.”
Pat thought for a moment. “Do you want to quit?”
Hudson sat up and looked directly at the coach. “Hell, no. This is all I've thought about for the past year. But I'm not stupid. You'll never sign a player that can't hit the basket.”
Pat blew out a breath then shifted on the bench to lean back against the wall. “I hate to give up on someone the second day of camp,” she told the rookie. “So we better figure out what the problem is.”
“Hmmm.” As Pat considered the possibilities, her eyes drifted to a poster taped to the wall several feet away. “Hudson, take a look at that poster.”
Hudson turned her head in the direction Pat was looking. “What about it?”
“What does it say?”
“I don't know.”
“Put your dirty towels here,” Hudson read the words written in bold letters at the top of the poster.
“What's it say under that?”
Hudson's eyes closed into tight squints as she struggled to make out the words written in smaller print. “All towels are prepared for the Cougars. These will not be tattered,” she read out loud in hesitant clips.
Pat laughed. “Not quite.”
Pat smiled at the rookie. “All towels are property of the Cougars. Theft will not be tolerated.
Hudson grinned timidly. “Guess that makes better sense.”
“I do believe we found the problem. When's the last time you had your eyes tested?”
“I don't know. A couple of years ago.”
Pat jumped to her feet. “Then I think it's time you saw an eye doctor. Come with me, Hudson.”
“Where have you been?” Sherry asked after Pat appeared from the corridor and jogged across the court to join her.
“Solving your problem.”
“She never came back after lunch. I figured she decided to give up.”
“She did. But I talked her out of it.”
Sherry stared at Pat. “ You talked a player out of quitting camp?”
“Why is that so hard to believe?”
“Miss Let Them Quit— it's saves us from tossing them out, talked a player out of quitting? Yeah, that is hard to believe.”
“Maybe I'm turning a new leaf,” Pat offered.
“Right,” Sherry responded in mock disbelief. “So where is Hudson if you talked her into staying?”
“At the eye doctor's.”
“Seems she has a little problem seeing the basket which might explain why she can't hit it.”
“She can't see?”
“She can see, she just can't focus.”
“I looked at her numbers again. They showed a steady decline from her sophomore year to her senior. Her college coach must not have been paying attention or she would have had her eyes checked.”
“How'd you figure it out? Shoot, how did I miss it?” Sherry asked in frustration.
“Can't see what you're not looking for. We assume players take care of that stuff by themselves. Just goes to prove that we need to remember to look outside the box at times.”#
To Be Continued...
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