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Authors: Matt Christopher,Robert Hirschfeld

Tags: #JUV032020

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BOOK: Slam Dunk
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“No, thanks,” said Julian.

“I’m fine,” Grady said.

Barry just shook his head.

“Well, if there’s anything I can do, just holler,” said Barry’s father. He looked at his son for a moment and left the room.

There was another silence. Grady finally said, “Look, Barry, if you’d rather not have company right now, that’s cool. We don’t have to stick around.”

“No, really. Don’t leave.” Barry took a deep breath. “It may not sound like it, but I’m glad you came over.”

“Okay,” said Julian. “It’s just that you seem down, and if you feel sick, or you got bad news or something, or if you want to talk about anything, that’s okay.”

“Or you don’t have to, you know, if you’d rather not,” added Grady. “But yesterday, you were, like, really happy, and today, well...”

Barry leaned back and closed his eyes. “This whole thing has been like a roller coaster. Way up, and then way down.

“At first it was, ‘Wow, I could’ve been killed in the accident; I’m lucky.’ Then they said, ‘You need this operation,’ which was scary, but I got through it. But then I heard them tell my parents that they weren’t sure I’d walk without crutches ever again.”

“Wow, that must have been.. .” Julian trailed off, unable to imagine what it would have been like.

Barry nodded. “Yeah, but then they operated, and afterward this doctor says, ‘You’ll need crutches for a while, but not for long, and you should be walking without them in a couple of months.’ So I was feeling great about that, and that was when I saw you guys yesterday.

“But this morning, before they let me go home, they said they don’t know yet if my knee will ever be able to handle what they call ‘high-impact’ stuff. Like basketball. So now I’m looking at that, plus this therapy, which isn’t going to be any fun at all. If I sound down, that’s why.”

“I can see how it would get to you,” Grady said. “Not knowing what will happen.”

“Well, I know that therapy will happen,” Barry said. “And it makes me nervous, I guess.”

Julian said, “I’d feel the same way.”

Barry smiled. “But it’s good to talk to someone about this. Sure, I can talk to my folks, but I don’t want them upset, which they would be if I tell them how nervous I am.”

“I bet they’re upset anyway,” said Grady. “But, yeah, I know what you mean.”

Barry shrugged. “Hey, whatever will happen, will happen, but sometimes it gets to me.”

Julian hitched himself forward and looked Barry in the eyes. “I bet you’ll handle the therapy fine. And I bet you’ll play ball again, too. That’s what I think. And you know we’ll be there for you any way we can.”

“Absolutely,” said Grady.

Barry said, “You guys are great.”

“You helped us,” Julian said, “and we’ll be there for you.”

Barry blinked. “Helped you?”

Julian looked at his hands. “When I heard that Max was gone and you were hurt,” he said quietly, “and I was the only starter left from last year, it messed me up. I was all, ‘The team is going to be terrible,’ and ‘I’ll look bad,’ and stuff like that.

“But you turned me around. Seeing you in the hospital, I understood that I was being a jerk, complaining about my little problems. And then you made Grady and me visit you together and work it all out. That’s how you helped me.”

Barry said, “I didn’t really do anything.”

“Sure you did,” Julian insisted. “And we’re going to help you. We’ll be with you all the way. We’ll see that you don’t even think about giving up on yourself.”

“Right!” Grady agreed. “Before you’re finished with your therapy, you’re going to be sick of us. But we’ll be there anyway.”

“And you’ll do what you have to,” said Julian. Barry didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he nodded. “I guess I will.”

“So that’s that,” said Grady. “Um...I think that NBA game may have started. And did I hear someone offering something to drink?”


ractices went on, and the Tornadoes geared up for the game against the Falcons. On Wednesday, Coach Valenti put in a new play that he thought might work for either Len or Anthony, the two best outside shooters among the guards.

“It’s a double screen,” he explained, drawing a diagram on his clipboard. “The center — Julian or Cal — has the ball, and a forward, like you Mick, moves up next to him, here or here.” He pointed to spots just outside the foul line and five feet from the key. “The shooting guard uses the double screen to get loose from his defender, takes the ball from the center, and shoots from fifteen feet.

“We can also use the same setup to start a pick-and-roll, with the center pivoting and going to the basket. Any questions?”

“Will this work against a zone?” asked Grady.

“It should work against either a zone or a man defense,” the coach replied. “If they’re playing man-toman, the screen picks off the defender. If they use a zone, we flood the zone, and someone should be open. Either way, it could be effective. Let’s work on it. Julian, you’re the center. Mick, you set the screen with him. Len, you’re the shooter. Then we’ll try it as a pick-and-roll.”

The three players ran it by themselves first, and Len banked in the shot.

“Good. Cal, Terrell, and Anthony, go in on defense,” said the coach.

Though the double screen gave Len the open shot, the shot missed, and Cal pulled down the rebound when Julian reacted too slowly.

Coach Valenti said, “Julian, when the ball leaves Len’s hands, slide across the key while Mick moves closer to the baseline. Look to block out. Try it again.”

After a few more times, the coach had them try the pick-and-roll version of the play, and then had the offensive trio switch with the defenders so that they could learn the play.

Finally, Coach Valenti said, “Good. Let’s move on. Before we scrimmage, time for a sidestep drill. Julian, did you say something?”

Julian put on his most innocent look. “I was only saying how much I love this drill.”

The coach smiled. “That’s what I thought. Okay, set up!”

After the drill, the coach set up the scrimmage. “Today, I want to try moving from man defense to zone on my signal. Most of the Falcons have worked together for more than a full season; I want to try to rattle them a little and maybe catch them off guard. You boys who played them last year should remember how good their passing game is.”

Julian was teamed with Grady, Len, Mick, and Warren. They started on defense, and the coach signaled them to use a 1–3–1 zone. Brandon brought the ball across the midcourt line, and Grady picked him up. Julian moved down close to the basket, guarding Cal, who settled into the low post just to the right of the key. Brandon fired a hard pass to Roger, who dribbled twice, faked a pass inside, and tossed back to Brandon. Cal kept moving without the ball, shifting back and forth across the key, darting outside, then backing up toward the baseline. Julian stayed between Cal and the basket, making sure he knew where the ball was at all times as it was passed around.

Terrell took a pass from Anthony, quickly flipped the ball to Brandon, and came up next to Cal to set up a double screen. Brandon threw a pass to Cal, whose back was to the basket, and Anthony came up behind the screen. Cal threw Anthony the ball. Len, trying to guard Anthony, couldn’t get through Cal and Terrell.

Cal suddenly turned toward the basket, and Julian recognized the pick-and-roll being set up. Instead of staying with Cal, he took a step toward Anthony and leaped high, arms extended, deflecting Anthony’s pass and then catching the ball. Len immediately broke for the other basket, followed quickly by Mick and Warren. Julian threw the ball to half-court, where Mick took it in full stride. Running as fast as he could, Roger caught up to Mick and tried to poke the ball away. Mick passed to Warren, running to his right. Warren stopped short, ten feet from the basket, and put up a shot that went around the rim and off. Mick was able to grab it and put it through the hoop.

Brandon’s squad scored on its next possession, when Anthony got open against a 3–2 zone and hit a short jumper. Julian got the two points back only fifteen seconds later, taking a beautiful feed from Grady and laying the ball in. At the end of five minutes, Julian felt as if he’d played almost a full game; the end-to-end action had been that intense. He wasn’t even sure which squad had scored the most points.

“Good work, everyone!” the coach called. “Take a breather while I mention a few things.”

The coach pointed out areas to improve, then held up one finger. “One more session before we play the Falcons on Friday. You’ve made a lot of progress, and I want you to keep it up! Get your rest and work on your free throws. See you tomorrow.”

As they changed into street clothes, Grady tapped Julian’s shoulder. “Wasn’t today Barry’s first therapy session? I wonder how it went.”

“We could call and find out,” Julian suggested.

“Or we could ride over there and ask him,” said Grady. “We both have our bikes.”

Julian had called Barry every day but had not seen him since the weekend.

As they rode, Grady said, “I hope it wasn’t too bad.” Julian, who had been thinking the same thing, nodded.

When they rang the bell at the Streeter house, Barry’s mother answered. “Hi, boys. Come on in. I’ll tell Barry you’re here.”

“How did it go today?” asked Grady.

“I’ll let him tell you himself,” said Mrs. Streeter. “I’ll be right back.”

She came back a moment later. “Barry is out back. Go right on through.”

The boys went through the kitchen and out the back door. Barry was sitting on the patio in a lounge chair, his crutches propped up against a nearby table. He turned around and said, “Hey, guys. Pull up those chairs.”

As he grabbed a chair, Julian asked, “How was it?” Barry waited for his visitors to sit. He looked a little pale, Julian thought, but then, Barry hadn’t been outside much lately.

“It was about what I was told it’d be,” Barry said. “Bad.”

“Really?” Grady said.

“Let’s put it this way,” said Barry, shifting his position in the chair with a noticeable effort. “It was tougher than the worst practice session I ever had. This therapist — his name’s Sean — doesn’t let up. We did all this stuff with my leg, with weights, without weights. I was totally wiped out afterward. But...”

He paused for a long moment, until Julian couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Yeah? But

Barry smiled for the first time since their arrival. “But...I
it! I was afraid I’d give up, or have to quit or something. But everything he told me to do, I did. And Sean was satisfied. He said I did good work.”

!” Julian pumped a fist in the air. “That must have felt great!”

Barry said, “It really did. I didn’t know what to expect, except that it would be rough. And it
rough. But I did it! And now I know I’ll be able to do it tomorrow, too. It won’t get easier, because Sean’ll want me to do more reps, use more weight, and so on. But I know that whatever he wants me to do, I can handle it.”

“Fantastic!” said Grady. “When are you coming back to school?”

“Next Monday,” Barry said.

“Are you going to make it to the game on Friday?” Julian asked. “We play the Falcons at four, at their court.”

“I’ll be there,” Barry promised. “The Falcons moved the ball around a lot, if I remember right. Not much height, or at least they didn’t have any really tall guys last year. But they sure could pass.”

Julian nodded. “That’s what the coach says they’ll do this year. And maybe some of them have put on some height. I mean, I’m two inches taller; some of them are probably taller, too.”

“Well, anyway, I’ll be there,” Barry said. “And I’ll stick around for the victory party.”

“Whoa,” Julian said, holding up both hands. “Let’s not take anything for granted.”

Barry laughed. “Okay, then I’ll stick around for the victory party or the consolation party, whichever it is.”

“Tell you what,” Julian said. “Even if we lose, it’s going to be a victory party for

“Cool,” said Barry. “Then I get to decide what kind of pizza we have.”

“It’s a deal,” Grady said.

Julian added, “As long as you don’t get anchovies.”


n Friday afternoon, a little caravan of cars drove the Tornadoes and their fans — mostly the family members who could attend — to the Falcons’ home court. Julian’s parents and Megan came, and Coach Valenti arranged to drive Barry. About a hundred people sat in the bleachers assigned to the Tornado rooters, while there were twice as many cheering for the home team.

As the Tornadoes changed into their black-and-gold uniforms, the coach went around talking to the players individually. To Julian he said, “Don’t worry about pacing yourself too much. I’ll put Cal in whenever you look like you need a breather. And you may be surprised by their starting center — he’s grown quite a bit since last year.”

A referee ducked his head into the room. “We’ll be ready to go in five minutes.”

The coach clapped his hands. “Listen up, everyone. You’re ready for this game. Remember: know where the ball is at all times when you’re on the floor. Talk to each other, especially on defense. Look for my signals from the bench about what defense to play. Have a good game and enjoy yourselves. Let’s warm up.”

Julian led the team out onto the gym floor. The Falcons, wearing light-blue uniforms trimmed in white, were already on the court as the Tornadoes started a layup drill. Julian looked for the opposing center and spotted him quickly. The guy was definitely taller, close to Julian’s height.

Julian decided to focus on the warm-ups and not the opposition. After what seemed like almost no time at all, the ref blew his whistle, and the teams cleared the court. Julian saw his family sitting a couple of rows back, and Megan caught his eye and waved. Barry, in his wheelchair, was sitting in the front row near the Tornado bench. The scoreboard clock showed eight minutes, the length of a quarter.

Coach Valenti waved the team into a huddle. “These guys are a challenge. But you can meet it. Are you ready?”

they yelled in chorus. Down the court, a similar yell went up from the Falcons. Julian saw that the Falcons had twelve players, as opposed to the Tornadoes’ ten. Not a big edge, he decided.

BOOK: Slam Dunk
4.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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