Long ShotBy: Kennedy Ryan
(A HOOPS Novel)
I was there when the levees broke.
Though I was safe in my ward when the monster lost all restraint and unleashed watery havoc on New Orleans, I lived in the city.
I later saw the devastation left in the wake of the beastly storm. We frantically gathered our things, fled our home for higher ground. My family left to survive.
There were those who stayed too long. Remained when they should have fled.
They did not live to regret it.
Now, I’m making the same mistake. I’ve remained when I should have fled.
I witness the exact moment when this monster loses all restraint. His fury, his rage rush at me like a wall of water. Like a gale-force wind, he blows over me.
I am the devastation left in his wake.
As the world goes black, I see stars. A flash of brilliance. A light I should have acknowledged long ago. As the stars dim and the darkness encroaches, I understand I’m like those who stayed too long, blindly assuming their survival.
I fear that I, like them, will not live to regret it.
Tomorrow is my father’s birthday.
Or it would have been. He died fifteen years ago when I was six, but in the biggest moments, the ones that count the most, it feels like he’s with me. And on the eve of the biggest night of my life, I hope he can see me. I hope he’s proud.
Tomorrow’s the most monumental game of my life. By all rights, my ass should be safely tucked away in my hotel room, not out killing time at some dive. I toss back a handful of bar nuts and sip my ginger ale. At the table next to me, they just ordered another round of beers. God, what I wouldn’t give for something strong enough to unwind these pre-game jitters, but I never drink before a game. And tomorrow isn’t just any game.
I glance at my watch. Fifteen minutes late? That’s not Coach Kirby. He’s the promptest man I know. His name flashes across my screen just as I’m considering calling him. I push away the bowl of nuts and the niggling feeling that something must be wrong.
“West, hey.” His voice carries a forced calm that only confirms something’s off. “I know I’m late. Sorry.”
“No, it’s cool. Everything okay?”
“It’s Delores.” His voice cracks over his wife’s name. Basketball is my high school coach’s second love. From the day I met him my freshman year at St. Joseph’s Prep, I knew Delores was his first.
“She … well, we were at the hotel, and she started having chest pains and trouble breathing.” Coach’s worried sigh comes from the other end. “We’re here at the emergency room. They’re running all these damn tests, and—”
“Which hospital?” I’m already on my feet, digging out my wallet to pay the modest bill. “I’m on my way.”
“The hell you are.” The steel that worked all the laziness out of me for four years stiffens his tone. “You’re playing tomorrow night in the National Championship. The last place you need to be is in some hospital waiting room.”
“Is my responsibility, and I’m handling it.”
“But, I can—”
“Your folks get into town yet?” He steamrolls over my protest to close the subject.
“No, sir.” I pause, checking my exasperation. “Matt had to work today. He and my mom are flying in tomorrow.”
“And your stepbrother?”
“He’s stuck in Germany. Some event for one of his clients.” My stepbrother and I may not share blood, but we share a love of sports. Me, on the court. Him, off, as an agent.
“Sorry he won’t be there,” Coach says. “I know how close you two are.”
“It’s alright.” I play off my disappointment. “I’ve got my mom and Matt. And you, of course.”
“Sorry I can’t make it to the bar, though why your ass wanted to go out the night before the big dance in the first place is beyond me.”
“I know, Coach. I just needed …” What do I need? I know the playbook inside and out and have watched so much film my eyes started crossing.
I’m restless tonight. Years of sacrifice, mine and my family’s, have gotten me here. And I couldn’t have done it without the man on the other end of the line. Coach has invested a lot in me over the last eight years, even after I graduated high school and moved on to college. When scouts and analysts urged me to go pro a year early, he convinced me to stay and finish my degree. To shore up my fundamentals and mature before going to the draft. But the man who passed his DNA on to me—his wingspan, his big hands, his long, lean body, and I guess even his love for the game—is the one I keep thinking about tonight.