The Writing’s on the Wall

Shauquan has been practicing lay-ups for weeks and is hoping to make the basketball team this year.
Shaquan misses his shot during basketball tryouts.

Coach had Terrell show us how to do a lay-up, and then put us in a line. As each kid moved to the front, Coach passed us a ball, and we did our best to imitate Michael Jordan’s hottest moves and send the ball through the hoop. Then we’d head to the back of the line to do it all over again. Coach was watching each lay-up and passing balls to the next kid, all at the same time. We sometimes said that Coach had eyes in the back of his head.

I stood there wishing the drumming sound I heard was the dribbling of basketballs, but it was really the pounding of my heart. How come it was beating in my head between my ears instead of in my chest where it belonged? My turn. Deep breath. Concentrate. Dribble, don’t rush. The ball leaves my fingers, and sails toward the hoop. I hold my breath, watching. Rim shot. I laugh like it was nothing and move to the end of the line for another chance to humiliate myself.

Even though I’ve been practicing for weeks, working with my dad, getting pointers from Terrell, on my next turn I did the exact same thing. The third time I repeated this smooth move, Coach looked at me, shook his head just a little, and said, “See you next year.” He said it quietly, but I knew everyone heard him.

That was it. Tryouts were over. At least, they were for me.

The rest of the players kept up the drill as I headed for the locker room. I passed Terrell at the end of the line, and he said, low, “That’s aight, man.”

The next morning, the list of team names was taped to the cinderblock wall outside the gym. Everyone was gathered around, pointing and squinting at the tiny letters, seeing who was in and who was out. I didn’t need to look. I wished I’d never even tried out for basketball. I knew how it would all work out. Terrell would be the captain, Ricky would play forward, and I’d be sitting in the bleachers with the other kids, munchin’ on popcorn and trying to look happy.