Maëlys is my hero. She loves Basketball:
The gym was empty. Every Friday afternoon it was silent. It still smelt of sweaty boys. The good thing was that when the girls came in to play it changed the dank odour to something a little more pleasant. I jogged the length of the hall, just hearing my feet bouncing on the floor then I jump stopped at the end hearing the pleasant squeak of shoes on wood. I pivoted and jogged back to repeat the motion. Then I did some slides and the squeaking was louder. Mice in my trainers? The sounds of basketball thrilled me. Squeaking of shoes swish of ball through net, high fives, low fives, all the shorthand language we used to communicate with each other. The sounds and then the sights, ball hitting the floor and bodies diving for it, clipping the ring and bodies leaping for it. The contact under the basket as we fought for position, the elbows in the tummy or in the head were almost acceptable if you could get the ball then there was the feeling of serenity I had when I held the ball and the game in my hands. When I was in control and no one could take it away from me. The feeling of being the one who could make the difference. I loved that though I knew it wasn’t all about me, but sometimes I just felt I could do anything and beat anyone it was amazing. I wiped some sweat from my eyes and blinked. I found a ball and started to dribble down the court, ball through the legs, spin moves, round the back moves, changing hands, retreat dribbles, all the moves I could remember, some taught some I had learnt from watching TV. I wanted the ball to be part of me. Back in Wales I would dribble the ball to school and dribble home with it. Using both hands, always wanting to get better. I did look a little odd I remembered, dribbling in the rain, or dodging snowballs as I pounded it into the pavement in the blizzards until it would just stick on the floor and make me laugh. Then it would be off to the park and shooting after school with friends, best in the sunshine of course but shooting in all weather. I reckoned some times that I had the best wet weather shot in Wales. Not too practical, but it did improve my touch. After about ten minutes of speed dribbles and fancy dribbles I stopped and took a breath. I rested my hands on my knees and watched the sweat drip onto the floor. Better avoid that spot I thought. I rolled a few more balls over to just outside the arc and started to work on my three point shot. I span the ball, took a jab step or a fake, bounced the ball to the side, squared up and shot. Nothing but net! The ball rolled back to me after the back spin I had put onto it kicked in, I repeated the move, jab, step, square up, score. Then I added a fake, a jab, the step. It was continuous, smooth, always relentless. If I wanted to get better I had to do this, but I loved doing this, here in the gym I could escape everything, it was just me and the ball. Ball and the net, ball through the net. It was perfect, I could relax and concentrate at the same time, there was no pressure unless I put it on myself. If I wanted to get eight out of ten, that was pressure and I could feel my heart beat increase as I neared my target. I could hear my heartbeat, it was weird. If I failed in my goal it was only me I was failing, but in a game it would be everyone, so it was important not to fail when it really mattered. So I had to be clear and cool. I had to concentrate, but I also had to be loose. There was no point in being tight and missing. I had to learn how to score, learn how to make the shot. I knew I could do this and my practice reinforced it. I had to be like a machine, I had to be calm. A calm robot, that’s weird! I wiped my forehead again and looked at the ring, swish again. Loved it!
To finish off I went through my free throw routine. This was a real learnt experience. Same process every time. Feet in the right place, spin the ball, look at the ring, line up the logo. Never shoot the ball, always score. If you thought about it as a shot you would miss. I thought of it as a score everythime. That’s why my percentage was so high. I scored. I never shot! Dadda had impressed that us on us, he would never say ‘take the shot’ he would say ‘shoot the basket’ it was always positive, you expected to score. He would say don’t ever shoot if you don’t expect to score. He was very clear; you only shot the basket if you were going to score the basket. We had a high scoring percentage. We didn’t take stupid shots, we took scoring shots. Always. And it started here in the gym, routine and practice. Sweat and hard work. Swish and score.