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The day after the game against the Guardians was an important one for the Mustang players. Each one had their internal struggle after realizing that they simply weren’t good enough to go against the Experts, and how they each dealt with that was an essential part of growing as players.

 

Khris was sluggish the entire day. Kory had stayed home because he felt sick, so Khris came alone to school. He didn’t have any classes with the Chase twins or Michael, and everyone else on the team was older than him, so he was all alone during every class, not able to focus on his classes. Luckily for him, he was still a very smart kid, though not considered a genius like his brother. But, throughout the entire day, all he could see was the image of Tyrell blocking his shot, regardless of whatever he did. After a full summer of work, he still couldn’t go up against Tyrell. He couldn’t even shake off the pressure he had felt in that match. Did everybody surpass him? Or was Tyrell on an entirely new level? These questions haunted him. The only interaction Khris had throughout the day was during junior lunch, which the grade nine and grade ten students shared. Khris and Daryll usually ate lunch together with Kory, but it was just the two of them this day.

 

Daryll wasn’t as sad as the other students, but he was still in shock of the sheer skill of the Fletchers. Daryll was the only one in grade ten, so he also had nobody he talked to in his classes. On his mind for the whole day was the feeling that he got from Tyrell near the end of the game. The fact that even the audience could feel pressure from one player, to the point that they couldn’t even cheer past light applause, it terrified Daryll. He already knew that he wasn’t the best player, so seeing people better than him wasn’t anything new. But knowing that there were kids way past the high school level just now entering high school was something that he simply found hard to believe, despite seeing it.

 

While Daryll and Khris sat across from each other in the cafeteria at lunch, Daryll got a notification on his phone. He pulled out an old flip phone, which caught Khris off guard.

 

“How old is that phone?” Khris asked, slightly amused at the sight.

 

“I don’t know. My dad gave it to me when I came into high school,” Daryll looked at his message, and then put the phone away without responding. “I didn’t realize until halfway through the year how behind I was with technology.”

 

“Can you even connect to the internet with that thing?” Khris laughed.

 

“We don’t have the internet at home. Or cable. People usually ask about cable and satellite next. None of that. Our farm is practically tech-free.” Daryll had a smile while he spoke, clearly not ashamed of it.

 

“Well, how’d you hear about basketball then?” Khris leaned on the table, clearly interested.

 

“My uncle. At a family reunion, he noticed that I was overweight, so he showed my basketball as a way for me to be active. It became something we played every time we saw each other,” Daryll ate a bite of his food.

 

“Will he be at any games?”

 

“No. He died last year after the season ended. He kept telling me to keep at it and not quit, even though the coach only played the kids in grade twelve. I was ecstatic when Kazu told me we had a new coach,” Daryll didn’t wipe the smile off his face, clearly remembering the good times with his uncle, rather than his loss.

 

“Oh… My condolences,” Khris wasn’t sure what to say about that.

 

“Why don’t you tell me why you play?” Daryll smiled at Khris.

 

“Let’s not get into that quite yet,” Khris immediately stuffed his face with food.

 

The little distraction that the conversation gave did help both of their moods. Daryll was able to speak freely and happily about his uncle, while Khris immediately understood why Daryll will be able to face every member of the Experts. Someone who knows that others are better than them, yet still loves the game and keeps playing no matter what, that's a teammate that Khris loved having.

 

Michael’s day was easily the loneliest of the entire team. As opposed to Khris and Daryll, who have each other, and the Chase twins, Michael was yet to get any friends at the school. He never sat with anybody at lunch, and never talked to anybody in the class. Even though he shares a few classes with the Chase twins, separately, he never talked to them outside of practice. Normally, this wouldn’t bother him, but after what happened at the Guardians game, he just wanted somebody to talk to.

 

At junior lunch, Michael sat alone at a table near the corner of the cafeteria. At this time, he noticed that Daryll and Khris were sitting together. He fought internally with himself for whether he wanted to go and sit with them or not. He had never talked with them outside of practice, and he questioned whether they would take a liking to him or not. On the court, he’s completely confident, knowing that he could take on anybody. Off the court, he was just a kid who wanted people to admire him for his skills and wanted his father’s attention. He saw no qualities of himself that would make people like him without impressing them with basketball. After thinking of all of this, despite his desire for people to talk to, he decided to stay there alone.

 

Lionel and Lory had the advantage of having each other throughout the day. Not every class was with each other, but most classes were. Lory was the more social of the two, spending most of his class time chatting with any girl he could in the class. This was his way of keeping his mind off of the game. Lory was one of the few that didn’t interact with Tyrell throughout the game, but seeing his brother so utterly devastated brought his mood down completely. The fact that he couldn’t help his brother deal with this, both on and off the court, only made the matter worse.

 

Lory had one class with Rachel, but she sat on the opposite end of the room from him. Throughout his class with her, he tried to get her attention, even acting up in class and getting into trouble just so she could notice him. Despite all his efforts, however, the only time she looked at him was with a disgusted face. During his walk to his next class, all he could think about was the fact that she wouldn’t give him the time of day. All those thoughts and concerns left, however, when he walked into his next class ad started flirting with another girl.

 

Lionel had his way of dealing with things. After hearing about the tournaments the night before, he had gone and searched up all the schools that would be participating, trying to find out if any Experts were going to be at the tournament, especially the Fletchers. He learned that two teams with Experts would be at the first tournament, each team having two Experts. Lionel completely drowned himself in thoughts of beating them throughout the day, not being able to focus in any classes.

 

During his last class before junior lunch, science, the teacher wanted every student to pair up for an experiment in the class. Lory wasn’t in this class, nor were any teammates, so Lionel wasn’t sure of who’d he pair with. That’s when he got a tap on his shoulder, with Taylor standing behind him, smiling.

 

“So, like, want to be partners?” She looked at him directly in the eyes.

 

“No.” Lionel’s response was quick and stern, not even entertaining the thought of pairing with Taylor for the experiment. But, when Lionel looked around for anyone else, he saw that everyone was already paired up. He took a deep breath, turning around and seeing Taylor still standing there smiling at him.

 

“So, like, we’re the only two not paired up,” Taylor put up a peace sign and winked. “I promise that I’m good at the whole science thing.”

 

Lionel face-palmed, walking with Taylor to one of the experiment stands. Today they were dissecting frogs. Every pair got a paper with instructions that they had to do. Lionel grabbed the scalpel and began cutting open the frog, not being able to resist the urge to speak up.

 

“This is disgusting.” He muttered.

 

Taylor took the scalpel from Lionel and took over the dissection, not hesitating in the slightest.

 

“So, like, you were really cool yesterday. I’ve only ever seen a few basketball games, but even I can tell that you’re really good,” Taylor didn’t stop looking at the frog while she spoke, so she didn’t see that Lionel’s face completely changed when she mentioned the game. Immediately, all he thought about was being unable to stop Tyrell.

 

“It was a practice game. Real games are different. Plus, we got destroyed” His voice was quiet.

 

Taylor may have been focusing on the experiment, but she could tell that Lionel was hurting. She still didn’t look at him, and instead wrote stuff down for the experiment, but she could read him without seeing him.

 

“Failure just means you have to train harder,” Taylor kept her voice soft. Lionel looked at Taylor, noticing her short stature, mentally guessing that Taylor was found five-foot-three.

 

“I don’t think I’ll ever reach that level, no matter how much I train,” Lionel was surprised that he said more than one sentence to Taylor, considering his first impression of her was that she was nothing but an annoyance.

 

“When my team lost a game, all I did was train harder on how we could work together better. We ended up coming in third when I was in grade eight. Sure we didn’t win it all, but we did beat the teams that had better players because we were a better team,” Taylor finished writing, looking up at Lionel, a smile on her face again. “All done the experiment. Told you I was good at this science thing.”

 

Lionel gave Taylor a confused look.

 

“You play basketball?” He asked, showing a bit of interest.

 

“Volleyball. I’ll be trying out for the team this year.” Taylor had a confident smirk on her face, looking directly into Lionel. But, after hearing that Taylor was talking about volleyball instead of basketball, Lionel completely lost interest in the conversation.

 

“Thanks for doing the frog stuff.” Lionel looked down at the dissected amphibian, which Taylor immediately noticed him avoiding the eye contact.

 

“So, like, I’ll be at your games this year. When I don’t have volleyball tryouts or practice. I hope you can make some of mine.” Yet again, Taylor put up a peace sign and winked. However, Lionel didn’t even look at her and instead used the spare class time to pull out his folder and study up on the Experts that will be at the first tournament. Taylor sighed, grabbing the paper and handing it to the teacher, and then she stayed on her phone until class ended.

 

During junior lunch, the twins sat with each other, as usual. Lory noticed that Lionel had drowned himself in the book again.

 

“Did you find out what Experts were going to be at the tournament?” Lory asked, trying to get Lionel to communicate with him.

 

“Yeah! I was up almost all night searching up rosters and pictures. After I found their names, I’ve spent all day studying their pages in this folder. I got their names, ranks, strengths, and weaknesses! These games won’t be like yesterday.” Lionel had pure excitement in his voice. But Lory knew better. Lory knew that the excitement was simply Lionel hiding the pain he was still in.

 

“Tell me about them then,” Lory smiled. Lionel looked up at Lory to see if he was really interested. After a second of studying his brother’s face, Lionel went on his ramble about the Experts at the next tournament.

 

“Macbeth and The Heart are on a team. I recognize Macbeth, but I can’t remember where. Macbeth is ranked seventh, The Heart is ranked eleventh. Macbeth is a scorer, but not quite like Tyrone. He passes more and knows his teammates after a few minutes with them. Also says here that he’s a great actor. Don’t know what that has to do with basketball. The Heart is a small center that is great at rebounds, passing, and blocking. They’ll be tough to beat. Did you get all that?” Lionel looked up at Lory, who was looking back at him.

 

“Uh-huh, so a team that, I guess, moves the ball a lot?” Lory tried to keep up with everything Lionel said, as Lionel was talking fast.

 

“Great! The other team consists of High-Rise and Dilly-Dally. Ranked thirteenth and fourteenth respectively. They're both really—“ As Lionel was about to get deep into his ramble again, Lory cut him off.

 

“Lionel, stop. I’m worried about you,” Lory reached forward and grabbed the folder. “You’ve become obsessed with that folder and these Experts ever since summer camp! We need to focus on us and our games. You’re spending more time thinking about them than you are about actual basketball,”

 

“I don’t want to lose anymore. Humiliated over summer, and destroyed yesterday, I won’t do this,” Lionel snatched the folder back.

 

Lory stood up, grabbing his bag. He couldn’t stand to see Lionel obsessing over this so much after only meeting half of them.

 

“This isn’t the way to get over it. I agree that we can’t lose like that and that we will get the Experts back, but this can’t control your entire day. You’re in high school, man. Don’t let this consume your entire high school life,” Lory patted Lionel on the shoulder as he walked passed him and left the cafeteria.

 

Despite Lory leaving, Lionel stayed and continued reading the pages on the four Experts that would be going to the first tournament, only closing the file when junior lunch ended. But, throughout the entire lunch period, Taylor was watching from a distance. Rachel didn’t want to sit next to the brothers, so Taylor didn’t go either, but she was concerned for Lionel, knowing what he was going through.

 

Like Lory, Kazu didn’t get to interact with Tyrell much during the game, or any of the other Fletchers. Due to this, he wasn’t as affected as the others, but he was still greatly affected by losing so much and being so useless in his first high school game, even if it was a practice game. Kazu was an above-average student, who focused almost completely on school. The only time he ever didn’t think about school was when he played basketball. But, after the devastation from the day before, Kazu drowned himself in his studies. Using that entire night to get ahead in all of his classes, studying deeper into the textbooks, and even doing assignments that weren’t due for weeks.

 

Throughout the day, instead of acting as down as he felt, Kazu paid extra close attention in class, asking the teachers after each period what he could do to get ahead in the class, citing his extracurriculars taking most of his free time as the reason he wants to get ahead.

 

Finally, Russ was easily the most devastated of every member of the team. He got utterly destroyed by Tyrone throughout the game and achieved absolutely nothing on offence for his team. Russ was the guy that talked the most, so he felt like he let his team down the most, especially as the oldest member of the team. He was also hurt that he couldn’t cheer up anybody on the team after the game, despite his efforts. Despite all this, however, Russ also handled his devastation the best out of everybody. Instead of letting it eat him alive, Russ went home and immediately started training on his basketball hoop in his driveway. He took over a thousand shots that night, using the loss as motivation to get better.

 

Throughout his day, Russ thought only of ways to improve himself. Russ was a decent student, able to make the eighty percent average with ease, but struggles to find the motivation to go beyond that. Due to this, he was able to spend most of his class time making his own training regimen in order to improve his skills, but he wasn’t sure how to improve them immediately. He knew he wanted to be a useful person before he graduated that year, so he had to develop faster than anybody else on the team.

 

During senior lunch, Russ and Kazu ate together, a tradition they started after meting on the basketball team two years prior. They rarely ever talked about basketball, however, since neither played in actual games before the current year. This time, however, neither couldn’t help but bring it up.

 

“How do you feel?” Russ asked while stuffing his mouth with a cupcake.

 

“I might miss practice tonight. I have a lot of work I have to do, but if I miss practice, I can have it done by the end of the night,” Kazu was reading one of his class textbooks as he spoke.

 

“I don’t think the team would appreciate that. Come tonight, you can split the work and finish tomorrow,” Russ stuffed another cupcake in his mouth. Kazu slammed his textbook down, visibly frustrated.

 

“No! As of tomorrow, every waking second will be about training. But, in order to do that to the best of my ability, I need to be able to focus solely on training!” Kazu had an intensity in his voice and his eyes that Russ hasn’t seen in him before.

 

“I get it, but an extra day won’t hurt. Missing practice is also the dumbest conclusion you could have come to. You’re practicing tonight and that’s final. Split the work,” Russ had calmness in his voice in order to calm Kazu down. This didn’t work.

 

“Don’t talk to me like you’re better!” Having said it loudly, a lot of other students looked at Kazu, who immediately regretted bringing so much attention to himself. He sheepishly lifted his book over his face and softened his voice. “Sorry, I’ll be there tonight.”

 

Russ simply sighed, happy with the result but disappointed that it came the way that it did. There were no more words spoken that lunch.

 

When the school day ended and it was time for practice, everybody showed up on time. Russ gave Kazu a thumbs up when he saw him walk into the gym. Coach lined all the players up to give his pre-practice speech.

 

“Alright, I know everyone is still feeling it from yesterday, but that was yesterday. This isn’t the time to be thinking about the past. We have two weeks to get ready for the tournament. So, we’ll be working on offensive and defensive sets, along with strengthening each individual’s best skills. I want you all to perfect your craft before learning anything else. This way, we can set an offence and defence in stone that works with everyone’s strengths and hides weaknesses until we get to the point where we can erase those weaknesses. Everyone take a few laps and stretch to warm up your bodies. Keep your heads up, let’s go,” Coach kept a calm voice the entire time, trying to be gentle with the team that day. He clapped his hands at the end of the speech, and the practice began.

 

Throughout the entire practice, Daryll and Lionel noticed that Khris wasn’t completely himself. Usually, those three would keep pace with each other in drills, but on this day, Khris was lagging behind them. He was still in front of Kazu, however. It wasn’t completely obvious, as only Daryll and Lionel noticed it because it was different for them to be ahead of him. Lionel was too busy thinking about how he would shape up against other Experts, so he didn’t bother doing anything about it. Daryll, on the other hand, pulled Khris aside in between drills.

 

“What’s wrong with you? Did the game affect you that much?” Daryll asked, visibly and audibly concerned.

 

“No… No, I’m just tired today. I’ll try to pick it up. Don’t worry about me, okay? Let’s hit a new gear,” Khris patted Daryll on his shoulder, smiling, but Daryll could tell that something was off. But, since Khris was obviously not going to tell him, he decided to assume it was just some leftover sadness from the day before, and that Khris would get over it.

 

When practice ended, Coach lined up the team again for the closing remarks of practice.

 

“I see that there was no reason for concern. You guys picked it up today, all of you. So, take a knee,” Everyone followed Coach's order, kneeling down. Coach kneeled as well. “I did some research on our opponents. If we keep the energy we had today, we shouldn’t have any problems being able to beat most of the teams in the first tournament. The problem would be the Experts that are going. Their titles were Macbeth, The Heart, High-Rise, and Dilly-Dally. I’ll see if Kory can get files to the rest of you. I want us to win this tournament to announce to everyone that we’re the real deal and that the game against the Guardians was just a case of us not being prepared for Experts. I believe in this team, and I hope you do too. Any remarks, guys?”

 

“Yeah, I got something,” Khris raised his hand. “So, the worst thing you guys can do is make any of the Experts mad. You saw how Tyrone became unbeatable when he got mad. But, the thing that can make most of them mad the easiest would be to call them by their nicknames if they don’t like their nicknames. Not everybody likes them. In this case, The Heart and Dilly-Dally don’t like their names. Call The Heart by his name, Robin. Dilly-Dally’s name is Trent. Do not, and I can’t stress this enough, do not call them by their nicknames, understand?”

 

“Those names sucked anyways,” Russ laughed. Everyone else got a light chuckle out of that comment. Russ stood up and stretched out a hand forward. “Alright, everyone put your hands in!”

 

Everyone on the team stood and stretched their hands out, putting them on top of each other as Russ started the team chant.

 

“Whose house?”

 

“Our house!”

 

“Whose house?”

 

“Our house!”

 

“Whose house?

 

“Our house!”

 

“Now let’s get it!”

 

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH”

 

With that final chant, the practice ended, and everyone knew what the team was going to work on for the next couple of weeks. Everyone was focused on being prepared for the first tournament, and this time they knew that the Experts were worth every bit of hype that they got in the press.

 

Meanwhile, Manny had gone to visit Macbeth at his practice, arriving as the players were walking out. When Macbeth realized that Manny was there, he immediately ran to Robin and pulled him over to deal with Manny.

 

“Han, good to see you, buddy.” Manny was as cocky as ever.

 

“You don’t have my permission to call me that, Villain. I don’t want my name coming out of that slimy mouth of yours,” Macbeth responded.

 

“Oh? I must’ve forgotten. What was your nickname again?” Manny had a sly smirk on his face. Macbeth was clearly bothered. This was when Robin got in between them, looking down at Manny, his muscular frame covered Manny in a shadow.

 

“You. Leave. Now.” Robin’s voice was deep and stern.

 

“Still never putting together a full sentence, huh Heart?” Manny patted Robin on his shoulder. “It’s a good thing you’re athletic, your brain isn’t getting you anywhere. Or, do you even have one?”

 

“What do you want, Villain?” Macbeth poked his head around Robin, glaring at Manny.

 

“I just wanted to see you guys, is that so bad? Old friends reuniting?” Manny smiled a sadistic smile.

 

“We. No. Friends.” Robing snarled at Manny.

 

“Oh?” Manny wiped the smile off his own face. “I just wanted to make sure you two were on the same page. I need you guys to draw Kory out of the stands for me, so you two need to beat the Mustangs to a level that it’s unimaginable. Otherwise, you’re both disgraces to the Expert name, if you aren’t already.”

 

“After the Guardian game, what makes you think beating them will make Kory play? Stop wasting our time,” Macbeth grabbed Robin by the arm, pulling him away from Manny, trying to leave. Manny didn’t speak up to stop them, instead gently talking to himself.

 

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll get the job done. Kory will have to play by the time they face me.” Manny had that sadistic smile back on his face as he watched Macbeth and Robin leave.

 

Will the Mustangs be prepared for the four Experts they may have to face in the tournament? Is there any way to actually prepare to face the Experts? Come back and see if these questions will be answered!

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A note from TheMagnificentOne

Next Time: The Calm Before The Storm


About the author

TheMagnificentOne

Bio: Hi everybody! My name is TheMagnificentOne, but you can call me Mag. I am a film program graduate and want to try book writing instead of continuing scriptwriting. I usually write stories about sports, superheroes, or war. It's my dream to create comic books in the future, despite my inability to draw. I hope you all enjoy the stories I write and stay Magnificent everyone!

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