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“Wait until half. We can handle the rest of this quarter, so save your energy,” Xavier said to High-Rise, who was bothered with how the game was going.

 

Xavier could tell that High-Rise was getting angry, not being able to stop Trent from quitting the game. However, everyone except High-Rise knew that there was nothing High-Rise could do to stop Trent. That was the risk the team took by recruiting someone who wasn’t focused on basketball. Xavier tried his best to keep Trent in line, but with their first encounter with another Expert, the Mustangs knew how to push the right buttons to make Trent lose the motivation and ability to continue the game. It was a wake-up call for the Krakens, seeing that the Experts’ weaknesses can be exposed by other Experts easily. Xavier didn’t want High-Rise to burn himself out too quickly and wanted an entire half of High-Rise at his best, so he pushed for High-Rise to only shoot in emergencies.

 

With High-Rise staying quiet the remainder of the half, the Mustangs pulled ahead. When the halftime buzzer sounded, the Mustangs had sixty-five points, while the Krakens only had forty points. The Mustang players gathered around Coach during the half, awaiting instructions.

 

“Lionel, how do you feel? Tired out?” Coach asked.

 

“I can finish this game,” Lionel responded.

 

Despite Lionel’s response, Coach could see the sweat all over Lionel. Lionel had played a big role in the game before this, so it would make sense that he was tired. Coach turned his attention to Russ.

 

“How are you? I noticed you started to slow down near the end of the quarter,” Coach asked Russ.

 

“I’m fine,” Russ kept his response short, hiding his deep breaths. However, both Michael and Coach picked up on the exhaustion.

 

“Michael, how are you? You’ve been running a lot today,” Coach asked.

 

“I’ll survive. You need at least Russ or me out there. You don’t have the players to bench us both. I’ll take the third quarter and try to help run up the score,” Michael knew exactly what his father was thinking. Coach nodded in response, then turned to Khris.

 

“I know Michael will be out there, but you’re going to be the focus of the offence this quarter. We sat you out the most in-game one so you won’t be too tired,” Coach said, concern clear in his voice, which Michael picked up on. Though Michael didn’t like his father picking someone else to take the lead over him, he did appreciate that it was mostly out of concern for his health.

 

“Do you mind if I slow down the game, then? Give the guys on the court more time to catch their breath?” Khris asked.

 

“I was going to ask you to. With such a small roster, playing two games in a day isn’t ideal for us, but we can manage. So, here’s my plan. Kazu and Lory, you’re both in. Michael, you take this quarter but keep it manageable. Only push when you need to. Daryll, you’re back in. Take the ball up sometimes so Khris can have rest as well. Khris, you’re taking point this quarter. Keep it slow because I don’t want to have to take you out in the next quarter. Ready? Break!” After Coach’s words, everyone except Kory went out to war up for the second half.

 

Kory watched the team, almost wanting to walk on to the court and take a few shots for fun. His legs started twitching again, as his urge only grew. However, Manny was back in the stands, which Kory noticed. His body stopped moving immediately, and he no longer wanted to play.

 

Soon the buzzer rang, signaling the start of the second half. The Mustang lineup that Coach talked about walked out. On the Kraken side, Trent was still absent from the lineup. Michael tapped Khris’s shoulder.

 

“So Russ learned the trick to Trent’s shot and suddenly he quits? How is he an Expert?” Michael asked.

 

“Height, shooting, jumping, and his consistency. However, he slacked off too much. He’s not worth the Expert name anymore in my book,” Khris responded.

 

Khris brought up the ball, noticing that the defence hasn’t changed. Just as he had done throughout the game, he dribbled himself away from Quinn and shot the ball. The ball went perfectly in the basket, satisfying Khris.

 

When Connor brought the ball up for the Krakens, Kazu put as much pressure as he could onto High-Rise. Kazu did his best to cut off every passing lane, but it was all for nothing. High-Rise stuck his arm up ad high as he could, and Connor tossed him the ball at a height that nobody else could reach. As soon as High-Rise got the ball, he turned and faded away from the basket, shooting and scoring easily. Despite Kazu jumping as high as he could, he couldn’t even come close to High-Rise’s height.

 

When Khris brought the ball back up, he noticed that Michael was a little slower to get on offence. Khris also noticed that Kazu was limping a bit. Khris glanced at Daryll, who was being guarded closely by Connor. Seeing no other option, Khris shot another three, making it.

 

As Kazu ran back on defence, he collapsed onto the floor, holding his left ankle. The refs immediately halted the game, as the nearby on-court medic came to check on Kazu.

 

“Ankle sprain. Take him off the court so I can check the severity,” The medic said.

 

Lory and Lionel helped Kazu off the court, and a referee timeout was called over the injury. The Mustang team surrounded Coach.

 

“Alright. Lionel, you’re back in,” Coach stated. “Take it easy on the scoring. Let Khris handle it. You’ll only shoot in the case of an emergency. Lory, you’re guarding High-Rise. Ready? Break!”

 

The timeout ended, and the Mustangs went back onto the court.

 

Connor brought the ball up for the Krakens, and just like before, he passed it right to High-Rise. Just like Kazu had before, Lory jumped as high as he could to stop High-Rise, but it was a waste. High-Rise shot and scored easily.

 

Khris brought the ball up for the Mustangs, looking at his team’s offence. Lionel stood in the corner, and Michale was in the other corner. Lory was right next to the pain, positioning himself for rebounds. Daryll stayed slightly off to the side, still near the top of the paint. Nobody was moving, so Khris had to score by himself again. Three-points.

 

This is how the entire quarter went. Khris and High-Rise trades points, with neither team being able to defend an Expert. Despite this, the Mustangs had the advantage. Khris was always scoring three-pointers, while High-Rise only shot two-pointers. At the end of the third quarter, the Mustangs had ninety-eight points, while the Krakens had sixty-two points. The mustang team surrounded Coach, but Lory was completely exhausted.

 

“Coach, I don’t know if I can continue. My legs are killing me from jumping so much and so hard. They sting,” Lory announced, clutching both his legs.

 

“Quinn stopped trying halfway through the quarter. I think he was saving his energy knowing he couldn’t stop me,” Khris added.

 

“I’m starting to feel better. Rested a lot since their captain didn’t do much,” Michael chimed in.

 

“I can go back in. I’ll handle High-Rise,” Russ spoke up.

 

“Fine. Lory, you’re out. Russ, you’re in. You’ll be undersized, so hopefully, you can manage. As for Kazu, it’s a Grade 1 sprain. He might be recovered next week, but there are no promises. Let’s win this for him. Ready? Break!” Coach announced as the buzzer for the final quarter rang.

 

Lory went to sit on the neck as the team went out to the court, almost collapsing onto the bench. Kory leaned over to speak to him.

 

“Two games where you were the primary rebounder, and in one, you faced a dude who can effortlessly score. I’m impressed you survived so long. Don’t get down on yourself,” Kory stated. Lory couldn’t respond, just anger on his face at the fact that he had to sit out of the game.

 

The Krakens brought up the ball and went with the same play as they did throughout the third quarter. However, when Russ went to jump to defend High-Rise’s shot, his legs wouldn’t move, as he fell to the ground as well. High-Rise scored the basket, and the refs called another referee timeout.

 

Khris and Michael ran over to help Russ stand, but Russ couldn’t stay on his feet. Just like Lory, he was exhausted. Khris and Michael helped him to the bench and he sat down.

 

“Dad, what are we going to do? we have nobody left to come in,” Michael stated. Coach looked at Russ.

 

“Pushing yourself so had against the salmons and Trent must’ve got you. Guess we’ll have to forfeit,” Coach stated. “No more players means—“

 

“Wait,” Kory cut Coach off. “I’ll go in for this quarter. Just to fill up space, though. You all worked so hard, I can’t let the game end like this.”

 

Khris’s eyes widened, a dumb smile appeared on his face. Coach nodded at Kory’s words.

 

“Fine. Lionel, you guard High-Rise, but don’t push yourself too hard. As long as they can’t stop Khris, we’ll be good. Ready? Break!” Coach stated as the timeout ended.

 

Manny, still watching from the stands, stood up in excitement when he saw Kory walk onto the floor.

 

“Oh? Will we see The Quitter or the Genius today?” Manny said to himself.

 

Khris brought up the ball for the Mustangs and saw that the defence changed. Connor and Quinn doubled Khris, while High-Rise covered the ground between Lionel and Daryll. Kory stood in the corner, not moving. Khris tried to dribble around the double team, but Connor was able to steal the ball and start a fast break for the Krakens.

 

Khris chased Connor, but instead of Connor going for a layup, he passed the ball to his side where Quinn was waiting at the three-point line. Quinn shot and made the basket, smirking at Khris after the shot went in.

 

Khris brought the ball up again, and the same thing happened. The same thing kept happening over and over again. When Khris tried to pass it to Lionel or Daryll, High-Rise was right there to block every shot attempt. For three solid minutes, the Mustangs could not score. The Krakens, however, scored as much as they want. The point gap was closing fast. With seven minutes left in the game, the Mustangs had ninety-eight still, while the Krakens score shot up to eighty-four points. Coach Riley called a timeout.

 

“Alright, we need to change it up. We can’t let them come back in the game. Daryll, you take the ball up now. Khris, run off-ball. Everybody, set screens for each other as we go forward. Choking is not an option today! Ready? Break!” Coach announced.

 

The Mustangs brought up the ball, Daryll handling the ball himself. However, Connor and Quinn double teamed Khris still, while Xavier guarded Daryll. High-Rise stayed in between Lionel and Michael, watching them both. Trent’s replacement, number seven, watched Kory. Daryll passed the ball to Lionel, who was immediately guarded by High-Rise. Michael cut to the rim, and Lionel passed it to him. Michael went up for the layup, but High-Rise was behind him and blocked the shot. High-Rise got the rebound, tossing the ball up to number seven, who got the layup. High-Rise looked down at Michael, determination on his face. Michael recognized the look, as he had it earlier in the game. He muttered to himself.

 

“He’s on fire,” Michael said, annoyed. Michael knew that High-Rise was at his best, and Michael wasn’t going to be able to score.

 

Kory watched, studying the Kraken defence. He looked hard for each crack he could find. When Daryll brought the ball up next, Kory watched Lionel set a screen on Quinn, but Quinn easily got around the weak screen, continuing to double team Khris with Connor. When Daryll tried to pass the ball to Lory, Connor jumped out and stole the pass, getting another layup.

 

Ten-point difference between the Mustangs and the Krakens. Six and a half minutes left. Kory called a timeout. The team huddled around Coach, but Kory was the one to speak.

 

“I’ll give you guys the rest of this game. Meaning, let me handle the ball. Just run around, get away from each other, and keep your arms ready for a pass if I decide to give it to you,” Kory stated.

 

“Ah, The Genius arrives?” Khris asked.

 

“No, I haven’t played basketball in two years. I’m not going to be how I was before. However, I think my muscle memory should kick in. I should be enough to finish this run they’re on,” Kory answered.

 

“Fine, let’s see what you can do,” Coach responded. “Ready? Break!”

 

As the Mustangs went back onto the court, Daryll stayed next to Khris.

 

“So, I know his name was ‘The Genius’ and everything, but what is he like? He was ranked the lowest, so why is he such a target from the other Experts?” Daryll asked.

 

“One-on-one, he’s not the best. Kory can’t play alone, or with just one person. He needs a team, and he needs time. Except for Tyler and Tyrell Fletcher, everyone else could dominate one-on-one, or be competitive. Tyler and Tyrell’s defence was enough to push them up so high since they’re both stellar.” Khris had excitement in his voice while talking about his brother. “So, Kory is technically the least talented in basketball. However, his mind alone is enough to make him an expert. In a five-on-five situation, nobody is more valuable as a teammate. Nobody knows basketball quite like Kory.”

 

Daryll tried to catch all of that, as Khris was talking fast. Daryll did, however, catch the very end of Khris’s ramble. ‘Nobody knows basketball quite like Kory.’

 

Kory brought up the ball for the Mustangs, causing Manny to stand up again.

 

“Oh?” He said to himself.

 

Kory scanned the offence. Khris was moving as much as he could, but Connor and Quinn played tight on him. Number seven guarded Daryll, while High-rise watched Lionel and Michael. Kory was annoyed that the team wasn’t moving as much as he wanted, so he decided to make a decision.

 

“Lionel set a screen for Daryll! Daryll, run towards me when you get that screen!” Kory shouted out so everyone could hear. Everyone was in shock, but Khris got the message as well.

 

Khris ran towards Michael and Lionel, while Lionel ran to give Daryll a screen. This made Connor and Quinn follow Khris away from Daryll. Daryll ran towards Kory, just as instructed. Number seven was close behind Daryll, looking to stop Daryll after a pass. However, the ball shot right past his head into the hands of Lionel, who immediately shot the ball since High-Rise was across the court guarding Michael. The ball went in the basket, but Lionel was in complete shock. He didn’t expect a pass at that exact moment.

 

Kory nodded at Lionel, and then went back on defence. Connor brought up the ball, and Kory was guarding him. Connor was also in shock at the play that just happened, as the play happened so fast. Connor barely knew what happened before the ball went in the basket. Connor scanned the offence, and then realized that he wasn’t dribbling anything. He turned around to see Kory, who decided to not score and wait at the top of the key with the ball. Kory had stolen the ball from Connor.

 

The other players got down the court, some confusion as to why Kory didn’t score, but Khris and Michael knew immediately. This time, Khris stayed near Michael and Lionel, clogging that area. Daryll started to run around the best he could in the open area, but number seven was tight on him. Khris looked at Lionel.

 

“Lionel, jump, and shoot!” Khris yelled out loud, getting Kory’s attention.

 

Lionel was confused, but he jumped as high as he could. High-Rise recognized this and went to guard Lionel in the air. At the slight opportunity, Michael cut to the basket, with High-Rise not being able to land and turn in time to stop him. The ball almost suddenly appeared in Michale’s hands, and he got a layup. Michael was nearly shocked but was happy that the plan worked.

 

High-Rise ran down the court, frustrated at the fact that he had to give up two points. However, knowing he was going against Kory, he knew that he had to guard anybody in the air, regardless of distance. If someone could shoot a three, High-Rise had to guard them in the air even at the three-point line.

 

When High-Rise turned around, Khris had already stolen the ball from Connor and was waiting for everyone to get down the court. High-Rise’s frustration built up even more. Connor guarded Khris but spoke to High-Rise as he passed.

 

“I’m sorry,” Connor said, to which High-Rise simply nodded in response.

 

High-Rise knew the game was over, and he knew that he couldn’t stop it. With Kory running the offence, no matter what defensive scheme the Krakens set up, they wouldn’t be able to stop the Mustangs.

 

In the stands, Manny sat down, disappointed.

 

“I thought I was going to see The Genius. I guess he needs time to warm up,” Manny sighed, only staying to see how much Kory’s presence affected the game.

 

For the remainder of the game, Kory almost constantly stole the ball from Connor, and never ran a fast break. Because of this, the rest of the game was low scoring. Since Kory didn’t run a fast break and ran a slow offence, the time ran out faster. With thirteen seconds left on the clock, Kory was going to let the time run out. That’s when Khris looked at Kory.

 

“Hey! Let’s try it!” Khris suggested.

 

Manny stood up, excited to see Kory’s most deadly move. High-Rise immediately went to triple-team Khris, but Khris sprinted around the perimeter, getting barely enough room. Khris jumped while he ran, moving in the air, but was in his shooting form. Kory tossed the ball towards Khris’s location, the ball zooming towards Khris. Khris caught it and shot on his way down, but the shot missed and the buzzer rang. Manny was disappointed.

 

“You are rusty, Quitter,” Manny got off the stands and walked out.

 

Kory jogged over to Khris, panting.

 

“Sorry, I’m not as sharp as I used to be. That pass would require me to take up basketball again,” Kory chuckled.

 

“It’s fine, you haven’t touched a basketball in two years. I think your performance was fine. Your analysis of people is amazing still. You knew the dribbling style and pattern of Connor so easily. One mistake is fine,” Khris responded, proud of his big brother.

 

“Yeah, well, tomorrow you have a huge challenge. Macbeth is a tough match for you. Be careful,” Kory warned Khris.

 

On the Kraken bench, Connor walked over to High-Rise, regret on his face.

 

“We failed you. We wanted to face the Expert, and we failed you,” Connor stated. High-Rise stood up and looked down at Connor.

 

“It’s fine. We’ll get them next time,” High-Rise turned his attention to the Mustangs, watching them pack up. “We all weren’t ready for them.”

 

Xavier came up behind the two, flanked by Quinn.

 

“There’s a few months before the season officially starts. We’ll handle them there. For now, we have work to do. When we come back,” Pure determination was on Xavier’s face. “We’ll be able to handle anything that anybody throws at us. I will improve. We will improve.”

 

With those final words, the first night of the first pre-season tournament has come to an end. The finals are set, as it will be the Southville Sabres, led by Macbeth and Robin, against the Mustangs. How will the Mustangs prepare, as the team is riddled with exhaustion? Come back and find out!

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Next Episode: I Can't Come Back


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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