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“Can somebody stop him?” Jeff yelled, seeing Khris drain yet another three-pointer. The first quarter came to an end, with Khris being completely unstoppable from the moment declared that the quarter was his.

For the remainder of the first quarter, Khris was constantly scoring, while the Sabres used teamwork to consistently score two-pointers and three-pointers. Robin dominated the rebounds, constantly passing them out in the air for an open shot from a teammate. The score at the end of the quarter was closer than expected since Khris was shooting nearly perfect from three. The Mustangs had twenty-seven, while the Sabres had thirty-five. The Mustang players gathered around Coach Riley as the quarter ended.

“Seems Macbeth slowed down on the acting. I think he’s trying to save it all for Russ. Lory, he got you with one early, so be careful. Khris, how’s your condition? You’ve done a lot of shooting over the past two days,” Coach spoke to his team.

“I’m fine,” Khris kept his answer short but stared at Kory while he spoke. Khris had slight annoyance in his voice. “However, I could use a point guard that can get everybody opportunities.”

Daryll flinched at the statement but tried not to show it.

“You’re doing fine without me. I believe in you guys,” Kory responded, keeping his voice light. Michael saw through it but didn’t want to call Kory out immediately.

“Michael, take a few threes this game. Even if you’re not consistent, as long as they close out on you and treat you as a threat, Daryll will have more room to move in the mid-range,” Coach explained to his team. “You guys can do this. Ready? Break!”

While the Mustangs had no clear plan to defend the Sabres, the Sabres team was devising a plan to handle the Mustangs.

“So, Robin already shut down that fast kid and the twins by himself. All we need to do is handle Deadeye. Did anyone notice anything while he shot?” Ron asked.

“Dribble. Better,” Robin spoke out.

“Yeah, but not once did he attempt to go inside the three-point line. I’d assume he’d mix in some mid-range shots,” Ron noted.

“He never had to go in that much back when we used to play against each other. The floor was always in his favour, and he always had a point guard that could feed him when he needed. We’re lucky that their other guard isn’t a natural passer,” Macbeth added in.

“Well, why don’t we double team him? Ron can come off of their point guard, I’m sure you all noticed that he can’t shoot a three by now,” Jamaal added.

“The fast one can’t shoot well either, he didn’t attempt to get open around the three-point line at all. Force them to shoot, they can’t rebound over Robin. Also, don’t go for any dribble moves that give the illusion that Deadeye is driving in since he won’t. We won’t stop every shot, but we can definitely affect them,” Macbeth finished the team’s break without needing the team’s coach to add anything. After all, the players each knew the game so well, they each could coach a team by themselves.

The buzzer rang and the teams walked out onto the court for the second quarter. Michael stuck next to Khris as they walked back onto the court.

“Quickly, give me a rundown of why Kory doesn’t play,” Michael mentioned to Khris quietly.

“The Villain taunted him out of basketball, making him believe he hates it. It’s like he brainwashed him with his words,” Khris responded. Michael nodded and got ready for offence.

The Mustangs had the ball to begin the second quarter. As soon as Khris got the ball, he was double-teamed by Jamaal and Ron. At this moment, Khris realized that Macbeth was on the bench, as he had been in every other game. Khris started dribbling, trying to knock the two off-balance, but both Jamaal and Ron predicted how Khris would move, knowing that Khris didn’t have many moves to drive forward. Due to this, Khris had to pass the ball up to Daryll, but Ron tipped the pass off course, sending the ball towards Robin.

Robin and Lory both ran for the ball, but Lory’s legs were getting sore again, having to deal with the strength of Robin the entire first quarter. Robin zoomed by Lory and got the ball. Ron and Jamaal spread to opposite sides of the court, making it impossible for Khris to guard both. Robin passed the ball to Ron, who took a mid-range shot and made the basket.

Khris was visibly annoyed, immediately recognizing that he was scouted thoroughly throughout the first quarter by the Sabre players. Khris knew this feeling because Kory and Manny used to always direct a defence that would be able to slow Khris down sometimes. Even the work that Khris did over the summer wasn’t enough to fix all of his weaknesses. Khris waved Daryll down, signalling for Daryll to handle the ball.

Daryll took the inbound, beginning to dribble the ball up the court, but Ron put pressure on him quickly and almost immediately stole the ball, running down for a free layup. Daryll nearly cracked, almost dropping his act of not being bothered by the events of this game. Michael, however, knew what was going on and ran down the court.

“I’ll take up the ball. The guy on me doesn’t seem as adept at defence as the point guard,” Michael suggested. Daryll nodded in silence and inbounded the ball to Michael.

Despite the change in the ball-handler, Ron was still the one to guard the ball, putting pressure on Michael while Wayne switched to guarding Daryl. Ron didn’t reach as much as he would towards Daryll, but he watched intently at how Michael dribbled and responded to Ron’s pressure. Michael quickly noticed this and decided to charge at full speed past Ron. As soon as Michael was slightly past Ron, he found himself just inside the three-point line, and Robin was standing in front of him. Michael tried to charge by Robin, but Robin effortlessly kept up with Michael. Michael turned to see if Khris was open at all, but he noticed that Ron went to double team Khris. The only one open was Lory, but Michael knew that Robin would be able to switch to Lory fast enough to stop the shot. Michael decided to walk back to the three-point line, noticing that nobody was close to him on the three-point line. He knew that nobody saw him as a threat there, but he also knew that he wasn’t the worst three-point shooter in the world. Michael took the shot, but the ball hit off the side of the rim and Robin grabbed the rebound.

The Sabres ran down the court at full speed, but Robin stayed back with the ball and watched the team run. Quickly, though, Robin threw the ball with one hand over everybody, and the ball perfectly reached Jeff, who had some space between himself and Lionel. Jeff took a mid-range shot, making the shot. Coach Riley immediately called a timeout. The Mustang players gathered around Coach.

“We can’t even get the ball over the half-court line? Does Michael have to run full force just to get us out of a possible eight-second violation? What’s going on?” For the first time, Coach showed anger in his voice.

“We don’t have someone that can get around defence like that. Daryll is a scorer, not a dribbler or passer. Michael is a cutter, not a ball handler. Lionel and Lory are forwards that don’t hold the ball long. The only person on this team capable of breaking this is the one currently refusing to play,” Khris had clear annoyance in his voice.

“I believe you guys can overcome this hump,” Kory responded, but Michael immediately knew this was a lie. Michael turned and looked over the audience, eventually noticing that Manny was sitting in the bleachers.

Manny noticed Michael looking at him, and decided to lock eyes with Michael, a sly grin on his face. Manny knew that Kory was the only one that would be able to break this slump, but Manny also was confident that Kory wouldn’t step on the court knowing Manny was there. However, Manny did wish that he could see Kory on the court again. Manny knew that Kory’s presence on the court would affect the game massively in ways that only the Experts knew about.

Michael turned back to Kory, who noticed that Michael was searching for someone. Kory locked eyes with Michael, neither saying a word but it was as if they had an entire conversation. Michael showed a look that told Kory to overcome the barrier, but Kory showed a look that told Michael that he wasn’t sure if he could overcome the barrier.

Lionel and Lory looked at each other, each feeling slightly useless. Neither of them dribbled the ball well, nor were they great passers. However, Lory felt even worse. Lory’s best skill is his rebounding, as he was so good that he was considered a top-five player in his district simply because he would out-rebound an entire team by himself, and did the little things to affect a game without needing the ball in his hands offensively. However, with tired legs, Lory’s explosiveness in his jumps was not present. Furthermore, Robin was much more explosive with his jumps, reaching his peak height before most players would.

“Khris, take the inbound. As soon as you get the ball, chuck it up to Daryll. If they’re double-teaming you, Daryll should be open,” Coach instructed. “Ready? Break!”

The buzzer sounded, signalling the end of the timeout. Coached reached forward and grabbed Lory’s arm, holding him back for a moment.

“It’s your legs, isn’t it? Going head to head against two Experts that both require all your strength to go up against had taken its toll on you. Do you need a break?” Coach asked.

“Russ is in foul trouble, and Lionel wouldn’t do well against strength like that. Kazu is out, which leaves only me,” Lory responded.

Coach sighed and let go of his arm, and Lory walked back onto the court. Coach sat down next to Russ.

“You’re marked by Macbeth, but I have a feeling Lory won’t last long the way he’s playing. I’ll need you to go back in and buy Lory time to recover,” Coach instructed. Russ nodded. Kory overheard this and knew that it was the only option, but also that it wouldn’t last long. Kory locked eyes with Manny in the audience, who simply waved at Kory with a smile. Yet again, Kory was in a place that he didn’t want to play anymore.

Khris got the inbound and was double-teamed as Coach predicted. Before the pressure could be too much on Khris, Khris tossed the ball up the court to Daryll. Daryll caught the ball and immediately ran into a range he was comfortable in. However, Robin was waiting for him, blocking off the passing lane towards Lory. Jeff also kept close to Lionel so Lionel couldn’t get the quick shot off. Lory noticed this and immediately went to set a screen for Lionel, but Robin adjusted his body so the passing lane to Lionel was cut off. However, this left the paint wide open. Michael darted past Wayne and received that pass from Daryll, making an easy layup.

Wayne looked annoyed that the Mustangs got a point off, knowing that he could have stopped it. Jamaal ran over to Wayne and whispered something into his ear. Wayne nodded and ran down to prepare for offence.

Ron brought up the ball for the Sabres, scanning his offence for a moment and then locking eyes with Daryll. After a moment, he deliberately threw the ball out of bounds, laughing.

“We were waiting for his return,” Ron said as he turned around to get on defence.

Russ had entered the game, subbing in for Lory. On the Sabres side, Macbeth had entered the game while Jamaal went and sat on the bench. Macbeth locked eyes with Russ as they both entered the game, a sly smirk on his face.

Khris took the inbound, doing the same thing as before and passing the ball to Daryll. Russ immediately set the screen for Lionel, and Robin cut off the passing lane again. Just as the last possession, Michael darted to the basket, but Wayne was right there with him. Michael was slightly surprised that Wayne could suddenly keep up, but Michael knew he could handle it. Michael called for the ball regardless, and ass the ball was in the air, he spun around Wayne to catch it. Michael went up for the layup, but Robin was already in the air, blocking the shot. Wayne grabbed the rebound and tossed the ball to Macbeth, who ran towards their team’s basket.

Khris had caught up to Macbeth, but Macbeth pulled up to shoot the ball. Khris thought it’d be another convincing fake until the moment he realized it wasn’t but it was too late by then. As the ball left Macbeth’s hand, he got a slight uneasiness. That’s when a hand suddenly appeared and slapped the ball down from behind. Khris grabbed the ball and ran past Macbeth. Macbeth turned and saw Russ standing behind him with a sly smirk of his own.

Khris threw the ball over to Lionel, whose defender hadn’t gotten back to defence yet. Lionel pulled up from three and made the shot, letting out a sigh of relief as he did.

Michael ran down the court to go on offence, but Khris pulled him aside quickly.

“Your defender is sagging off of you so he can keep up with your drives. Take more threes, you’ll make one eventually,” Khris noted. Michael nodded and ran forward.

For the next few minutes, the teams each got into their own flows. The Sabres played primarily through Macbeth, who was hard to stop with his convincing fakes and a good shot. The Mustangs, however, we're stuck playing through Michael out of his element. Michael couldn’t consistently beat Wayne to the basket and was often forced to shoot a three-pointer. Michael barely made the threes, but they were the only open shots the team was getting against the Sabres.

The game started to become more one-sided when Macbeth was able to get another foul from Russ. Macbeth had faked his way by Khris, and Russ had to guard him. Macbeth ran passed him and acted as if Russ had bumped him. The refs fell for it again and counted the fourth foul on Russ. Coach considered taking Russ out, but between Lory’s legs and Russ’s defence being able to limit the Sabres’ options, Coach had to leave Russ in. This was a mistake.

Within the next minute, Russ had gotten his fifth foul, having to stop Macbeth at the rim. This one wasn’t due to a fake by Macbeth, just a bad call from the refs. Coach Riley was furious at the calls, yelling at the ref to pay better attention. This cost the team a technical foul. Macbeth took his two foul shots and the technical foul shot, making all three.

Coach looked at Lory, able to see Lory’s leg muscles twitching, knowing that Lory wouldn’t be able to last long before his muscles strained too much. Coach looked at Kory, but Kory wouldn’t look back. Coach didn’t want to force Kory on the court since he wasn’t an official member, but he knew he was running out of options.

On the court, Michael and Khris were visibly angry. Michael was mad that he was forced to shoot threes so much, not being able to pass both Wayne and Robin consistently, while Khris was annoyed that Macbeth and Ron were able to shut his dribbling down, not giving Khris a chance to move or receive the ball. The second quarter continued like this until the end, with Russ managing to make it to the last few seconds without getting his final foul. However, he did not make it to the final buzzer of the half.

On the very last play, Macbeth set a screen for Jeff but locked his arm with Russ’ when Russ tried to get by. The small struggle by Russ was enough to gain a whistle from the refs. However, the refs immediately debated the call, wondering who would get called for the foul. Macbeth walked over to Ron while the refs discussed.

“That’s the last time I can trick them easily. I have to be careful with those from now on. I’ll focus on scoring now,” Macbeth mentioned to Ron.

“You plan to stay in?” Ron asked.

“If things go the way I think, we’ll be facing two Experts instead of one,” Macbeth responded.

“Was that your plan? Is that why you focused so much on folding out a single person throughout this whole tournament?” Ron was shocked.

“I’m giving The Genius the push he needs,” Macbeth glanced over to Manny, and then he glanced over to Kory.

“Can he bring them back in the game?” Ron asked.

“At his best, maybe. This team is nearly perfect for him at his best. But out of practice, he won't be able to win the game for them,” Macbeth looked at the score. “Not with the way the score is now.”

The refs finally came to a decision, calling the play a double foul. Macbeth got a foul on him, while Russ earned his last foul. Lory was forced to sub in for the last five seconds of the game. The ball got inbounded to Ron, who held the ball until the end of the quarter, not even attempting a buzzer-beater. At the end of the half, the Mustangs had forty points, while the Sabres had seventy.

the Mustang players gathered around Coach, who was almost at a loss. The Sabres players were able to shut down the Mustang offence by the second quarter, even being able to shut down an Expert. The level of skill and knowledge needed to do this was amazing. Furthermore, the Mustangs weren’t able to slow down the Sabres enough. All this went through Coach’s mind before he wanted to speak. This is when Michael spoke up.

“Get over it,” Michaels suddenly said to Kory, but loud enough that the entire team could hear. “You know, for being such a smart kid, you sure are an idiot.”

“What?” Kory was immediately annoyed.

“He’s right. After two years you’re still letting one guy stop you from doing what you love. You’re letting one guy get in between us!” Khris jumped in. Coach was about to interrupt, but Michael gave his father a look, shaking his head. Coach knew the look well and decided not to interrupt.

“In between us? That makes no sense!” Kory responded.

“It makes all the sense! You know it makes sense! You know why I love this game! You know why I’ve worked so hard and for the last two years, I’ve worked my butt off because I knew you’d be coming back! You’re the reason why I’ve played basketball, and now I’m trying so hard to deal with the fact that you won’t play, simply with the hope that you might join me on this court one more time!” Khris was raising his voice.

“Wait, you boys do this in the locker room. The rest of you, shoot-around,” Coach announced.

Khris, Kory, and Michael all headed to the locker room. Russ looked at Coach, who nudged for Russ to follow the boys. All four boys were soon in the locker room.

“Explain what you said to me, Khris,” Russ asked.

“Look, Kory is my hero. He’s a genius that can do whatever he wanted. All I wanted was to be just like him, but he’s special. None of our interests lined up, so he never really hung out with me. The basketball was introduced to me, and I asked him to join. Eventually, he did. It was the first thing I ever had in common with him, so I put everything I had into it.” Khris turned his attention to Kory. “And now you left me out there alone on the court because you let one guy get into your head! You let one guy take away the only thing we had in common!”

“You think that’s all we had in common?” Kory responded, concerned.

“You can’t even engage in a conversation with me if it’s not basketball-related!” Khris was almost yelling. Michael could tell that these were his true feelings. Khris had been trying hard to keep them under control, but this game specifically broke that facade, especially since Kory was the only one that could change the game for this team.

“He’s right you know. First time I saw you, you ignored Khris until he brought out a basketball,” Michael added. “But beyond that, if this how you want to be remembered? The Expert that quit because he was scared of another player? The guy that let one guy stop him from doing what he loved?” Michael asked. Kory immediately remembered the words that his mother said to him the night before.

“Kory, it’s time for you to make a choice. You can’t change the past, but right now you can decide your future. No regrets. Take one step right now, and see if you can push forward beyond that.” Russ added.

Kory looked at all three Mustangs, internally debating. Eventually, he let out a sigh.

“One step? Fine, I’ll help you guys finish this game. We aren’t going to win, but let’s see if we can close that gap. However, this is ONE step. Don’t assume I’m going to be coming back completely. However, I’m going to try to get over it,” Kory responded, a sense of annoyance in his voice, but Michael could tell that there was also sincerity.

The boys all walked out of the locker room, but Khris immediately froze, a chill going down his spine. Michael felt it too and stopped next to Khris, noticing that Kory and Russ were frozen as well.

“What is that?” Michael asked.

“The fact that you feel it shows how good you are. This is something only the best can feel. When you’re this talented, it’s almost as if you can tell when a monster arrives. Not just someone that’s good at the game, but someone that’s limitless.” Kory pointed to the stands as he spoke, seeing a muscular student sitting next to Manny.

“Rank five, Deon Sloan. Known as The Genetic Freak,” Khris explained. Kory then pointed at the door. Another student was standing at the entrance of the gym, leaning against a wall.

“Rank three, Derek Sampson. Known as The Rival,” Kory explained. “Seems they’re here to see if Deadeye is back in full form.”

“Well,” Khris cracked his knuckles, “Let’s give them a show.”

Kory finally decided to start his journey back into basketball, and now he has an audience of three out of the top five Experts. Is the game truly that much out of reach? With a few minutes already under his bet, will Kory be near his top form? How will the Sabres, a team with high IQ, react to The Genius, the player that is said to be the smartest of all the Experts? Come back to see the finale of the first arc!

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A note from TheMagnificentOne

Next Chapter: Enter, The Quitter!


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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