“You feel that chill? What is that?” Lory asked Lionel as he helped Lionel warm up.
“I remember it. Summer camp, when The Genetic Freak came in,” Lionel responded.
Lory quickly looked around and eventually found Deon sitting next to Manny.
“I see him. Give him a show for me, alright?” Lory smirked at his brother. Lionel smirked back.
Manny noticed all the eyes going towards Deon, causing Manny to laugh.
“Oh? It seems that there are people strong enough to feel it. I’m almost jealous,” Manny commented.
“Well,” Deon looked over at The Rival standing at the door. “Not enough eyes are only on me.”
Kory, Michael, Khris, and Russ finally made it back to the court. Russ went with Lory to help people warm-up, while the other three athletes began stretching together. Kory couldn’t stretch as well nor as far as Khris or Michael.
“My legs are going to be sore tonight,” Kory commented.
“You played yesterday and did fine,” Michael responded.
“I played slow for six minutes, even a child could do that. This is an entire half of full-speed basketball. Not to mention that these guys are pretty smart, so I won’t be able to control everything exactly how I want to,” Kory complained.
“Just play the game, you’ll remember why you love it this time,” Khris added.
Macbeth noticed that Kory was warming up, then Macbeth looked up in the stands to Manny to see his reaction. Manny had a giant sinister smile on his face. Ron noticed Kory stretching and walked over to Macbeth.
“He’s The Genius, right? How much trouble are we in again?” Ron asked.
“To lose? None. However, throw every plan we have out the window, we have to make it through instinct now. Give me the ball as often as you can,” Macbeth answered, his tone completely serious.
The buzzer sounded to signal the beginning of the second half. The Mustang lineup consisted of Kory, Daryll, Khris, Michael, and Lionel. The Sabres suck with their lineup of Ron, Macbeth, Wayne, Jeff, and Robin. The Mustangs started with the ball this half, leading to Kory taking the inbound. Ron immediately put pressure on Kory, but Kory stayed calm. Without looking at his own team, Kory quickly passed the ball straight into Lionel’s hands. Robin was ready to guard, but Lionel immediately took his quick shot before Robin could respond. The ball went in and Kory looked at Ron.
“Five minutes,” Kory said before getting ready for defence.
Ron was slightly confused at what Kory meant. Regardless, Ron went back and grabbed the inbound, walking up the court and stopping in front of Kory. Ron quickly glanced over his offence before looking at Kory and smirking. Kory wasn’t looking at Ron’s eyes, however. Kory intensely watched Ron’s dribbling, mentally analyzing it. Ron was taken back by the fact that Kory wasn’t fully paying attention to what Ron did, but he tried not to let it bother him too much.
Macbeth called for the ball, and Ron obliged by passing him the ball. Kory intensely watched how Ron passed, looking for any type of movement that he could pick out. Macbeth caught the ball and immediately faked a shot, but Khris didn’t get fooled by this one. Macbeth faked a drive, however, and Khris fell for this one. This gave Macbeth space to shoot, making a long two-pointer. Khris sighed as the Mustangs were getting in position, but Kory stopped him.
“Macbeth erased most o his tells over the summer. It’s harder to predict what he was gonna do, but he still has some little things. He still prefers to fake until he has room. Just stay in his grill and don’t fall back. If he drives past you or shoots on the first go, you’ll be fine. It’ll be rare,” Kory instructed. Khris simply nodded and got back on offence.
Kory brought up the ball for the Mustangs. Ron gave a little distance in order to better respond to any sudden passes. Kory smiled as he crossed half-court.
“You learn quick. I can see why you were highly touted. But, let me give you a lesson in basketball and teamwork,” Kory smiled.
Kory immediately threw the ball towards the basket, where Michael suddenly appeared in the air and caught the ball. Robin was also in the air, ready to block Michael. Michael noticed that the ball wasn’t in ideal scoring position when it was passed to him, but his hands and arms were in a great position to pass the ball. Michael passed the ball to Lionel, who Jeff hadn’t yet switched onto. Lionel scored an easy basket.
Ron looked back at Kory, confused.
“Study every tendency and probability of your teammates. I noticed you usually scan your offence before you make a decision. I don’t have to do that because I know my teammates enough that I can predict what they’ll do,” Kory started walking back to defence.
“Does every Expert do nothing but talk?” Ron asked himself before getting the ball inbounded to him.
Just as before, Kory focused on Ron’s dribbling. Manny watched in amusement from the stands.
“Four and a half minutes,” Manny whispered to himself. Deon overheard the whisper.
“If you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about, isn’t that sort of slow for him?” Deon asked.
“Against a normal player, yes. You didn’t read anything I sent you, did I? This Ron kid is good, so it’ll take longer,” Manny responded.
The Rival watched closely from the exit, studying every player on each team.
Just like the play before, Ron passed the ball to Macbeth. Macbeth went for a fake, but Khris didn’t fall for it. Macbeth faked a drive, but Khris didn’t fall for it. Macbeth took note of this and smiled, jumping for a shot. Khris almost predicted that he would shoot once he saw the smile, and jumped to defend the shot. Khris didn’t get up fast enough to block the shot, but his hand did block Macbeth’s vision. The shot missed, but Robin got the rebound and passed the ball to Jeff, who too an easy mid-range shot.
“I see my old tricks won’t work anymore,” Macbeth smiled at Khris before going back on defence. Ron ran back with Macbeth.
“You almost fooled me with those fakes, what happened?” Ron asked.
“Kory gave Khris some advice. I won’t be super useful for the next few minutes, but it’s fine. You have about four minutes left to rack up a lot more points before Robin and I have to completely take over. Do your best,” Macbeth tatted Ron on the shoulder.
Ron was confused as to why Macbeth said four minutes, which coincided with Key saying five minutes before. The game was moving slower than usual as well. All this entered Ron’s head as he watched Kory walk down the court with the ball. Kory stared Ron in the eyes and glared.
“You know, you remind me of myself. Maybe that’s why I’m talking, You’re me from, maybe, five years back,” Kory smiled genuinely.
Before Ron could respond, Kory had already passed the ball to Khris, who took a three-point shot. Ron was immediately frustrated but decided to keep his composure.
“Four minutes. Alright,” Ron repeated to himself.
For the next four minutes, the basketball game was slow. Both teams took their time, resulting in low scoring for most of the third quarter. Ron was counting down the time in his head wondering what would happen when the five minutes that Kory mentioned ended.
After five minutes, Ron was bringing up the ball for the Sabres. He did his routine of glancing at the offensive set before looking Kory in the eyes. Kory was looking back at Ron in the eyes for the first time. Ron was shocked, but also cautious. Ron dribbled carefully, about to pass the ball to Macbeth. However, when Ron glanced at Macbeth, he lost the ball. Kory had stolen the ball and ran down the court for a lay-up. Ron was shocked but shook it off. He went back down and got the inbound, but Kory immediately put pressure on him. When Ron tried to pass Kory, Kory stole the ball again and got another easy layup. The Sabres immediately called a timeout.
The Sabres players all grouped together, their coach staying out of the discussion.
“You’ve been had, Ron. You should sit out,” Macbeth announced.
“What do you mean? Two bad plays won’t mean anything. We’re also comfortably in the lead, let me finish this off!” Ron argued.
“No, he’s closer to his best than I thought. If Khris turns on his engine to full gear, even we could lose this game. We have to hold them off for a few minutes. Let Jamaal come in, and I’ll play the point,” Macbeth explained. Everyone could hear the concern in Macbeth’s voice. Ron went silent and nodded.
“This is a good chance to see how our third lineup works. Ron on the bench and Han running things. Han, have you completed what you told me you were working on?” Wayne interjected.
“No, I haven’t. It’ll be done by the time the season starts. We’ll only use it today in the state of an emergency,” Macbeth responded.
Meanwhile, in the Mustangs bench, the team crowded around Coach Riley.
“They’re going to switch Ron out. They have to have known that I got him figured out. I didn’t even get to show how much I understood him,” Kory sounded slightly disappointed.
“You talked a lot more than usual, why?” Khris asked.
“I’m not at my best, so I borrowed some tendencies from others for this game to get in his head and throw him off,” Kory responded.
“Alright, around thirty points difference still. I still believe we can do this. We have to turn up the intensity a bit, can you speed it up, Kory?” Coach Riley asked.
“I don’t usually direct a fast-paced offence. The occasional sprint possession is possible, but I’m not in the shape to keep up with the movement of that level on a consistent basis yet,” Kory answered.
“Well, how long do you think you can go at top speed?” Coach asked.
“Four minutes before I crash, maybe,” Kory responded.
“Great, save it for the last four minutes,” Khris looked over at Michael. “I think somebody is feeling a little warm right now.”
Everyone suddenly looked at Michael who was off in a daze. His face was full of concentration and it was clear that he wasn’t listening to this conversation.
“Last time I saw him like that, he dunked on Trent. I wonder what triggered it this time,” Kory observed.
“Fine, until the last four minutes, play through Michael and Khris. Kory, keep the ball moving,” Coach instructed. “Ready? Break!”
As the timeout ended, Macbeth took the role of the point guard. Khris was still guarding Macbeth, as Kory wouldn’t be able to keep up with Macbeth’s scoring in his current state. Khris kept close, waiting for the fakes. Macbeth, however, immediately took a shot from just inside the three-point line, making the shot.
“Can’t go easy on you anymore,” Macbeth stated.
“I’d be insulted if you did,” Khris responded.
Kory brought up the ball for the Mustangs and immediately passed it to Michael, who darted past Jeff towards the basket. As Michael jumped, Robin met him in the air. However, Michael spent an unusual amount of time in the air, spinning around Robin and scoring a reverse layup.
Ron looked at the Sabres coach from the bench. The Sabres coach looked back at him.
“Saddle up, this is going to be a long back and forth,” The coach mentioned.
Just as the Coach predicted, it was a long back and forth. For the remainder of the third quarter, both teams kept a steady pace and chose smartly on offence what they wanted to do. Neither team was perfect, but the Mustangs slowly closed the gap. This continued through most of the fourth quarter, as the trams kept the status quo. The Sabres used this time to work on their chemistry for this particular line-up, while the Mustangs worked on staying consistent. With Kory running the offence, the Sabres didn’t have many weapons on defence to stop the Mustangs attacks. With Russ sitting on the bench, the Mustangs didn’t have tot tools to stop the Sabres. The game was a near stalemate. That’s until the last four minutes of the game approached, and the Mustangs called a timeout. The players surrounded Coach.
“We have to press full speed. We cut it down to a fifteen point game, we can still do this. Full speed,” Coach announced.
“This’ll be tough,” Michael announced.
“If everything was easy, you’d never get the experience needed to become the best,” Kory glanced over as he spoke. Kory already knew what motivated Michael, he just hadn’t figured out what triggered him this game. Michael, however, knew he didn’t feel warm anymore.
From the exit, The Rival was still watching the game with a smile on his face.
“It seems that I can see who will be in the provincial playoffs. This year should be fun,” The Rival proceeded to leave, having seen all that he wanted to see.
“Oh? Four minutes left. Robin seems to have been slower than normal since Kory joined. Do you think they predicted this?” Manny asked Deon form the stands.
“Predicted what?” Deon responded.
“Kory’s rustiness. the fact that he couldn’t push the pace. The steady offence was enough to keep them out of danger. Robin took it easy to save all his energy. I think both teams are going to sprint until the end. I’m impressed that the Sabres responded to the Mustangs so well,” Manny explained.
“I don’t care, this game has been boring. They disappoint me,” Deon explained.
Just as Manny had predicted, when the buzzer singled the end of the timeout, the Sabres moved just as much as the Mustangs. This part of the game went just like the rest of the second half, but faster. Robin dominated, blocking many of Michael’s attempts at layups. To counter this, Kory started using Daryll more, as the defence didn’t see him as a threat. Daryll began scoring more mid-range shots. Despite everything, however, the gap didn’t lessen in points by much. Both teams tired each other out, except for Robin. Robin was still in perfect condition, almost as if the game was just starting.
When the last twenty-four seconds of the game began, the score was an eleven point difference. The Mustangs had ninety-nine points, while the Sabres had one-hundred-ten points. Kory knew that there was no hope of victory, but he had one goal: get the game within single digits.
Kory let the clock wind down to ten seconds, looking around the court and seeing everyone tired. Robin was every present in the paint, ready to make a quick move at the drop of a dime. Kory glanced at Khris, who gave Kory a nod. They both said one phrase to each other without any words: One More Try.
Khris jumped into the air, and Robin immediately sprinted over and exploded into the air as well. Kory saw this and immediately changed his plan, zooming the ball to Lionel in the paint. Two seconds left. Lionel caught the ball and went up with the layup. Point-five seconds left. The ball hit the backboard. Buzzer sounds. The shot went in the basket and the refs declared the shot legal. The Mustangs lost by nine points, but Kory felt pride. The teams all lined up, and the Sabres looked miserable. Kazu was confused, which Coach Riley noticed.
“Before you ask, imagine it like this. If the score had reset when Kory entered the game, the score would show that we had sixty-one points, while they had forty. They know this too.
The two teams shook hands, and Macbeth spent extra time shaking Kory’s hand.
“Maybe next time you’ll show me something you actually learned. You were holding out on me,” Kory stated.
“Well, every Expert is going to have to improve. You’ve proven to everybody that we all have to improve. We don’t have the cushion of a full team of Experts anymore, so we have to improve ourselves and our teammates to a level that hasn’t been seen in high-school basketball before,” Macbeth was smiling as he spoke, as the only member of his team not frustrated by the utter dominance that the Mustangs showed in the second half.
“Well, the season starts in two months. We still have two more tournaments to go through before preseason training as well. I promise you, when the season starts, we’ll be on a completely new level,” Kory smiled back, both he and Macbeth relishing in the challenge of seeing who could build up their team the most.
When the award ceremony ended, both teams went to their own locker room. The Mustangs locker room was proud of what they accomplished but disappointed in still losing despite their best effort. The silence was deafening. Michael eventually broke it.
“So that was Deon Sloan? Manny’s teammate? The Rival, who’s his teammate? He’s ranked number three, so I hope it’s somebody in the middle, maybe?” Michael asked.
Kory and Khris glanced at each other, a worried expression. Lionel’s face was unmoving as he knew the answer to the question.
“The Rival’s Expert teammate…… Rank one, The Captain,” Kory said with no emotion in his voice.
“Cap is his teammate?” Michael yelled. “That’s almost cheating, isn’t it?”
“No,” Russ stood up. “It’s a challenge, and we’re going to overcome it.”
“That’s right,” Coach Riley entered the room. “The bigger the challenge, the better the reward. I believe in this team. We will win the next tournament, we will win the season, and we will come out on top. Every person on this team has immense talent. This is only the beginning. We’re the Mustangs, and we’re coming for this league!”
Russ walked into the middle of the room, clearing his voice before starting the team chant.
“Now Let’s Get It!”
The cheers could be heard throughout the gym, including being heard by Manny as he was walking out with Deon.
“They’re determined,” Deon noted.
“Yes, we’ll see them in the third tournament two weeks from today. But before then, they have to face the most physically dominant Expert in a week. I’m happy to wait until he’s broke them. Until then, we have work to do,” Manny smirked his sinister smirk.
The first tournament has come to its end, and the Mustangs have strengthened their resolve. The second tournament starts in a week, and new opponents will appear. The emergence of the fourth-ranked Expert will truly shake every member of the Mustangs to their core. The “Introductory Arc” has concluded, but the start of the “True Tests Arc” is about to begin. Stay with us and continue to watch the Mustangs become the Mighty Mustangs!
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!