Overtime: A Basketball Parable (chapter 7)

Here is chapter seven of my new novel, Overtime.  If you’re just tuning in, you can get the first six chapters by backing up on this blog.




By the time Sparks and Murphy appear I already have my game plan in place. I am going to count Sparks’ shots. I know that I am now in the game somehow, a participant in a way that I was not before. How meaningful that will be I am not sure, but I need some reference point, some way to tell if anything is changing from day to day. I need to know if what I do with Kelso during the day has any effect on what happens after sunset. I chuckle silently as I wish for my clipboard and pad.

Of course I am every moment thinking of these two dramas. The one I have just entered into myself and this dark and dim vision at the far end of the court in which I have no part at all. I look for similarities and for some kind of symmetry and I am at a complete loss. Could it be that these guys are bookends of some kind? It’s easy to think of Kelso in that way. He was a first of sorts. But Sparks was neither first nor last. His time with me was consequential, but he came in the middle of my career. I had lots of games left to win and lose after Sparks had done all his playing for me.   They are not the best and worst either. Even though Kelso was cut from the first team I put together, he was not the worst player I ever coached. In down years I kept three or four kids that Kelso would have beaten out in a fair fight. And, although Sparks was my best shooter, he was not the best player I ever coached. I had three players – one of them a 6’10” center – who went on to start at major colleges. Only one school showed any interest in Sparks – Furman University, a small, Southern Conference school in Greenville, South Carolina. I never told Sparks of this offer.

I am surprised at how easily I can keep track of Sparks’ shots tonight. I guess it is a product of mental rest and having nothing else pressing and maybe because I know the rhythm of this drill so well by now. But I never lose count and when the floodlights flicker on and the boys disappear I have counted 156 shots and 156 misses. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.


Preparation for my next session with Kelso takes more thought. He’s wasting his time here, but doing something about that is complicated. If I were not so limited, I would get him away from this court and into the high school gym where he could get the look and feel of the baskets he’ll be trying out on. I know that every shot he takes on these circus contraptions here only makes matters worse for him, but I will have to make the best of things. I can’t be too hard on him, either. Although he is almost certainly by now familiar with the younger version of me, apparently I don’t look anything like that now. It may be the passage of the decades and it may simply be that what he sees here is, well, different.   I don’t know. But I do know that the all-powerful influence that a coach who is going to make decisions about the team normally has over anyone who wants to play is not at my disposal here.   I’m sure I would be wrong to try to explain all this business to him. My advice has to convince him by its intrinsic appeal and effect. If he’s not persuaded that I know what I’m doing, he just won’t come back – or, worse, maybe he just won’t be able to see me anymore. He’ll come back to the court and wonder where the old man who never moves from the bench has gone. Then I’m out of the game again and my frustration will continue. I have to be careful.

So I ponder about what we can do here – what would be the most efficient way to train him on this lousy court and for these few moments that I have. I am hoping that as we get going, he’ll come earlier and maybe stay later. I could make some progress with him if I had an hour at a time. We won’t shoot at all. At least nothing from any distance. Layups, maybe. Just for the jumping. But, he’s going to be working hard, up and down the court, pushing it, wearing himself out. No more 3-2-1 dramas. When he leaves me, he’ll be drenched in sweat. How can I do this with no leverage? How can I make him work?

And so, the greater portion of my preparation time is spent trying to remember this kid. What did I ever know about him? Where are his buttons? And how can I push them?

I search diligently, but I remember almost nothing. In those days, before there was a varsity soccer team or fall baseball or a lacrosse club, I would have had half the boys in the sophomore class – those who weren’t playing football, at least – on the court with me for those first weeks. Maybe a hundred kids, counting all three classes. And there was just nothing remarkable about Kelso. He did not stand out in any aspect of the game, but was good enough as a player not to be ridiculous or draw attention that way. There were no blow-ups with him. I got no angry calls from his parents after he was cut, he never petitioned me. Never came around the office. No bitterness or self-pity.   A run of the mill guy. A run of the mill cut.






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