Here is chapter 25. You can buy the book or look at the recent reviews by clicking here.
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Although I always got nervous before a game, there have been only a few basketball games I have ever dreaded, either as a player or a coach. My mediocre records inspired long-term doubt, but I kept my enthusiasm for the hand-to-hand combat in the day to day of the season. I like to play. I like to coach. I like the thrill of the competition and the testing of my skills, my work and my ideas. I hate to lose, but it is my nature to almost always have some hope of winning, no matter the odds. You can’t do this job for very long if you don’t have some of that optimism in you.
But after Sparks and Murphy walked away from the team, I dreaded our next game. It was one that I had long believed that we should win. I knew the other team well. They had some real limitations; some shortcomings that they could not do much about. They were slow in the backcourt. And their bench was not very deep. I had put together some variations in our offense that I thought would give Sparks a little more freedom and give him some open looks at the basket. I knew ways, I thought, that we might be able to get them into early foul trouble. But, given the loss of Sparks and Murphy, now I knew I would lose. It was almost as if I didn’t want to win; that I knew deep down that losing was the just result in the case. I knew of instances when high-school coaches had stood their ground and as a result, lost star players who had been insubordinate or who had had their own ideas about how things ought to have been done. There were times when these coaches, having done the right thing, even to their own immediate detriment, have pulled their teams through and enjoyed the sweetest of victories. But I knew this was no such case. No one on the team would miss Murphy. More than a few of my players had long since begun to understand his profound but expertly-masked selfishness. But Sparks was loved. It was not only his gift that endeared him to his teammates, although it was quite a thrill to have him there and know that he could generate ten points before the other team knew what had hit them. Young men glory in having a sure thing on their side. But what really made Sparks lovable was his easy admission, obvious in his every action and every speech, that what he had was sheer gift and that, no matter how valuable that might have been to us, he was aware of his own limitations and that he could not have succeeded in any degree without the rest of us. He had no pretensions; no airs, and his appreciation for the team and for the experience of playing grew with every game.
There would come a time in this upcoming game, no matter how well everyone else might play, when we would need a bucket or two from Sparks. When that moment came, it would be like a voice from on high or handwriting on the wall. Everyone would know it and feel it at the same time. And we would not have it. Would have no way to get it.
I was right this time. We played better without those two than I ever thought we would have. By now my kids knew their jobs and could really stay in the gym with just about any other high-school team around. We were within five at the end of the third quarter. My guys did not give up, but their best wasn’t good enough and we came up seven points short. And we lost our shot at the state tournament.
It was the closest I had ever come to taking my team to the state tournament and, because of the rebellion and estrangement of Murphy and Sparks, my disappointment and grief in the matter were multiplied. I had bet it all on this team and had done next to nothing to insure any kind of continuity into the next season. I would be starting from scratch, again, and I no longer had the heart for it. For a long time, I did not even think about hope. I did not even consider what dreams or goals might have been left to me. I was tired of striving and being disappointed, exhausted at the prospect that every new hope and every increased effort was met with ever more disappointing results. I looked around at everyone else who moved without hope or dreams or aspirations. I looked around at those around me whose manner of life I had spent my own life trying to escape, trying to avoid, and I let go and consciously bought in. I left the school every day at the last bell. I no longer came in early. I stopped going to youth league games. Life just went on, and so did I.