Coach was going to be angry that she was late but traffic had been a nightmare and the van driver wasn’t willing to break the speed limit to help her out.
“Thanks.” She said as she jumped out of the van and ran to the gym door. As she approached the door, that had been propped open in the unusual late September heat, she could already hear the balls bouncing. The sound brought a smile to her face.
A smile she wiped off as soon as she entered the gym. Coach saw her immediately “Taylor, go get changed and hit the stairs.” Emmy headed to the locker room and changed into her basketball shoes and then began running. She ran across the gym floor up the stairs on the left, across the upper deck of bleachers and then down the stairs on the right. Running back across the floor she repeated it on the other side. Coach must have really been mad because Emmy ran for 15 minutes before she finally yelled for her.
Stopping Emmy immediately felt a wave of fatigue and she swayed catching herself on the rail of the bleachers. Coach noticed. “Taylor get a drink then you can join us.”
She ran over to the water fountain and drank for several minutes before joining the team on the sideline.
“Taylor your turn.” Coach motioned her in. She’d been watching while she was running and could tell they were working on plays for the upcoming game.
Tomorrow was the first game of the season and the team they were playing featured a future all American guard. She was quick and a great shooter. If you gave her an inch she was going to put up a shot.
Coach Stephanie Miles, who’d played point guard in college, was pretending to be the opposing player. She’d set them up in a box and chaser defense and Emmy was now the chaser. Her job was to be the girl’s shadow. Coach teased that she should be so close she could tell what kind of toothpaste the girl used.
With Emmy guarding her, once coach passed the ball she never got it back. Emmy stole it three times before she subbed her for another player. Coach winked, hopefully that meant she’d earned a little of her respect back after being late.
The rest of practice was easy for Emmy. Some shooting and a review of some offensive sets that they’d run tomorrow. “OK girls be here at 4:30. We will leave the minute the bus gets here, so don’t be late.”
They all nodded and headed back to the locker room. “Taylor” Coach motioned to her office.
“Taylor that’s the second time that you’ve been late to practice.”
“Sorry coach.” Emmy Taylor offered no explanation for her tardiness.
“You’ll have to sit tomorrow for the first quarter of the B team game.” Emmy nodded accepting the punishment. Coach couldn’t help thinking this is hurting me more than its hurting you. Well, hurting the team more than its hurting you. She could only hope that they wouldn’t get down by too much before the end of the quarter when she could put Emmy in. Most other games wouldn’t have been a big deal, but Coach feared what their little guard could do without Emmy’s defensive presence.
She studied her player. Emmy hadn’t made eye contact with the Coach since entering the office.
“Have you been feeling OK?” That question brought her eyes up.
“Yes.” Still not much of an answer.
“You look tired.”
“No, coach I’m fine.” Coach knew that she wasn’t being completely honest. In recent weeks, Coach had noticed that Emmy had lost weight and there were black circles under her eyes. For a seasoned middle school teacher Stephanie knew those were signs of trouble.
Coach Miles thought about giving her parents a call to check in, but she realized that she had never met her parents. They had a parent meeting after the first practice and she remembered that Emmy had stayed but no parents showed. Coach had been so excited about her play and potential that she really hadn’t gotten to know her new player.
At the first open gym of the season, back in early August, there had been several new players. When school ended she and the two assistant coaches were sitting on the stage watching the players as they arrived. Each new player came by and the coaches got their name and grade told them where the locker room was.
Stephanie had been the head coach at Lincoln Middle School for 12 years. Ten years ago her husband, Brett Miles, had taken a teaching job at the high school and become an assistant to her and the High School boys freshman team. Rick Jameson had joined them at that time too.
Rick and Brett had both played basketball at different high schools and the three of them met in college when they worked with the women’s basketball team that Steph played on.
After she graduated they stayed on in a recruiting capacity for the men’s team for several years. Bored and tired of dealing with the attitudes of many of the incoming players they decided it was time to work with a younger group. So they left the university and Rick took a job teaching science at the middle school and Brett history at the high school.
After one of the new players checked in, Rick elbowed her “Steph, you sure you don’t have daughter?”
“Nope I’m sure both of mine came out boys.” She replied.
“Stephanie is there something you need to tell me about?” Brett teased.
“Oh you all caught me, Brett I had her while you weren’t looking.” She was sitting in the middle of the guys and pushed them both over.
She had to admit she did a double take when she saw the player. There certainly was some resemblance. They had the same long black hair and bright blue eyes. Dark hair and blue eyes were uncommon sure, but it was the color of the eyes that made the two men wonder. Their eyes weren’t just the gray blue you normally see. Their eyes were both bright blue. The color of the sky in the summer when there wasn’t a cloud to be seen.
She watched as the girl wearing old running shoes, with no socks, a baggy pair of black shorts and an old Chase Middle School Basketball shirt came out of the locker room and walked onto the court to join the others shooting.
At first nothing about Emmy Taylor stood out, other than she looked a little like Coach Miles. She was on the small side, right around 5 foot tall and skinny as could be. Coach did notice that she had nice form shooting and was a lefty. Coach Miles noted the Chase Middle shirt and assumed that was where she’d come from.
There were 12 students returning from last year’s team. There were five 7th graders, who were from the 6th grade team last year. Seven were returning as 8th graders. Emmy was the only new 7th grader.
So far there were eight incoming 6th graders, two 8th graders that had come from other schools in the area, and one 8th grader who’s family had moved here from Denver.
Open gym time was supposed to just give the kids an opportunity to work on individual skills and play. The coaches didn’t teach them any plays. That would come later once the season officially started. Coach Miles liked to just watch the kids scrimmage. This gave her an opportunity to see the progress the returning players had made and to evaluate any new ones.
She’d divided teams putting three of her returning players on each of the four teams to spread out the talent and make the pickup games more fun.
The first game Emmy guarded Sophie, their returning 8th grade point guard. She threw the ball out to Sophie and told them to play. She was writing something down when she heard all the subs sitting next to her on the sideline groan. Coach looked up and watched Emmy, who had stolen the ball from Sophie, do a reverse layup on the other end. From that moment on Coach smiled as she watched her play. This season was suddenly going to be a lot more fun.
After five weeks of open gyms Coach held tryouts for the team. Tryouts were fun for Emmy and despite everything going on outside the gym she made the team easily. The new girl from Denver was the only other new 7th or 8th grader. The two other transfers got cut. They had played the year before for their school teams but apparently they weren’t the type of program that Coach Miles ran at Lincoln. Both of the players were easily the worst players in the bunch.
All of the sixth graders made the team but one. She had never played before and had admitted to coach that she was only trying out because her Dad made her. Her real goal was to tryout for the volleyball team but her Dad would only let her if she tried basketball first. Coach cut her and wished her luck with volleyball.
In the five weeks of open gym, three days of tryouts, and two weeks of practice Coach Miles learned that Emmy had played on the Chase Middle School team the previous year, and it had been her first experience with organized ball. She had grown up playing with neighborhood kids, but never on a real team. Other than that information, which Coach practically and to dig out of her, the kid talked very little. The rest of the team was very chatty, but Emmy just sat and listened.
During those open gyms coach also learned that there was a ton of natural talent in that little body and she was developing at an amazing rate with a little individual instruction. Coach Miles’ husband Brett and her son’s Jake and Tyler, had taken an immediate liking to Emmy. They all worked with her whenever they had a chance. Both boys played for the high school team but were there for several of the early open gyms and occasionally made a practice.
Emmy absorbed the plays better than anyone Stephanie had ever coached. Steph soon recognized that she was one of those rare players that at this level truly understood the game. She took the right angles on defense and on offense recognized mismatches and exploited defensive mistakes like no other player Stephanie had ever seen.
She was certainly looking forward to seeing Emmy in a real game. After missing part of practice today that was going to have to wait an extra quarter.
Stephanie made a mental note to check with Mr. Woodson, the school principal tomorrow and see if she could get any of Emmy’s story, before she called her parents.