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After he is cut from his travel basketball team--the very same team that his father once led to national prominence--twelve-year-old Danny Walker forms his own team of cast-offs that might have a shot at victory.
He just didn't think he was small.
Danny had known his whole life how small he was compared to everybody in his grade, from the first grade on. How he had been put in the front row, front and center, of every class picture taken. Been in the front of every line marching into every school assembly, first one through the door. Sat in the front of every classroom. Hey, little man. Hey, little guy. He was used to it by now. They'd been studying DNA in science lately; being small was in his DNA. He'd show up for soccer, or Little League baseball tryouts, or basketball, when he'd first started going to basketball tryouts at the Y, and there'd always be one of those clipboard dads who didn't know him, or his mom.
Asking him: "Are you sure you're with the right group, little guy?"
Meaning the right age group.
It happened the first time when he was eight, back when he still had to put the ball up on his shoulder and give it a heave just to get it up to a ten-foot rim. When he'd already taught himself how to lean into the bigger kid guarding him, just because there was always a bigger kid guarding him, and then step back so he could get his dopey shot off. This was way back before he'd even tried any fancy stuff, including the crossover.
He just told the clipboard dad that he was eight, that he was little, that this was his right group, and could he have his number, please? When he told his mom about it later, she just smiled and said, "You know what you should hear when people start talking about your size? Blah blah blah."
He smiled back at her and said that he was pretty sure he would be able to remember that. "How did you play?" she said that day, when she couldn't wait any longer for him to tell.
"I did okay."
"I have a feeling you did more than that," she said, hugging him to her. "My streak of light."
Sometimes she'd tell him how small his dad had been when he was Danny's age. Sometimes not.
But here was the deal, when he added it all up: His height had always been much more of a stinking issue for other people, including his mom, than it was for him.
He tried not to sweat the small stuff, basically, the way grown-ups always told you. He knew he was faster than everybody else at St. Patrick's School. And at Springs School, for that matter. Nobody on either side of town could get in front of him. He was the best passer his age, even better than Ty Ross, who was better at everything in sports than just about anybody. He knew that when it was just kids-which is the way kids always liked it in sports-and the parents were out of the gym or off the playground and you got to just play without a whistle blowing every ten seconds or somebody yelling out more instructions, he was always one of the first picked, because the other guys on his team, the shooters especially, knew he'd get them the ball.
Most kids, his dad told him one time, know something about basketball that even most grown-ups never figure out.
One good passer changes everything.
Danny could pass, which is why he'd always made the team.
But no matter what was happening with any team he'd ever played on, no matter how tired he would be after practice, no matter how much homework he still had left, this driveway was still his special place. Like a special club with a membership of one, the place where he could come out at this time of night and imagine it up good, imagine it big and bright, even with just the one floodlight over the backboard and the other light, smaller, over the back door. His mother had done everything she could to make the driveway wider back here, even cutting into what little backyard they had the summer before last. "I told them you needed more room in the corners," she said. "The men from the paving company. They just nodded at me, like corners were some sort of crucial guy thing."
"Right up there with the remote control switcher for the TV," Danny said. "And leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor."
"How are the corners now?"
"Perfect," he said. "Like at the Garden."
He had just enough room in the corners now, mostly for shooting. He didn't feel as if he was trying to make a drive to the basket in his closet. Or an elevator car. He had room to maneuver, pretend he really was at the real Garden, that he was one of the small fast guys who'd made it all the way there. Like Muggsy Bogues, somebody he'd read up on when one of his coaches told him to, who was only 5-3 and made it to the NBA. Like Tiny Archibald and Bobby Hurley and Earl Boykins, a 5-5 guy who came out of the basketball minor leagues, another streak of light who showed everybody that more than size mattered, even in hoops.
And, of course, Richie Walker.
Danny would put chairs out there and dribble through them like he was dribbling out the clock at the end of the game. Some nights he would borrow a pair of his mother's old sunglasses and tape the bottom part of the lens so he couldn't see the ball unless he looked straight down at it. This was back when he was first trying to perfect the double crossover, before he even had a chance to do it right, his hands being too little and his arms not being nearly long enough.
Sometimes he'd be so dog tired when he finished -- though he would never cop to that with his mom -- he'd fall into bed with his clothes on and nearly fall asleep that way. "You done?" she'd say when she came in to say goodnight.
"I finally got bored," he'd say, and she'd say with a smile,
"I always worry about that, you getting bored by basketball."
Everybody he'd ever read up on, short or tall, had talked about how they outworked everybody else. Magic Johnson, he knew, won the championship his rookie season with the Lakers, scored forty-two points in the final game of the championship series when he had to play center because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was hurt, then went back to East Lansing, Michigan, where he was from, in the summer and worked on his outside shooting because he'd decided it wasn't good enough.
Tonight, Danny had worked past the time when his mom usually called him in, not even noticing how cold it had gotten for October. Worked underneath the new backboard she'd gotten for him at the end of the summer. Not the only kid in his class with divorced parents now. Not the smallest kid on the court now. Just the only one. He'd drive to the basket and then hit one of the chairs with one of his lookaway passes. Or he'd step back and make a shot from the outside. Sometimes, breathing hard, like it was a real game, he'd step to the free throw line he'd drawn with chalk and make two free throws for the championship of something.
Just him and the ball and the feel of it in his hands and the whoosh of it going through the net and the sound one of the old wooden school chairs would make when he tipped it over with another bounce pass. He knew he was wearing out another pair of sneakers his mom called "old school," which to Danny always meant "on sale." Or that she had found his size at either the Nike store or the Reebok store at the factory outlet mall about forty-five minutes from Middletown, both of them knowing she couldn't afford what Athlete's Foot or Foot Locker was charging for the new Kobe sneakers from Nike, or Iverson's, or McGrady's. Or the cool new LeBron James kicks that so many of the Springs School kids were wearing this year.
He finished the way he always did, trying to cleanly execute the crossover-and-back five times in a row, low enough to the ground to be like a rock he was skipping across Taylor Lake. Five times usually making it an official good night out here.
Except this was as far from a good night as he'd ever known.
Basically, this was the worst night of his whole life.
Danny's mother, Ali, watched him from his bedroom window on the second floor, standing to the side of the window in the dark room, trying not to let him see her up here, even though she could see him sneaking a look occasionally, especially when he'd do something fine down on the court, sink a long one or make a left-handed layup or execute that tricky dribble he was always working on.
Sometimes he'd do it right and come right out of it and be on his way to the basket, so fast she thought he should leave a puff of smoke like one of those old Roadrunner cartoons.
God, you're getting old, she thought. Did kids even know who the Roadrunner was anymore?
"Nice work with that double dribble," she'd tell him sometimes when he finally came in the house, tired even if he'd never admit that to her.
"Mom, you know it's not a double dribble. This" -- showing her on the kitchen floor with the ball that was on its way up to his room with him -- "is a double crossover."
"Whatever it is," she'd say, "don't do it in the kitchen."
That would get a smile out of her boy sometimes.
The boy who had cried when he told her his news tonight. He was twelve now. And never let her see him cry unless he took a bad spill in a game or in the driveway, or got himself all tied up because he was afraid he was going to fail some test, even though he never did.
But tonight her son cried in the living room and let her hug him as she told him she hoped this was the worst thing that ever happened to him.
"If it is," she said, "you're going to have an even happier life than I imagined for you." She pushed back a little and smoothed out some of his blond hair, spikey now because he'd been wearing one of his four thousand baseball caps while he played.
"What do I always tell you?" she said.
Without looking up at her, reciting it like she was helping him learn his part in a school play, Danny said, "Nobody imagines up things better than you do."
"There you go."
Another one of their games.
Except on this night he suddenly said, "So how come you can't imagine a happier life for us now?"
Then got up from the couch and ran out of the room and the next thing she heard was the bounce of the ball in the driveway. Like the real beat of his heart.
Or their lives.
She waited a while, cleaned up their dinner dishes, even though that never took long with just the two of them, finished correcting some test papers. Then she went up to his room and watched him try to play through this, the twelve-year-old who went through life being asked if he was ten, or nine, or eight.
Ali saw what she always saw, even tonight, when he was out here with the fierce expression on his face, hardly ever smiling, even as he dreamed his dreams, imagining for himself now, imagining up a happy life for himself, one where he wasn't always the smallest. One where all people saw was the size of his talent, all that speed, all the magic things he could do with a basketball in either hand.
No matter how much she tried not to, she saw all his father in him.
He was all the way past the house, on his way to making the right on Cleveland Avenue, when he saw the light at the end of the driveway, and saw the little boy back there.
He stopped the car.
Or maybe it stopped itself.
He was good at blaming, why not blame the car?
What was that old movie where Jack Nicholson played the retired astronaut? He couldn't remember the name, just that Shirley MacLaine was in it, too, and she was going around with Jack, and then her daughter got sick and the whole thing turned into a major chick flick.
There was this scene where Nicholson was trying to leave town, but the daughter was sick, and even though he didn't care about too much other than having fun, he couldn't leave because Shirley MacLaine needed him.
You think old Jack is out of there, adios, and then he shows up at the door, that smile on his face, and says, "Almost a clean getaway."
He used to think his life was a movie. Enough people used to tell him that it was. He parked near the corner of Cleveland and Earl, then walked halfway back up the block, across the street from 422 Earl, still wondering what he was doing on this street tonight, cruising this neighborhood, in this stupid small small-minded town.
Watching this kid play ball.
Mesmerized, watching the way this kid, about as tall as his bad hip, could handle a basketball.
Watching him shoot his funny shot, pushing the ball off his shoulder like he was pushing a buddy over a fence. He seemed to miss as many shots as he made. But he never missed the folding chairs he was obviously using as imaginary teammates, whether he was looking at them when he fired one of his passes. Or not.
Watching the kid stop after a while, rearrange the chairs now, turning them into defenders, dribbling through them, controlling the ball better with his right hand than his left, keeping the ball low, only struggling when he tried to get tricky and double up on a crossover move.
The kid stopping sometimes, breathing hard, going through his little routine before making a couple of free throws. Like it was all some complicated game being played inside the kid's head.
He hadn't heard anybody coming, so he nearly jumped out of his skin when she tapped him on the shoulder, jumping back a little until he saw who it was.
"Why don't you go over?" Ali said.
"You shouldn't sneak up on people that way."
"No," she said, "you shouldn't sneak up on people that way."
"I was going to call tomorrow," he said.
"Boy," she said, "I don't think I've ever heard that one before."
Ali said, "You can catch me up later on the fascinating comings and goings of your life. Right now, this is one of those nights in his life when he needs his father, Rich. To go with about a thousand others."
Richie Walker noticed she wasn't looking at him, she was facing across the street the way he was, watching Danny.
"Why tonight in particular?"
"He didn't make travel team," she said now on the quiet, dark street. "Your travel team."
"Look at him play. How could he not make travel?"
"They told him he was too small."
Mike Lupica, newspaper columnist, TV sports commentator and author, tackles the themes of sports and children in his first novel for young adults, Travel Team. Lupica, who has also coached basketball and Little League teams, looks at the world of young kids playing team sports and offers his own wisdom and experience about competing.
You've been very successful writing novels about the world of sports. What drew you to write a novel for young adults?
ML: I wanted to write a book my sons -- and my daughter, someday -- could not only read, but enjoy. I have coached all my sons in both basketball and baseball, and it was a chance to share something with readers that came out of that shared experience. People have remarked how much I respect the kids in this book, especially Danny and Ty and Tess and Will. But their spirit comes from the spirit of my children, their dialogue comes from my dinner table, and from my world. The instant messaging language in the book came from my own kids. And I once started a travel team for a bunch of kids who wouldn't have had a chance to have a basketball season if we didn't give it a shot. And it turned out to be one of the great experiences of my life.
Despite his skill as a player, Danny your young protagonist has failed to make it to his town's basketball team because of his height. Could this really happen to a young and gifted player in preference for someone less talented than Danny, but taller?
ML: Sure. The parents who pick the teams in youth sports aren't Larry Brown, or Phil Jackson, or Doc Rivers. They're parents. It's all so subjective. Could a bigger kid get picked over a smaller kid who's better? I believe it happens a lot. But this isn't just a book about being small. It's about being told you're not good enough. And that happens way too often in youth sports.
Your parental characters embody strong archetypes. Danny's mother is the strong, independent, single mother who always does the right thing. Danny's father, a star athlete in school, has not been a successful adult and certainly not a good father. Mr. Ross is the overbearing power in the town. Is there a lesson to be learned from these characters?
ML: Charles Barkley once said that he wanted to get the message out that coming from a single-parent home doesn't have to be a death penalty. It's not. Danny's mom is just a wonderful character, one of my heroes in the book. One of the reasons why Danny's as strong as he is is because his mother is as strong as she is. The father is a wounded figure who stands up in this book, even after he is wounded again. And Mr. Ross is like a lot of guys you see in Little League: He's a good person who forgets the games are about the kids, not about him.
You have placed a girl character, Colby, in a basketball team of boys. Why? Are girls infiltrating boys' team sports today?
ML: I sure hope so. Nobody better tell my daughter that she can't play with the boys, not in an Annika and Michele Wie world. But I have to tell you, my son Alex is the one who gave me Colby. He was reading -- and writing -- the book along with me. Chapter by chapter. He came in one night, very serious, and said, "Dad, there should be a girl on the team." When Alex tells you something in that tone, with that face, you know he's right. And he was. It made the Warriors even cooler.
Some of the kids in Travel Team are really nasty. As a coach, how would you deal with this type of kid, especially if he or she was a great athlete?
ML: I would sit him down if he was on my team and tell him that one of the reasons I coach is because I want kids to learn to do things the right way in sports. There is a way to play the game and a way to behave. If it was somebody else's player, I would tell the other coach. Or the ref. Rude behavior is intolerable at any age level. I tell my kids before every Y basketball game: "We talk to our own team, not the other team. We don't talk to the ref. We never talk trash. And one more thing: The ref doesn't care what you think. Not a single call in the history of basketball has been changed because you smart-mouthed the ref, or gave him a nasty look."
How can a parent realistically help their child with the disappointment of rejection from a team?
ML: Tell them things they don't want to hear, but happen to be true. It WILL make them stronger, once the hurt wears off. It's only sports. No one has said they're a bad person, or a bad child, or a bad friend, or brother or sister. They just said you didn't make the team. BUT, and this is a BIG but, I believe there should always be a team somewhere for kids to play. The year I started my travel team, 18 kids at the age of 12 were told they weren't good enough. In soccer, they would just make another team. Not basketball. For one season, a group of parents that included me was able to rectify that.
Often parents get too wrapped up in the success of their children and it becomes a problem. What limits should parents set for themselves without becoming over-involved with their children's sporting activities?
ML: Make sure they understand this: Their child's dreams are not necessarily their dreams. And that they probably aren't raising the next Barry Bonds, or Michael Jordan, or Tom Brady. When I first coached a Y team, of 8-year olds, I asked my best friend, Paul Westphal, what I should tell them. He is a former NBA All-Star, and has coached the Phoenix Suns, Seattle Supersonics, and is now coaching Pepperdine University. He told me my coaching plan was as simple as could be:
"Tell them to have fun. That's the most important thing. Tell them that if they're open, shoot it. And if somebody else is more open, pass the ball and let him shoot."
I said, "That's it?"
He said, "That's it."
Every kid who gets me for a second season can recite that word for word. I told Red Auerbach about my three-point coaching plan once and he said, "Add one more." I asked him what. The old man laughed and said, "Tell them to keep shooting even if they miss."
I tell my kids one other thing before every baseball and basketball game I coach, and it is this: "There's not a parent who'll be at this game today who wouldn't rather be playing."
Is there more pressure for kids to succeed in sports with their parents now than ever before?
ML: Yes. Because parents confuse involvement with being the kind of dumb, overbearing coaches I see in the big leagues all the time. Too many of them think they're Bill Parcells.
You've coached basketball and Little League teams. What's the worst kind of behavior you've witnessed from the parents and the kids?
ML: I see coaches yelling at the umps and refs. I see coaches, in front of the kids, having to be restrained. I see coaches who bring their star pitcher back in to get one out in a big situation. Believe me, I've seen it all. I once saw 2 dads coming running at each other from opposite sides of a soccer field like they were a couple of bumper cars. Don't get me started.
And having told you that, the guys who do that are an incredibly small minority. Most of the coaches with whom I deal have the same values about sports I do. They realize it's about the kids, they realize they're not trying to win the Lombardi Trophy or the Stanley Cup, they're smart enough to know that an hour after the game ends, most of the kids can't tell you what the final score was.
Are today's school sports programs working at creating students who are good scholars as much as they are good athletes?
ML: I sure hope so.
What is important about involving kids in sports when they are very young?
ML: They can learn the good parts. They can learn about joining together for the common good. About teamwork. And friendship. And swallowing pride. And fitting your own ego in with others'. Mostly, they can learn the greatest thrill of sports: Doing something, as a group, you didn't think you could ever do. When that happens, sports gets in your heart and never gets out.
Should every child be given a place on a team, no matter what their level of talent? Which is more important, the child or the team?
ML: Listen. There's a reason why they keep score in sports. I tell my kids, hey, I want you to win. The other team wants to win. But anybody who has watched me on a basketball sideline knows the biggest thrill I get is when the kid I don't think will score all season gets a hoop. Heaven.
Posted February 20, 2011
Mike Lupica's Travel Team is a novel for any and all sports lovers. The book begins with Richie Walker in a car accident and that event affects the whole entire family. Danny Walker steps up to the plate and decides to take hold of his team and lead them through the rough times. Mike Lupica's book is a book that some readers might have troubles putting the book down. The novel teaches values more important that just leading your basketball team, it teaches how to gain responsibility even at a young age and that anyone can be a leader. Danny Walker is a great example of being called small and showing that being small isn't what is inside of him. Great Book!!
8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 7, 2012
No one knows how much heart this kid has. Danny is the shortest kid at his age of 12. He tries out for Middletown’s travel boys’ team. Yet he didn’t make he didn’t make it because of his height. So his father Richie Walker decides he was going to make a second Middletown travel boys’ team. Anyone at the right age could try out. Now after a few weeks of practicing for both teams they decided to have a scrimmage instead of practice for one night. So after a couple quarters, something astonishing happens. Both Danny and the point guard for the other travel team both go up for a rebound. Except Danny accidently pushes him a little too hard and he takes a nasty fall. Read more to find out what happens.
This book as to be one of the best books I ever read. It’s full of heart, tragedies, and just plain fun. I would recommend to anyone who has a dream of becoming something nobody thinks you can. Also for anyone who as an interest in basketball this book would be a great book for u to read. This book is also full of suspense. So anyone who likes suspense and a really good realistic fiction book this book is for you.
7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 23, 2012
Posted March 13, 2012
Posted March 12, 2012
This book is about a guy named Danny and he is in 7th grade. He tried out for the 7th grade travel team, but he didn't make it because he was too short. His dad, who has a drinking problem, came into town and after hearing this decided to make his own team with the other kids who didn't make the travel team. The book talks about the struggles that go on through the team and it shows the progress of the Warriors starting as a bad team to them finally winning the championship. I liked the book on some of the things that go on and how many kids these days have to go through things like that. I didn't like how predictable it was though. I would recommend this book mainly to people between the ages of 10- 15ish.
5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 4, 2012
Posted April 19, 2012
This was a really good book. Maybe some girls would look at it and not understand some stuff, but I'm a girl and I understood it. Anyways, it is a really good book. Buy it.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 18, 2012
In the exciting book Travel Team by Mike Lupica it talks about a long time whose dream is to become a player on the school team. Follow on his journey to become a great player. This has to be one of Mike Lupica’s best books EVER. I THINK THAT Mike Lupica put a lot of time into this book it is good big time.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 16, 2012
Posted May 10, 2011
if u r a boy or girl looking 4 a great sports book.... this is defs the book 2 choose!!!! i also think that if u r interested in baseball u shud read heat by mike lupica. it is defenitly a good read!!!!
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 18, 2012
Posted March 13, 2012
Posted February 6, 2011
If you like sports this would be the book for.PS you should also read a nother book called heat by Mike Lupica.
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Posted October 19, 2014
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Posted February 12, 2013
OMG while i was reading thhiss book, on chapter 16 it was very scary. I pooped in my diaaper and all over the walls. Some got on my mom while she was changing my diaper and most of it got on my nook. I am 17 years old and i wss still very scared. Now my butt is greenish brown and i am angry at mike lupica for this!!!!!!!!!!
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Posted January 12, 2013
Posted December 16, 2012