Outside Shot tells the story of eighth-grade basketball player Richie Mallon, who is known as “the shooter,” the one on the team who scores most of the baskets. He has practiced every day at his driveway hoop, perfecting his technique. Richie never plays any other roles on the court; he lets his teammates do the assisting and rebounding. Richie makes the team under a tough new coach, but he’s not a starter. Then when his shooting skills go into a slump, he must find a way to become a more well-rounded player.
Author Fred Bowen continues his Sports Story Series with full court, play-by-play action that’s sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats!
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I'm the shooter.
That's what I do. That's who I am.
When the basketball leaves my hands, it's going in the bucket. I just know it. Not every time — not even Stephen Curry is that good — but most of the time.
Don't ask me where I got my ability to shoot hoops. I sure didn't inherit it. My mom and dad are great, but they couldn't care less about sports. Dad's a college English professor. He spends his time reading Shakespeare instead of the sports section. Mom's a pediatrician. She says she has more important stuff to think about than putting a ball in a hoop.
My older sister Jeanie might have been a good player if she'd ever tried, but she's into high school musicals and stuff like that. She doesn't have time for sports. I don't think she could throw a ball into the ocean if she was standing knee-deep in the water.
No, I got to be great at shooting another way. Practice. A whole lot of practice.
When I was eight years old we moved into the house where we live now. There was a regulation ten-foot basketball hoop in the driveway. I was new to the neighborhood and I didn't know anybody. That basketball hoop was my best friend.
Even though I've always been pretty big for my age, I had trouble getting the ball in the basket at first. But I kept at it. I practiced all the time, trying to learn the shots I'd seen on TV. I spent hours and hours shooting hoops. Playing games in my head.
Finally I worked out a shot of my own. I would dribble up the right side of the driveway to get a running start and sling the ball up from my right hip. Man, I never missed that one.
After a few months our next-door neighbor, Mrs. Moore, looked over the fence. "I declare, Richie Mallon," she called out. "You are getting awfully good at shooting that basketball."
After that, I practiced even harder.
I kept at it and a couple of years later Bryce Cooper — he's my best friend now — asked me to sign up with his basketball team at the recreation center. Mr. Petty was our coach and a really nice guy. He was a huge North Carolina Tar Heels fan.
Anyway, at the start of our first game I got the ball and dribbled down the right side just like I was back in my driveway. I pushed the ball up from my right hip and —
The next time I got the ball I did the exact same thing. Nothing but net.
As we were running back to play defense, the other team's coach leaped up, pointed at me, and yelled, "Who's got the shooter?"
I liked the sound of that.
He was talking about me.CHAPTER 2
I feel great. I could run all day. It's a cool, bright November Sunday. Most people would call this "football weather," but Bryce and I are running to get in shape for our middle school basketball team.
We're running side-by-side along a dirt path that winds for three miles through the trees in Stone Creek Park. The leaves are gone, so we can see the creek for most of the run.
"Hey, watch out for the rocks," Bryce warns. "You don't want to turn an ankle the day before basketball tryouts."
"You got that right. No way I'm going to get hurt and miss tryouts!"
We run along a bridge that crosses the creek and veer to the right. The path is steeper as it climbs deeper into the woods. Bryce matches every one of my strides.
"Have you heard anything about this new coach, Mr. Sheridan?" I ask.
Bryce shakes his head. "Not much. Davonn says he played ball in college somewhere."
"He must know his stuff." I sidestep a rock and get down to what I'm really thinking about. "I wonder how tough he is."
Bryce doesn't seem too worried. "We'll find out."
I lean into the hill as I run. This is the part of the path that zigzags through the woods and away from the creek. The toughest part of the trail.
I'm still thinking about basketball tryouts. "I wonder how many guys he'll keep."
Again, Bryce is cool. "What do you care?" he says. "You'll make it. You're the best shooter we've got."
I know I'm the best shooter on the team, but still it's nice to hear Bryce say it. I push higher and harder into the hill. "I was just wondering."
"I figure he'll keep about twelve guys," Bryce says. "You need at least ten so you can scrimmage in practice and a couple more in case somebody gets hurt."
Then he starts naming names. I quietly compare them to the list I've been carrying around in my head for weeks.
"He'll keep Davonn, me, you, Mason, Grady Lin, Tony Delgado —"
"Think he'll pick Rick Sullivan?"
"Sully? I don't know. He's not that good."
"Coach has got to keep some seventh graders or he won't have a team next year."
Bryce agrees. "Ray Burns can handle the ball. Charles Jackson and Theo Kirshner can play."
"C. J. isn't that good of a shooter." I haven't told Bryce, but I'm worried about Charles Jackson. He's about my size and plays shooting guard. He might take some of my playing time.
"Yeah, but C. J. is good at everything else and his shot's coming around," Bryce responds. "Coaches like guys who pass and play defense."
I don't even want to think about that. If C. J. starts shooting better, he'll take my spot. I'm supposed to be the shooter on this team.
We reach the top of the path where a brown wooden sign sits at the end of the trail. The sign says "Western Ridge" and points in two directions. Without missing a beat Bryce and I head toward the right, the same path we've been running for weeks.
The land rolls gently along. This is an easier part of the trail. I pick up the pace. I'm testing myself for the times late in the fourth quarter when you're so tired you think your legs are going to drop off and you can't run anymore. Bryce falls into step with me.
"We should be pretty good this year," he says, letting me know he's not running so hard he can't talk.
"Pretty good? Are you kidding me?" I shoot him a look. "We're going to be awesome. We've got Davonn. He's going to be the best player in the conference. You and Mason are going to dominate the boards. Grady can handle the ball. And I am going to shoot the lights out!"
We slip around two women walking their dogs. "We're going to have a much better record than last year," I declare. "We're gonna blow by 6–4. We may go 10–0."
"Okay, okay," says Bryce. "Chill out. We'll be better."
We fall into an easy stretch as the trail slopes down a hill. Bryce sounded a little annoyed. I shrug it off. Even if Bryce has his doubts, I'm sure we're going to have a big year. Especially me. I'm ready to go.
When we started running a few weeks ago, I would have been completely gassed at this point of the trail. I remember huffing and puffing during our first run. Bryce was even worse.
But now ... nothing. I'm not even winded. It's like I can't get tired. I can run — and shoot — forever.
Still, I can't stop thinking about Coach Sheridan.
"So you didn't hear anything about how tough this guy Sheridan was supposed to be?" I ask as we scramble up another hill.
"Davonn said he talked to one kid who had him in class over at Kennedy High School."
"What does he teach?"
"Math, I think."
"What did the kid say?"
"He said Sheridan was a really tough grader."
I step past another rock on the trail. "Just because a guy is a tough grader in class doesn't mean he's going to be a tough coach."
Bryce shoots me one of those do-you-really-believe-that looks. "I guess we'll find out tomorrow," he says.
I sprint down the trail, surprising Bryce and leaving him in my dust.
I'm ready.CHAPTER 3
Looks like I'm not in as good shape as I thought.
I stand at the water fountain just outside the gym during a break at the tryouts taking deep breaths, trying to get my wind back. I lean over and take another huge gulp of cold water.
"Hurry up, Mallon!" Davonn shouts from the line. "The rest of us want some water too, you know."
I step aside and Jake Keane, another eighth grader, takes a couple of slow sips, then straightens up. "I quit," he announces. "I can't even take one day of this. No way I can take four months of it."
Jake isn't kidding. He steps into the gym and waves at Coach Sheridan. "I'm quitting, Coach," he says with a big smile. "See you around campus!" He walks back out and bounces down the steps to the locker room. He looks as happy as a kid on Christmas morning.
Coach Sheridan doesn't move a muscle. Just stands there with his arms crossed. It's like Jake had never stepped foot into the gym. He's gone and forgotten.
Bryce stands next to me while we wait for the rest of the Plaza Middle School basketball hopefuls to get back from the water break.
"Well, we know one thing," Bryce whispers to me.
"Coach Sheridan's plenty tough."
Bryce is right. So far, the first day of tryouts has been murder. Wind sprints. Layup drills. Defensive drills where you scramble back and forth, legs pumping every which way while in your defensive stance — I thought my thighs were going to explode on that one. Coach Sheridan never gives us a minute to catch our breath. He runs us the whole time. No letup.
But it's nothing I can't handle. I should make the team, no problem.
A couple of the seventh graders are better than I thought. Ray Burns is small, but he can really handle the ball. Link Jones seems to grow an inch every time you blink your eyes. He's got to be six-foot-two, and he's getting better every time he touches the ball.
And although I hate to admit it, Charles Jackson's shot has improved. It's not as good as mine, but it's getting better.
Coach blows his whistle and everyone gathers around. He's about six feet tall and built like a brick wall. He's got short black hair. It's not in a military cut, but it's seriously short, especially along the sides — a real no-nonsense look. Standing there in his gray shorts and blue Plaza Middle School T-shirt, Coach looks like he wouldn't have any trouble going full court with us.
"All right, let's finish up with a two-minute shooting drill. We're going to do this at the end of every practice." He starts pacing the gym floor. "I want three guys at each of the baskets. Two guys rebounding for one shooter. The shooter has to move to a new spot after every shot."
Coach motions for Davonn to pass him the ball. He flips up a quick jump shot.
"Now move to a new spot, like this." Coach shuffles over several steps. Davonn tosses him a pass. Coach flips up another jumper with a smooth flick of the wrist.
"Keep moving. Catch it. Shoot it. Go to another spot. Catch it. Shoot it. Spot up. Remember, square your shoulders to the basket on each shot. Follow through with your wrist."
Coach Sheridan takes three more shots. Nothing but net every time. The guy never misses.
"Okay, groups of three at all the baskets," Coach Sheridan says. "Move it."
Bryce and I jog over to a side basket with Anthony Delgado. "Maybe you aren't the best shooter on the team after all," Bryce whispers as he glances back at Coach Sheridan. "That guy's good."
"No doubt about it," I say under my breath. "Of course, maybe a shooter like him will appreciate someone who can shoot."
"Keep track of how many shots you make in the two minutes," Coach says, "and report the scores to Camila and Madison."
Camila Garcia and Madison Gray are our team managers. They're going to keep all the stats for Coach Sheridan. And so far it looks like he keeps track of everything. How many layups you make. How many you miss. Every good pass and every time you mess up. I just hope they put down some good numbers for me.
Bryce goes first from our group. He's not a great shooter. He's more of a rebounder who gets most of his buckets close to the hoop. Bryce scores twelve baskets in his two minutes. Not bad, not great.
Anthony is next. He gets ten.
It's my turn. Now's my chance to show Sheridan what I can do. If I'm going to be a starter, I've got to show him I can shoot the ball.
Coach looks at his watch. "Everybody ready?" he asks. He counts down. "Three ... two ..."
I take a couple of deep breaths.
My first shot feels good, but bounces off the back of the iron. Too long. I'm too pumped up. The second shot is short. The third is another miss. I feel my heart jumping around in my chest.
Nice and smooth, I remind myself. The next shot rattles around the rim and drops in. I'm on the board.
"One!" Bryce shouts.
I know the next shot is in as soon as it leaves my hand. "Two."
Now I'm in my rhythm. The baskets begin to fall one after another.
Around the rim and in.
The count goes higher and higher. "Seven ... eight ... nine ..."
I'm smoking hot now. I can't miss.
"Twelve ... thirteen ... fourteen ..."
When a shot bounces off, I'm shocked. Bryce grabs the rebound and gets me back on track right away.
"Thirty seconds to go!" Coach Sheridan shouts.
My next shot bangs off the rim and bounds toward the corner. I follow the ball, holding out my hands. "Left wing!" I yell, and Bryce hooks a no-look pass over his head right to me.
In the air ... in the bucket.
By now my legs are burning. Man, I wish I had started running with Bryce earlier in the fall.
I can feel the time dripping away.
Coach starts counting down the time, like the home crowd at a big game. "Ten ... nine ... eight ..."
I'm not sure of my next shot. My legs are so tired I feel like I'm pushing the ball instead of shooting it.
Around the rim and in.
"Get me the ball, get me the ball!" I shout, moving to a final spot.
"Four ... three ... two ..."
Bryce flicks me a two-handed chest pass. The ball barely touches my hands before it's in the air. Coach blows his whistle as the ball starts down toward the basket. The ball splashes though the net.
"Yes!" I punch the air with my fist.
"Count it, Mallon," Coach says. I notice the smallest smile at the corner of his mouth. I'm pretty sure he knows I'm the shooter.
Camila walks over with her clipboard. "How many?" she asks.
"Twenty?" she repeats, looking at Bryce.
Bryce nods. "Twenty, Cammy. Write it down. My man's the shooter."
"Pretty good," she says as she marks it on her chart.
"How many did Davonn have?" I ask.
"Eighteen." Cammy flashes me a grin as she shows me the chart. She just got her braces off and I can tell she knows she has a killer smile.
"Don't worry, you're the best," she says.
I already know that. I just hope Coach knows it.CHAPTER 4
I hear the school bell ring as I hop off the bus. We only have three days left until Thanksgiving break. I can't wait.
I hurry through the double doors and spot Bryce leaning against the wall with his head in his phone. The only things moving are his thumbs. And they're moving a mile a minute.
"What's up? Aren't you going to history class?"
"Madison just texted me," Bryce says, keeping his eyes glued to his phone. "Sheridan posted —"
Bryce doesn't have to say another word. I know what he's talking about. Coach Sheridan has posted the list of players who have made the team. Suddenly my mouth is dry and my heart is pounding. I'm 99 percent sure I'm going to make the team. It's the other 1 percent that's killing me.
I whip out my phone and start working the keys. My mind is working even faster than my thumbs. Sheridan's got to take me. I'm the shooter. I got the highest scores in most of the two-minute drills. Once I got twenty-three baskets. I think that's a record for the team. And I've been pretty good in the scrimmages. I'm not Davonn. But who is?
"I made it!" Bryce yells, thrusting both hands into the air.
"Wait. I haven't got to the website yet," I say, still punching the keys. My thumb hits the wrong button and the screen goes blank.
"Arrrgh! Give me your phone!" I grab Bryce's phone and scroll down the list and look at my life for the next four months. I skip by the first couple of names. They hardly register in my brain. Finally, near the bottom of the list, I see what I'm searching for: my name, Richie Mallon.
I let out a deep breath. Now I can study the rest of the list.
RAY BURNS BRYCE COOPER ANTHONY DELGADO MASON GREGG SCOTT HAMILTON CHARLES JACKSON LINCOLN JONES THEO KIRSHNER GRADY LIN RICHIE MALLON QUINTON MCDANIEL DAVONN PETERS
I give Bryce a shoulder bump. Yes! We've made the team.
"I told you not to worry." Bryce points at the list. "Hey, look," he whispers. "Sully didn't make it." He makes it sound as if not making the team is like having a disease or something.
"Yeah, I thought he might make it instead of Scott."
It's tough. Thirty kids tried out and only twelve made it. The truth is that a whole bunch of kids are disappointed while eleven other kids and I are really happy.
Bryce and I head off to history class. I can't stop smiling all morning.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Outside Shot"
Copyright © 2017 Fred Bowen.
Excerpted by permission of Peachtree Publishers.
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