Ben and Logan are looking forward to playing basketball for Roosevelt High School. Ben will play shooting guard, and Logan will be the team’s center. But they still need a point guard. The two boys discover Antonio “Hud” Hudson at the local rec center, where fast-paced pickup games are the rule. Hud is just what the team needs. Even better, he is coming to Roosevelt! But Roosevelt’s coach has one rule for the boys: no pickup basketball. So when Ben finds Hud playing pickup, he has to make a decision. As captain, can Ben help Hud balance his passion for the game and his dedication to the team?
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! An afterword proves the real story of pickup basketball and Holcombe Rucker Park, one of the most famous basketball playgrounds.
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By Fred Bowen
PeachtreeCopyright © 2011 Fred Bowen
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Hey, Logan! I'm open!" Ben Williams shouted, raising his hand to call for the basketball.
Logan Moore was trapped. Two defenders were all over him, waving their arms wildly, trying to slap the ball from his hands. But Logan was tall and he held the ball high, out of their reach. When he heard Ben's voice, he turned and flicked him a two-handed pass.
Ben caught the ball and sent a jump shot spinning toward the hoop. The ball splashed through the chain net. A perfect swish!
"That's game," Ben said, walking over to the park's water fountain. "10–5."
"You want to play another?" Logan asked as he waited his turn for a drink. He stood with his head bent slightly forward, the way he always did around his shorter friends.
Ben looked around the park. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Nah, let's get out of here."
"Don't you want to play?" Logan said. "Tryouts for the freshman team are in a couple of weeks."
"I know," Ben said. "That's why I don't want to keep playing here. Nobody here can cover you ... or me."
"So where do you want to go?"
"How about the Westwood Recreation Center?" Ben suggested.
"Yeah. They're supposed to have some really good games."
"A lot of older guys play over there," Logan said.
"That's why we should go," Ben said, running a hand through his sweaty hair. He was just a few inches shorter than Logan, but he looked every bit the athlete. "We aren't going to get any better playing against a bunch of little kids. The L7 bus goes right near the Center. Come on."
"You got money?"
"I've got enough for both of us."
Logan looked around at the other kids pushing up shots toward the basket. None of them were very good. "Okay. Let's go."
Minutes later, the two friends dropped onto the back seats of the L7 bus. Almost immediately they started talking about the upcoming basketball tryouts at Roosevelt High School. Ben and Logan had played together for years and they were both hopeful about making the freshman team.
"I figure we've got you at center," Ben said, confidently spinning the basketball in his hands. "And me at shooting guard."
"Andrew Milstein, Jordan Ferraro, and Alan Dawson can all play forward," Logan said.
"Yeah, and Sam Molina is big enough to back you up." Ben gazed out the bus window. The large green lawns of their neighborhood had given way to the tight, crowded streets of downtown. "We could use a point guard, though," Ben said. "We need somebody who can handle the ball, push it upcourt, and pass."
"Levon Efford is okay at point guard," Logan said, with a shrug.
"That's the problem," Ben said. "He's just okay."
"Eighth and Westwood," the driver announced.
"That's us," Ben said. The two boys scrambled off the bus and onto the sidewalk. They jogged toward the rec center, bounce-passing the basketball between them.
"There it is," Ben said. He pointed down the street to a large brick building surrounded by playing fields and a half-dozen outdoor basketball courts. The courts were filled with players and the sounds of balls hitting the pavement and clanging against loose metal rims.
"Looks just like our playground," Logan said, checking out the kids on the courts.
"The really good games are supposed to be inside," Ben said. He tucked the basketball under his arm and headed for the front doors.
A man with gray hair and reading glasses tilted on the end of his nose looked up from behind a long desk. "You boys new to Westwood?" he asked.
"Yeah," Ben said.
"Okay, then you'll have to sign in." The man nodded toward a nearby computer. "Just type your names."
"Do we have to pay?" Logan asked.
The man shook his head. "No, we just like to keep track of how many people use the Center." He looked at the ball under Ben's arm. "If you're looking for a good run, the best games are back there," he said. "And by the way, I'm Mr. Sims, the director."
"Thanks, Mr. Sims," Ben said. He and Logan walked past the desk and stood at the big Plexiglas window that overlooked the basketball court.
Just as the boys had expected, the games were a mix of high school and college kids. Some of the players looked even older. There were two games going and a bunch of guys waiting in the bleachers. The games were fast and loud. Ben could hear the players' shouts through the glass.
"Who's got him?"
"Watch out for Hud!"
"Gimme the ball, gimme the ball!"
A skinny kid in baggy red shorts and a sweaty T-shirt dribbled downcourt at top speed. He cut right, bringing the defender with him. Then he flipped a no-look pass to his left. The pass flew straight into the hands of a player under the basket who quickly laid the ball against the backboard and into the net.
"Whoa! Nice pass," Logan said.
"I told you the games were better here," Ben said. "Let's go down."
The boys barreled through the door. As they scrambled down the steps, they saw the skinny kid in the red shorts drive to the basket and whip a wraparound pass to another player for another easy layup.
"That's game," the kid said as he turned to the sidelines. "Who's got next?"
Five players hustled onto the court to replace the losing team.
"Me and Ty got to go home," the player who scored the last basket called out.
The kid in the red shorts looked at Ben and Logan. "You guys want to run?"
"Sure," Ben said. "But what about those guys over there?"
The kid looked at the small clump of players talking to each other on the sidelines. "They're waiting for a game on another court," he said. "Come on."
"Okay." Ben smiled at Logan and the two of them jogged onto the court.
"I'm Hud," the kid said. "And we got Ice Man and Helicopter," he added, pointing at two older players. "Let's go."
The game was fast—much faster and rougher than the ones at Ben and Logan's regular playground. Players raced up and down the court, taking open jump shots. Ben hit his first three shots on passes from Hud.
"Hey, we got a shooter," Hud said with a grin.
But Hud was the player who controlled the action. His passes were amazing. He always got the ball to teammates who could make open jumpers and easy layups. After about an hour of nonstop hoops and several wins, Ben, Logan, and Hud took a break in the wooden stands.
"You guys can really play," Hud said to Ben and Logan. "What team are you on?"
"Well, we have to try out first. But we're going to play for the Roosevelt freshman team," Ben said.
Hud looked out onto the court. "My dad wants me to transfer there. He says the coaches are better."
"Where do you go now?" Logan asked.
"I'm a freshman at Garfield."
Ben could hardly contain his excitement. "You should definitely transfer! We could use a point guard like you."
"How can you transfer?" Logan asked.
"I just have to say I want to study something at Roosevelt that they don't have at Garfield."
"My dad says they teach Chinese at Roosevelt," Hud said with a shrug. He looked up at the clock on the gym wall. "I got to go," he added, popping to his feet. "See you around."
"See you at Roosevelt ... maybe," Ben called after him as Hud disappeared behind the gym door.
Ben and Logan looked at each other without saying a word. They couldn't believe their good luck.
They had found their point guard.CHAPTER 2
No, no, no!" Ms. Rackey shouted from the podium of the Roosevelt High School music room.
Sitting in the front row of the jazz band, Ben lowered his tenor saxophone as the song slowly died out. He glanced back at Logan, who was standing in the percussion section, and rolled his eyes. The school's music teacher was hard to please.
"You have to play together and listen while you play," she said. She turned toward Ben's section. "The saxophones are playing too fast. Listen to the rhythm. Ellington wants the band to swing—not race—through this song."
The twenty musicians in the Roosevelt "B" jazz band shifted nervously in their metal chairs. Ms. Rackey tapped her baton on the podium. "Let's try it again. Duke Ellington's 'Take the A Train.' One ... two ... ah, one, two, three, four."
The band started the song again. "That's it. Trumpets a little softer," Ms. Rackey said, raising her voice over the music. "Saxes swing with the rhythm ... Hold that note a little longer, Ben. Work the finish."
As he played, Ben could hear the old jazz tune coming to life. He could almost feel the train in the song rumbling uptown under the streets of New York City.
When the band finished, Ms. Rackey smiled. "Better, much better," she called out. "That's it for today, people. Remember, we'll have tryouts for the two soloists next week."
The musicians gathered up their instruments, cases, and sheet music as the music teacher kept talking. "Practice that Gerry Mulligan piece, everyone. The winter concert is only four weeks away. We have to know both pieces by then."
Ben and Logan walked out of the music room and into the crowded, noisy corridor.
"Are you going to try out for a solo?" Logan asked.
"No way. I'm not good enough," Ben answered. "And you know she'll pick Adam Kinner and Tina Termini anyway. They can really play." He swung his saxophone case around to avoid a collision with an oncoming student. "I just like being part of the band."
"Yeah, it's cool," Logan agreed. "Like that last song, when everyone was playing together." He started to tap out the rhythm of "Take the A Train" against his geometry book.
"Hey, have you seen Hud at all?" Ben asked as they walked.
"I think I saw him come out of the assistant principal's office on Monday," Logan said.
"Yeah. It looked like he was with his dad. They were shaking hands with Mr. Clarke outside his office."
"Remember, Hud said his dad wanted him to transfer for hoops?" Ben said, his voice filling with excitement.
"Yeah, but I haven't seen him around yet," Logan said.
"I wonder if he signed up for the basketball tryouts," Ben said. "Let's stop by the gym and check the bulletin board before math."
The boys threaded their way through the halls. Ben kept shifting his saxophone from side to side to make sure he didn't clunk anyone with the case. Soon they stood outside the office of Mr. George, the school's gym teacher and freshman basketball coach. Two large sheets of paper were tacked to the bulletin board. Ben and Logan read the notice announcing the team tryouts.
Then they scanned the list of kids who had signed up.
"What's Hud's real name?" Logan asked.
"Don't know," Ben said, his eyes still moving down the second sheet.
"There's Andrew, Jordan, and Alan," Logan said.
"We've got our forwards." Ben smiled. "And there's Levon. He's going to pass out in shock when he sees Hud play."
"You mean, if he sees Hud play," Logan said. "I don't see him on the list."
Ben pressed closer to the bulletin board.
"There he is!" Ben said. "Antonio Hudson. See?"
"You sure that's him?"
"Of course, I'm sure," Ben said, smiling. "That's got to be Hud."
He stepped back from the list and smiled. "We're going to have a great team."CHAPTER 3
Ben and Logan hopped off the L7 bus and jogged through the Saturday morning sunshine to the Westwood Recreation Center.
"I wonder if there will be a different crowd on the weekend," Logan said as they turned the corner.
"Maybe," Ben said.
As the boys got closer, they saw that all the outside courts were packed. The sounds of the games—players shouting, shoes scraping against pavement, balls hitting backboards—rose into the early November morning.
"I hope Hud's here," Logan said.
"He seems like the kind of guy who's always here." Ben spied a familiar face. "Hey, there's Mr. Sims. Let's go ask him."
Mr. Sims smiled broadly when he saw the boys approaching. "Hey, you two are getting to be real regulars around here."
"Hi, Mr. Sims. Is Hud inside?" Ben asked.
"Nobody's inside," Mr. Sims said with a quick shake of his head. "They're painting the gym. It's closed until Monday." He looked around at the busy courts. "We got lucky. It's a beautiful day to play hoops outdoors."
"So is Hud around?" Ben asked.
"Oh, sure," Mr. Sims answered, sounding surprised by the question. "He's on the court in back. That's where the best players are." He started walking away. "Come on, I'll show you where they are. I want to check out the games anyway."
Ben, Logan, and Mr. Sims made their way to the back of the building, zigzagging through the players standing around waiting to play.
"Did Hud transfer to Roosevelt?" Mr. Sims asked.
"Yeah." Ben nodded.
"So when are those freshman team tryouts?"
"Tuesday," Ben answered.
"Is Mr. George still the freshman coach up there?"
"He's a good coach," Mr. Sims said. Then he cast a stern eye at Ben and Logan. "Be sure to listen to him. He knows his hoops. He'll get you guys ready for varsity." Then Mr. Sims suddenly stopped walking. "Is Hud trying out?"
"Yeah," Ben said. "He's signed up."
Mr. Sims thought for a moment. "The kid plays a little wild, but...." His voice trailed off and he pointed at the back court. "There he is."
The three of them walked over and stood at the side, studying the action.
"There sure are a lot of older guys in this game," Ben said. "Hud's the youngest guy out there by far."
"This is the regular Saturday morning crowd," Mr. Sims said. He began pointing out some of the players. "There's Fitz ... Joe ... Helicopter. And see the chunky guy over there in the black sweats—the one with the ball?"
"Yeah." Ben watched as the player spun around, flipped up a quick jump shot that swished through the net, and jogged upcourt, shouting, "You can't stop that shot! You can't stop that shot!"
"They call him Donut," Mr. Sims said.
Ben grinned. "Why?"
"He eats 'em all the time and now he's kind of shaped like one." Mr. Sims chuckled and added, "But believe me, he can shoot the ball."
A player standing nearby looked over at Mr. Sims. "Remember that summer league game? The one when Donut poured in fifty points against that hotshot college kid?" He snapped his fingers. "What was his name? Played for Lafayette."
"Billy Evans," Mr. Sims said. "He graduated from Lafayette. He played some pro ball in Europe later."
"Man, but Donut owned him that night. He couldn't miss," the player went on, getting more and more excited with the memory. "Donut might have scored sixty that night."
"That's just summer ball," Mr. Sims said with a wave of his hand.
"It's still hoops," the player protested.
"Not real hoops," Mr. Sims insisted. "Guys don't play defense as hard. Heck, some of the guys don't even show up for every game of summer ball. It's not like playing for a high school team or college team. On those teams, you have to show up. Your teammates are depending on you."
On the court, Donut tossed a two-handed pass up toward the rim. Another player rose high above the crowd, caught the ball with two hands, and jammed it through the basket.
"Whoa, did you see that?" Logan said.
"Watch out for the rim, Helicopter!" Mr. Sims shouted. "I don't want you breaking it."
Laughing, Donut turned to the players on the side. "That's game. Who's got next?"
Hud walked off the court, looking disappointed with his team's loss. Five new players hustled onto it and started shooting around, greeting the other players with handshakes and fist bumps.
"Okay, let's run," Donut said. And the game started.
Hud spotted Ben and Logan and his face brightened. "Hey, guys. I got next game. You want to play?"
"With those guys?" Logan said, nodding toward Donut and his team.
"Why not?" Hud answered. "We can beat them."
"Sure, we'll play," Ben said.
"What?" Logan said.
Mr. Sims nudged Hud. "Pick up the guy over there with the real long arms. They call him 44-Long. He can cover Donut. And Derrick, the guy next to him, is okay."
On the court, Donut's team made quick work of their opponents. They scored on long jump shots and fast-break baskets.
"They look pretty good," Ben whispered to Mr. Sims.
"Anybody can look good if nobody plays defense. Just cover them tight and run them. They'll get tired."
Donut tossed in a final basket and called out, "Who's got next?"
Ben, Logan, Hud, 44-Long, and Derrick headed onto the court.
"Look at this—school must be out," Donut teased, looking at Ben, Logan, and Hud. "We got the young guys playing the old guys. Think you can beat the veterans? Okay, let's go."
Donut's team hit some early jump shots and grabbed a quick 3–1 lead. But Logan snatched a rebound and tossed a pass to Hud. In a flash, Hud raced downcourt, faked left, then bounced a perfect pass to Ben, who scored with an easy layup.
A steal by Hud and another easy layup tied the score, 3–3. Hud's basket sparked the team. Ben hustled to get open and Hud fired passes straight to him for open jump shots. Ben made them all.
"Who's got that guy?" Donut shouted in frustration. "He can shoot." He dribbled slowly upcourt. "What's the score?"
"9-6," Hud said. "We're up. Game to ten."
"Okay, playtime for the kiddies is over," Donut said. "Time to get serious." He spun to his left and leaned back for a jump shot. But 44-Long was all over him and the ball bounced off the rim.
Hud grabbed the long rebound and dribbled downcourt with Ben trailing the play. Suddenly, Hud flipped a behind-the-back pass to Ben at the foul line for a wide-open jumper. The ball bounced up off the loose metal rim, then touched the backboard and found the bottom of the bucket!
"We won. Kids rule!" Hud shouted as Ben, Logan, and the rest of their team traded high-fives.
Mr. Sims stood on the sidelines, nodding with approval. "You guys will do just fine at tryouts."
Excerpted from Real Hoops by Fred Bowen. Copyright © 2011 Fred Bowen. Excerpted by permission of Peachtree.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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