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Mar 22, 2018 - 12:42 PM

Who I Am (5) ~ Memories

At the daily trainings I sit next to Ayako-san observing the team. My task is to note things down about the team and its play. Anzai-sensei and Akagi-senpai asked me for this task and I feel really flattered. Later I would find out that brother and Ayako-san had a great deal in it too.

After the training captain Akagi calls everyone to gather around to brief the notes. He delivers everyone a dose of criticism. I understand well he does it to keep everyone alert, because a lot of the team members are still in the excitement of going to the IH tournament. To keep everyone with their feet on the ground, he has to clear their minds.

To brother he did not say anything. They are both seniors after all and Akagi-senpai probably knows my brother well enough to know that his ego is quite big.

To Rukawa he mentioned the words 'team play' and 'observing the environment', but the rookie did not really seem to care. And captain Akagi on his turn did not seem surprised at all. And then, how do you convince one of the top five players of Kanagawa that his playing style should be changed?

Sakuragi never agreed with us whenever we noted that his defense, his dribble or his shooting technique lacked. He mentioned conspiracy theories against the genius and some other very surreal, but funny, explanations.

His loud laughs have become part of the daily routine. What I first got annoyed by, is now replaced by a silent smile.

The others accepted the criticism and nodded in agreement. Then the team was dismissed and allowed to go.

After the training brother would often stay to run a little more to train his stamina. I know it's a big smack for his ego, but he has put the team before himself, which proves his determination even more.

Another guy that can be found in the gym after training hours is Rukawa. He is always pushing himself a little harder to jump a little higher and to shoot a little faster.

Today is no exception. While everyone slowly walks to the locker room, Rukawa picks up a ball and starts dribbling from one hand to the other. He stands just behind the 3-point line, slightly on the left side, and fires a shot.

Sakuragi and Miyagi-senpai look back, captain Akagi and Ayako-san watch from the side line.

"Nice shot." The deep voice next to me says softly.

The swish of the net silently sounds.

"Improve the curve." Brother ads. I look and see a motivating coach in him. His pride as player makes room for a caring teacher. Everyone knows that brother has the best technique when it comes down to shooting.

Rukawa walks in great steps to pick up the ball and dribbles back to the 3-point line. He halts and dribbles, then changes hands two times and fires a shot. This time it hits the inside of the rim and bounces out.

"Stupid fox! Booohhh!" Sakuragi's loud voice echoes in the gym. Akagi-senpai tries to silence him: "Shut up Sakuargi. Watch it and you might learn something from it!"

Miyagi-senpai shakes his head and says: "He would not be able to learn the jump shot in a million years..."

"Ryota! How can you say that about the genius?!"

The short guard shrugs and walks to the locker room, while the red head follows him still protesting.

"Doaho." Rukawa's cold voice speaks. He takes a quick glance at my brother and gets into position behind the line again.

"A little more upper body and little less legs."

Rukawa jumps and shoots. This time the ball hits the inside rim and bounces to the other side of the rim to fall in.

"The curve." His next instruction sounds.

Captain Akagi and Ayako-san are still silently watching the scene.

The next three shots go in perfectly and I'm quite amazed how fast he can absorb all the instructions and work it out in his shots so quickly.

"He is expanding his arsenal of attacking weapons," brother says to me, "he's not a bad 3-point shooter but it demands a lot of touch and a lot of practice to hit the shots during a real game." I hear a certain pride and appreciation in his voice, because the cold person is actually asking for instructions.

"In a real game you won't get so much space and time to aim. At the time he can hit a 3-pointer at any moment, he'll be truly unstoppable." That said, he looked back at the rookie.

I remember our shooting practices at the court nearby our home where we used to play for hours after school. Everything I know about basketball was taught by my gifted brother. He once said that I was gifted as well, but I don't know if he said that as a basketball player or as my brother...

With a quick movement I tap the ball away that my brother held to his side with his right arm. I dribble the ball to the line at the mirrored spot of Rukawa and take a glance at him. I dribble twice and take a shot. The ball soars high and kisses the net and left the rim untouched.

"Hmn." Rukawa groans.

"Nice Shizuri!" My brother praises.

With a grin on my face I pick up the ball and my smirk challenges Rukawa to hit his shot. And I'm sure a person like him recognizes a challenger when he sees one. The look in his eyes has changed as he walks upon the spot and fires.

Perfect. It was a perfect shot that could not miss its aim.

And so we take shots in turn and leave the challenge pretty much undecided. We both hit some and both miss some. The others have already left as I lost counting. Brother gives us instructions on our technique and he gets impatient as we each just missed three shots in a row.

"Focus, freshmen!"

I start losing strength in my arms after the many shots but I don't want to give in. This game was just too much fun and moreover I enjoyed playing ball once again. I want to win this challenge badly but I feel the aching in my muscles and my breathing goes heavier.

"Compensate with your jumping height, but watch your shooting posture. Keep your upper body in the same way as when you take the shot from standing position."

As I concentrate and take a deep breath, the Super Rookie speaks: "Senpai, I think it's enough for today," and he glanced at me. Then he walks towards the big metal box in the corner of the gym and puts the ball on top of the other ones. He has not said another word as he walks to the locker room and we hear the water running.

My brother and I follow his movements and are amazed by his sudden leave while none of us had clearly won yet. Then my brother smiles and says to me: "I did not think of him as someone with manners at all. But looks like he's a gentleman..."

I have mixed feeling about this ending. I think he didn't want me to lose due to my lack of muscular strength because he wanted to beat me on technique. But on the other hand I wanted to prove myself as well. Nobody knows who would have won... He shouldn't have done that.

But one thing I'm very sure of now. From that last glance he took at me, I'm very sure I recognized it. Sorrow.

I fire one more shot and the ball hits the front of the rim and bounces out loudly. The bounces on the floor echo through the empty gym.

"Come on, let's go. Enough shooting for today," the satisfied smile on his face reminds me of old days, when we were training on the small half court nearby. A warm feeling rises to my face and I walk upon him as he's putting the balls back into the metal box.

I take his strong hand in mine and hold it tight.

Amazed eyes ask me: "What's the matter?"

I hesitate but then reply softly: "Just like old times."

He smiles and lays his free hand on the back of my head, while the arm rests on my back gently holding me close to him: "Yes, just like old times."

~~ Though we go our separate ways, I won't forget, so don't forget the memories we made. ~~

--> To Chapter 6.