Damn it am I special. Real gifted too. I have a forty-inch vertical at 6'3" and can ball with the best of them. Not to mention, I'm white. You don't see many good white dudes out there on the court. Especially not in the Final Four of the March Madness tournament. My name is Carter Jackson and it's my first and last year of college. You could call me a "one-and-done" but I don't see the problem with that. It's not exactly an endearing term, but I don't mind it. I play point guard for the Virginia Commonwealth University. They're not exactly your first choice for college basketball, but they seemed to have my best interests at heart. They understood that I wanted to get into the NBA as soon as possible, so I accepted their offer. Now here I am, drbbling the rock past mid-court in the final 30 seconds of a semifinal game. We're down by one.
With the shot clock turned off, I take my time. I cease my dribble at the top of the arc and zip a pass to Jeremiah Parks, our shooting guard. He jab steps to his left, losing his man, and then dribbles toward me, handing the ball off. I kick it into high gear, dribbling hard left as he sets a pick on my man. I pull up and sink the jumper at the elbow. It's a play we'd rehearsed countless times, but never used. I stay where I am, trying to disrupt the inbound with 20 on the ticker. They pass it to my man, who jab stepps one way and blows past me when he catches me leaning. Shit! I thunder toward him. I can't be the reason we lose! No. That's the wrong way to think about it. We can't lose! That's more like it. I just manage to cut off the opposing point guard, Marques Ford of Duke University, and he plows over me and lands on top of me. The whistle blows as I pick myself up, glaring daggers at Marques. That's my third foul and the seventh for my team. Marques steps up to the line with 12 seconds on the clock. He sinks his first free throw, sweat glistening on his brow. He receives the ball a second time and knocks it down again. Coach Wolfe calls a timeout and immediately grabs me as I reach the sideline.
"What the hell are you trying to do to me kid?! Give me a heart attack?" Wolfe rasps as I sit down and take a swig of Powerade. He's a very expressive old man, about 80 years old, 5'5" and stocky. You can tell he's never played basketball at the college level due to his size, but his passion for the game landed him a coaching job at a small Division I university.
"No sir," I reply in my semi-deep voice, gasping for air.
"Then why the fuck are you fouling at this crucial a point in the game, son? Haven't I always stressed smart defense with you?" I think he might actually have a heart attack at this point.
"He beat me, coach," I admit. "I didn't wanna give him the easy layup and I got fouls to spare."
"Don't let him beat you," Wolfe dismisses me as the buzzers sounds, signalling the end of the one-minute time out.
As I step back onto my home court, I hear the chants of my endearing fans as they repeat my name. Carter, Carter, Carter. Over and over. The ball is inbounded to me and I drive up the court, head full of steam. When I reach the arc, I don't pick up my dribble. Instead, I size up my man and hesititate, then cross over to my left hand and step past Marques. I pick up the ball as the rim gets closer, preparing to dunk it down for the win when a hand soars toward me and cleanly swats the ball into the stands. I recover from the initial shock of it and set up for the inbound play. 5 seconds left on the clock. I receive the ball in the corner, trying to create some space. I advance just a little bit inside the the 3-point arc and pull up for the jumper at 2 seconds, squaring up at 1.5. The form of my shot is smooth but the release is a little to hard. I let it go just before the buzzer and follow it through the air with my eyes.
The TV is still on when I get back to my apartment. I force myself to relive that horrible moment from just an hour earlier as ESPN replays it. The balls flies from my hands and ricochets off the inside of the rim just after time expires. The finals score pops up on the screen: Rams 71, Blue Devils 72. I rip off my shirt and collapse onto my bed thinking about what choking in such a clutch moment has done to my draft stock as I drift off to a restless sleep.