Damon drops by, breezing through the front door without knocking. This is home. There are dangers on the streets of Coatesville, but there is also an emotional network connecting these boys to one another's kin and friends from one end of town to the other. Scoogy is famous in this world, and infamous.
"Scoog ought to praise these boys, not be ragging on them all the time the way he does," says Cassandra. "Other guys this age? They're already out on the corner selling drugs. These are good boys. If they're out there playing basketball and trying hard, he ought to praise them all the time. They deserve it."
Scoogy is always telling the boys, "If I ain't giving you a hard time, it's because I've pretty much given up on you." There's an example of this toward the end of the month. Tion has been coming to every intramural session, but he just sits. It's the hip. This evening he's draped in a chair a few yards behind one basket.
"Tion, get on your feet!" shouts Scoogy when a couple of players come crashing down near him. Tion stirs, stands up and moves over a little to the side. At half-court Scoog reconsiders, stops and shouts, "I don't care if you sit, Tion, just don't sit there." It doesn't penetrate, but in the code of the gym, the coach has told the player, You might as well go home.
Eric can read his own subtext. Scoogy never gives him a hard time. He says only nice things to him—when he speaks to him at all. Eric, whom the other boys have taken to calling E, is the opposite of Tion. He has gotten the message, but he won't stop hanging in there under the boards.
Scoogy regards his surplus of capable point guards with dismay. There's the hard matter of choosing among boys with similar skills. Scoogy could make one or two into shooting guards and bump his bigger shooters to forward, but he would be left with no size underneath. His only hope for rebounds this season is the hefty Glenn, whom he calls Bubba and rides constantly about being out of shape. Glenn never answers back. He has thick round shoulders that slump when he's tired or depressed. He's lugging 20 extra pounds. His belly rolls over the top of his drawers. Seeing the boy's soft edges provokes Scoogy, who loathes off-season complacency.
"Some of you guys think you've got it made," he says. "Just because you played varsity last year, you think it's going to be handed to you. You come out here all lumpy and out of shape. Well, believe-you-me, nobody is giving away jack. You got to be hungry. You should have been running all year long."
In the suicides Scoogy stands at midcourt counting off the seconds while the boys sprint. If one of them fails to finish the run in 30 seconds or less, they all have to do it again. Trouble is, Scoogy kind of scooges his count. After about 10 sprints, Glenn is galumphing up the rear. His late finish dooms everyone else to another round. "Did not make it!" the coach shouts. "Come November, those are the lour ugliest words in the English language."
"I don't know," Damon says. "I'm not 100 percent. My chest been hurting me. It started about three intramurals ago. I don't know if I'm gonna come out or not." Damon is getting cold feet. It's the last week of intramurals. Official tryouts start in four days. "I'm having a hard time keepin' my hopes up," he says. "I ain't even gonna be mad if I don't make it."