But he'll be embarrassed. " 'You didn't make it, you're not as good as me,' that's what people be sayin'," he says. "I don't think I can handle that." Then he sees another possibility. "If I don't make it, maybe I'll be manager. Sometimes Scoogy, he let the manager suit up, be a backup. He did that twice last year."
It all comes down to two days of deciding. Snow falls on the fateful first morning, the second Monday of the month, "intramurals are over, boys," says Scoogy with a giant grin as he greets the players in the chilly gym. "Now you're mine!"
He makes them run a mile outdoors in the freezing air, a torture whose advent was rumored for weeks but fervently disbelieved. Some of the boys are pleasantly surprised by their times. Scoogy is not. He makes all of them run a mile again the next day, indoors this time.
On the second day of tryouts, even some boys who should have an idea of where they stand don't. Despite what he senses, Eric remains stubbornly hopeful. "I don't know," he says. "Ask me after this practice."
Damon, who has come to the formal tryouts after all, just shrugs and smiles sheepishly. "I'm tryin'," he says.
There are more than 40 boys in the gym. Twelve will play jayvee. Twelve will play varsity. A yellow legal pad lies on the floor, off to one side of the court. At one this morning Scoogy sat with the pad at his kitchen table, sipping a glass of iced tea, and wrote out 16 names in pencil. He wrote down the returning varsity players: Maury, Glenn, Carl Cannon, Ty Legree, Johnny Miller, Robert Taggert and Brian Ward. He also wrote down Nin, Mark, Poughkeepsie Kris, Doober, Maurice (Cup) Peterson (a 6'2" senior guard-forward who has shown ferocity under the basket), Dante Buchanan (a gaunt junior forward with terrific skills but a brooding personality that troubles the coaches), Preston Jones (a dignified senior guard with good moves whom Scoogy cut last year), Keenan Chase (a forward from last season's jayvee who's a prodigious leaper) and Ramzee Stanton (a promising junior forward-center who recently transferred to Coatesville High from a school in Philadelphia).
Already axed are Damon, Eric and a number of other seniors hustling through the second day of tryouts, desperate to make an impression. They are as oblivious to their fates as Tion, who is still lounging in the corner, holding a big blue winter coat over his long legs. It's as though he believes that making the team is simply a matter of showing up. His hip is fine now, but he's in danger of flunking one of his classes and becoming ineligible. "My teacher gonna talk to Scoogy about it," he says. Asked about Tion, Scoogy just shakes his head.
Scoogy had planned to hang this list of 16 outside his office tomorrow morning and take one more day to make the last four cuts. But after practice the list is further trimmed. The coach stands in the middle of the gym with Nick, Ricky and a third assistant, Mark Bailey. Most of the boys have gone home. A few wait for rides in far doorways.
"I don't know why you have him on this list, the way he drags himself up and down the court," says Mark, pointing to Dante's name. "I'll never forget what he did to me in that jayvee game last year, after I pulled him out. When I sent him back in, he just sat there on the bench staring at me. Just flat-out refused."
"He's got talent, but he hasn't showed us anything," says Ricky.