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On Thursday I introduced no new principles. I offered no theories. I brought several balls and the kids practiced their shooting. Then we scrimmaged. I let them play. I didn't interrupt them to point out their shortcomings or to berate them for failing to use the plays I'd taught them. I limited myself to comments like, "Way to go, Jenna. It'll go in next time." Or, "Good try, Sean. Way to hustle, Mike."
On the way home, Michael said to me, "That was a good practice, Dad. I think we're improving, don't you?"
"Sure," I lied.
"We play the Rockets next week. They're bad, like us. We're gonna beat them."
"Hey, maybe," I replied. "It doesn't really matter."
He arched his eyebrows and smiled.
The Rockets, we quickly saw, were indeed as bad as we were. Only our truly uncanny ability to miss uncontested layups prevented us from actually taking the lead in the first half. On the other hand, the Rockets' collective ineptitude matched our own. At halftime I praised the kids for their defensive wizardry. The score was 6-6.
When the second half began, an incredible thing happened. Paul tapped the opening jump ball to Faith, who passed neatly to Jaimie, who zipped a bounce pass to Michael for an easy layup. And a few seconds later Sean stole the ball and lobbed it to Michael, who banked in another off the glass.
The kids were playing defense, passing crisply, looking for the open man, making their shots, and, for the first time all season, we were winning.
I kept very quiet and substituted freely. I dropped morsels of basketball wisdom to the kid seated beside me. A layup at the other end made it 10-8. Paul slammed in a foul shot, and one of their kids threw in a long one, making it 11-10. A few minutes later they put in a third-chance rebound and we were losing again. The score stayed at 12-11 for the rest of the third quarter and well into the fourth. The game seemed to have settled into a traveling, double-dribbling and wild-passing contest. Then abruptly the Rockets scored twice. We were losing 16-11, and time was running out.