"We can't win without you here."
"Yes, you can."
On this point Keller was contradicting himself. For years he had professed how superior he was to other coaches, how vital a role he played in the team's success. Demetrius believed him. Now he was supposed to understand that it was all a lie?
Keller retrieved his cellphone from the pocket of his shorts and flipped it open to check the time. If he wanted to catch the flight, he needed to leave soon. He said, "D?"
"If you leave, I won't play," Demetrius said.
Keller put his cellphone back in his pocket and walked toward the door. Down the hall Stengel waited in his room, ready with his credit card. Keller entered and said, "I'm not going. D needs me." Then he turned around and walked out.
Less than 24 hours later, at 7:56 p.m., Violet gave birth to Alissa Nicole Keller at Riverside Community Hospital. She didn't get to see the baby initially, because a nurse rushed Alissa to the neonatal intensive-care unit and placed her in an incubator. She weighed eight pounds, 14 ounces, but looked heavier. She was retaining fluid and would have to be monitored for a few days. It was not serious, but it scared Violet. For three days after the delivery, Violet's only glimpses of Alissa came from Polaroids that her sister brought her.
On the night his daughter was born, Keller was across the country, celebrating a 19-point blowout of the Capital Players. Keller did arrange for flowers to be delivered to Violet's hospital room. "I think they were lilies, stargazers," Violet would say later. "I don't remember."
Darren Matsubara entered the gym at Asbury Park (N.J.) Middle School in January 2005 wearing a black velour sweat suit and spotless white Adidas running shoes and carrying a black-leather man purse. He looked out of place among the working-class parents finding their seats in the wooden stands. His black hair was slicked back like Pat Riley's, and he wore an oversized gold watch.
Mats, as he was widely known, was one of Adidas's most powerful coaches. His AAU outfit, the Elite Basketball Organization (EBO), was based in Fresno, although he was moving it to a city he liked better, Las Vegas. NBA players Carlos Boozer, Robert Swift and DeShawn Stevenson were EBO alumni, and in 2005 Mats's prized prospects included Robin and Brook Lopez, 7-foot twins headed to Stanford.