"Yeah! Third year na siya ngayon at grabe ang aura niya." Pagkatapos ng class ay halos club ang usapan ng mga taong nakakasalubong ko. I walked toward the locker room that I requested to our adviser yesterday. Luckily, the room of the former basketball team was still vacant. Pagpasok ko ay nagpalit agad ako ng uniform at tinignan ko ang application form ng tatlo. Hmm . . . a center, forward and guard, huh? Not bad. And all of them have experience so I could utilize them more. Dumiretso ako sa court at kahit nakapunta na ako rito ay namangha pa rin ako sa laki nito. The gym was partitioned into different courts and the basketball court was located at the easternmost side. "You're late," I said when I saw Cord.
"Aren't you too strict?" Binato ko sa kanya ang hawak kong bola pero nasalo niya rin 'yon gamit ang kanang kamay niya. "You look good in a uniform," I teased and he looked embarrassed.
"Yeah because you planned this well," he said and I just gave him a smirk. As if I would waste his talent. Nakita ko namang papasok sina Hyder at Yusef kaya naman kumuha ulit ako ng bola. "Yo—!" I threw the ball at their direction but Yusef anticipated it and he crouched, causing the ball to hit Hyder's face. "What the fuck?!"
"Ah. Sorry," I said halfheartedly, "pero bakit hindi pa kayo nagpapalit?" Hyder looked like some kind of a gangster because of his strong features: muscular built, intimidating height and buzz cut. On the other hand, Yusef looked like a mischievous kid with that grin pasted on his face. Tinuro ni Cord ang locker room at hinintay ko naman silang makapagpalit. Wala pang limang minuto ay nakabalik na sila at saglit akong napangiti dahil mas bagay sa kanila ang suot nila ngayon. The jerseys seemed natural to them. As expected from basketball players. "I want to see your abilities," I said and their expressions instantly changed. Out of the three, only Hyder played as a starter for their previous teams. Cord didn't get the regular spot while Yusef quit during his second year in high school. I kind of knew the story because I was watching their game, together with my brother, when that incident happened on the court. "With just the three of us?" tanong naman ni Cord. I contacted the previous basketball players of the team and all of them turned down my invitation to return. Mukhang nawalan na talaga sila ng ganang maglaro dahil sa sunud-sunod na pagkatalo nila pati na rin sa poor performance na ipinakita nila last conference. I already posted flyers and posters for tryouts but I doubt people would look at it. I suck at designing and layouting. "Whoa, ang tangkad mo," biglang sabi ni Yusef kay Cord. "What's your height?"
"Ah, 6'6'', I think," sagot naman niya.
"Saang team ka naging center?" Hyder asked and I could see the uneasiness on his expression.
"He didn't get to play," sagot ko kaya napatingin sila sa akin. "The coach didn't see his potential and he's too timid to voice his desire."
"Oh. Mukhang magkakilala na kayo," Hyder commented and I smirked at him.
"Of course. And I bet he could block both of your shots since his defensive abilities are top-tier." Pagkasabi ko no'n ay biglang tumingin sina Hyder at Yusef kay Cord nang masama at kumunot naman ang noo niya sa akin. "Stop provoking them," he complained but the two were already dribbling their own balls toward Cord.
"Heh~ let's see if that's really true," sabi ni Hyder.
"It's been a while since I played basketball with a huge player. This is definitely exciting," dagdag naman ni Yusef. Cord's expression was a mix of 'what the hell is going on', 'Sena, this is your fault' and 'I've had enough', and that was what I was waiting for. "Come," he said and just like those two, I felt an overwhelming pressure from him. Hindi ko naitago ang pagngiti ko nang makita ko 'yon. Cord looked timid and unconfident outside the court but once he set his foot on it, his presence could be felt easily, especially inside the paint. With his imposing height and skills, the defensive capabilities and plays of the team would definitely increase. Hyder simpered at Cord's challenge and started dribbling the ball. He's faster and more agile than Cord so he has a lot of options on how to score and contest Cord's defense. However . . . "Hah! I—!" Hyder evaded Cord's defense in front of him by faking a jump shot and with his quickness and long limbs, he did a euro-step. But before he could even see the basket, Cord's hand was already blocking the view and when he let go of the ball, it was swatted easily. The ball bounced to the court and they looked each other intensely, as if they just played in a real match. I could see the annoyance in Hyder's face and a sense of pride in Cord's stance. "Denied," Yusef teased and Hyder shifted his attention to him, along with his deathly glare.
"You shrimp!" tawag niya at si Yusef naman ang tumingin nang masama sa kanya. He wasn't denying that, I see. Mas matangkad ako kaysa sa kanya pero mukhang naaasar pa rin siya tuwing pinapamukha sa kanya ang height niya. "Heh. Learn from me, baldie," he countered and he slid his clothband from his elbow down to his wrist. Well, for a guard, height isn't a major problem. For them to shine on the court, they have to be quick and versatile. They are considered as floor generals since they orchestrate the movement of the ball, as well as their teammates' positions. Yusef dribbled the ball, changed its tempo and attacked Cord's defense. With his speed, he escaped Cord's defense and attempted a layup behind him but Cord's athleticism prevented it. He blocked the shot even though it was behind him. However, Yusef was still quicker than him. "Heh! Sorry!" he beamed as he jumped to get the rebound when the ball from Cord's block hit the backboard. Maski ako ay nagulat sa pagtalon ni Yusef. The way he fought for that rebound was comparable to a center and his jumping ability was high level. Napatigil naman kaming lahat nang makarinig kami ng ingay mula sa ibang courts at mukhang isa-isa nang nagsipasukan ang iba pang teams. Ang iba ay napatingin pa sa amin dahil kami ang unang gumamit ng court at dahil na rin bigla na lang nagkaroon ulit ng basketball team . . . though we're not a team yet since there are only three of them. Nakita ko naman si Tanya na nakatingin sa akin at mukhang natandaan niya ako dahil sa ginawa ko noong tryout nila. Hmp. She's still not worth it to be called as a Queen. "Whoa! It's really you!" Pagkarinig ko pa lang ng boses na 'yon ay napakunot na agad ang noo ko. "Nashaaa!" he called while running toward our court.
"Goddamnit," I cursed, hoping that Arcel would accidentally plopped to the floor.
"Nasha—!" Napatigil naman siya sa pagtakbo papunta sa akin dahil sa bolang pumagitan sa aming dalawa. The impact of the ball was enough to silence the whole court. "Ah. Sorry," biglang sabi ni Cord habang nakataas ang kamay at nakatingin kay Arcel. "Nadulas." Nagbago naman ang expression ni Arcel. He looked like he was about to enter a tennis match with those intense eyes and cunning smile. "I see," he said while looking at Cord. "Sinusundan mo pa rin si Nasha."
"Not this time, though," sabi ko naman. "I was actually the one who recruited him."
"Ehh?!" Halos manlaki naman ang mga mata ni Arcel sa sinabi ko at 'di ko na malaman kung ano ang expression niya. Lumapit siya lalo sa akin at kumunot naman ang noo ko. "Bakit? Pinagpalit mo na ba a—"
"Who's that? Kakilala mo, Coach?" Yusef asked, cutting off Arcel's absurd words. Lumingon naman ako kay Yusef at itong Arcel na 'to ay tumabi sa akin.
"An annoying acquaintance," sabi ko naman.
"Arcel! What the hell are you doing there?!" Pare-pareho naman kaming napatingin sa tennis court side dahil sa pagsigaw ng coach nila. He was the one who led the tennis team to their third consecutive championship and now that Arcel is in his team, I bet the fourth one would be an easy target. "Pero, Coach, ngayon ko na lang ulit nakita s—"
"Ha?!" he roared as he smashed that tennis ball to the other side of the court. Natahimik ulit kaming lahat at parang bola ng basketball o volleyball ang tinira niya dahil sa lakas ng tunog no'n sa court. Hindi na rin nakapagsalita si Arcel at agad siyang bumalik sa side nila kaya nakahinga ako nang maluwag pero panandalian lang 'yon dahil bigla akong kinilabutan. Pagtingin ko, nakatingin nang masama sa akin si Tanya. Oh, god, why am I surrounded by obnoxious people? Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako sa mga nangyari at muli kong tiningnan ang players ko. Mukhang na-disorient din sila dahil sa pagdating ng ibang players pero hindi ko rin sila masisisi dahil mararamdaman mo talaga ang pagiging 'team' nila unlike sa amin. I really need to scout and recruit more players. "I guess you all have the basic skills to be in my team," sabi ko sa tatlo kong players at iba-iba naman ang naging reaksyon nila. "Basic?!" singhal ni Hyder at tinaasan ko naman siya ng kilay. "Yeah, basic," sagot ko. "Cord, your defense might work with simpletons like Hyder but you need to step up your game. Yusef easily evaded you and he's not even that fast." "Well . . ." "Simpleton?!" "Not that fast?!" Hindi ko alam kung maiinis o matatawa na lang ba ako dahil lahat sila ay nag-react sa sinabi ko. Totoo naman lahat 'yon. To reach the top, I need them to be able to play high-level basketball. If only there are more players-- "Sena! Sena! Sena!" Muli na naman akong mapatigil nang marinig ko ang pangalan ko pero paglingon ko ay hindi ko inaasahan ang nangyari. "Oh my god, Sena! Long time no see! I miss you!" she greeted while we were both on the floor after she lunged at me. "Damn it, Amary, ang bigat mo!" reklamo ko sabay tulak sa kanya. "Grabe ka, 'yon kaagad ang bungad mo?" Tss. Totoo naman kasi. Lalo na sa chest area. "Bakit ba ang dami mong bwisita? Sino naman ang isang 'to?" Hyder chimed in while glaring at Amary. "Bwisita?" sabay ngiti ni Amary at pareho kaming napaatras ni Cord. Uh-oh. Bigla niyang kinuha mula sa akin ang bola at mabilis na ibinato sa direksyon ni Hyder. With that kind of speed, he couldn't dodge it and the ball ended up hitting his face. Yikes. That was the second time this day. "Oh, sorry, it slipped," nakangiti pa rin niyang sabi at mukhang natauhan si Hyder sa ginawa niya. "I'm Amary, by the way, and I brought some potential players for your team." Pagkasabi niya no'n ay doon ko lang napansin na may nakasunod pala sa kanyang apat na lalaki na mukhang nagulat din sa pagbato niya kay Hyder. Nagkatinginan naman kami ng isa sa kanila at mukhang lalo siyang nagulat nang makita niya ako ro'n. "You . . ." he said while pointing at me. "You're a volleyball player, right?" "I see. You still remember me, Jumping Ace," sabi ko naman at naging seryoso bigla ang atmosphere sa pagitan naming lahat. Now this is turning into an interesting team.
"You're the team coach?" he asked, unconvinced with my answer a while ago. "Is there any problem with that?" sabay pamaywang ko naman at taas ng kilay. "Tsk. And here I thought I'll be the one establishing the new team," bulong niya habang nagsusulat sa application form. His goal was pretty obvious. He's a good player from a good team yet he went to this university that doesn't have a basketball club (not now). Sorry siya dahil nauna ako sa pag-o-organize at mukhang wala pa naman siyang nakukuha o nalalapitan man lang na coach. "What's your position?" tanong ko sa kanya at sakto namang natapos na siya sa pagsusulat kaya inabot niya sa akin ang form. "I can play two and three." "Hmm . . ." That was what he wrote here. A point forward, huh? "Ano? Dalawa lang ba kami?" tanong naman niya sabay turo kay Cord. "For now, yes," sabi ko naman. Dahil maraming indoor courts sa napakalaking gymnasium na 'to ay pwedeng maglaro o magtry-out nang sabay-sabay lahat ng varsity teams, gaya na lang ng ginagawa ng volleyball team ngayon. I wanted to use the whole basketball court, too, but there were too many students in the way. "I want to see your abilities but I think we can't do that right now," sabi ko sa kanilang dalawa sabay tingin sa court. Bigla namang ngumisi si Hyder at tumayo. "You're underestimating me, you know." "Huh?" Saka ko naman naintindihan ang ibig niyang sabihin nang bigla siyang naglakad papunta sa midcourt at tumingin sa kanya ang mga estudyante ro'n. Maging si Cord ay napatayo at naglakad dahil alam na niya ang susunod na mangyayari. "Piss off—!" Hindi niya naituloy ang sasabihin niya dahil tinakpan ni Cord ang bibig niya pero mukhang successful ang nangyari dahil lumayo ang halos lahat sa kanila. Well, if you saw a 6'6'' guy and a delinquent-looking guy near you, I'm sure the first thing you would do is to stay away. Napailing na lang ako at pagtingin nila sa akin ay pinalapit ko ulit sila. "Magpalit muna kayo," sabay tingin ko sa uniforms nila. "You can't fully utilize your body with those clothes." Hindi naman nagreklamo si Hyder at agad siyang umalis habang si Cord ay nakatayo lang sa harapan ko. He did that dunk with his tight jeans but playing a real one with that would be tough and uncomfortable. "Ano pang hinihintay mo d'yan?" "Wala akong dalang jersey at sapatos," sabi niya kaya napatigil ako. "What?" "Hindi ko naman inexpect 'to," sabay buntong-hininga niya. Umupo ulit siya sa tabi ko habang ako ay nakatingin pa rin sa kanya. Right. Hindi niya nga pala planong maglaro ulit ng basketball ngayong college. Tsk. This idiot. Nagkaroon na naman ng sigawan, and this time, galing naman sa side ng indoor tennis court. Another rookie was showcasing his talent—Arcel Santillan, the Prodigy of Tennis. He's known for his athleticism and his most famous move, the tweener or the between-the-legs shot. He's still annoying, though. "Let's play!" bigla namang sigaw ni Hyder nang makabalik siya. Napatingin siya kay Cord na hindi pa rin nagpapalit ng uniform. "What the hell?" "Wala siyang sapatos at jersey," sabi ko naman. "Ha?!" "Sorry," sabay taas ni Cord sa kamay niya. "So sit down for now. We'll start playing tomorrow." "The hell?!" sabi naman niya sabay dribble sa bola. Hinayaan ko na lang siyang mag-aksaya ng oras sa gilid pero nagulat ako nang bigla siyang pumunta sa court. With that smirk painted on his face, I already knew what he was planning to do. "Showoff," bulong ko. He dribbled the ball with such speed and with two huge leaps from the free-throw line, he slammed the ball through the ring. Few cheered after seeing that shot, while some murmured and stared at him. Dahil mukhang wala na siya sa mood ay umupo rin siya kaagad sa tabi ni Cord habang nakatingin sa kanya nang masama. "You look familiar. Saang school ka noong high school?" Hyder asked Cord. "Reven," Cord replied. "Ah. One of the quarterfinalists. Did you play?" The question made Cord uncomfortable. His forced smile was too obvious. "No. How about you?" he asked, diverting the topic away from him. "I played for St. Joseph," he said, "though we only reached the semis." Players from St. Joseph and East Valley High usually go to Kingdom University, one of the favorites in PBCL. I wanted to see his skills but with his confidence, he might be really good. An hour has passed since Hyder signed up and nobody came to our table anymore. Well, that might be because of the ongoing tryouts in the women's volleyball team and tennis team, especially since the the players were scouted by several universities before coming here. "I think we're done here," sabi ko at napatingin naman silang dalawa sa akin. "What?! But we don't have enough members!" reklamo ni Hyder pero tinanggal ko na ang sign sa table. The cheering intensified when Tanya, the Queen of the Court, was getting ready to serve. I had watched some of her games during high school and she's famous for her power serve and I think her serve is one of the best in high school and even collegiate level. When the referee blew his whistle, Tanya tossed the ball up to serve and with a powerful hit, she got a service ace, accompanied by a loud cheer. However, the ball went to our direction. There were girls behind me so that gave me no choice but to stand up. I estimated the trajectory of the ball and caught it before it reached the bystanders. Hyder looked at me, as if I did something crazy. But damn, that stung. It really deserved to be called a 'power serve'. The volleyball team and some students were looking at me so I decided to return the ball . . . with my own serve. With my jump topspin serve, I gave back the ball to the volleyball team and just like her, I got a service ace. The crowd fell silent and curious eyes followed me. "Let's go, boys," sabi ko naman pero mukhang wala sa isip nilang umalis. "Why now? The crowd's attention is on us," Hyder said with a cunning smile. "What are you planning—" He suddenly grabbed the ball and dribbled it toward the court. Just like a while ago, he maneuvered himself with such footwork as the students watched him. I was about to tell Cord to hold him back but he was already on the court with him. "Go back there," he ordered and almost all the students near them backed away. As I told before, Cord might be a quiet and reserved but inside the court, he has this intimidating aura that could stop you in your tracks. "Oh. Can you stop me?" hamon ni Hyder at tumayo naman si Cord sa ilalim ng post. Initially, I wanted to stop them but after seeing the rising tension between them, I thought it might be worthy to see how they would play against each other. With Cord's imposing stance under the basket and Hyder's athleticism, this could be the foundation of my team. Hyder advanced to the front court while Cord was observing him, anticipating his every move. Hyder was about to penetrate but the ball suddenly disappeared from his hand. "Oh my god! Where did he come from?!" "I didn't see him before doing that!" Maging ako ay nagulat dahil sa nangyari. A much shorter guy wearing a bright yellow shirt appeared on the court. "You're dribbling too high." The guy who stole the ball from Hyder dribbled it with incredible speed and grace that it looked like it was just floating around him. Hyder tried to get the ball back but the guy has a great ball handling skill. I was about to stop all of them but just like Hyder, the guy attempted to penetrate and shoot the ball. "This is easy—" "Not on my watch." Without any hesitation, Cord jumped to intercept the guy from shooting and swatted the ball before it could reach the basket. The ball bounced to the ground, silencing the bystanders near us. After a few seconds, I heard them murmuring, amazed by what just happened. "That's enough, guys," sabi ko pagkarating ko sa court at napatingin naman silang tatlo sa akin. I looked at the guy who appeared out of nowhere and smiled at him. "You're Yusef Endo, right?" Mukha namang nagulat siya dahil hindi niya akalaing kilala ko siya. He's actually one of my prospects even though he didn't make a name during high school. He was in a seeded school before but he wasn't part of the starters. "Don't tell me you're the coach?" tanong niya. "Nasha Gomez, and yes, I am the coach," I said while extending my hand. "Hm . . . interesting," sabi niya naman at saka inabot ang kamay ko. "I'm in." And just like that, I obtained my first guard.
"Y-yes, Sir! I want to play setter!" "Next." Ilang varsity teams ang nandito ngayon sa loob ng gym para sa recruitment at tryouts. They didn't need to roam around the campus to look for promising players. The team's strength was enough to attract both strong and aspiring players. No wonder the volleyball and tennis club got the most number of people, though only a few would surely survive. I passed the recommendation letter and registration form to the coordinator and he paused momentarily when he saw those papers. But after a few seconds, he gave me a nod and set up a place for enlistment. He put a basketball team tag on my table and those who saw it started whispering to one another. "B-basketball?" "Hey, is this for real?" "Who is that girl? A manager?" "Didn't the basketball team dissolve last year?" "Is this some kind of a joke?" Hindi ko sila pinansin at tiningnan ko ang oras sa phone ko. Seriously, what was that guy doing? He was supposed to be here by now. I'm gonna punch him when I see him. Muli kong dinial ang number niya at ilang rings lang ay sumagot agad siya. "Hello—" "If you're not here within a minute, I'm going to kill you," I threatened and I ended the call before he could say anything. Kinalma ko naman ang sarili ko at nilibot ang paningin ang buong gym. Ang dami pa ring tao at nagsisimula na ang kani-kaniyang tryout ng volleyball at tennis team. Well, those teams were the best here so they really wanted to filter these applicants. On the right side, the baseball and soccer teams were also starting to move. All of them went outside for the field tryout. "Hey, isn't that West Zamora?" "Saan? Nasaan siya?" "Whoa! So dito nga siya pumunta sa Orven." "Wow! Even Arcel is here!" "Those are big shots right?!" Oh. The big fishes were finally out, huh? Hearing their names brought both excitement and fear to the crowd. Who wouldn't be thrilled? The monster rookies from different fields were right in front of their eyes. God of Spike, West Zamora; Prodigy of Tennis, Arcel Santillan; Batter's Demise, Bliss Aurora; King's Keeper, Aloysius Quezon; Queen of the Court, Tanya Peralta, and there were still more of them. Orven University was really becoming the den of the beasts. I heard heavy footsteps coming to my direction and I already knew who that was. "Made it in time—" "You're ten seconds late," I said, cutting him off. "What? No way!" He was wearing his usual attire: a white undershirt covered by his black hoodie, rippes jeans and white sneakers. He ruffled his messy tapered hair but halted when he saw the tag on my table. His expression hardened and he let out a sigh. Cord Palermo. My first choice for the basketball team. "Sena," tawag niya habang nakakunot ang noo. "You can't do this." "Why? Is there any reason why I couldn't do this, Cord?" Hindi siya nakasagot agad at alam ko ang dahilan. We were childhood friends and he was the only person around my age who knows my family. We grew up in the same neighborhood but due to his mother's work, they had to move to another place. I heard that in high school, he became a basketball player in Reven High, one of the semifinalists in the high school division. However, he didn't have the chance to become a regular. Since our fathers were close friends, I learned that he went to Orven University where there was no basketball club. But I wasn't going to waste his ability. "Sorry, Sena. Mukhang mali ang taong nilapitan mo," sabi niya sabay talikod sa akin. "Whether you like it or not, you're going to join my team, Cord." Napahinto siya pagkatapos kong sabihin 'yon. "I know why you picked this university but this isn't like you." It seemed like my words had an effect on him since he suddenly halted. Humarap siya sa akin at napansin kong napatingin ang ilan sa kanya. Maybe because of his height. For a 6'6'' first year college student, he was quite a sight. "Hindi na ulit ako maglalaro," mariin niyang sabi. "'Yon ang desisyon ko pagkatapos ng araw na 'yon. Sorry but I need to go." "Just because you didn't get to play?" I retorted. I was sure he was talking about the semi-finals. "You're quitting because you didn't get your chance? That's out of your character, Cord." "That's exactly the reason," sagot niya naman. "I didn't get to play because I don't have the ability. I was not a regular that's why I didn't have the chance." "You have the abilities, Cord." What he doesn't have is confidence. "And I'll make sure to use your full potential." He heaved a sigh and turned around, ignoring my reasons. Patuloy lang siyang naglakad palayo sa akin. He was hopeless but I really want him on my team. If he's with me, I know that aiming for the top wouldn't be just a dream. "Hanggang dito ka na lang ba?" I taunted. "Do you think you have reached your limit? I'm not the type to praise someone but listen: I am creating a team who can fight anybody, a team of champions, and the first person I think of is you. I don't care if you weren't a regular before or you didn't show your abilities during the games. I would still choose you because I know what you're capable of." Pagkatapos kong sabihin 'yon ay tumayo ako at naglakad papunta sa kanya. I couldn't see his expression but when I stood beside him, I saw the frustration on his face. Kinuha ko ang bola mula sa gilid at naglakad malapit sa ring. Heads turned around when I started dribbling the ball. I know I'm still not good enough to beat that annoying brother of mine (why am I even thinking of him right now?) but my skills are enough for me to play on college level. Without stepping out of my place, I jumped and threw the ball. The sensation when I released the ball felt good and when I got on the ground, the ball went inside the ring. "Whoa! That was a three-point shot!" "Ang galing! Ang ganda ng tira niya." "Grabe pwede siyang kunin ng Women's Basketball team!" 'Di ko pinansin ang mga naririnig kong usapan at nakatingin lang ako kay Cord. The ball rolled toward him and his feet stopped its momentum. "Pass it," sabi ko at tumingin siya sa akin. "I want to shoot." I could see that he was having second thoughts based from his expression but I was holding on to that little hope. In the end, he picked the ball up and looked at me with his frustrated eyes. "What?" inosente kong tanong habang pinipigilan ang pagngiti. You see, for any basketball player, once the ball is on their hands, their body would automatically respond to it. And Cord was not an exception. Just by looking at him holding that ball, I could sense his great presence on the court and how he could lead the team I am starting to build. I really want him on my team and I'd do everything to get him. "If you're not going to shoo—" That was it. I was silenced by his sudden movement. The next thing I knew, I was looking at him, flying toward the rim, slamming the ball down. The board and rim were still shaking after that spectacular dunk and that was the only noise I could hear for a few seconds. Bigla na lang may mga nagpalakpakan at rinig ko rin ang pagkamangha ng ilan sa nasaksihan nila. Mukha namang napansin 'yon ni Cord kaya agad siyang yumuko at naglakad pabalik sa gilid. Hinarangan ko naman siya agad. "Hey," sabay lahad ko ng kamay ko sa kanya. "Did that feel good? So, are you going to be on my team now?" Kumunot naman ang noo niya sabay buntong-hininga pero nginitian ko na lang siya dahil alam ko na ang susunod niyang sasabihin. You set me up. "You set me up." "Well, I'm good at it." After I said that, he tapped my palm and I smiled in return. "I'm just doing this because—" "Yeah, yeah, yeah. As long as you stay on my team, that's good." He sighed again because he knew he couldn't do anything about it anymore. Sumama siya sa akin pabalik sa table at nakita ko namang nailang siya sa mga taong nakatingin pa rin sa kanya matapos ang slam dunk niya. He's a reserved guy and seeing him getting all shy made me want to tease him. "Bakit ka namumula? Ikaw naman 'tong nagpasikat. Look," sabay tingin ko sa direksyon ng mga babae. "Those girls seem impressed." Pagkasabi ko no'n ay tiningnan niya ako nang masama kaya natawa na lang ako. Pagkabalik namin sa table ay umupo siya sa tabi ko at pinasulat ko agad siya sa application form. Napangiti ulit ako dahil nakuha ko ang unang player na gusto kong mapunta sa team. I thought I'd be needing her to recruit him, given his bitter experience from high school, but I managed to get him all by myself. Napansin ko namang naging seryoso ang expression ni Cord matapos niyang magsulat sa form. He was staring at his hands and after a while, his eyes wandered at the court. "One more time," he whispered and I understood his feelings. "So, saan nagpunta ang teammates mo?" tanong ko sa kanya. "Karamihan ay sa Nueva College pero meron ding iba na pumasok sa Kingdom University." "Oh. Those are the seeded teams from the previous season, right?" Tumango naman siya sa akin. "And you decided to go in Orven University just because it doesn't have a basketball team." "And here you are, trying to form a new one." "Kumagat ka naman." Kinuha ko kaagad ang application form niya. "You can't escape from me anymore." Napatigil naman kami nang biglang may nagsigawan. Pagtingin namin, sa side pala ng volleyball team ang dahilan ng hiyawan. Tanya Peralta, the high school MVP, was about to serve. "When I heard you're going to Orven, I thought you'd be there," sabay tingin niya sa volleyball team. "I got tired of it," sabi ko naman at naalala ko ang huling laro ko. "Because you still can't beat her?" This time, siya naman ang ngumiti at ako ang sumimangot. "I'm still nowhere near her level. She's The Queen." Naalala ko bigla ang huli naming laban. One-on-one ang set-up pero hindi pa rin ako nanalo. The final score was 25-10 and I got pissed when I discovered that she even gave me a handicap. "They also got a queen here," sabay tingin kay Tanya. Tinaasan ko siya ng kilay. "A queen-wannabe, you mean?" Umiling na lang ako habang patuloy pa rin ang pagsigaw ng ilang estudyante nang nag-serve siya. I was about to tell him something when I saw someone from my peripheral vision. A guy was walking toward us and I elbowed Cord for him to see that person, too. Yes, I set up Cord earlier to bring back his confidence, but another reason was to get the attention of the crowd . . . and the players. "Is this the basketball team?" tanong ng lalaki. With his buzz cut hairstyle, earring in his right ear, furrowed brows and unbottoned uniform, he looked like a delinquent. A troublesome one, huh? "Yes," sagot ko naman. Bigla naman niyang kinuha ang bola na nasa gilid ng table at tumingin siya kay Cord. All of a sudden, he rushed to the court and did a stepback jumpshot from the three-point line, earning several praises from those who had seen his move. He walked back as if nothing happened and stood in front of us. "Hyder Jacob," sabi niya habang nakapamulsa. "Where's the coach?" Napangiti naman ako. "I'm here," sagot ko at inabutan ko siya ng application form. "Welcome to my team." Well, I just got my second player.
"Class dismissed. Bring your requirements tomorrow, okay?" "Yes, Ma'am," sagot naming lahat. After three classes, tapos na rin sa wakas ang araw ko. Kaninang umaga ko pa gustong maglibot sa campus kaya naman isa ako sa mga naunang lumabas sa room. I wanted to see the different sports club, specifically, that one. I immediately marched into the Gymnasium and went straight to the faculty room at the far end. Pagpasok ko roon ay ang daming estudyante rin ang nagtatanong tungkol sa iba't ibang sports team. It was not that surprising since this school was known for having strong teams when it comes to different kinds of sports, especially volleyball and tennis. Last year, both teams got the championship and this year, there were rumors that they have a stronger line-up compared before. "Excuse me," I said, catching the attention of a professor. "May I know who the adviser of the basketball team is?" Pagkasabi ko no'n ay napatingin sa direksyon ko ang mga nakarinig. They stared at me as if I said something wrong. "Uhm, wala nang basketball team ang Orven University," sabi niya at tinitigan ko lang siya. "They got disbanded last year because all of the remaining members quit." His statement was followed by an awkward silence and those who heard our conversation gave uncomfortable expressions. "I know that," I said, much to his surprise. "Then why are you . . ." "I'm here to re-establish the basketball team," I firmly announced. "Wha—" "So, can you please tell me who's in charge of the basketball team before, Sir?" He looked so stunned after what I said, and I even heard some students talking about how crazy my idea was, but I didn't budge. I only have one goal. Tinuro naman niya agad sa akin ang cubicle ng dating adviser kaya agad akong pumunta roon. "Good afternoon, Sir," bati ko at tumingin sa akin ang isang middle-aged man. His black, shaggy hair covered one of his solemn eyes. Exhaustion was evident on his face. "Yes? Anong kailangan mo?" "I need a registration form and a recommendation from the previous adviser to get the basketball club back." Gaya ng prof na nakasalubong ko kanina ay nagulat din siya sa sinabi ko. Ilang segundo pa akong naghintay bago siya magsalita pero imbes na sagutin ako ay humila siya ng isang upuan at pinaupo niya ako sa harapan niya. "Are you serious? The basketball team is already disbanded." "Of course, I am, Sir." Tinignan ko siya nang seryoso dahil sa sinabi niya. Ano pang ginagawa ko rito kung sa tingin niya ay hindi ako seryoso sa sinabi ko? Hindi naman ako mukhang nagjo-joke. "Miss, it's not that easy," he started. "The basketball team of this university is known for being weak, that's why nobody wants to enter the team." For a second, his eyes glinted in pain. "Last year, the remaining members were only the seniors and after losing their first game, they retired and their underclassmen decided to quit." Yeah. I heard about that incident before I chose this university. Orven was once famous for being one of the elite basketball teams but that was two decades ago. They had a set of outstanding players who led their team to the top. That was their golden age. However, after that era, the team's ability declined steadily until they disappeared from the elite circle. And last year, they hit rock bottom. The team disbanded and nobody decided to stay. "Isa pa, wala na rito ang coach ng basketball team. Wala na ring players. Wala ring silbi kung mag-apply ka bilang manager." Napataas naman ang kilay ko sa sinabi niya. "Who said I am going to apply as the manager?" He looked at me in confusion, unsure if he heard me right. After a few seconds, his eyes widened. "Then what exactly are you applying for? Don't tell me . . ." I entered this school because of its current situation. One more thing, I promised them that I would show my abilities in basketball. Sa katunayan, bago ako pumasok dito ay naghanap na ako ng players na pwede kong makuha. Hindi nga ako makapaniwala na dito pumasok ang iba. Thinking about forming a team with them and leading them in games made me look forward to meeting them. Tumayo ako sa harapan niya at agad na pinakilala ang sarili ko. "I'm Servienne Nasha Gomez and I want to be the coach of the new basketball team," I announced and even though he already had an idea, he was still dumbfounded. I only have one goal, and that is to revive the former glory of this school. Just like what my father did twenty years ago.