"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.