My excitement continued to build as the day progressed. It was the first game of the season I suited up, put on my jersey, laced up my brand new basketball shoes, and put on my warm-up clothes. We came out of the locker room to start warming up. I started to dribble the ball, I took a layup, and fired a jump shot. The crowd began to grow as people made their way to their seats. The gym was filled with people coming to see the game and I was excited to finally play the first basketball game of my high school career. The sound of the buzzer signaled the end of the warm up period and the team huddled around the coach on the sidelines. As the coach went through the line up, I noticed that I was not going to start the game on the basketball court. It was a painful realization but I was hopeful that I would get to play if the coach needed someone. I was wrong.
I did not play a single minute in that game. I sat at the end of the bench, while everyone else enjoyed the rush of playing in the game. This went on for the next three games until one day one of my teammates fouled out of the game. Coach chose to sub me in. I was nervous but I was not going to let that get in the way of my first ever basketball game. I found it easy to get the ball in the post and use my big frame to get in my pocket and go in for the layup. I was able to get the ball all game long and I ended up scoring 12 points.
During a time out, the varsity coach came up to me and gave me tips on how to better my game. After the game, he approached me and explained to me that he watched me play and liked what he saw. This motivated me more to not slow down and to get even better. We had a couple of weeks of no games so every day after my first game, I pushed my body and my mind. I would workout twice as much and lift more than my body was able to handle. I would get home after practice and go outside to practice my shooting and dribbling. I would watch NBA games and mimic the moves that the professionals used. When it was time to start playing again, I felt like a different person, mentally and physically. My coach started to put me in more often every game because he noticed that I made a difference on the court. After that, I never missed a game.
My hard work paid off and it felt great. My freshman season came to an end and I was invited to play with the varsity team that summer. Nothing was for certain but he just wanted to see how I played with the bigger kids. I was a starting player on the junior varsity team by sophomore year, which was a huge achievement, but I wasn’t done yet. The whole year I was a starting player for my team, every game that we played that year I was one of the starting five. That year I scored my career-high 23 points in one game. The last game that year was when I realized how far I had come. That day, I genuinely felt like I was the best player on my team. My coaches and teammates even assured me of it. I was excited to learn that I was invited to play on the varsity team during my junior year. I went from being a bench player that did not play his first three games to a player in varsity that is still hungry for a championship ring. My hard work brought me this far and I am not done yet. I will continue to work harder and harder to be the best version of myself. This has taught me that with the right mindset anything can be achievable. My story isn’t over yet, I am only getting started.
© Joey Ortiz. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.