Carl crossed the court, smiled at Larry then turned to Ray. “Is this him?” he asked Larry.
“This is Ray Elwin,” said Larry. “Ray, this is Carl Derrick. He’s overseeing team preparations.”
Ray and Carl shook hands.
“Great to meet you, Ray,” said Carl. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“This is the new team?” said Ray, looking around the court.
“That’s right,” said Carl, turning around. “They look good, don’t they? I scouted most of them myself. A lot of talent in colleges, I tell you.” He turned back to Ray. “You know what I’m talking about.”
Ray shoved his hands into his jacket pockets and cleared his throat. “Who have you got as coach?”
“Well, we had Shawn Jacobs from Arizona.”
Ray nodded. “Good. He’s tough. He gets results.”
“But that situation has evolved,” said Carl.
“He quit yesterday,” said Larry.
“It’s for the best,” said Carl. “Under his leadership, the team wasn’t really meshing. There’s a much better vibe about the place today.”
“I was just pointing out to Ray the diversity in the new team,” said Larry, with a hint of a grin.
Carl’s eyes lit up. “Oh, you better believe it,” he said, slapping the back of his hand against Ray’s chest. “We’ve got players from across the gender spectrum, and every race. See Troy over there?” He pointed to one of the men taking jump shots. “His grandfather was Latino. And Marcus there is Native American. How about that? A Native American playing for Dunk Force! And best of all, we have one of our female players captaining the team. About time, I know.”
“Wait,” said Ray. “How many women are there on the team?”
“We have two,” said Carl, looking a little confused by the question. “Right there.” He pointed to the small group in the passing drill.
Ray’s eyes narrowed. “Who?”
“Right there,” said Carl. “Kylie is wearing the number seven jersey, and Tiffany is number thirteen.”
Ray looked at the player wearing thirteen, then he looked at Carl. “Thirteen?”
“That number thirteen there, with the long hair and the tattooed arms?”
“Yes, that’s right,” said Carl.
“He’s one of the biggest dudes I’ve ever seen.”
Carl spun around to face Ray. “Not he—she. Tiffany may have been born a biological male, but she now identifies as a woman.” He leaned in with a cautionary glare. “And she is welcome on this team.”
Ray stared at Carl for a moment, then watched Tiffany passing the ball. Her hulking triceps bulged as she flicked the ball effortlessly to her teammates. Ray looked at Larry. Larry nodded and shrugged. Ray murmured to himself then cleared his throat. “Well, I’d like to see them in practice.”
“You’re looking at it,” said Carl. “I know it’s kind of relaxed, but I don’t want to overwork the players a week out from a big game. I want them in the right frame of mind.”
“Do you have any basketball experience?” asked Ray.
“None,” said Carl, without the slightest dip in confidence.
“Hey Ray,” said Larry, “I’ve got to go over a few things with Carl, so why don’t you go talk to some of the players? Maybe give them a few tips. Is that all right, Carl?”
“Absolutely,” he said, with almost-convincing eagerness.
As Larry and Carl walked off toward the team bench, Larry talking in a hushed voice, Ray scanned the laziest training session he had ever witnessed. He sighed and crossed the court to the far end, to the most promising fragment of the team—at least those two players were shooting baskets. He introduced himself, and, after a short chat, learned the young men, Troy and Jay, were starting guards for their respective college teams. Carl had told them the government would take care of their student loan debts if they joined Dunk Force, so they joined. They seemed like good kids, and they clearly had talent. Ray left them to their training and went to observe the other players. He passed the two in yoga poses; they wore headphones and appeared so engrossed in their stretching that Ray chose not to disturb them. He walked along the sideline until he came to a foldout table set up with plastic cups and a large drink cooler. From there he watched the four players performing the passing drill. Three of them—the man in the wheelchair; Kylie, the tiny white woman who was also team captain; and Tiffany, the massive transsexual woman—seemed almost bored with the activity’s ease. Apparently, the exercise was for the benefit of the fourth member of the group, the towering, out of shape Native American. He was struggling to keep pace with the others, and his passing was unacceptably inaccurate for a player who would soon be competing for international success, not to mention the lives of four Americans.
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