Beanpole gets basketball tips and friendship from a girl named Ning.

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Shannon felt as if she were walking on stilts.“Screen!” Shannon yelled to Ning. “Switch!”

The player Shannon was guarding had positioned herself to block Ning from Teri. Teri would be wide open unless Shannon and Ning switched players.

Shannon crouched and moved toward Teri. As a smirk spread over Teri’s face, Shannon regretted the switch. She was in over her head guarding Teri, and she knew it.

She recalled Coach Foster’s advice at the beginning of gym class: “Keep your body between your girl and the basket.” But it wasn’t easy, especially since Shannon had grown four inches this summer. Her little brother called her Beanpole. Every step she took, she felt as if she were walking on stilts.

Teri drove to her right. Shannon tried to stop her, but before she could take one step, Teri took three and made a basket.

After gym class, Shannon and Ning walked toward the locker room. “I hope I do better in the tryouts than I did today,” Shannon said. The tryouts for the sixth-grade basketball team would be held in two weeks.

Teri came up behind them. “You did OK today, Shannon, but some people are just too hot to handle.” Teri touched her finger to an imaginary stove and yanked it back.

“And some people’s heads are too big to fit through the door,” Shannon muttered.

Shannon knew she needed to improve a lot before the tryouts. After school she and Ning met on the playground to practice.

“Ready?” Ning asked.

Shannon nodded.

Ning dribbled to the left side of the court.

Shannon reached for the ball. Ning whisked it up, slid it around her waist, and dribbled it again on her right side.

“Great trick,” Shannon said, admiring Ning’s coordination, “but you traveled.”

“I did?”

“Yeah, you can’t pick up the ball between dribbles.”

Then it was Shannon’s ball. She dribbled once and sprang up for a jump shot. The ball soared over the backboard.

“Too many Wheaties this morning?” asked Ning.

“No—just too much of me.” Shannon sighed. “I wish I were as coordinated as you. You’ll make the team for sure.”

“Ha! I don’t even know the rules,” Ning said.

“Hey, maybe we can help each other out. I’ll teach you the rules, and you can help me stop tripping over my own two feet.”

“It’s a deal,” Ning said. “I know some basketball drills that might help.”

Shannon and Ning scrimmaged on their own every afternoon after school. In gym class, everyone worked on dribbling, passing, and sprinting. Finally at the end of the week, Coach Foster called for a scrimmage.

“Play to ten,” coach Foster said.

After five minutes of play, the score was tied. Julie faked left. Shannon stepped right, mirroring her movement. Julie drove past her along the baseline. Shannon spun around, not wanting to be responsible for the losing basket. Desperately she raced toward Julie.

“Unh!” Shannon tripped and crashed to the floor.

Ning walked over and offered her hand. “So much for all our work,” Shannon said.

“Haven’t you ever heard the saying ‘Rome wasn’t built in a week’?” Ning joked.

“It’s ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’”

“Well, Rome wasn’t built in a week, either.”

Shannon and Ning spent another week playing basketball every day after school. The day of the tryouts finally arrived.

As the coach blew her whistle, Shannon sprang off the bench, ready for action. Taking her position guarding Margie, she mouthed “Good luck!” to Ning, who stood nervously next to Teri. Shannon was glad she and Ning were playing on the same side.

“Play to ten, girls,” Coach Foster said.

After ten minutes of play the score was eight to eight. Teri’s team had the ball and a chance to win.

“Run a play, girls,” Coach Foster directed.

“Play three,” Teri yelled.

Shannon strained to remember play three. There was no time. Margie ran toward Teri at the top of the key and set a screen on Ning.

“Switch,” Shannon yelled. She had to take a chance and guard Teri.

Shannon dropped back as Teri came off the screen. She’d rather let Teri take an outside shot than be beaten to the basket for a lay-up. Teri looked for someone to pass to, but Shannon knew Teri would rather make the winning shot. Teri brought the ball over her head.

“Shot,” Shannon yelled, surging forward with her hands high in the air. She grinned when she felt the tip of her hand touch the ball, blocking the shot.

"Rome wasn't built in a week."Teri stared as the ball bounced toward the edge of the court. Ning raced toward the ball, grabbed it, and stormed toward the other basket, making a lay-up to win the scrimmage.

“Good block, Shannon,” Coach Foster said. “Nice fast break, Ning.”

After all the girls had a chance to scrimmage, Coach Foster called them together. “I’m sorry we have room for only twelve girls on the team. To the rest of you, thanks for coming out for tryouts. I hope you will keep playing. Now, here are the lucky twelve.” As Coach Foster read each name, cheers filled the gym.

When she called “Ning Shiou,” Ning grinned at Shannon.

“… Teri Paynes,” Coach Foster continued. “And last but not least, one of the hardest-working players we have—you’ve come a long way, Shannon.”

Shannon slowly raised her head, her eyes shining.

“Not bad,” she thought. “Not bad for a beanpole.”