Life changes overnight for coach John Harrison when his high school basketball team and state championship dreams are crushed under the weight of unexpected news. When the largest manufacturing plant shuts down and hundreds of families leave their town, John questions how he and his family will face an uncertain future. After reluctantly agreeing to coach cross-country, John and his wife, Amy, meet an aspiring athlete who’s pushing her limits on a journey toward discovery. Inspired by the words and prayers of a newfound friend, John becomes the least likely coach helping the least likely runner attempt the impossible in the biggest race of the year.
|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.60(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
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FEBRUARY 2014 ICSAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Coach John Harrison told his Cougars the game would be a dogfight, and he was right. It was a seesaw, scratch-and-claw battle and both teams played well, making few mistakes and hustling for every loose ball. When the buzzer sounded to end the first half, the Cougars led the Knights by three points. In the locker room, John gathered himself and drew on his playing days. He knew exactly how those boys felt — the adrenaline, the aching muscles, and the drive to win. He wanted it just as bad — maybe more.
"We're going to keep driving to the basket," he said. "We're going to attack their defense and force them to foul. This is our night. We are going to win this game."
John had decades of playing and coaching experience. He was forty-five but felt twenty-five, and a game like this brought out all the competitive juices. His dark hair had thinned a bit, but other than that and the few extra pounds he carried, he felt in his prime. He was made for games like this, for the challenge of going against a good team with a good coach.
However, in the second half, his confidence waned when the Knights pulled ahead. He regained some hope when his son Ethan hit a three-pointer with eight minutes remaining.
"This is it," John said in the time-out. "We're up by two. We don't take the foot off the gas pedal. Strong passes. Drive to the basket and get a good shot or pick up the foul."
John knew coaching was reminding. In the middle of the battle, players needed to hear a coach's words. Tell them, tell them again, and keep beating the drum. As he spoke, he sensed the momentum swinging their way. The crowd was with them, buoying them, and why wouldn't they be? They were playing in their own gymnasium. The league had made that decision a year ago because of its size and location. The Cougars were taking advantage of their home court.
John grabbed Ethan as the time-out ended. "How you feeling?"
"I'd feel better if we had a bigger lead," Ethan said.
John smiled. On the next play, the Knights broke toward the basket and a Cougar player sacrificed himself and took the charge. The referee blew the whistle and called a blocking foul on the Cougars. John folded his arms, gave the ref a look, and called the next play.
Momentum is a cruel friend, and it turned on John and his team. With two minutes to go, they were down by eight points. In the huddle on the sideline, John desperately tried to make his team believe again.
"Look at me," John said intensely. "All eyes right here. This is exactly where we were last game with them, chasing them from behind. Remember what happened? They're scared we're gonna do it again."
"Let's do it again, Coach," Ty Jones said.
The team attacked the court with fire in their eyes.
Ethan scored quickly, then stole the ball and put it in the basket. With less than a minute left, the score was 84–80. John yelled for full-court pressure and forced the Knights to call their final time-out.
"Come here, come here, come here!" John yelled, pulling his team together, the crowd going wild. The boys gathered around him, sweaty, lungs burning, fatigued. But he saw players hungry for his words. They knew they had a coach who believed in them.
"Okay, listen, they're going to try to hold the ball and run out the clock. You gotta keep the pressure up. Get in their face! When we get the ball back, run a double flex and look for Ethan or Jeff for a three. Then crash the boards.
Stay in full-court press till it's over. Cougars on three."
John counted them down and their hands went into the air with a shout of "Cougars!"
John saw it in their faces. He had given them confidence by saying, "When we get the ball back ..." There was no question or doubt in his voice.
The Cougars were built around three players: Ty, Ethan, and Jeff. John joked that they'd played together since they were in diapers. Other teams feared the Ty/Ethan/Jeff juggernaut because they worked with one mind, one heart. An opposing coach called them the "velociraptors" for their ability to coordinate.
John glanced at his wife, Amy, who sat in the stands with their younger son, Will. She'd been to every game this season, cheering him on but cheering twice as loud for Ethan, their older son. She looked his way, and he smiled, knowing she had his back.
Ty intercepted an inbound pass and the ball went to Jeff Baker, who drained a three-pointer. With only seventeen seconds left, the Cougars were in business.
No time to celebrate. John waved and yelled for a full-court press. They needed one more steal and one basket to pull ahead.
Instead of trying to run out the clock, the Knights drove to the basket but missed a layup. Another Knight rebounded and dunked the ball. The Knights went ahead 86–83.
As long as there was time on the clock, there was a chance.
"Ethan!" he yelled.
The ball came to his son. Three seconds left. Ethan dribbled twice, lunging toward half-court.
"Shoot it! Shoot it! Shoot it!"
Ethan launched a high, arcing shot. As the ball descended, the buzzer sounded, but instead of swishing through the net, the ball caromed off the rim and bounced harmlessly away.
The Knights celebrated. Ethan put his hands behind his head and knelt, totally spent. A hush fell over the gym and John looked at the scoreboard. He wanted to sink to his knees like a few of his players. But he couldn't. Instead, he clapped and urged Ethan from the floor as the home crowd chanted, "We are proud of you! We are proud of you!"
John shook hands with the Knights' coach and congratulated him.
"You've got a great team, Harrison," the man reciprocated. "We were lucky tonight."
"Luck didn't have anything to do with it. You fought hard. Good job."
As he walked from the court, he glanced at Amy and Will, locked in a hug, clearly crushed by the loss. They'd been sure this was the year. Instead, John was a runner-up yet again.
John found Ethan outside the locker room and he pulled his son in for a hug. He was almost as tall as John now. When they walked inside, they heard the chatter of defeated boys.
"We had 'em," Jeff said. "The refs gave them that game."
"I got hacked all night and the refs didn't call nothin'," Ty said.
John got their attention and took a deep breath, looking for words he hoped he could believe himself. What was supposed to be a celebration felt like a funeral. He had to help them see something they couldn't.
"All right, everybody, look at me," he began. "I wanted this one, too."
He looked at Ethan, then the others. Joining his voice with that great cloud of past coaches, he said, "I am proud of you."
The boys stared at him, believing. He saw it on their faces. And he knew the next words were not just for them, but also for his own heart.
"And here's the good news. That team is the biggest hurdle we'll face next year. They're graduating four of their starters while all of you are coming back. We'll also be that much stronger. Which means next season we take everything."
His words washed over them. Though devastated by the loss, they nodded and accepted the challenge. He had given them hope in the midst of defeat. Too bad that hope for next season didn't come alongside this year's trophy.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Overcomer"
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is excellent! I saw the movie and had to read the book. It was more than I believed it could be and really filled in the unanswered questions of the movie.