The one thing I can do is shoot. People know this. But Luke leaves me open on the wing-mistake. Jackson kicks to me and, as natural as a heart pumping blood, I fire, follow through, bury another J, the ball ripping through with a crisp sound. Yes, one thing I can do is shoot the ball.

"Nice stroke, Nate," Jackson tells me, and we bump fists.

Come November, I'll be in a battle for playing time-Coach Harper wants me to improve my ball handling, defense, conditioning-all those things that don't come as easy as my jump shot. Personally, I think we need a shooter like m on the floor, but I know how to play Coach's game, too, so I never say a word. For now, though, it's open season: We have enough to run full-court, no subs, as long as the sun lights the court behind Sigma Chi, one of the fraternities at the local college. Like the other frats, it's vacant over summer, the open court an invitation to us now, though during the school year none of us would ever approach the place; to the college kids we're just high school townies, at best an inconvenience to their good time. When they leave, though, the town is ours-as it should be-and every day we're at the court. The frat itself is huge, one of five on the block, but all the other houses and apartments here are run down, some with broken windows, some with litter-strewn lawns, properties my parents say are brought down by being so close to a frat. Last I knew, my brother had moved into one of these places.

My folks don't make me work-really, they don't make me do anything anymore, since they'd actually have to turn off the TV and get out of their chairs to do that-so I get here earlier than the others, giving me more time to fine-tune the J. I start in close, making sure my form I straight, refamiliarizing my hands with the feel of the leather, the dimples on the ball worn almost smooth as my fingers. I let my body find that fluid rhythm of knees-elbows-wrist, one flowing gently to the next until the shot is almost an organic extension of my body. Then I move in small arcs away from the hoop: ten feet, then twelve, then fifteen, then stepping out to twenty. Once I get warmed up it's just bucket, bucket, bucket-not even touching the rim. Smooth. What I work on these days is pull-up jumpers and fadeaways, shots where I have to hurry a bit, working on holding form even when I'm off-balance, leaning back until I can feel my muscles flex all the way up to my shoulders. Bucket, bucket. I'm gaining strength, too, which helps my chances. Today I put in a full hour before the other guys show.