It was the summer after the National tournament had ended. Shohoku's prestige was something to be proud of as they had beaten the former champion, Sannoh. Shohoku proved to all of Japan that they should be watched and are a force to be reckoned with. This story takes place after the manga ended. In this story the main characters involved are Sakuragi, Rukawa, Miyagi as the returning starting members with Kazuya and Nitta as the new starting members. The story begins in the Shohoku basketball gym.
Sakuragi is working hard to improve his game and recover from the injury he had sustained during the Inter-High. He had gone through intensive treatment to heal his back and he was grateful that the therapy was able to heal him. The thrill of the game, the atmosphere, and the competition were things Sakuragi had missed. He would come to the gym alone sometimes during the break to practice what he knew, trying to improve his jump shot, dribbling and the others.
One day in the vacation break...
"Sakuragi...will you come to the gym please?", Haruko asked with a sweet voice.
"Yes..Yes.. Haruko-san, I'll be there as fast possible.", Sakuragi answered in his humorous and nervous fashion. sakuragi finally had achieved his dream, he finally started to form a relationshp with Haruko which started only after the Inter-High. But there was another love that he had, the love which Haruko planted into sakuragi, the game of basketball.
Sakuragi wore his clothes, white T-shirt and jeans and swung his dufflebag over his shoulder which was filled with his uniform jersey and Air-Jordans. Sakuragi rode his bike as fast as possible dodging pedestrians on the street and crashing into a fruit stand. Of course he was chased by the owner but he was able to pedal to safety and reached the school gym in one piece.
"Haruko-San, how are you? Why did you call me here?", Sakuragi asked Haruko who was standing in front of him with her sweatshirt and shorts.
"I'm fine Sakuragi. I asked you to come here because My brother said it would be the time for you to train harder and become a better player.", Haruko explained.
"Your brother? what does he have to do with me? Isn't he off to some college or something...", Sakuragi said whining.
"No.. He's right here..", she exclaimed.
"What???", Sakuragi expressed as his jaw dropped to the floor.
"YOu fool. How are you going to be a top center if you don't work to improve your game",
a deep voice sounded as sakuragi was pounded on the head by a heavy punch.
Sakuragi turned to find to his dismay, Akagi standing before him."Goo...Gooo. Goori?", Sakuragi said to himself." Why are you here??You didn't get accepted to college and dropped out??", sakuragi asked mocking Akagi.
"NO you idiot. I'm here for you...You will be the starting center for Shohoku this year and you don't have enough skills to play the position..", Akagi explained pointing a finger at Sakuragi.
"What!!!!!", Sakuragi shouted," I shot the game winner against Sannoh and I beat Masafumi. I can do it.."
"You think that proves you're the best? Fool...YOu may be talented but if we refine your skills you'd be unstoppable.", Akagi explained. Akagi had seen sakuragi progress in the Shohoku club. Form being a beginner who knew nothing about basketball to someone who possessed the talent to become something big.
"And you want to teach me...What exactly?", sakuragi asked curiously.
"Everything to become the best center", he said. "I'll show you."
"Sakuragi-san. I know if you work hard, you'll be the number one player in Japan.", Haruko complimented.
"Number one player in Japan. Hmmm", he thought to himself. "I can beat Rukawa then.. Hehehe..", he said with a smirk on his face. Rukawa owns the title of being the number one player in Japan informally because he beat Eiji and made the All-Japan team selection. He was the starting smaal forward on a team filled with the best Japanese players."I'll beat you Rukawa, I'll show you who is the real Tensai-genius"
Akagi and sakuragi faced each other in a one-on-one game of basketball with Haruko as the referee. Akagi moved towards the basket and was about 10 feet away from the basket. Akagi tried to get a beter position but couldn't because his strength was outmatched by Sakuragi.
"I never knew he was this strong." he thought. "First lesson. Turn-around fade-away jump shot.", he said as he turned and did the fade-away jump shot.. The ball went into the ring perfectly. Sakuragi tried to defend it but was unable to do so. "Did you see that sakuragi? Something they taught me at college.."
"I saw it Gori...But I have seen that shot before...But where...", sakuragi wondered.
"It's Hanagata's shot.", Haruko answered.
"That's right, in the game against Shoyo Hanagat performed such a shot against you Gori.", he said remebering the game against Shoyo "You couldn't stop him..."
"True..It's a skill shot that's hard to master. But if you do learn it, defenders will have a hard time stopping you. Now second skill, shooting the ball after the dribble without hesitation.", Akagi said. as he performed such a shot. "This is the shot used by Sendoh, Rukawa, Fukuda, and other top players. You must learn this too Sakuragi. There are many things you have to learn. With what you have, you're a good player but you may even become a great player if you want to be one. You must learn manyt hings before that though.", Akagi flattered Sakuragi. "You have athletic ability that no one else has. You can jump over the tallest centers and run pass by them like Miyagi. YOu have to hone your athleticism to be a dominant force."
"Understood Gori. How teach me for crying out loud.", he yelled at Akagi
"Sakuragi.... You're already an amazing palyer. 5 months ago you were just a beginner who couldn't do much but rebound. But now You're on the brink of greatness. You have a jump shot, an inside shot, the king of rebounds, great defense, and a never ending determination. You are going to be one of Japan's best.", Haruko thought to herself.
Everyday during the vacation break Sakuragi trained his heart out with Haruko and sakuragi's gentai. Like with the jump shot training they were there videotaping Sakuragi's movements and body mechanics so he could learn how to shoot. Sometimes Akagi would come on the weekends and personally train Sakuragi. Akagi took time off from college on the weekends to return to Kanegawa. He was a rookie at the college level and was being taught new things but he realized that Sakuragi would benefit greatly from the things he had learned at college.
Days passed as Sakuragi worked his butt of everyday of the week. He was shown tapes of the movements and skills he had to learn performed by some of the top players in Japan. He trained by shooting 50,000 fade-away jump shots regular and turn-around, in the first week. He practiced shooting fade-aways form different areas and different distances from the basket. The farthest distance was about 20 feet and near the end of the session he was making the fade-away jump shot with great command and confidence. The second week saw him learn to dribble like a point guard and improve his handling of the ball to complement his speed, agility, and quickness. The third week saw him do the dribble shot, dribbling the ball and shooting a jump shot from different areas and distances. Lastly he learned how combine everything he knew and made use of his natural atletic ability. Also his jump shot was getting more consistent.
Last day of training during the vacatin break...
"Last shot...", Akagi said.
"I hear you, Gori", Sakuragi answered as he performed a dribble to the left, hesitated turned his body around and performed a fade-away jump shot.
"Great job Sakuragi..", Haruko shouted loudly. "You've done it..."
"I have to... We can't all depend on Rukawa to do everything should we?", he answered.
"How about a one-on-one game sakuragi..", Akagi challenged." What good is your training if you don't try it against in a game like environment.."
"You're on Gori..don't cry if you can't guard me..", he mocked laughing with his trademark laugh. "Thanks for showing me the ropes, Gori."
"You're ball Sakuragi.", Haruko tossed Sakuragi the ball and she acted as referee.
"Come on sakuragi. We had to be stuck with you for the whole vacation break, at least show us something/", sakuragi's gentai complained.
"why don't you all shut up and let me play", he shouted furiously. "Come on, Gori.", he turned his attention back to Akagi.
"Huh", Akagi shrugged.
Sakuragi backed down on Akagi till about 15 feet from the basket. He perfromed a head and shoulder fake, which Akagi taught him during training, to the right while his body motioned the same way. Akagi moved to the right side. Sakuragi fekt this and turned around towards the opposite direction, the left. Akagi closed him to the left but sakuragi took stride to his left, dribbled once and took a fade-away jumper which rose above Akagi's outstretched hand. The ball passed the basket aperfectly.
After the shot sakuragi smiled a smile of success. "I've beaten you, Gori. I told you that you should be careful...", he grinned.
"You're gonna be a force this year Sakuragi. I bet everyone will be surprised at your ability. You may win the national title.", Akagi mentioned.
"We will win it.. I swear it..", sakuragi answered seriously.
Vacation Break ended and they all returned to school. After school was over, the current members of the basketball team rallied and met at the gym. It was the selection of freshmen to eneter the team and the beginning of the new season. Also there were Mitsui, Akagi, and Kogure who wre inivited back by Ayako.
"Hey, Sakuragi....", shouted Miyagi at Sakuragi's direction as he had just enterd the gym, "Long time no see, man."
"Miyagi...", sakuragi answered," where have you been hiding. It looks like you grew a couple centimeters.", he joked.
"Sakuragi....", Ryota said looking down at his shoes, "Don't make fun of my height you idiot.", Miyagi yelled in Akagi-like fashion and gave lump on Sakuragi's head. "what have you been doing all summer?"
"Probably sleeping..", a voice answered, it was Rukawa. Rukawa had finished his training with the All- Japan team and had decided to return to Shohoku and not leave for America until he graduatd high school. He wanted to take Shohoku to be national champions first before anything. "What would an idiot like him do other than that on a long break."
"Rukawa you stupid Moron.", Sakuragi retaliated. "For your information..", Sakuragi began talking when Haruko covered his mouth with her hand.
"Don't tell them", she whispered. "Surprise them later on."
"You're right, Haruko. Action speak louder than words.", he thought to himself.
"I'll show you later...", Sakuragi told Rukawa.
"Oooh. I'm scared", Rukawa mocked.
"Alright everyone..Assemble", a voice shouted which sounded very much like Akagi, it was Akagi actually. Everyone assembled in a line. The 2nd and 3rd year players formed one ine and the freshmen formed another line.
"Alright now, it's the start of a new seasom.", Ayako began her speech. "As you all know we made to the semis of last year's National Championships and we beat the best team Sannoh in the process. We also showed everyone who we are and that Shohoku is a great basketball club. This year the only goal is the national championships."
"RIGHT!!!!", the 2nd and 3rd year players all shouted together. " To be the number one team in Japan. To be the best and beat everyone who stand in our quest.", they continued.
The 1st year students were all impressed with the attitude of their senior. Among them thought, there was a single freshmen who stood out and didn't act surprised. He knew Shohoku were a great team, he knew form the moment the Shohoku team elimintaed Ryonan and Shoyo in their path to the national championship. His brother had told him so and he wanted to see if he could become a great player at Shohoku for Rukawa was there, and Rukawa was his brother's greatest rival (HInt: you know don't you). The kids' name was Kazuya.
"Alright, all freshmen please stay in line and all 2nd and 3rd year players please get ready and start regular practice.", Ayako commanded.
Ayako was now going to select a couple names who would be on the Shohoku roster. She and Haruko, especially Akagi, Mitsui, and Kogure wanted to see the new bunch of talent that Shohoku had. BEcause Anzai wasn't there it was up to them for the time being to select the members. They began scanning down the list while asking each freshman to introduc themselves.
When it came to Kazuya's turn, everyone became quiet. Kazuya was quite tall for his age, 187 cm and he was built like an athlete. He had a smile all over his place when the spotlight was his. The most importants bit was that he looked so much like Sendoh.
"Tell us your name..", Akagi began talking.
"Kazuya. It's Kazuya Sendoh. Call me Kazuya not Sendoh.I play all position but I love shooting guard. I come from Taketa Junior High.", he said sternly although a little cold but he had a smile on his face.
"Kazuya Sendoh...Sendoh...Akira Sendoh. It can't be", Akagi thougt to himself after looking at Kazuya more carefully. Akagi whispered to the rest of the selection team," He's Sendoh's brother...", after Akagi looked at the similarities in appearance between Kazuya and Sendoh.
"No way. Just because he has the same last name doesn't mean that's he's Sendoh's little borhter.", Mitsui commented. "Maybe it's dumb luck"
"But I think he might be right. Look at him. He looks like Sendoh and he's as tall as Sendoh. You can see some of Sendoh in him."
"I agree.", Haruko said.
"Sendoh..I mean Kazuya...Get back here please.", she asked Kazuya
Kazuya walked back to the front. HE thought to himself," Have they figured it out?" Maybe". Kazuya's 1st year friends also thought the same thing. Could Kazuya really be Sendoh of Ryonan's little brother. They did see the same similarities like Sendoh.
"Are you related anyway to Akira Sendoh of Ryonan High?", Ayako asked.
"I should be related, Ayako sensei.", Kazuya answered in a polite manner this time."We live in the same house and he's the one who taught me basketball my whole life in junior high. He's my best friend and most important he's my older brother.", Kazuya answered.
In reality, Kazuya and Sendoh were brothers. Kazuya was 2 years younger than Sendoh and growing up it was Sendoh who was a mentor for Kazuya growing. Kazuya modeled his game after his older brother who's regarded as one of the best players in Japan.Sendoh taught Kazuya everything he knew and Kazuya displayed amazing talent at such a young age. He was the ace of his Junior High team and an amazing player. He admired his brother very much but he wanted to play on a different team than his older brother to begin his own journey and to escape the shadow of his older brother.
Everyone in the gym was shocked. Even the 2nd and 3rd year players who overheard were shocked. Sendoh's little brother in Shohoku, why?
"Why do you think he's here?", Sakuragi asked Miyagi.
"I don't know for certain, Sakuragi. I just don't know.", Miyagi answered.
"Sendoh has a younger brother. Great...Is he as good as his brother though", Rukawa commented.
"What's wrong everyone?", Kazuya asked as the 1st years and the selection team all appeared lost in a different world.
"You're really Sendoh's brother?", Haruko asked. Kazuya in a not believe kind of manner.
"I'll prove it to you then.", Kazuya said as he walked up to Rukawa and smiled.
Rukawa had the intense look in his eyes., "Who is this kid? Who does he think is", he thought to himself. "Show me you're related to him.", he said as he threw the ball towards Kazuya's direction.
Kazuya caught the ball and started dribbling. He dribbled near Rukawa.
"Remember the move you did on my brother in the Inter-High League. Only two people could do that shot, You and Sendoh. He taught me that shot. Maybe tha'll prove something. Guard me...I want to show everyone"
"Fine...Show me that you're really his brother. Can you do the dribble shot?", Rukawa accepted the challenge.
Kazuya took the ball and began to drive to the basket. Rukawa was tightly marking him.He was going right and was sideways, then he suddenly stopped and did the between the legs dribble and shot that only Sendoh and rukawa could make. The ball was shot perfectly and it hit nothing but net. It was a shot that not everyone could do but only certain people.
Everyone was amazed. Kazuya really had the skill and he showed that in front of Rukawa the number one player in Japan. It was a cool sight to see. But one question pondered everyone, why pick Shohoku ? Why not play with his brother at Ryonan?
Kazuya walked back to the line of 1st year players and stood in front of Ayako. "Does that prove who I am? If you still don't believe me, here is a photo of me and Sendoh.", Kazuya said as he pulled out photos from his wallet which showed him and sendoh together and them with their family.
"I believe you..", Akagi said as he gave did not want to look at the photos. "We all believe you, Sendoh. But one question though. Why pick Shohoku?"
"Please call me Kazuya. Sendoh's what people call my brother. I want to be known as someone as his brother but also as myself.", he answered."The reason I picked Shohoku...Simple... I want to play for you. Anzai told me… I want to play against my brother and I want to play with you guys because I think Shohoku is the best. And I want to play against my brother in the national tournament. I want to beat him and beat all the top players in Japan. Especially Eiji.."
"Eiji of Sannoh High?", Kogure asked. "Why?"
"It's something personal…But I'll tell you this much. I am not his shadow.", he answered with a cold stare.
"Thank you, Kazuya. Go back in line please.", Ayako ordered. "All 1st year players follow Kogure to that part of the gym", Ayako pointed to an empty palying court in the gym. "Sendoh..I mean Kazuya and Nitta please come here."
"Nitta..", Kazuya thought. "Nitta from my school is here?", he thought to himself. "Nitta, you're here..."
"Yeah...", Nitta answered. "They must have been surprised when they figured out you were Sendoh's little brother."
"Definitely.....I didn't think you'd join.", Kazuya said.
"I decided you needed a running buddy.", he answered. "You're still upset with Eiji? They always said he'd be a star but now you want to prove you can play on the same level, don't you?"
"You're right. I want to play my way. I want to go against him one more time. I want toshow him that I've changed since Junior High School. I'm better now than the past me…"
"We can make this happen…", Nitta answered.
Nitta is Kazuya's friend from his junior high days. On that team, Kazuya played shooting guard while Nitta played Power Forward. Nitta is 189 cm tall and weighs 88 Kgs. He is not a polished offensive product, although he can do layups, jump shots, and some post moves but he was known for his defense in junior high. They were known as Ying and Yang. Ying symbolizing Kazuya's attacking abiltiy and Yand symbolizing Nitta defensive abilities.
"Sendoh, Nitta.", Ayako said. "you two are the most athletic from all the other 1st years. We want you to have a game. Would you like to play a game to display your ability?"
"THat would be our pleasure", they both answered.
"Sakuragi, you're with Kazuya and Miyagi. Rukawa, you're with Mitsui and NItta.", Ayako oredered.
"Why do I have to play?", Mitsui asked Ayako.
"Because you can teach Kazuya the importance of your shooting ability…", she answered. "Or are you telling me you can't play anymore… ?"
"What do you mean by that? I can still play and I'm better than I ever was..Alright then", Mitsui accepted.
Both three-men teams began to warm up, Sakuragi's team wore blue while Rukawa's wore red. Akagi acted as the referee for the confrontation. The rest of the 2nd and 3rd year players were spectators for the game.
The game tipped-off and Sakuragi won the jump-ball. The ball was quickly caught by Kazuya as he brought it up court. He then passed the ball to miyagi as he being defended by Mitsui. Rukawa guarded Kazuya while Nitta marked Sakuragi.
"You re a great player Rukawa. You do know that. Sendoh thinks you're better than him at this point.", he said to Rukawa while they faced each other.
"Well you can thank him for the compliment. I see you can do the dribble shot but can you display all of Sendoh's game and ability.", he challenged Kazuya.
"Sendoh's game and my own Rukawa...", KaZuya answered. "I have my own style of game. I am not my borhter's shadow anymore. Just watch…."
Kazuya ran to the top of the key receiving an entry pass from Miyagi. he then turned dribbled to the left side. Sakuragi cut back to the right but he was being closely guarded. Sakuragi yelled for the ball anyway, "Give me the ball brother of hedgehog-hair king."
"You want it here take this.", as Kazuya performed a no look behind his back pass which sakuragi caught perfectly. He then performed the feint to the left, dribble lateral right, turn-around and fade-away jump shot. The shot was successful and everyone in gym except Akagi and Haruko were amazed. No one expected it.
Consideration for the shot. Nitta was closely marking him. Sakuragi used his quickness and athletic ability to catch Nitta off his guard and shoot the ball.
"That's not Sakuragi... Someone must have switched bodies with him...", Mitsui joked still surprised.
"No way can he do such a shot… That was just luck…", Miyagi added.
"Ridiculous but effective shot. I see you've improved your game Sakuragi. Looks like you didn't sleep all the time huh.", Rukawa said. Even though he was ridiculing sakuragi he knew that that shot was real and that Sakuragi meant it. Rukawa could see that the Sakuragi right now wasn't the Sakuragi of last year."Now you can actually play..", he said in a cold fashion.
"Rukawa…..You…", sakuragi growled.
"Great shot…", Kazuya said as he tapped sakuragi's shoulders.
"What.. Ooh thank you", Sakuragi said as he turned around. "Let's defend the basket."
The game started to boil. The competitive atmosphere was there as they played. Even though it was only a practice match each person had something to prove. And it was only going to get hotter as each passing moment went by.
"Okay…Let's do this…Let's beat them…", Mitsui said.
"Give me the ball. I'll take point ", Rukawa ordered. "Hey newcomer, can you play inside and rebound?", he asked Nitta.
"Sure thing, I'll give it a try", Nitta answered.
Rukawa brought the ball up court with great speed. Miyagi was guarding him and even though it was Miyagi. Rukawa still was able to elude him with his amazing handle of the dribble and his skill. When Rukawa neared the three point line he slowed his pace and dribbled to Mitsui.
"Switch. Force the pick'n'roll ", Rukawa told mitsui.
Mitsui Setup the pick'n'roll for Rukawa. Because he was screened out and Miyagi was out of position, Kazuya and Miyagi did switch defense It was now Kazuya marking Rukawa and Miyagi marking Mitusi. Rukawa passed the ball to Mitsui and was out to shoot a three pointer when he saw Rukawa wave his hand and made a cut in front of Kazuya to the right side with great speed. Kazuya followed behind Rukawa who had cut in front of him. Mitsui passed the ball over Miyagi to Rukawa who caught it chest high. Then Rukawa dribbled once to the right and had his body in motion to do another dribble. Kazuya saw this and tried to close him down. When Rukawa saw Kazuya motion to his right side, he pivoted his body and turned his shoulders and torso in the other direction, to the left side, while still in a running motion. His legs were spread so Rukawa performed a between the legs crossover dribble (he was dribbling with his right hand). He received the ball with his left hand, squared his shoulders (now his right shoulder was facing Kazuya), and began to dribble and ran at great speed. Kazuya was eluded and dazzled by the move like everyone else.
"You lost this round, kid." Rukawa said as he passed by Kazuya.
"I won't let you Rukawa", Sakuragi yelled as he ran to Rukawa's position.
Rukawa jumped high and his body motion was saying he would dunk the ball. Sakuragi also jumped and he jumped higher than Rukawa. Sakuragi was determined to block the shot.
"You're not gonna score with your double pump dunk on me Rukawa…", he screamed.
"Who's gonna do a dunk anyway, fool." Rukawa said as he turned and spinned to the his body in mid air to the left passing Sakuragi's body on the side. "I'm can do many things you idiot." Then Rukawa performed a reverse lay up shot that bounced off the back board and into the basket.
"Amazing… How'd he do that…He was so quick… I was dead in my tracks…", Kazuya said to himself.
"He real quick alright." Miyagi added. "Couldn't stay with him…"
"He's improved in great bounds since he joined the All-Japan Team." Akagi commented to Ayako. "He maybe the number one player in Japan."
"Damn Rukawa. What was that? You made me look like a fool!!! I'll get you Rukawa!!" Sakuragi shouted after he was beaten.
"Try me… You'll never beat me if you don't train harder you dumb fool. You couldn't read my body movements.", Rukawa explained. "And you brother of Sendoh, one thing differs you from Sendoh. He was a much better defender than you. He had greater intensity. You couldn't react quick enough."
"…", Kazuya sighed. "Understood, Rukawa."
"Don't stand around here. Attack.", Miyagi yelled as he dribbled the ball up court. "Sakuragi go the high post…"
"I hear you ! pass me the ball!", sakuragi commanded.
Sakuragi received the ball from Miyagi. He feinted left and tried to go right.
"I won't let you!", Nitta said. As he closed Sakuragi down.
"Over here Sakuragi…", Kazuya shouted. Sakuragi passed the bal to Kazuya and Kazuya drove to the basket. "I'll beat you Rukawa."
Kazuya drove to the baseline feint right and spinned left and shot a fade away jumpshot. To his surprise though, Rukawa blocked the shot and he was in front of Kazuya's face when Kazuya was fading away.
"I could react defensively. I could read your move. You're not quick enough and elusive enough." He said as they landed.
Kazuya jumped and was able to get the ball. Now the tension in Kazuya mounted. Rukawa shoed why he's Japan's number one high school player. He was an offensive juggernaut and also had great defensive awareness and ability. The training with the All-Japan Team greatly improved Rukawa.
"I won't lose." Kazuya moved behind the three point line. He then quickly dribbled right twice. Feinted his shoulder to the left and performed a fade away jump shot to the right off the dribble. Rukawa couldn't reach the ball because Kazuya feinted and fade away to the right fooled Rukawa. "It's in Rukawa…"
"Too rash and too quick. A fade away from three point are. Impossible!" Akagi yelled.
"You're right Akagi." Ayako thought. "He couldn't aim accurately an his balance was off. It's too risky too shoot such a shot."
Nitta on the other hand thought differently. "His fade away off the dribble. Kazuya, you're really serious to show them your skill"
Rukawa looked back at the ball as soon as it had been shot. He stared at the ball and its trajectory. "Damn…. I guess you're right… Nice shot" Rukawa said as both he and Kazuya landed. Rukawa was feeling the same wat he felt as when he played Sendoh, Eiji, and Tsuchiro. It was building inside of him, the motivation to win. "You shot the ball well for an off the dribble fade away jump shot from the three point line. Did Sendoh teach you this?"
The ball was shot at a high arc and had nice speed. It was going for the basket and too everyone's surprise it went in beautifully, nothing but net. It was a masterful shot that needed great skill and power but most important accuracy.
"What was that? He shot the ball with confidence in his eyes though." Mitsui said to himself. "He has that look of a player who knows when his shot will go in… And it was a three pointer for the most part. He must be something.. But how come no one's heard anything of him before? Something about Eiji from Sannoh ? I wonder what ?" Mitsui thought to himself.
"He might be the scorer who can help Rukawa in scoring this year. But Sakuragi…
He's trained hard and has proven that he can be a scoring threat also" Ayako wondered. "This is the year we win the national tournament.
"Sendoh taught me the off the dribble shot and the fade away. He taught me many things but not everything. He said 'Always try to be yourself when you play. Use your skill, your ability, and your mind when you play. Be confident in what you can do.' So this shot is something that is a part of my game.", Kazuya explained.
"Hahaha... Great shot little hedgehog..", Sakuragi greeted Kazuya's successful shot. "You made Rukawa look like an amateur. Number one player in Japan.. Huh"
"I can still beat you red-head monkey idiot." Rukawa said sharply
"Damn you Rukawa!" sakuragi retaliated.
The 3 on 3 game continued in an intense atmosphere each possession showed the ability of each of the players involved. Everone were able to see sakuragi's improved and diverse offense, Kazuya's brilliant play and Sendoh-like offense, Nitta's defensive tenacity, and more importantly Rukawa's amazing ability which improved even greater after his training and his improved stamina. The score ended 35 to 38, victory for Rukawa's team.
"Damn it we lost…But I'm happy…" kazuya said. "I got to see Rukawa's true ability, Sakuragi's defensive energy and surprising offensive skill, Mitsui's marksmanshp, and Miyagis quickness and dribble. Shohoku is very strong"
"We lost by 3 points. If only I could score a three. Damn it. That first year is a good defender and a good rebounder." He said to Kazuya and Miyagi.
"Reminds you of someone doesn't it. All defense, energy, and rebounds. Not enough offense…" Miyagi joked with a wink. He was talking about hhow Sakuragi played last year. "He's a lot like Sakuragi.."
"No way Miyagi. I'm a tensai.. There can only be one Tensai…" sakuragi replied.
"Damn…", both Miyagi and Kazuya sighed.
**Puff** "That was a good game." Mitsui said to Nitta and Rukawa.
**Heavy breathing** "That kid, Sendoh's brother is quite a great player at his stage. And sakuragi, who would've thought that Sakuragi of all people would be so much better playing offense in a short time. And you're not bad your self kid." Rukawa said
"I'm Nitta..Thank you" Nitta answered.
After practice was over they all assembled again before they were dismissed. Then they heard foot steps coming from the door, it was Anzai sensei. He had arrived after some time at Shohoku. He walked in happily and smiling radiantly as ever.
"Hohohoho" Anzai said in his usual happy and cheeky fashion. "This is a very talented group of youngsters" as he walked up in front of the lines. "I'm sure that you are good players and very determined. I believe that we can only become stronger with new youthful energy. Selection will be determined this Friday. You may go now.
"Dismissed!!" Miyagi yelled. "Hey I' the captain" he added to Akagi and Ayako.
Kazuya didn't dismiss himself but on the other hand he walked towards Anzai Sensei. He bowed once he was face to face with Anzai Sensei. There was a smile of gratitude in his face.
"Anzai Sensei." Kazuya said. "Thank you. Thank you very much for this chance, this opportunity. I promise to win, Sensei. I promise I'll complete my goals just as you once told me to."
"You're welcome, Kazuya. Now go home and get some rest. And say hi to your brother for us" Anza replied. Kazuya ran quickly out of the gym and went home straight away. He was gald with his first day at Shohoku and was happy to see Anzai Sensei again.
Meanwhile the senior members of the basketball club stayed behind and had a talk with Anzai Sensei. What would be their strategy, whou would play what position, and how does Anzai know of Kazuya. There manythings which needed answers.
"Anzai Sensei. You knew Kazuya was Sendoh;s brother? You knew he was such a good player for someone his age…" Miyagi asked blatantly.
"And how or where did you meet him, Anzai Sensei? How come I've never heard of him?" Mitsi asked.
"Easy now, boys. One question at a time. Yes I knew he was Sendoh's brother when we first met." Anzai answered as he started to tell the team how'd he met Kazuya and everything.
It was during the Junior High championships, the last year of Kazuya and Nitta in Taketa Junior High. In the Semifinals, Taketa were defeated by another Junior High School, the same junior high school which Eiji from sannoh attended before he went to sannoh. In that game, Kazuya scored the most points but his teammates couldn't keep up with him or help him. In that game, Kazuya scored half of Taketa's point but his team still lost. After the game, Eiji, who was still in 2nd year approached him.
"Good game… Maybe you should think of moving to Sannoh.." he said to Kazuya.
"Sannoh High? The nuber 1 team in the nation? That would be an honor. But I don't think so. It's not in my district." Kazuya answered.
"You could be a great player kid."
"The name's Kazuya Sendoh. You're Eiji right? The number one player in the nation"
"That's right. Sendoh eh? You don't play like him when he was in Junior high, not even close. Not to say that Sendoh is good anyway, he didn't even make the national tournament, got beat by Shohoku." Eiji said strongly.
"You… You… You idiot. Don't disrespect my brother. You're nothing compared to my brother. He's a great player, better than you. And I know all his moves." Kazuya answered blatantly. "I'll show you."
"How about a one-on-one game then?" Eiji challenged.
"Fine by me. I'll beat the number one player in Japan." Kazuya warned.
"Basketball is a team game, that's why Sendoh lost. His team let him down. If it's one-on-one then it's a show to see who has the greater individual talent and ability. You're only a junior high player.. what can you do against me"
The game was 21, the first to score 21 points. It was a very lopsided match with Eiji destroying Kazuya completely in a 21-5 thrashing- Kazuya was devastated with the outcome because he couldn't do anything against Eiji.
"keep practicing…You're going to need a lot of it. Don't even think of joining sannoh then with that ability. You'd be a burden rather than a player. Sendoh's really your brother? Then he's not good enough to play for sannoh." Eiji mocked as he exited the empty gym. Kazuya could only answer in quiet as he was still shocked form his defeat.
The gym though wasn't empty, Anzai sensei was watching the match from the bleachers. He approached Kazuya who started to pack up and go home. There was a face of disappointment on Kazuya's face.
"Very good game, young one. Sendoh must have taught you well" Anzai approached Kazuya.
"Oh. Thank you very much Sir. Yes Sendoh taught me many things but it's nothing. If you saw the game I had with Eiji, even though it was a one on one game for fun, my skills were nothing."
"Don't be sad like that. You had just played a whole game. You were tired. But to be able to play like that…You're an amazingly gifted player like your brother is.He's an amazing player and will only get better each time he plays."
"How do you know my brother? You're not the coach of Ryonan High."
"NO, I'm Anzai. The coach of Shohoku High School."
"Shohoku!!!" Kazuya said in surprise. "The team tha beat Senodh and Ryonan?"
"Yes. But I'm here to offer you a chance. I want you to join Shohoku." Anzai suggested. "You're quite gifted, you only need to train harder and play at a higher level."
"I can't Anzai Sensei. I want to join Ryonan and play with my brother. I want to go and win the national tournament with him."
"Have you ever seen a flower blossom or a caterpillar become a butterfle? IF you go to Ryonan you can't develop yourself, the character of how you play, and your definition of playing. You would never blossom as a player, never turn into a butterflr. Do you know why?" Anzai asked. :You would always be in your brother's shadow if you join Ryonan because you have similar styles of play. Be yourself. If you join Shohoku you might develop into something even greater than your brother and Eiji. You may have a chance to bloom into a flower more beautiful thatn anyone of them."
"Be myself." Kazuya wondered. "Sendoh you were right. 'Be yourself when you play. Have confidence in your own abilities.' Greater than you. I'll try Sendoh."
"If you still don't believe my words then please watch Shohoku play in the National Tournament. Two of our players, Rukawa and Sakuragi, are the definition of development. They are flowers who have blossomed much but not have shown their true beauty." Anzai said.
"Rukawa? The one wo beat my brother? Sendoh said he's an amazing player who'd be number one player in short while. While Sakuragi is the one who has high energy and who makes the competitive fire inside of each player burn. You mean they're not at their highest level of play?" Kazuya answered.
"Rukawa wants to be number one player in Japan and so does Sakuragi. Each has a fire, a motivation which pushes them to play their own style of game and push the limits of their game into another level. They have the will to play, to be the best. They're still freshmen but I assure you that when they bloom, they will be a force that no one might not be able to face."
"To be number one you have to…You have to blossom into the most beautiful flower then…To beat the national champions sannoh, you must be greater than sannoh itself. How can you be so sure..?" Kazuya exclaimed.
"Belief. Believe in yourself and you will be strong no matter the obstacle." Anzai preached. "I have to go home right now but please think of my offer. It is for your future of basketball.
"Yes Anzai. I'll think it through." Kazuya answered. "Believe in myself. To play my own way." Kazuya wondered.
"So that's how you're acquainted with him. But why is he so low profile for a semi finalist in last year's tournament for Junior High teams. He could have at least made an impact in the media. Why haven't any of the other schools tried to recruit him?" Mitsui said.
"He was in Sendoh's shadow." Anzai answered. "He hadn't escaped it yet. He told sendoh he'd go to Shohoku. He never really showed interest in any of the other schools. They said he was a maverick with Sendoh's skill and ability but not his presence. But it seems he has improved since the last time I met him. He has begun to create his own presence.. "
"Can we please discuss other matters than that Kazuya. How doyou think of our team now, Anzai Sensei. With the genius getting better, I'm sure we can win the national title, eh old man." Sakuragi cried out laughing as he pulled Anzai's chin. "did you see my fade away shot?"
"Sakuragi!!!!" Miyagi and Akagi both yelled as they lumped Sakuragi in the head.
"Hohoho.." Anzai laughed. "Yes Sakuragi you've mproved tremendously and Rukawa your level of play is number one in Japan."
"Thanks, Anzai." Rukawa answered.
"Our formation, how will it be? Will we integrate the 1st years into the team?" Ayako asked."
"I have a very good idea after seeing that game. Miyagi, you play point guard. Rukawa you play small forward and Sakuragi plays center." Akagi began explaining.
"How about shooting guard and power forward?" Miyagi asked.
"Kazuya will play shooting guard nad his friend Nitta will play power forward." Anzai answered. "What I want now is for the 2nd and 3rd year players who are reserves to improve their games. We need your contribution if we want to win the national championship. We can't always depend on the starters to do everything. I want to play a rotation which plays our strength. Tiko, you must learn to play point guard. Yasuda, you're our Kogure, learn to shoot the ball better. Eishii, Kaketa, you must be more athletic and shoot. For all of you, it's you turn to contribute to the team. Adjustment period has gone by, it's time to prove your ability." Anzai explained.