Written by FinneganOtter
“I’m not gonna get drafted.”
Hudson Dielbach sat on the end of the hotel bed, looking out the window at the sparkling Las Vegas strip. One hand held a cell phone to his ear while the other pressed into his forehead in frustration.
“Man, shut up. You’ll be fine,” the voice on the other end said.
“God, Matt, I wish I had your confidence.” The squirrel groaned as he laid back onto the bed, staring at the ceiling.
“Dude. You’re the best player I’ve ever played with.”
“Matt, we were teammates in high school. That was rinky-dink podunk small-town Montana. That’s fucking nothing compared to the level of play here.”
“Matt, you don’t get it. These guys were stars at big-time colleges and, like, played actual pro ball overseas. What the hell did I do? I wasn’t good enough to go anywhere out of juco and spent three years playing with dudes who called themselves Big Man and Deep Freeze.”
There was silence on the other end for a few seconds.
“Hudson, you wouldn’t be in Vegas if you weren’t good enough to get picked.”
Hudson sighed. “Man, whatever. I need to get some sleep.”
With that, he hung up the phone.
- - - - -
“Yeah, Coach, that kid you got playing point can really play. Shame he’s not six or seven inches taller, then we might want him.”
- - - - -
The hotel gym was nearly empty at six a.m. Hudson’s only company was the bleary-eyed ram who scanned his key card at the front desk and a single middle-aged bobcat in ill-fitting workout gear wheezing his way through a treadmill session.
Warmup, flexibility, strength, cardio, cooldown. The same thing, nearly every day, for five years. It was meditation at this point for Hudson – he could lose himself in the pain and in the hip-hop blaring through his earbuds.
The leg press setup wasn’t cooperating with Hudson, and he must have made his frustration obvious, as he noticed the ram from the front desk making his way over.
“Here. I know it’s a funky setup,” the ram said in a flat, gravelly voice as he messed with the rack. “You should be good now.”
“Thanks,” Hudson responded, starting to put his earbuds back in.
“So, uh, you here for the draft or something?” the ram asked.
“Hmm? Oh. Yeah.”
“Oh cool. You, like, a journalist?”
“No. I’m, uh, one of the players.”
This was met with a raised eyebrow from the ram. “Oh! Well, uh, good luck,” he mused, more than a little skepticism apparent in his voice as he turned and walked away.
“Fuck you too, my dude,” Hudson mumbled under his breath.
He added twenty pounds to the machine and turned the music up.
- - - - -
“Juco guys are risky, you know. I just think, you know, this guy’s undersized, he’s got a hell of a lot to prove and I haven’t seen enough to take a chance on him.”
- - - - -
The restaurant was way off the Strip – the perfect place for Hudson to be alone and anonymous. He sat by himself at a table near the back, picking his way through a generously portioned pasta dish and trying to think about anything other than the draft that night.
The buzzing of his phone took him out of his thoughts. His agent’s name appeared on the screen.
Hearing some rumblings that someone’s gonna call your name tonight, the text read.
Hudson sighed as he tapped out a response. I’d honestly rather think about literally anything else right now.
You doing okay?
Yeah. Just need some time for myself.
Hudson set his phone to silent and took a long drink of water as the waiter, a graying Golden Retriever with a nametag reading “Peggy”, made her way over to the table.
“How’s the food, hon?” she asked as she refilled Hudson’s water.
“Oh, uh, it’s great. Can’t complain,” Hudson responded, forcing a smile.
Peggy set down the pitcher. “Everything okay? Ya look a bit down.”
The question stopped Hudson for a second. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just have a big…thing tonight and I’m a little nervous.”
Peggy’s eyes lit up. “Oh, you’re one of those basketball guys, aren’t ya?”
Hudson chuckled a little. “Yeah. At least I’m trying to be.”
“My grandson looooooves watching y’all play. Hey, you wouldn’t mind signing somethin’, would ya?” Peggy asked, pulling out a pen and a slip of paper.
“Oh, uh, sure!” Hudson took the pen and scrawled out a signature, asking for the child’s name and writing a personal message underneath.
Peggy took back the slip. “Hudson, huh? Well, I hope your ‘thing’ goes well tonight. I’ll be watching wherever ya go.”
- - - - -
“These streetball guys, this is pretty much the end of the road. No one takes another step up after Big Shot.”
- - - - -
Hudson felt tiny in the massive ballroom, surrounded by flashing lights, huge cameras and dozens of other draftees. The blue tie dug into his neck and his whole suit felt heavy and uncomfortable.
The first several picks had gone pretty much as expected. A bunch of Top 24 players and other marquee guys were off the board, but there was still plenty of talent left.
Hudson had read all the online scouting reports, against the advice of his agent, and the predictions were echoing in his mind – early second round and mid-to-late second round and unlikely to be drafted.
Why the hell am I here?
Ten picks. Fifteen picks. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen…
Suddenly, a phone call. Hudson was too sick to his stomach to answer. His friends and family around him started making noise, but he couldn’t process what they were saying.
The commissioner stepped up to the podium.
“With the twentieth selection of the 2017 FBA Draft, the Texas Lone Stars select…”
Another phone call. Hudson’s heart jumped into his throat.
“Hudson Dielbach. Billings Technical Community College.”