Written by FadedForest
Matthew’s knee bounced, bumping into the encroaching airplane seat that enclosed all to close for the weasel. He gazed out the window of the plane, his face impassive and unfocused on the scenery passing below. The indifferent look was a thin mask, one that barely hid his frustration as he dwelled on the season.
First the disappointment of not receiving an All-Star Game bid, while others from his draft class were. Then his inability to step up in the three-point contest resulted in yet another early exit, losing in the second round. His performance was no better than last year.
He sighed, All-Star week had been a disappointment, but he was deluding himself if he tried to place the blame of his current mood on those few days. No, it had been slowly building through the season as a whole. On a team level, they had all struggled, and it showed in their near last place record. While his own personal stats had increased, as expected with the extra minutes each game, his overall production felt no better than last season. Only in his second year and he felt he had stagnated. That thought sent chills down the weasel's spine; stagnating was something he could not afford, especially so early in his career. Which left him with the question of where to go from there.
With no events left for All-Star Week, Matthew had a few days off before the season started back up. So he boarded a plane not long after his three-point contest exit, uninterested in spectating the rest of the events. But, Dakota was not his destination; for he had another plan in mind for the weekend.
All-Star Week had resolved him to act on an idea that had bounced around his head over the season; something that would hopefully drastically help him improve. He was so focused on the plan that the journey was a blur; from the plane touching down, to the cab drive to his destination. Matthew cared little of the ocean scenery or the bustling city around him as they drove, and instead focused on what he was going to say when he got there. Finally, they came to a stop having reached the location. Stepping out of the cab he now stood in front of Biloxi State College.
After paying the cabbie, the weasel took in his surroundings. The school’s building architecture stood out compared to the surrounding buildings that lined the campus. Walking through campus the atmosphere brought back nostalgic memories of his college years. Even the occasional stares he would get from the students looking at the tall, out of place weasel were the same.
After searching around unsuccessfully, he asked a few students for directions and was eventually able to find the athletics department. He scoured the halls until he found the office he was looking for. He took a deep breath before he rapped his fingers on the door.
“Yes?” A voice called from the other side. Matthew took that as an invitation to enter. The door swung open, revealing a red fox sitting behind a desk, intently focused on the computer screen in front of him.
“Sorry to disturb you Mr. Rouge, but I was hoping you had some time to discuss some business,” Matthew said.
“I’ve already told the lot of ya, I'm not interested in endorsei-,” glancing up from the computer, Barton stopped speaking. He stared at the weasel standing in his doorway, his eyebrow arched as he attempted to place the familiar face. After a moment it clicked, “Silvius right?” He asked, receiving an affirmative nod from the weasel he continued. “I saw ya in the three-point contest yesterday...you gone an’ left Arizona already?”
Matthew’s frowned at the mention of the three-point contest, but showed no other outward signs of displeasure. He pushed the door closed behind him and shrugged as he answered. “My event finished and I didn’t feel like hanging around. Besides I had something I wanted to get done on this break.”
He sat across from the fox taking a slow, deep breath and releasing it before locking eyes with Barton.
“I'll be blunt, I want to hire you to be my personal shooting coach.” Matthew paused, his claws digging into the armrests. “This season’s been rough...I need some outside help to improve. I can’t afford to stagnate.” He relaxed a little and let out a small chuckle, “And when I thought about who to ask...well who better to ask than a recently retired, two-time MVP.”
Barton’s eyes went wide after hearing his request. Before replying he paused, allowing him to process the request and composed himself. He leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms across his chest as he spoke. “Why I’m honored you’d come to me for help, but I’m already keeping myself busy after retiring, and I quite enjoy it here. ‘sides it's not like I need the cash.”
“I figured, you made a lot of money in over your long career,” Matthew replied with a nod. He glanced around the small office. Pictures from his time as a player sat on the wall, but so did a few new ones of his players. “You've enjoyed this,” Matthew gestured around the room, “being a coach, haven't you?” The question was rhetorical. Matthew could tell Barton loved the game too much to leave it; just based on the fact he was here coaching to begin with was enough of an answer. So Matthew didn't wait for the fox to reply before continuing. “I’m not asking you to quit your job here, I just want help during your free time to polish my game.” Seeing no change in Barton’s expression he pushed on to the heart of his offer. “Have you thought about coaching in the FBA?”
Barton muzzle opened as he went to respond, but the words died in his throat. He closed his maw and debated with himself, before eventually responding. “If you had asked me when I first retired, the answer would have been no,” he sighed, “I was so tired after all those years, and my legs were breaking down. I felt ready to hang it all up,” He smiled softly as he went on, “but after coming here...yeah, someday I'd like to get back into the FBA as a coach.”
“And that’s where my real [i]payment[/i] can come in,” Matthew said, stressing the word with an inflection. Barton’s eyebrow shot up and he tilted his head. Seeing the questioning look the weasel continued. “The more valuable I am as a player, the more my opinion will carry weight in GM's decision making. When the time comes I can throw your name in the mix for a coaching position and push for you, but I need your help first.” Matthew leaned back into the chair and held his paws up, looking Barton straight in the eyes he continued. “The more I improve, the sooner I can pay you back. Besides, selling yourself as a coach is easier if you have a success story to point to. If I improve next season they’ll correlate it to you.”
Silence enveloped the room after Matthew finished speaking. Barton looked off to the side, his eyes unfocused as he thought what the weasel had proposed. As the silence stretched on the weasel began to fidget, his fingers drumming on his knee.
Without warning Barton stood, the chair rolling backward as he did so. “Follow me,” he said, walking towards the door. Turning back to the weasel he could see a look of confusion so he clarified. “Well come on now, I need to see what you've got before I decide.”
Not needing to be told twice, the weasel hopped to his feet and followed the fox out the door. They trekked a short way across campus to the practice gym. As they walked in Matthew noted how quiet it was, morning practice had wrapped up and the court was empty as the student-athletes had gone to class for the day. He looked around the gym until he heard the sound of wheels rolling on the hardwood.
At the three point line stood Barton, waiting with a basket full of basketball balls.
Not looking to keep him waiting, Matthew unbuttoned his dress shirt left it on the bench. He regretted not bringing his luggage and being unprepared, but nonetheless walked onto the court in his sleeveless undershirt and dress pants.
Once he made it to the line Barton passed the ball to his chest and waited, watching the weasel closely. It unnerved Matthew a little, to have someone watching him so intently, but the weasel tried to ignore it and shot the ball.
“Again,” Barton said, passing him another ball
This repeated, over and over. Barton pushing his form, asking him to shoot off the dribble or pass as fast as he could. Then he would change the pass location, a high pass, then low, and followed by a bounce pass; all the while observing the weasel’s form, not bothering to see if the ball went in.
This continued for some time until Barton glanced down and noticed the nearly empty basket to his side. “I've seen enough.” He said. Looking back at the weasel he noticed Matthew had started to work up a sweat and his breathing had increased. The fox took a moment to reflect on what he had seen, before finally speaking.
“Alright,” he started, “It ain’t half bad. I should be able to work with what you've got.” He stopped and glanced upwards as he thought, before adding. “But, we’re gonna wait till the offseason before we do anything and I’ll expect you to come down here to train, I’ve still got responsibilities with the team.”
Matthew frowned and after catching his breath he stood up straight, his eye’s level with Barton’s. “We can't start sooner?” He asked.
Barton shook his head in response. “You have to take it slow kid. I'm going to be tweaking your shooting form. Until you build muscle memory I can't ‘ave ya picking up bad habits until we rebuild ya shot.”
Though he reasoning did not appear to satisfy the young weasel, as the frown still remained on his muzzle; so Barton walked over and continued to explain.
“Your shooting is good as is, no need to risk messing with it with your Free Agency coming up, ain’t gonna jeopardize that. We’ll have all offseason to get ya to where you wanna be.” As he reached Matthew, he placed a paw on the weasel's shoulder and added. “So just relax, work on your other skills and we’ll get ya shooting lights out like how I used to.” He said, finishing with a smirk.
“Alright,” Matthew conceded small sigh. “Thank you very much Coach Rouge. I appreciate this.”
“Nah don’t say a thing about it, and call me Barton. Coach Rouge makes me feel old, and my knees already do a good enough job of that,” he said with a chuckle. “Don’t need ya kids calling me Coach and making it worse. Besides being able to help a young player like you to reach their potential is great, plus you’ll owe me one.” The fox said with a smirk with an added wink at the last part. He used his paw to push the weasel’s back. “Now outta here, you’ve gotta get back to Dakota. I’ll get to buildin’ a training schedule for ya and I’ll see again this offseason.”
Matthew could not help but smirk as he nodded and said his goodbyes to the fox. With the plan set, he walked off the court to grab his discarded dress shirt. Reflecting on the turn of events as he buttoned up his shirt, he could at least say this week wasn’t a loss. Falling out of the three-point contest irritated him, but nabbing a star like Barton to help polish his shooting outweighed it. Glancing up after buttoning his shirt, he saw the fox still gathering balls and placing them into the basket. He would learn all he could from Barton in the short offseason, then he would come out of the gate firing next season.
Resolved hardened, Matthew left the court, for he still had a lot of work to do before the offseason.