College Boy : A Novel (9781416586500), Page 1Omar Tyree
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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LEARNING THE GAME
HOW THEY WIN
BACK TO SCHOOL
KNOWLEDGE OF SELF
WAITING IN AGONY
ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE
IT WASDECEMBER1988,TWO WEEKS BEFORE FINALS . TROYPotter, a young Black male from inner-city Philadelphia, sat alone in his cold dorm room thinking about the future. His chemistry book was resting open at his desk. He had been stuck on page 306 for the past thirty minutes while staring at the plain white walls in front of him. He was unfocused, feeling unsure of success and afraid of failure. And he had learned a hell of a lot in only a year of study inside one of America’s major institutions.
It was Troy’s dream as a high school basketball star to attend a Division 1 college: national television exposure, state-of-the-art campus facilities, thousands of fans, and a top-rate education. State University, housing thirty-five thousand students, ninety percent of whom were White, afforded him the opportunity.
State U was located in the East, inside Marsh County, which held a population of some 750,000 citizens, roughly sixty percent White, thirty percent Black, and ten percent multiethnic. The large, green campus was clean and spacious, the pride of Marsh County.
Troy was impressed, and proud of its colorful basketball stadium and the football field with a nine-lane track; the recreational center and the gigantic cafeteria; the sky-rise dormitory buildings; and how the immediate campus took up six square blocks near downtown. Buses escorted students to the dental school, the medical school, the engineering building, and the White fraternity houses.
Madison Avenue, a huge, five-lane street (three lanes heading north and two lanes heading south), ran straight through the middle of campus. Henry Road, a scenic and grassy curving road, headed up-town on the far northwest side. Charleston Street, on the far southeast side, headed downtown and had most of the shops, stores, and traffic.
Black Americans had raised hell during the fifties and sixties, so that the seventies, eighties, and nineties generations could attend institutions of the caliber of State U. A government-imposed affirmative action clause to create underprivileged-minority scholarships made it possible, despite low academic testing, which is believed to be culturally biased. However, the experiment of having Blacks on predominantly White campus grounds remained an enormous task. And Troy felt its full weight.
To all African peoples
who have an undying courage
to complete their destinies.
“HELLO, STUDENTS, MY NAME ISPAMWHATLEY, ANDI’Myour course counselor from now until the time you graduate from State University. You all have been accepted to this university under the condition that you maintain a two-point-oh grade point average as members of C.M.P. C.M.P. stands for ‘College Motivation Program.’ What this means is that you all are required to take strengthening courses in math, general science, and reading and writing. You also will be required to enter an academic student course, which is a two-part class designed to help needy students in study skills and planning.
“You students have been placed in this program as a result of low S.A.T. scores, but that does not mean that you’re incapable. State University has specifically installed this particular program to help strengthen your academic skills in needed areas. After the completion of your first year’s courses in C.M.P., you will have no further requirements from the university and may work in subjects of your major. Now, I would like to meet you all,” said the heavyset, cinnamon-skinned woman in a hot-pink skirt suit. She pointed to the tall and slim student seated in the front row. “So you are …?”
“I be Troy Potter, Ms. Whatley,” he answered jokingly. The other freshmen giggled. Ms. Whatley assumed that Troy was a bit overconfident, a headstrong inner-city boy with a chip on his shoulder.
“I see. So you’re pretty smart, hunh?” she asked, smiling to herself at his humor. “I hope your grades after the first term will reflect that.”
“Yeah, me too,” he said.
“Who areyou? ” Ms. Whatley continued. Her eyes focused on the student sitting directly behind Troy.
“My name is Peter Barnes,” the second student answered. Peter was cream-colored, with thick brown hair and an unblemished baby face. He stood when he introduced himself, drawing the undivided attention of his twenty-seven classmates.
“Well, aren’t you a properly mannered young man,” Ms. Whatley said to him. Troy turned his head with a frown and glanced out the window, unfazed. He figured that standing up was unnecessary.
“My name is Matthew Forbes,” said the next, loosely dressed student. Matthew wore extra long shorts and a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt obviously too large for him. He was as brown as Troy, with short wavy hair. He brushed his small waves to the left and kept a part to the right.
A well-dressed, darker-brown-toned student giggled for no apparent reason from the back row, grabbing Ms. Whatley’s attention. “Excuse me, Mr. Chuckles, you mind telling us what your name is?” she asked, challenging him.
“My name is James Clayton,” he responded in a mellow tone. James spoke as if he were planning to seduce Ms. Whatley, making some of the students snicker. He then turned and faced the rather large student sitting beside him, who had continued to smile since Troy’s introduction.
“Tell her your name, homes,” James said to the larger student.
Bruce helped himself from his chair, smiling at the noise it had produced from scraping a newly waxed tile floor.
“Ah,” he began, taking a peek at Troy, who portrayed a goofy look, a tilted head, and an open mouth. Bruce stopped in his tracks and cracked the hell up. Several classmates were getting rather bored with all the silliness going on. They decided not to join him. But Troy did.
“Hold up. My man Troy is makin’ me laugh,” Bruce said, trying to gather himself. “Yeah,” he responded, finally settling down, “my name is Bruce Powell.”
Witnessing the massive size of the young man, Ms. Whatley was curious about his college status. Bruce was six-two, 220, with massive arms, legs, and shoulders.
“Are you on the football team?” she asked.
Bruce shook his head before he answered. “Naw. But I plan to go out for the team.”
“Well, good luck,” Ms. Whatley told him, moving on.
“My name is Tanya Moore,” said a bashful girl who sat in the front row next to Troy.
“Hmm, don’tyou have a Southern
accent,” Ms. Whatley commented.
“Yep,” Tanya agreed, grinning. “I’m from Atlanta, Georgia,” she said. Her reddish brown, silky hair matched her skin and eye color.
“I’m from Atlanta, too,” Bruce yelled to her. Tanya turned and smiled at him. Troy looked back to Bruce and gave him an “OK” hand signal in reference to the pretty, well-shaped Southern belle.
The lagging introductions took nearly forty minutes for the twenty-eight students. Ms. Whatley then took a deep breath and clasped her meaty hands together. “Well, since we’ve all met each other, it’s almost time for the freshman picnic on the west lawn. There will also be a dance, later on tonight, in the Student Activity Center, next to the Baxton Dormitory Hall. I’ve given you all a map of our large campus, and I’ll see you tomorrow at nine o’clock, sharp, to orient you for your math and reading placement exams,” she informed them. She gathered the leftover maps and pamphlets while the students filed out of the room.
Troy was the first to speak as several of the guys walked in the same direction toward the picnic area. “Yo, we was buggin’ out in there, cuz,” he said, followed by Bruce, who had already taken a liking to him. “And that counselor’s a little overweight, but I’d do her,” Troy added.
“Yeah, mayn, you had me crackin’ the hell up,” Bruce said, walking beside him.
“Yo, homes, I’ll meet y’all over there,” said James. “I gots to go change.”
“Aw’ight, troop, we’ll be over there somewhere,” Matthew answered.
Bruce and Troy chuckled, watching James walk away in a shirt and tie.
“Hell he wear a suit and tie for anyway, as hot as it is out here?” Troy responded to Bruce. Everyone else wore shorts and T-shirts in the ninety-degree August weather.
The pack of freshmen drifted toward the fried chicken table in the picnic area, flooded by thousands of White students. Their small Black group was a few specks of pepper mixed in a table full of salt.
Troy shouted across the yard, seeing a friend that he knew from high school.“Yo, Clay, what’s up, man? Come over here!”
Clay was with another small crew of Black students. “Well, if it ain’t my boy Troy. What’s up, man?” he asked, reaching out to shake hands. He already appeared excited about college. “You shoot game to any girls up here yet?”
Troy shook his head. “Naw, not yet. It was this tough girl in my advisory class. She looks good as hell. But let me introduce you to my boys,” he offered, turning to face his companions. “This is Bruce, Mat, Pete—and damn, I don’t know where the rest of the dudes went.” Troy pointed to each individual, realizing that the majority of the students had gone off on their own missions. “My man Jay will be here after he finishes changing his clothes,” he said, giggling. “Nigga came out here in a shirt and tie.”
Clay introduced his group of new friends. Both crews then proceeded to rack up food like a platoon of hungry soldiers after a day of training.
Troy and Clay, unintentionally separated from the bunch, found themselves in a private conversation. “Ay’, Troy, I had no idea that it would be this many white mugs up here,” Clay hinted, shaking his head in amazement.
“Yeah, cuz, me neither,” Troy responded. “I ain’t never seen this many White people in my life. This shit is like a rock concert. Yo, here comes my boy Jay now!Yo, Jay! We’re over here, cuz! ” Troy shouted, while raising his hand to direct James in the right direction.
James said in a hurry, “Ay’, y’all, we should go to the gym. Everybody is up there. Well, a lot ofbrothers are, anyway.” He seemed to be in a rush as he bent over and retied his shoes. “I’on know about all these White boys. I hope it ain’t a lot of them up there. They can’t run ball anyway. It might be a bunch of ’em up there thinking they Larry Bird.”
Troy nodded. The group headed off to the athletic hall, on the northeast side of campus. As James had expected, the courts were filled with Black students. A few White groups gathered their teams to challenge the winners, who were almost always the Black teams.
James drifted away from their pack as he joined several upper-class students. He seemed to know them already. After a few minutes, he came back to discuss his plans with the rest of the group, but mainly with Troy.
“Yo, Troy, you wanna run with us, homes?” James asked, confident of a positive response. He rubbed his left hand over his goatee, neatly trimmed along with his mustache.
Troy tilted his head back, presenting a frown of confusion. “With who?” he asked, looking in the direction from which James had returned.
“My boy Big Lou picked me, and they wanted another man. So I told them that you could run,” James answered.
“I thought we was gon’ all run ball together,” Troy said.
James smiled, glancing at the confused group of classmates. He whispered back to Troy. “Yo, homes, most of them dudes don’t look like they can run ball. I mean,you look like you can play,” James explained while looking over Troy’s athletic, six-foot frame.
“Naw, man, that’s aw’ight,” Troy told him, backing away to rejoin his new friends. He thought that everyone would remain together. However, Bruce jumped at the opportunity.
“Yo, mayn, I’ll run with y’all,” he announced, taking off his shirt to join James, Big Lou, and two other tall teammates.
Troy smiled, curling up his tongue. “Go ahead, then. We gon’ wax y’all next game anyway,” he said. He called to play the winner for the next game. He then turned to Peter and Clay, who stood nearby. “You see how people get new on you?” he asked them.
“Yeah, that was kind of raw,” Clay said, realizing his own confusion. “Well, Troy, who we gon’ run with now?” he asked.
“We got enough people. We can run with what we got.”
Matthew, who wasn’t particularly happy to be in the gym in the first place, attempted to back out.
“Yo, Troy, I ain’t that good at running ball. I’ll just watch.”
Troy insisted that he play. “Naw, man. We came up here to run ball, and that’s what we gon’ do. You can’t let yourself get all intimidated by them knuckleheads. Now, as soon as their game is over wit’, we gon’ play ball.”
As they all waited, Troy glued his eyes on James to see if he was any good. James made countless turnovers and missed shots. Time and again, the rest of the team covered for his mistakes as they pulled off a last-minute, four-point win. Bruce, on the other hand, played well, connecting with four jump shots and completing two layups for twelve points. He also grabbed eight hard-fought rebounds off the backboards.
“Yo, boys, the game is over. It’s our time to start balling!” Troy shouted, facing his nervous teammates.
Matthew walked and gave him a handshake. “Yo, you aw’ight, troop. And I forgot to tell you that you have a good memory. You knew all our names earlier. That was pretty good.”
“Yeah,” Troy responded, “it comes in handy with the women, too.”
“Word, right, so you can get them digits and knock some boots.”
Troy was not familiar with the term. “Yo, cuz, I ain’t tryin’ to knock no girl’s boots,” he said. Matthew started to laugh as Troy stood there and smiled, waiting for an explanation.
“You funny as hell, man,” Matthew told him. “But naw, knocking boots means gettin’ some ass, in New York.”
Troy laughed himself, feeling relieved. “Man, I ain’t know what you was talkin’ about. So that’s what Salt-n-Pepa meant in that ‘Tramp’ song, hunh?”
“Yeah,” Matthew said, still chuckling to himself as the team entered the court.
Troy was one of the shortest on his team, second to Peter’s five-ten. Matthew was six-four, Clay, six-two, and Reggie, whom Clay had introduced, was a skinny six-six.
“Y’all got all of y’all men?” James asked, checking Troy the ball.
“Yeah, we ready, you traitor,” Troy said, smiling.
James chuckled, anxious to start the ball game. “Aw’ight, homes, let’s get this shit on, then.”<
Troy connected on the first jump shot to get the game rolling. Capitalizing on James’s mistakes, Troy made a couple of steals, followed by passes to his teammates to guarantee that everyone got a shot. Matthew proved quite effective on the backboards. He had lots of rebounds. On the whole, their team played well, except for Peter, who had a problem shooting underhanded. Players on both teams laughed at every shot he took, especially when he missed. And Peter missed a lot.
With Troy’s team ahead 36-32, because of teamwork and James’s turnovers, James’s squad brought the basketball downcourt. Bruce was having a tantrum because his baskets refused to fall. As a result, he started to lag up the court, giving Troy’s team a defensive advantage. But no matter what the odds were, it came down to James’s three big men doing a job on Matthew. Their defense tightened as well, and Troy’s teammates found themselves receiving few second shots. Having collected eighteen points, Troy took charge of the game. He hit the next and last four points that his team was able to amass. James’s team was again victorious. They won 44-40, just as they had beaten the last team.
“Unh-hunh, homes. You were talking all that shit and couldn’t pull it out,” James said, rubbing it in.
Not even a slight smile showed from Troy’s face of rebellion. “Ay’, Jay, you didn’t do a damn thing! I had twenty-two points and, like, twelve assists. I had six steals and, like, five rebounds. Now tell me, Jay, ’cause I really want to know. What the fuck didyou do?”
Everyone laughed a good hard one as James joined in himself. “I won, and I’m still on the court for the next game. That’s what I did,” he responded.
Troy turned and faced Clay for an explanation. “Now, Clay, if a person didn’t do shit to win but is bragging about the victory, then he’s a damn fool, to me, for not being true to himself. You know me from high school, Clay, and if I don’t do shit in the game, I’ll say that y’all won instead of ‘we.’ Now, that’s an act of a man and not a mouse, and I think Jay got cheese sandwiches in his book bag.”