Center Court Sting


By Matt Christopher

Illustrated by The #1 Sports Writer for Kids

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CENTER COURT STING Trash talking leads to trouble on the basketball court…. Forward Daren McCall is quick with an insult, quick to take offense, and quick to blame anyone but himself for his troubles. So when center Lou Bettman accuses him first of bad-mouthing him, then of vandalism, Daren turns the tables and insists that Lou is out to get him. The team splits into two camps, those who believe in Daren’s innocence and those who take Lou’s side. The fight heats up when Daren falls victim to an outrageous act. But did Lou retaliate, as Daren suspects, or is someone else trying to teach Daren a lesson?



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First eBook Edition: December 2009

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Matt Christopher® is a registered trademark of Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-316-09515-0

To my great-grandson, Evan Robert


Daren McCall was hot.

It wasn't the noise of the screaming fans in the echoing gym or the glaring lights. It wasn't that the basketball game was close or that he'd been racing up and down the polished hardwood floor for what seemed like hours.

What Daren really was, was steamed. He'd expected the game to be a romp. His team, the Rangers, was one of the best in the league, way better than the pathetic Demons, the bunch they were playing. Daren had hoped to score a lot of points, maybe even a personal high.

But the Demons had hung in all the way. Now, with four minutes left, the Rangers led by just five points, and the game was still up for grabs.

Lou Bettman, the six-foot one-inch Ranger center, was having a terrible game — again. He seemed to be sleepwalking, unable to score or rebound. Daren couldn't understand what had happened to Lou. He was the star of last year's Rangers and had looked even better as this year's season began. Then, suddenly, he'd fallen apart.

But the person who was irritating Daren the most was a guy named Carl Mantell. Carl was guarding Daren. A mediocre player according to his stats, Carl was giving Daren more trouble than Daren had thought he would. No matter what Daren did, Carl stayed in his face, cutting off the lane when he tried to drive or giving him little shoves to keep him off balance. What was worse, the ref, a skinny dude with hair in his eyes, hadn't called these obvious fouls. With a decent ref, Daren felt, Mantell would have fouled out by now.

After Lou blew another layup, the Demons raced up-court. Carl got the ball in the corner and threw a bad shot, way out of his range. The ball bounced hard off the front rim and into the hands of Ranger guard Lynn Mayes, Daren's best friend on the team. Daren, seeing a possible fast break, spun and raced toward the Ranger basket. Lynn's pass was short, making Daren slow down to catch it. As he spun to shoot the hoop, Carl darted in to block him. As Daren threw up an off-balance shot, they collided, and Carl staggered back, arms wheeling. Daren knew he hadn't hit the guy hard and that Carl was acting. Sure enough, the ref blew his whistle. Daren snagged the ball, sure he would be taking a trip to the foul line for two free throws.

A blocking foul on Carl, at last, he thought with satisfaction. But that feeling changed abruptly when he saw the ref pointing at him.

"Charging, number four," he said as Daren stared in disbelief. "Green ball."

"What!" Daren yelped.

He saw Lynn signal him to cool it, but he was too angry to care. This ref was unreal!

The ref held out his hands. "C'mon, let's have the ball. Now."

Daren slammed the ball to the floor as hard as he could and stomped away. Behind him, he heard another shrill whistle.

"Technical foul, number four!"

Daren's face burned as the crowd booed and jeered. He didn't know if they were booing the ref or him, but he wanted to kick himself for giving the Demons the chance to cut into the Ranger lead. Maybe he could make it up in the last few minutes, if—

"Time out!" shouted Coach Michaels, drilling Daren with an icy glare. As the team went to the sideline, he pointed at Daren.

"Sit," he snapped. "Shawn, go in for Daren. Listen up, everyone." Daren started to protest, but a look at the coach's face made him shut up. The coach began talking to the team as Daren slumped in his seat. He knew that Coach Michaels was mad and that there was no way he'd get back in this game, not even if six Rangers broke their legs.

It wasn't fair. Carl Mantell was playing dirty, the ref was blind, and now the coach was making him look bad by benching him.

When the game resumed, he stared at the floor. He could tell from the crowd's groan that Carl had made the technical. Now the Ranger lead had been cut to four, and the Demons had the ball.

Could the Demons pull this game out? And if they did, would Daren's teammates blame him?

He forced himself to watch. A moment later, he jumped up in excitement when the Rangers intercepted a Demon pass. Guard Cris Campbell banked in a jumper, and Daren cheered. The Ranger lead inched ahead to six points.

A moment later, Mac Gould, the Demon center, took a pass from Carl Mantell, spun away from Lou Bettman, and tried a soft jumper from eight feet. Lou hit Mac's arm as the shot went in. The ref called the foul on Lou, and Gould sank the foul shot. The Ranger lead was cut to three with two minutes left.

Daren slapped his thigh with his lucky towel. What was going on with Lou? Had he forgotten how to play basketball? Didn't he care anymore? Daren felt like running in and shaking Lou by the shoulders, hard, and yelling at him to wake up. Maybe Daren had not had a very good game, but Lou was totally messing up.

When the Rangers inbounded, the Demons tried to trap Lynn in the backcourt, swarming around him and waving their arms. Shawn Howe came back to help, and Lynn bounced a pass to him. Shawn passed to Cris, who sank another jumper.

The Demons seemed rattled. Lynn intercepted the Demons' inbound pass and laid it in to make the Ranger lead seven. Daren looked at the clock and knew it was all over. The Rangers had the game in their pockets now.

At the final buzzer, the scoreboard read Rangers 52, Demons 45.

The teams headed for the locker rooms. The Demons looked unhappy, but the Rangers weren't too cheerful, either. They knew they hadn't played anywhere near their best.

Daren felt bad about the technical and knew it might have cost his team the game. Just thinking about the events that had led up to it made him hot under the collar. He might have had a good game if Carl Mantell hadn't played dirty and if the ref hadn't needed glasses. It was really their fault he had lost his temper and been benched.

And what was up with that? He was sure that he could have made up for his mistake if the coach hadn't benched him. Coach Michaels should have given him another chance instead of making him look bad.

It just wasn't fair.


The first thing Daren saw in the visitors locker room was the Ranger team manager, Andy Higgins. Andy, with his usual geeky grin, was clapping his hands, trading high fives with whoever was willing, and slapping players on the back. Didn't he see that the Rangers hadn't played well today, even though they'd won?

Apparently, he didn't. "All right!" he yelled. "Way to go! Rangers rule!" Andy was no athlete, but he loved basketball and hanging with the Rangers. Daren loved basketball, too, but he doubted he'd spend his free time rattling around on an old school bus to away games just to hand out towels and drinks.

"Way to go, Dar!" Andy said, holding out his hand. Daren brushed by him, ignoring the hand. Andy looked hurt, but Daren was too upset to care.

"Right, Andy," called Lou Bettman, sitting by his locker. "Daren did great… for the other guys. Real smart, Daren, getting a T."

Daren heard a couple of others muttering agreement with Lou and felt his temper heat up.

"Hey, Lou," Daren said, sneering. "You want to talk about great games? You want to talk about my mistakes? You were a real all-star out there — not. You couldn't find the basket with a road map, and you wouldn't know what a rebound was if it bit you on the leg. Talk about pathetic. You were the worst —"

Lou stood up quickly and walked away, almost falling over Andy, who was stooping to pick up towels. "Watch it!" he shouted. "Look where you're going!"

"S-sorry, Lou," Andy mumbled as he edged away. "I didn't… I mean, I wasn't…"

"Hey, McCall! Don't hassle Lou!" Shawn glared at Daren. "Maybe Lou didn't have his shot working, but that doesn't change the fact that what you did was just stupid."

Daren knew that Shawn was right. It had been stupid. But he wasn't about to admit it, not the way he was feeling. He matched Shawn's glare with one of his own. "That ref was the pits!" he said. "If he hadn't swallowed his whistle, Mantell would've fouled out! First the ref gets on me, and now you! You must be glad I got benched so you could get some playing time. What a team player!"

Shawn looked disgusted. "It's all about you, huh? You talk about team players! A real


On Sale
Oct 1, 1998
Page Count
160 pages

Matt Christopher

About the Author

Matt Christopher is the best-selling name behind more than 100 sports-themed books for young readers.

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