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“Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk,” echoes the ball throughout the otherwise silent old fieldhouse gymnasium, and as it bounces on the hardwood floor, the small, young basketball player can feel the eyes of his friends and family weighing on him as he stands behind the black painted free throw stripe preparing to score his first ever point in an actual game.
The dribbling stops, he places the ball on his sweaty palm, tucking his shooting elbow robotically against his side, just as he was taught, and then he forcefully launches his arm upward, releasing the ball from his extended fingertip, with his hand completing the well-rehearsed exercise as if reaching into a cookie jar on a high shelf. The shot goes through the hoop, the crowd cheers, and the weight of completing an unspoken rite of passage lifts from the boy’s shoulders as he beams a joyful smile.