What a state championship game this has been! Hillside and Boxer hammering each other all night, and now it’s down to this—four seconds left, Boxer leads by two, 77–75, but Hillside has the ball. Can they go anywhere but to Ryan Wilson? He’s having the game of his life. Thirty-two points, four steals, 12 assists. He’s been hot all night. But does he take the final shot? Everyone knows he’s the go-to guy, and you can bet that Boxer’s defense will be all over him.
Hillside needs to inbound quickly and get off the shot. Okay, here they go. Boxer has two men on Wilson. Whoah! How’d he get free? He’s got the ball, he starts a drive … No, he pulls back. Did you see that fake? Unbelievable! Is he behind the line? Yes, it’s from three-point land, and it’s … GOOD! Hillside wins! Ryan Wilson gives Hillside its fourth consecutive state championship!
Boy, he’s done everything right tonight. Everything. Defense, passing, scoring. Now he wins it all with a trey from downtown! Two men on him. He fires off a prayer. But for Ryan Wilson, once again the prayer has been answered …
“Hmm, let’s see,” Jared muttered to himself as he nibbled on the end of his pencil eraser. He unconsciously ran a weary hand through his black hair and sighed. Straightening the glasses that were perched crookedly on the end of his long nose, he cocked his head to one side in deep thought.
“If the molecular formula of triphosphorous pentanitride has a net electrical charge of …”
“Ring! Ring!” The reverberating sound of the telephone penetrated his thoughts and broke his concentration. Letting the pencil fall from his hand, Jared sighed again, pushed his books aside, and stood up. Maneuvering around the masses of cluttered junk on his floor, he stumbled to the hallway.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he mumbled. “I’m almost th—” He hit the carpet with a thud as his German shepherd pounced on his chest and knocked him to the floor, greeting him with an enormous wet tongue.
“Oh, Wolf! I can’t play with you now!” He pushed the dog off him and rushed to the phone. Waving a scolding finger at Wolf, who still tugged playfully on his shirt tail, Jared reached for the receiver and breathed out a tired “Hello?”
The voice on the other line laughed. “Little out of breath, Jared? What have you been doing? Running a marathon?”
“Not like the one you just ran,” Jared replied as he struggled to keep the cord slobber-free. “Congratulations! It’s just that I’ve got my hands full at the moment.”
“Oh,” Ryan said in mock disappointment. “Well, if you’re too busy—”
Jared’s laughter interrupted him. “Don’t be crazy! It’s just Wolf.”
“Good,” Ryan said with an exaggerated sigh of relief. “I thought you were actually doing something important, like polishing your trombone or something.”
“Ha, ha. Very funny.”
“Hey, that was a great game last night. What did you have? Five, ten points?”
Ryan coughed uncomfortably. “Well, um. Actually it was 35.”
“What?” Jared teased. “Only 35? Do you think you could put a little effort into it next time?”
Ryan was speechless until Jared burst into laughter. “I’m just kidding! Congratulations. That’s a career high, isn’t it?”
“Thanks. Yeah, it is.”
“And state champs for the fourth time! That’s amazing! Have you had any more offers?”
“Yeah, I have,” Ryan said softly.
Jared recognized the solemn edge in his voice. “Ryan,” he asked, “what’s wrong?”
Ryan was quiet. “Could I come over or something? I need to talk to you.”
“Sure.” Jared was puzzled. “I’ll be here.”
“Okay, thanks. I’ll be over in 10 minutes.”
As Jared hung up the phone he was worried. It wasn’t like Ryan to sound so discouraged, and especially after winning the state championship. Basketball was Ryan’s life.
Jared laughed, recalling his first memory of Ryan. The Wilsons had moved to the house across the street when Jared was only four. Glancing out his window at the new neighbors for the first time, he saw Ryan, barefooted and wearing nothing but a long T-shirt, furiously dribbling a rubber basketball with his fat, pudgy hands. He had looked up at Jared and flashed him a crooked, dimpled grin, inviting him to come play. Although Jared didn’t have an ounce of athletic blood in him, the two fast became friends.
They were the same age, their birthdays only three days apart. Despite the fact they had practically nothing else in common, they were inseparable even at an early age. They did everything together, from sharing animal crackers in sacrament meeting to constructing towns in the sandpile to destroy with their Tonka trucks. They were baptized on the same day. When Ryan completed his Eagle project, Jared completed his.
When they entered high school, their differences caused them to go separate ways. But it didn’t affect their friendship. Jared was at Ryan’s ball games, cheering from the band section of the bleachers. And Ryan was equally supportive of Jared’s interests. He attended the band concerts, science fairs, and debate meets. They were still the best of friends.
Jared wondered what could possibly be bothering Ryan. Whatever it was, Jared was determined to help him work it out.
Ryan cleared an empty spot before plopping down on Jared’s bed.
Jared looked sheepish. “Sorry my room’s such a mess,” he apologized as he gathered dirty clothes to toss in the hamper. “I was going to clean it, but …” He stopped when Ryan raised a questioning eyebrow.
Jared laughed. “Okay, so I wasn’t planning on it.” He wadded up a towel and threw it at Ryan. “You know me too well.”
Ryan rolled the towel into a ball, took aim, and shot it into the open hamper.
“Nice shot.” Jared cleared the books off his desk chair and moved it over by the bed. “Now. Tell me what’s wrong.”
Ryan was quiet for a minute. “It’s the offer I’ve received.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
Ryan placed his hands behind his head and fell back onto the bed, staring at the ceiling. “Nothing. That’s the problem. It’s perfect.”
Jared was clearly puzzled. “I don’t understand. Who’s it from?”
“Oh … just the team ranked number one in the nation.”
“North Carolina?” Jared jumped out of his seat and danced around the room. “North Carolina! Ryan, that’s terrific!”
“Yeah, I know. They’re offering me a full-ride scholarship. If I accept, I’ll probably start next season.”
Jared sat back down and whistled. “Wow!”
Ryan sat up excitedly. “That’s exactly what I thought! Man, to think of me playing for a team like North Carolina. It’s just unreal! But …”
“But what?” Jared asked, thinking he already knew the answer.
Ryan was hesitant. He leaned forward and looked at his friend. “This is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. And I’d do it, in a second, if it weren’t …”
“It’s your mission, isn’t it?” Jared said knowingly.
“Yeah,” Ryan admitted. “I always said that I’d serve a mission. But it seems like everything’s changing now.”
Ryan continued. “Before, playing basketball beyond high school was, I don’t know, a dream that I never thought would happen. But you’ve seen me, Jared! I’m playing better than ever before. I’m at the top of my game, and now I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can’t pass it all up, can I?” He paused and looked away.
Jared asked softly, “Are you willing to sacrifice your mission for a dream?” He sat quietly for a long time before asking, “Why do you play basketball, Ryan?”
Ryan shrugged. “Because I like to, I guess.”
“And because you’re good at it?”
“It makes it more fun, I suppose.”
Jared seemed dissatisfied. “Is that all?”
“I like the way it makes me feel.”
“And how’s that?” Jared gently prodded.
Again Ryan leaned back and studied the ceiling. “It’s hard to describe. It makes me feel good to know that I’ve achieved something, and that I was able to do it because I’ve worked hard.”
Jared nodded in approval. “Well, then you’re playing for the right reason.”
Ryan sat up and rolled his eyes. “You’re not helping me any, Jared!”
Jared laughed. “I’ve known you for a long time, Ryan. Unfortunately,” he added teasingly. “I know that you’ll make the right decision.”
“You’re right,” Ryan sighed as he stood up. “Thanks for talking to me, Jared. I’m going to go shoot a few hoops and think.”
“Hey, Ryan,” Jared called as he leaned out his door to find his friend battling with Wolf in the hallway. “Just one more thing. You can do the right things, but you need to do them for the right reasons.” Ryan looked up from scratching Wolf’s head.
“Yeah, I guess,” he said.
“I’m going,” Ryan announced.
“Going where?” Jared asked as he pulled the shoe from Wolf’s mouth.
Ryan was impatient. “To the moon and back.”
“Right,” Jared said sarcastically.
“No, Jared, be serious. I’ve made my decision.”
“And, I’d really rather tell you in person. Can I come over?”
“If you think you can get past the slobbering bodyguard in the hallway, go right ahead.”
Ryan laughed. “I think I can manage.”
Jared shook his head. “I can’t believe it! Well, yeah I guess I can. But what made you decide to give up North Carolina’s offer? I thought it was everything you ever wanted?”
“I thought so too. At first. But then I changed my mind. It wasn’t that hard of a choice I guess,” Ryan admitted.
“Well, what took you so long then? It’s been a whole week since I’ve seen you. I thought you’d fallen off the face of the earth or something.”
Ryan smiled. “Deep down I knew that serving a mission was the right thing to do,” he looked up at Jared. “But I just had to be sure I was doing it for the right reason.”
“And are you?”
“Absolutely.” When Ryan saw Jared’s puzzled expression he laughed and explained further. “I guess I have you to thank for it. It had something to do with what you said about sacrificing my mission for basketball. I like the way basketball makes me feel, but I love the way the gospel makes me feel even more. Making a basket is a great feeling, but it’s nothing compared to the feeling I get when I read my scriptures, or go to church, or help someone. I mean, like last summer, when I baptized my little sister—that was the greatest feeling in the world.” He smiled at the memory.
“The prophet said all worthy young men should serve a mission. I’ve thought about that all my life. It isn’t up to me to decide whether I should serve a mission. It’s just up to me whether I’ll answer the call.” He paused for a moment, then continued.
“I’ve been so blessed to have the gospel in my life, and I want to share it with everyone I can.” He shook his head. “I almost passed up the opportunity to serve the Lord, and then I realized that I’d be passing up way more than that. All the experiences I’d have, all the people I’d meet, and all the wonderful feelings I’d get knowing that I was doing the Lord’s work. Basketball’s just not worth all that. Besides,” he added with a grin, “there’s always P-days.”
He looked up to see Jared studying his face intensely. “Do you mean to tell me that you, Ryan Wilson, Basketball Star, will be satisfied playing basketball only on P-days?” Jared looked suspicious. “Who are you and what have you done with my friend?”
Ryan laughed. “I’m going on a mission, Jared. I’ve got an appointment to see the bishop for a mission interview. He has a better offer.” He punched Jared’s shoulder. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go polish your trombone.”