My Losing Season by Pat Conroy:
In the previous issue of The Shako, I had published my third short story written during my time as a cadet. The previous summer I had come under the touchstone influence of a young novelist named John Updike when my mother handed me a copy of Rabbit, Run. Until I read about Rabbit Angstrom, I did not know that basketball could make a guest appearance into the palace of fiction. Nor did I know that my sport could also take a shy bow among the backlit colonnades of poetry until I tracked down Mr. Updike’s wonderful poem “Ex Basketball Player.”
Under Updike’s powerful sway, I wrote the best poem and the best story of my Citadel career. The poem was called “Ted Lucas,” and I can detect in that splintery stack of words a hint of the melody that would later come. In the short story “The Legend,” I actually see the starting point of my life as a fiction writer. A great high school basketball player, Jimmy Amansky, plays his last high school basketball game and performs heroically in the championship game, then finds, to his horror, the long and ruthless stretch of time laid out before him when he has done not a thing to prepare himself for a job or a career. Both my short story and poem are unartful homages to the hold that Mr. Updike’s poem “Ex Basketball Player” had on my imagination. But it had unhinged Mel when he read the short story and he screamed at me for several minutes for holding him up to such ridicule on campus. My writing career has proven to be riddled with such encounters with people wounded by the malice of my portraiture. I had conjured up Mel Thompson when I saw down to imagine the story of young Jimmy Amansky. Mel seemed to have lost part of himself when he lost the game of basketball as a player. I could tell that he thought coaching was a second-string way of staying close to the game.