Chapter 39 - Chapter 39

"Brother Cheng!" Wang Xu reacted quickly and answered, "Ok! Got it! I'll pass it on to you and Brother Cheng!"  

"Jiang Cheng," Jiang Cheng said. He wasn't used to a bunch of people calling him "brother", although Pan Zhi was already calling him grandpa.

"Jiang Cheng, just Jiang Cheng, Jiang Cheng," Wang Xu waved his hand, "We're all buddies, no need to stand on ceremony..." 

"First go get some food from my house, my mom has it all ready. Then go straight to the technical school to practice ball."

Jiang Cheng wanted to ask since when did they have all these rules, but he didn't ask. After eating so many delicious pancakes at Wang Xu's house, he was still willing to do his best to help Wang Xu solidify his position as the overlord of Class 8.

When they arrived at Wang Xu's family's shop in a mighty group, Wang Xu's mother had already packed the pancakes for them. Wang Xu probably hadn't "led a basketball team to victory" like this since he was little, so his mother was very enthusiastic.

"Eat first before you go. It's so uncomfortable to eat while riding against the wind!" she said.

"No need, we're in a hurry," Wang Xu said. "Little time, important task, you don't understand." 

"Thank you, Auntie," Jiang Cheng took the pancakes.

"You're the most polite, always so polite every time," Wang Xu's mother said with a smile.

The group didn't stay long. They took the pancakes and headed towards the technical school mightily again.

"Da Fei," Wang Xu handed a bag of pancakes to Gu Fei, "Beef, tenderloin, which kind do you want?"

"...Beef," Gu Fei said.

"The tenderloin ones are good too, didn't you really like them last time?" Wang Xu said.

"I just want the beef ones today," Gu Fei said. 

"What about you, Jiang Cheng?" Wang Xu held out the bag towards Jiang Cheng.

"I'll try the tenderloin ones," Jiang Cheng took one with tenderloin filling as Wang Xu directed.

Next to him, Gu Fei suddenly choked and turned his head to cough repeatedly.  

Jiang Cheng took out his water bottle from his school bag: "Want some water?"

"Oh," Gu Fei took the bottle and drank a few gulps.

"Nice bottle," Wang Xu said. "Real athletic style, obviously an athlete's. Not to criticize, but Jiang Cheng you really do know how to show off, no wonder everyone looks at you funny."

"...A water bottle also counts as showing off?" Jiang Cheng said. "Don't you guys have low standards for showing off?"

"Not really," Guo Xu next to them said. "We're just a small town here. Someone like you who's obviously not local, must be from a big city. That's showing off already."

Everyone voiced their agreement. 

Jiang Cheng was a little speechless.

The facilities at the technical school weren't as nice as at No. 4 High School, but everyone was still very serious. They first huddled at the sidelines to discuss, then strictly followed the discussion points to play practice matches.

It had to be said, this group from Class 8 didn't look good at studying in class at all. But when motivated, their improvement at basketball was very significant. From initially just chasing after the ball, they now knew how several people could work together to dribble and protect teammates. Jiang Cheng was so moved he wanted to write an English radio broadcast script for them.

There was a match in the afternoon, so the first class in the afternoon was the usual chaos with no one managing it. They kept practicing at the technical school until halfway through first period before heading back to school together.

There were already many people on the courts. The usually ignored Class 8 players immediately attracted spectators when they arrived. Jiang Cheng noticed in just these few days, they had somehow gathered quite a few "fans".

Before they even reached their class's rest area, Wang Xu had already casually pulled open his jacket, took it off in one move, and flung it onto Lu Xiaobin next to him.

"Carry it yourself," Lu Xiaobin was about to throw the jacket back to him.

"Help me hold it!" Wang Xu glared at him.

"...You deserve a dedicated photographer," Lu Xiaobin said.

"Why are you so talkative, I told you to help hold my jacket and you're being difficult," Wang Xu glared at him reproachfully. "Are you team captain or am I team captain?"

Lu Xiaobin didn't say anything, just turned his head to look elsewhere.

What surprised Jiang Cheng was that Old Xu and Old Lu had also changed into athletic wear and were waiting for them at the sidelines.

"They're not our reinforcements, are they?" Jiang Cheng couldn't help asking.

"Actually," Gu Fei also looked amused, "Old Xu and Old Lu are in our class too. If they really went on court, they wouldn't even need to be called reinforcements..." 

"Old Lu plays pretty well actually. There will be a teachers' basketball tournament later, you can watch."

"The principal really loves basketball huh," Jiang Cheng sighed.

Just as he finished speaking, he saw the principal.

The principal's surname was Liu, and Jiang Cheng hadn't spoken to him face to face before. Now he suddenly blocked Jiang Cheng's path, giving him a fright. Jiang Cheng noticed Principal Liu had a pimple next to his nose, probably from getting excited watching the ball.

"Student Jiang Cheng," Principal Liu smiled and patted Jiang Cheng's shoulder, "Not bad, I saw you guys play ball, played really well! Your skill level is definitely enough for our school team!"

"Principal Liu," before Jiang Cheng could respond, Wang Xu cut in impatiently, "Don't pat his shoulder."

"I..." Jiang Cheng looked at Wang Xu, feeling like more than a few strings were missing in this guy's head. He was missing a whole piano.

"Alright, I won't pat," Principal Liu didn't mind. After praising them, he patted Gu Fei's shoulder again, "Can I pat your shoulder?"

"No," Gu Fei just smiled.

"You brat," Principal Liu pointed at him with a laugh. "I only like watching you when you're playing ball. You and Student Jiang are perfect partners! Next time our school's teachers go out to play, you two have to come!"

"No," Gu Fei still smiled.  

Principal Liu gestured at him twice but didn't get any words out. Then he turned and waved towards the back: "Reporters, come interview the dark horse partners!"

A male student who looked obviously artsy with acne all over his face, and a petite female student who was obviously a gossip girl since she could sneak shots while standing in front of people, immediately squeezed over.

"Hello, we're reporters from the school broadcasting station," the artsy guy first snapped away wildly at them like a dummy with a camera, then took out a little notebook. "We'd like to interview you."

A rundown school like this actually had a broadcasting station and reporters?

"...Hello," Jiang Cheng felt extremely unhappy to be photographed in the face without any warning. He kind of wanted to snatch the camera and see what kind of freak shots were taken of him.

Gu Fei directly walked away.

"Schoolmate Gu Fei!" the gossip girl anxiously chased after him calling, "Gu Fei! I have two questions I want to ask you..."

"Schoolmate Jiang Cheng," the artsy guy immediately blocked Jiang Cheng's path to Class 8's rest area. "Please answer two questions for me."

Jiang Cheng really wanted to ask if their prepared questions all came in pairs.

"Your class's match was very unexpected," the artsy guy looked at him. "I'd like to ask..."

"Wang Xu!" Jiang Cheng immediately spotted Wang Xu who was looking eagerly in their direction. "Captain!"  

"Yo! What's up!" Wang Xu sped over to his side in the blink of an eye.

"They're reporters from the school broadcasting station," Jiang Cheng introduced. "I feel it would be better for the team captain to answer their questions, the captain is the soul of our team..."

"What questions?" Wang Xu immediately glared at the reporters. "I can answer."

Jiang Cheng immediately retreated. The artsy guy wanted to stop him, but Wang Xu blocked him: "Go ahead, ask. But I'm short on time, pick the key questions."

Class 7's people had arrived. Jiang Cheng sat on the bench, trying hard not to look at the phones and cameras being waved at him and Gu Fei, focusing on Class 7's players instead.

"Looking for Hu Jian?" Gu Fei sat down next to him switching shoes and asked.

"Is that their reinforcement?" Jiang Cheng tilted his chin towards someone who had shaved his head into a wild boar pattern. 

"Yeah," Gu Fei also looked over. "Only one has come so far, not sure if there will be others later."

"Plays dirty?" Jiang Cheng asked.

"Dirty," Gu Fei said. "When I played with the no-good birds against them before, we mostly lost to them."

Jiang Cheng was a little surprised and glanced over at Gu Fei. To be honest, the no-good birds plus Li Yan and Gu Fei, six people's skill levels under normal circumstances should have been able to sweep most regular teams.

"They have people who purposely foul," Gu Fei said. "Class 7 has a deep bench. If anything goes wrong they'll definitely sub people in to foul, as long as they can prevent us from scoring."

"Don't worry about it," Jiang Cheng took off his jacket. "As long as they don't stab with knives, we'll take out however many come."

"Cover me," Gu Fei said. "Wang Xu and the others coordinate pretty well now. We don't need anything extra to definitely win."

"Ok," Jiang Cheng nodded.  

Perfect partners? 

Jiang Cheng quite liked this title.

"Smile," Gu Fei turned his head.

"Hm?" Jiang Cheng glanced at him, then turned to look. Yi Jing was pointing a camera at them, so he smiled.

"Go for it!" Yi Jing clenched her fist.

The matches now were single elimination rounds, so to make things more exciting for the audience, the two daily matches weren't held at the same time. Therefore, all the spectators and players currently surrounded the courts in an impenetrable crowd.

With no spectator stands, everyone stood around the sidelines. This kind of up close spectating made people nervous, but also excited.

Jiang Cheng hadn't played a match surrounded by such a tight circle before, and was strangely stimulated for some reason. It would've been great if Pan Zhi was here. With one more Pan Zhi on court, they could take the championship. 

The referee blew the whistle. 

The players from both sides entered the court. After the team captains picked sides, they started the jump ball.

Wang Xu jumped for Class 8. Jiang Cheng didn't want to waste their main lineup on jump balls, compared to Wang Xu's skill at grabbing the ball, it was better to let Gu Fei grab for it.

"Go for it, Wang Xu," Gu Fei followed behind Wang Xu, hands hanging loosely with palms facing back.

Wang Xu didn't turn around, just thumped his chest.  

The boar head wasn't on court. Class 7 had their normal lineup now.

Jiang Cheng exchanged a look with Gu Fei across from him, then bent down low.

The whistle blew, the ball went up, and the entire audience went silent for a moment. In this pause, Wang Xu's angry yell could be heard as he fiercely slapped the ball.

And he even cooperated very nicely by slapping the ball towards Gu Fei's direction.

Gu Fei raised his arm and hooked the ball into his hand. As he turned, Class 7's players had already quickly fallen back to defend the hoop. Only Hu Jian was left marking him.

Gu Fei charged forward a step with the ball. Hu Jian moved with him. Gu Fei then passed the ball behind him in a backhanded move.

The moment Jiang Cheng got the ball, Gu Fei had already charged forward. Jiang Cheng quickly caught up and first passed to Guo Xu. Guo Xu didn't dribble much before passing back to Gu Fei who had already pressed in past the three point line.

Not bad speed.

Jiang Cheng gave them a mental thumbs up. Half a month ago they absolutely could not have coordinated like this.

Class 7's encirclement quickly shrank back on defense, with pretty good speed too. But to be honest, they couldn't compare to Class 5. After all, Class 5 was second only to Class 2 as the strong team. Just thinking about how they got eliminated by them without any psychological preparation probably made them feel stifled.

Gu Fei took a step forward, holding the ball above the three point line.

Jiang Cheng rushed forward and called out softly, "Here."

Gu Fei flipped his wrist, passing the ball over. Jiang Cheng jumped up for the catch. Before Class 7's players could react to defend him, he directly shot a three pointer.

Jiang Cheng was extremely nervous taking this shot. It was the opening shot, it had to go in.  

Luckily he was a long term top student, with outstanding professional composure for showing off...

The ball went in.

Cheers instantly erupted from Class 8's rest area and spread outwards.

Class 7 inbounded the ball. Gu Fei ran back in front of Jiang Cheng, hands hanging at his sides with palms facing back.  

Jiang Cheng chased after him and lightly patted his hand.

Right as Gu Fei was about to pull his hand back, Wang Xu also caught up and slapped loudly on his hand: "Nice!"

"Yo!" Gu Fei was startled.

"Pay attention on defense!" Jiang Cheng called out.

Letting the opponent score on the opening play fired up Class 7's morale. Led by Hu Jian, they immediately pressed forward aggressively after getting the ball.

Based on their "basketball speaks loudest" agreement at noon, Jiang Cheng went up to mark Hu Jian.

He didn't know about Hu Jian's skill, and had let him bluster away. But in Jiang Cheng's eyes, besides Gu Fei and Li Yan here, no one else could get past him with the ball.

Hu Jian was pretty agile, with lots of tricks. Jiang Cheng held his ground watching as he bobbed in and out, left and right, tirelessly feinting. 

Just as Jiang Cheng felt the referee should have whistled already, Hu Jian suddenly dodged left and charged forward with the ball.

Jiang Cheng sighed, took a long step to cut him off, and pushed the ball away with his hand. The ball immediately changed direction and popped out, where Wang Xu on the other side caught it and turned to charge under their hoop.

Because it was somewhat unexpected, Class 7's players were a beat slower falling back on defense. Wang Xu charged forward vigorously, surrounded by all kinds of yelling. Reaching the hoop, he strongly pressed past the lone defender and scored a layup. 

"Nice ball!" Wang Xu roared after scoring these two points, staring wide-eyed with clenched fists. "Nice ball!"

Compared to Class 5, Class 7's level was quite a bit lower. By the end of the first quarter, they were already leading by 6 points.

"Look," Wang Xu drank some water at the break. "Class 2 is watching us now, the top opponent."  

"Class 5 all went to cheer for Class 7," Lu Xiaobin said.

"No need to change anything for now," Jiang Cheng looked over. "Just keep playing like this and hold the lead."

"They subbed," Gu Fei said.  

A few people looked over at Class 7's side. Class 7 had subbed in two players, a big greasy-faced guy and the boar head.

"Avoid physical contact with them if possible," Jiang Cheng said. "Pass the ball more, pass as soon as someone gets near."

According to Gu Fei, the boar head came to score. That greasy face was probably here to foul. Class 7 did have a lot of subs, Class 8 barely scraped together a full bench, while Class 7 had enough players in uniform sitting there to field a soccer team.

Class 7 inbounded the ball, passing directly to the boar head.

The boar head barreled towards the hoop like a tank, dribbling very steadily at an amazing speed. Jiang Cheng slid over to block him. The boar head stopped without any fakes, simply bowled Jiang Cheng's arm over and charged past.

Just as Jiang Cheng wanted to stick with him again, greasy face rammed towards Jiang Cheng.

He wanted to dodge to the side and keep going forward, but greasy face's shoulder had already smashed into his right shoulder, shoving him quite unsubtly.  

Jiang Cheng was shoved hard enough to almost bounce away. His shoulder went numb then ached from the impact. He frowned.

For class matches like these, as long as they weren't grabbing and restricting movement, the referees basically wouldn't call anything without the ball, and might not even notice.

After Jiang Cheng was shoved aside, the boar head was already under the hoop. Gu Fei was locked down by two players and couldn't prevent it. The boar head scored with a layup.

Class 7 immediately cheered loudly, banging their chairs on the ground.

"Be bolder!" Old Lu's voice suddenly rang out, accompanied by the music from a water truck. 

Jiang Cheng looked over. Old Lu was holding a microphone, though he didn't know why the music hadn't been turned off. It kept playing background music.

Old Lu yelled with one hand on his waist, "Loosen up! They bump you, bump them back! Be bolder..."

"Teacher Lu, Teacher Lu!" The principal lifted a megaphone at the referee stand. "Any more disruption from you, Class 8 gets a technical!"

Old Xu grabbed Old Lu's megaphone and passed it back to a student behind him.

"I'm going to hit them," Gu Fei ran past Jiang Cheng. "You shake Zhang Wei off and score." 

"Greasy Face?" Jiang Cheng asked.

Gu Fei glanced at Greasy Face's direction. "...Yeah."

"Don't need to actually," Jiang Cheng said. 

"You just score," Gu Fei said. 

Gu Fei's target was Boar Head, Jiang Cheng knew without asking. The two worked well together, one interfering while the other scored.

This irritated him a little. His perfect partner was right here, who were they to show off? 

He didn't really approve of intentionally fouling, but he couldn't say much to Gu Fei right now, so he just had to go along with it for the moment.

Jiang Cheng was guarding the midline. As soon as Class 7 got the ball, they quickly attacked, still passing to Boar Head. Gu Fei didn't find a chance to ram into him, and was locked down by two people again with no way to defend.

Jiang Cheng didn't care about all that. He charged straight through the two people, forcibly breaking through between them. After Gu Fei got free, he turned around, and together with Gu Fei blocked Boar Head's path.

Jiang Cheng mentally applauded and cheered himself and Gu Fei for this well-coordinated defense. When they were both standing steady, Boar Head was still a step away from them, not close enough to call a defensive foul. 

It was perfect.

However, Boar Head was no novice. Instead of charging straight at them like Jiang Cheng expected, he remained confident facing two opponents around his height and still chose to shoot.

Gu Fei and Jiang Cheng jumped up together to block the shot.

The ball was batted away, falling into Lu Xiaobin's hands.

The blocked shot was beautifully coordinated, Jiang Cheng mentally congratulated himself again, especially the tacit understanding with Gu Fei which made him very comfortable playing together.

But the screams from the girls on the sidelines made him feel awkward again, always giving him a guilty feeling like he was caught red-handed. 

He didn't know why he was so cowardly nowadays.

Lu Xiaobin also quickly passed the ball around to coordinate an attack with everyone. Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei practically stuck to Boar Head, following him like a shadow, not giving him a chance to intercept the ball.

On the other side, Lu Xiaobin and Wang Xu kept passing the ball, messing up Class 7's defense. Wang Xu held the ball and roared again, scoring another 2 points.

There were still a few minutes left in the first half when Class 7 called another timeout.

"Damn," Gu Fei slapped his hands together, "Wang Xu's gone crazy!"

"No matter what, he's still the team captain," Jiang Cheng said. "Can he let us steal all the limelight?"

"If we can hold out the first half, it'll still be hard for them to catch up on points," Gu Fei said. "I don't want to ram him too badly either, he knows me too well."

"We can win without ramming," Jiang Cheng glanced at him, his gaze going from Gu Fei's neck to his collarbone, shoulder, and all the way down his arm. He paused in surprise, "Was this from ramming?"

Gu Fei looked down at his arm, "This was from a slingshot plus a wooden button, I have another mark on my stomach too, want to see?"

"No," Jiang Cheng was a little speechless, "Aren't you a little too fragile...I didn't use that much force..." 

"This is flesh," Gu Fei patted his arm, "Not tree trunk."

"...Sorry." Jiang Cheng sighed.

"It's fine," Gu Fei took the water Yi Jing handed him, "Consider it my ticket fare for the show."

"Damn it." Jiang Cheng gritted his teeth and cursed.

The first half wasn't too difficult overall. Class 7 only had one foreign aid Boar Head and didn't significantly improve in strength. After twenty minutes, Jiang Cheng also saw that Hu Jian was just an overconfident adolescent. His skills weren't much better than Wang Xu's. When it came to talking with basketball, he was at most a stutterer. 

But at the start of the second half, Class 7 was like they all got injections, charging and ramming randomly. They probably decided to go all out since they couldn't win, and at least not let the score difference get too big.

Jiang Cheng didn't care about the others, the players subbed in also didn't dare to casually foul on offense, getting called for the foul if they didn't make the shot would hurt them. 

There was only Boar Head. 

He had both skill, and shamelessness.

When Lu Xiaobin got the ball and was driving towards the basket, he passed it to Jiang Cheng.

Actually the timing wasn't ideal, Gu Fei didn't have time to come help defend, and instead Boar Head charged over. 

Jiang Cheng lowered his center of gravity, switching the ball from his right hand to his left, using his body to shield it. Boar Head got close, blocking his right side, and kept squeezing over, subtly jabbing him with his elbow.

Jiang Cheng was getting annoyed, but in this kind of situation, the referee won't call it, you just have to stay calm and keep control. 

Luckily Gu Fei got close quickly, ready to receive the pass.

Jiang Cheng saw Gu Fei's shoes in his peripheral vision, and flicked the ball over.

But just then, Boar Head suddenly lunged forward, his right hand reaching out as if to steal the pass, but Jiang Cheng immediately realized he wasn't trying to get the ball.

As his right hand shot out, his left elbow slammed heavily into Jiang Cheng's stomach with the momentum.

"Fuck!" Jiang Cheng squeezed the curse out through gritted teeth.

The unbearable pain radiating from his stomach after the blow, accompanied by a strong urge to vomit, made his mind go blank for an instant, and he almost collapsed to his knees.

The pain jumbled his thoughts into a mess, and several voices screamed in unison in his head - My wounded heart hurts so much! Why am I always the one getting hurt! Ah ah ah it's always fucking me!

The referee blew the whistle: "Blocking foul!"

Boar Head laughed easily and raised his hands.

Many spectators didn't see this clearly, thinking it was just normal physical contact. Only Class 2's players booed and a few people shook their thumbs down.

"Fuck!" Wang Xu was right behind Jiang Cheng and rushed over to support him, "How is it? Serious?"

"It's fine." Jiang Cheng finally managed to gasp out.

Gu Fei walked over without saying anything, directly lifting Jiang Cheng's shirt.

Although he didn't react much anymore to Gu Fei's touches, such a big action almost made him reflexively slap him.

"You're dirty enough." Gu Fei turned to look at Boar Head.  

"What?" Boar Head sneered coldly, "Trying to scam me? Can I be as dirty as you?"

Gu Fei didn't speak, just walked over to Boar Head with a dark expression.

"Gu Fei!" Jiang Cheng hurriedly grabbed him, catching Gu Fei's arm.

Gu Fei turned back, scowling in displeasure, "What!"

Jiang Cheng lowered his voice, "Playing basketball is just playing basketball, a match is just a match. If they're shameless that's on them, if we want to win, we have to win fair and square." 

"Well said, Brother Cheng!" Wang Xu also suppressed his voice, looking tragically resolute.

Gu Fei looked at him for a good while before speaking, "Got it."


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