Gus and Cassie have always been on the same team off the field, but in this third novel in New York Times bestselling author Mike Lupica’s Home Team series can they stay friends when they’re on the same court?
Everyone assumes that Gus, whose family is from the Dominican Republic, is a baseball guy. But this year Gus is even more excited about basketball than any other sport he’s ever played. He’s been practicing some new moves and lately he’s more surprised when he misses his shot than when he scores. Plus now that he’s convinced his friend Teddy to try out for the team and Jack’s shoulder is healed, it looks like Walton’s home team will be unstoppable.
But this isn’t going to be the season Gus expected, because their team is getting a new player—and she just happens to be one of his best friends. Gus knows Cassie is more than good enough to compete on the boys’ team, and besides they really do need a point guard, so why isn’t he able to shake the feeling that she belongs on their bleachers rather than their bench? And to make matters worse, with their center Steve Kerrigan constantly making comments about his Dominican heritage, and Steve’s dad voicing his views on immigration as he runs for office, Gus is starting to wonder if he really belongs in Walton after all.
Can Gus find a way to bring the home team together both on and off the court, or will all these prejudices block their shot at a winning season?
Point Guard ONE This was how it happened sometimes:
You didn’t want to stop, no matter how long you’d been playing.
That was the way Gus Morales felt right now in the gym at Walton Middle School, playing one last game of two-on-two with his best friends in the world.
It was Gus and Teddy Madden against Jack Callahan and Cassie Bennett. Jack and Cassie had won the first game. Gus and Teddy had won the second. Now the score was 10–10 in the third, game to eleven baskets, you had to win by two.
Gus had been feeling it from the start, making left-handed shots from all over the court even with Jack guarding him most of the time. And Jack Callahan could guard anybody, because Jack was one of those guys who took as much pride in his defense as he did in his offense.
But Jack wasn’t the problem right now.
She was suddenly matching Gus shot for shot, as if they were playing a game of H-O-R-S-E. Jack had carried their offense for much of the first two games, but not only had Cassie gotten hot, Teddy was getting tired chasing her. It was a bad combination for Gus and Teddy’s team. No, check that. It was a terrible combination. And Jack was taking great pleasure in feeding Cassie the ball. He knew Gus Morales as well as anybody, and he knew that as much as Gus hated losing, he really hated losing to Cassie. In anything.
It was just pickup basketball, friends going against friends. It wasn’t the league championship football game Gus and Teddy and the Walton Wildcats had lost the previous Saturday to the Norris Panthers. Jack hadn’t been out there with them because he’d hurt his shoulder early in the season and hadn’t been cleared to play sports again until today.
But this two-on-two game still felt like a championship after the way they’d been going at each other for an hour. Maybe it was just the championship of this one afternoon, and having the gym to themselves, which always made them feel like they’d won some kind of lottery. Maybe this was just one more occasion when they were playing for the championship of each other.
Everybody on the court wanted to win.
More importantly? Nobody wanted to lose.
Jack had just gotten a put-back after a rare Cassie miss to tie the game. They were playing winners out, which meant they kept the ball if they scored. Jack had it on the left side. Gus backed off, practically daring him to shoot. Usually that was a huge mistake, because when the games counted, you always wanted the ball in Jack Callahan’s hands. But Gus could see that Jack was having too much fun being Cassie’s assist man down the stretch to think about hoisting one up. It never changed, even as they went from sport to sport and season to season: the only stat that ever mattered to Jack was the final score.
Jack dribbled to his left now, stopped suddenly, then whipped a pass across the court to Cassie, who was to the right of the foul line.
“Teddy,” she said as soon as she caught the ball, in a singsong voice, “I’m coming for you.”
“Leave me alone,” Teddy said, giving her some room, hands on his knees and looking officially gassed.
“That is a big old no-can-do,” she said. “It’s you and me, big boy.”
Teddy kept his eyes on Cassie but found enough energy to yell over to Gus and Jack, “Make the bad girl stop.”
He was done, though. They all knew it. He had been trying to keep up with Cassie for three close games, finding out for himself what anyone who’d ever tried to cover Cassie already knew: chasing her was like chasing the wind. She was as fast dribbling the ball as she was without it. And she could shoot. Boy, could this girl shoot.
She could also chirp, the way she had just now, telling Teddy she was coming for him, calling him out one last time today, maybe even about to call her shot.
Gus wasn’t much of a trash-talker. Neither was Jack. Neither was Teddy, as funny as he was. But all of Cassie’s talk was just part of who she was, and they accepted it, mostly because she could back it all up.
She started her dribble with her right hand and took a hard, quick first step, as if she was about to drive past Teddy. But as soon as he bit on the move and backed up even more, Cassie stepped back. She created some very nice space for herself, and put up another set shot that seemed to float all the way up to the rafters before it finally came down, softly, through the net.
It was 11–10 for her team.
Still their ball.
This time, though, Cassie rushed her shot, trying to end things right here, and missed. Teddy got the rebound, threw the ball out to Gus.
They had a chance to tie.
Maybe it was going to take another hour for somebody to get ahead by two baskets.
Fine by Gus.
Jack came running out and got right up on Gus before Gus started his dribble.
“Gonna be like that, huh?” Gus said.
“Would you want it any other way?”
They both knew the answer. All four of them on the court knew. You couldn’t be in this group and not throw everything you had at the other guy.
Gus decided to try a move he’d been practicing in his driveway. He was going to put the ball down with his left hand, as if he was the one who wanted to drive that way. But as soon as he did, he was going to whirl and go to the right. Using his right hand, his off hand, was something else he’d been working on as he got ready for basketball tryouts this Saturday. Might as well show it off now to the best defender in Walton.
Gus tried to sell Jack on the idea that he was going left again. Jack moved with him, overplaying, trying to cut him off. As soon as he did, Gus planted his right foot, spun around so he was facing the basket at the other end, and put the ball on his right hand, ready to cut to the middle, feeling Jack on his hip, knowing he had a step on him, at least.
As he did, he heard Teddy yell, “Gus!”
Cassie had made her move as Gus made his, doubling him from behind, stealing the ball cleanly, turning defense into offense that fast.
She dribbled back out to the top of the key because that was the rule; you had to take it back there after any change of possession. As she did, Teddy pointed to Gus, telling him to take her, as Teddy moved over to guard Jack.
“Been wishing you’d make this switch all day,” Cassie said, smiling.
“Didn’t you ever hear the one about being careful what you wish for?” Gus said.
Cassie didn’t answer. She was looking into his eyes, still smiling. As much as Gus was enjoying the moment, Cassie was clearly enjoying it more. This was exactly where she wanted to be. This was Cassie, 100 percent.
She dribbled with her right hand, then with her left, then her right again, as if she had the ball on some kind of string. Gus told himself not to watch the ball, to watch her, try to get a read on whether she was going to drive or pull back the way she just had on Teddy.
She decided to pass instead, off her last dribble with her right hand, her eyes never leaving Gus’s.
Gus took his eyes off Cassie, though, just for a split second. He wanted to see where Jack was, how open he was, decide in another split second if Teddy needed help.
As soon as he did, Cassie broke for the basket, and the ball came right back to her: a perfect give-and-go. Gus scrambled to catch up, but now he was chasing her in vain the way Teddy had, watching as Cassie took Jack’s bounce pass in stride and made the layup that won the game for their team.
Cassie stood underneath the basket, hands on hips, staring at Gus and looking like the happiest kid in Walton.
Gus said, “Is this the one where you tell us that girls rule and boys drool?”
“Never,” she said. “I find that sort of trash talk sooooo uninteresting.”
“On what planet?” Gus said.
Cassie laughed. So did he. Even now, he didn’t want the day to be over. But it was all right, he told himself. The basketball season was just starting.
Gus Morales just had no way of knowing it wasn’t going to be the season he expected.
Should a girl, even a great athlete, play on a boys’ basketball team? Much as eighth grader Gus values his friendship with Cassie, he hates having her on the team. He’s not even sure why. Is he just intolerant? The team’s center, Steve, sure is. Along with his mayor father, Steve despises immigrants and their families, and taunts Gus for being Hispanic. But maybe basketball will help Gus—and even Steve—change for the better. With lots of basketball action, this fast-moving novel combines sports excitement and timely themes about what makes a town—and a country—great.
1. Gus is the focus of this Home Team novel. Discuss his character, including his strengths and weaknesses as a person. What is his family like? Describe his relationship with Angela.
2. Gus says early on, “I like basketball even more than I like baseball.” Why do you think Gus prefers basketball? What position does he play on the team? Discuss how he practices for a game. How does his performance change as the season progresses?
3. At the opening game, Gus thinks to himself that Cassie should be in the stands “where he honestly felt she belonged.” Why does he feel that way? How do his feelings interfere with his friendship with Cassie and the interactions of the four friends? Discuss why, and how, his attitude changes by the end of the novel.
4. How do you think Cassie feels about Gus’s reaction to her joining the team? How does she handle being on the team? Why does Cassie start spending time with Steve? Describe her relationship with him and how it develops.
5. Gus’s mother once told him that “Sometimes admitting you’d been weak was a way of showing how strong you really were.” How does this relate to Gus’s decision to tell Cassie that he’d been wrong? Describe his attempts to apologize and how it finally works out.
6. Describe Steve’s character, using specific examples from the novel. How does Gus feel about him when the basketball season starts? Why do you think Steve loses the school election? How does he change, if at all, by the end of the season?
7. Steve’s father is the recently elected mayor, and is described as “another politician who makes immigrants, or even the children of immigrants, sound like they were the devil.” Discuss the hostility in Walton toward the growing Hispanic population. How are Hispanics stereotyped by other townspeople? How do Gus and his family handle the hostility?
8. Why doesn’t Gus like when Steve calls him Gustavo? Find other examples in the story of name-calling or of the misuse of a person’s name. Why do some people use such derogatory words against minority groups and females? Why are these words so hurtful?
9. Steve’s father has said, “You can’t say anything these days without offending somebody.” How does Steve embrace his father’s words and use them as reason to minimize the hurt that results from his name-calling? Why do he and his father express so much hostility toward others? Angela believes some of it comes from fear. What does she mean, and do you agree?
10. Although the narrative focuses mainly on Gus, it sometimes switches to Angela. Compare Angela and Gus in terms of interests and strengths, noting similarities and differences. Describe Angela’s role in Gus’s conflict with Cassie, and her role in getting Gus involved with Marianna’s campaign.
11. When they are discussing Cassie, Angela says to Gus, “I’m just saying that maybe you and Steve are more alike than you think.” How does Gus feel about her observation? Why do you think Angela believes that the two boys are similar? Do you agree with her?
12. Why does Marianne want Gus to give her nomination speech? How does Gus prepare for the speech, and why do you think he ultimately abandoned what he wrote down? Did you find Gus to be persuasive? What are the main points of his speech? How do they relate to the rest of the novel?
13. Teddy doesn’t make the team but asks to be team manager. Why does he want to be manager, and what does the position entail? How does the role suit some of his strengths? Give examples of how Teddy interacts with the coach and the players.
14. What kind of instructor is Coach Keith? What are his beliefs about sports and how his players should approach basketball? Explain why he speaks with Steve and Steve’s father after the game against the Mustangs. How do you think he persuades Steve and his father to apologize?
15. Coach Keith gives advice on handling negative comments from other teams about Cassie. Later Gus ponders advice that Teddy once gave him about dealing with a kid who was bothering him. Discuss these approaches for dealing with people who present problems, and add ideas of your own. Talk about the different ways Gus responds to such problems throughout the story.
16. During one talk with his players, Coach Keith says that when he was a player he didn’t always like his teammates, but “I never let it affect the way I played the game.” What prompts him to talk about this? Why is this good advice for an athlete? Would this be helpful advice in other circumstances?
17. Near the end of the final game against the Raptors, Steve stops shooting and will only pass the ball. Why? How does the coach handle it? How does Gus help Steve out, and why? In what way does that assist in the game’s outcome?
18. In the last chapter, what does Gus mean when he thinks, “Even in the gym at Moran High School, the best Walton was right here”? Discuss earlier references to the “best Walton” and what that concept means to different characters. Do you think things have improved in Walton over the course of the novel?
Let ’em Play!
Cassie talks about Mo’ne Davis, a girl who pitched a shutout in the Little League World Series. Have students each choose a different female athlete, a team with female athletes, or a women’s league to research—no matter the time period. They can focus on kids, college players, amateurs, or pros. Students should start by writing down substantial questions and then use print and digital sources to help them find answers. They should then prepare a multimedia presentation for the class explaining what they learned.
Press conferences often follow professional sports games. Have students work in small groups to prepare and present a postgame press conference. The group should plan questions for reporters to ask, and answers from the Warriors players and possibly the coach and manager. The questions should pertain to a specific game, and the answers should reflect the players’ characters. Have the students play roles and present the press conference to the class.
“Don’t Be So Sensitive”
Gus describes Steve as the kind of guy who treats people like dirt and then says, “Hey, I was just kidding around, don’t be so sensitive.” Have students meet in small groups to discuss this kind of interaction and why “don’t be so sensitive” can be a powerful way to stifle objections. Have them talk about good ways to handle mean remarks like Steve makes.
A Nation of Immigrants
Most Americans descend from someone who came here from another country. Have students choose an immigrant from the twentieth or twenty-first century who made a difference. It could be someone famous or someone in their family. Students should write essays with facts about the immigrant, why they came to the US, what their contribution has been, and the difference that the student thinks the immigrant made.
Gus’s speech to nominate Marianne is short but still very persuasive. As a class, talk about what makes a speech persuasive and what topics lend themselves to this kind of speech. Have students choose a topic that matters to them and prepare a short speech to try to persuade others to agree with them. Have them practice and edit the speeches in pairs before presenting to small groups or the whole class.
Guide written by Kathleen Odean, a former school librarian and Chair of the 2002 Newbery Award Committee. She gives professional development workshops on books for young people and is the author of Great Books for Girls and Great Books about Things Kids Love.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Mike Lupica is the author of multiple bestselling books for young readers, including the Home Team series, QB 1, Heat, Travel Team, Million-Dollar Throw, and The Underdogs. He has carved out a niche as the sporting world’s finest storyteller. Mike lives in Connecticut with his wife and their four children. When not writing novels, he writes for Daily News (New York) and is an award-winning sports commentator. You can visit Mike Lupica at MikeLupicaBooks.com.