Hinata stared with a distant expression as his team members ran and launched themselves, placing chalky fingers on the basketball hoop before falling back to the floor.
“Tsukishima-kun got 334 centimeters!” Yachi exclaimed from the top of the ladder.
Everyone awed as he took the new top for the team, and Kiyoko took the number down. Yamaguchi congratulated his friend on a high number. Hinata clenched his fists as he shook his body in a mixture of annoyance and anticipation.
“Next, Nishinoya.” Nishinoya ran and jumped, his hand reaching as high as he could. He landed and immediately running and pouncing on a pair of basketball players in the corner, who must’ve mentioned his height. “302 centimeters!”
“Here I go.” Kageyama muttered, before letting a breath out and charging. He jumped, hitting the backboard with a gentle power. He landed with a grace that sent waves of annoyance through Hinata. Yachi pulled out the tape measurer while Yamaguchi kept his hold on her ladder steady. She looked up at the group after taking the number.
“Um… 337 centimeters.”
The group awed again as Kageyama took the new top. There was only one person left with any hopes of defeating him.
Hinata stood back, watching, as waves of sickening nerves hit his chest. Jumping was Hinata’s thing on the court, his only thing. He had to do better than adequate, he had to do remarkable now or else he wouldn’t have any reason to stay on the field.
“And there’s only one person remaining…”
Hinata bent down gently and rubbed the dry chalk onto his fingers, ignoring the texture that made him want to squirm. He let out an airy breath. He could do this. He could stay on the court. He stood up, and began to run towards the hoop, oblivious to the glares he was getting from the rest of the team.
His footsteps echoed across the gym. Time slowed, and Hinata jumped.
“How high was that?”
“How many centimeters was that?”
Yamaguchi glared at the competitive pair. “Just wait!”
Yachi stayed quiet for a moment as she took the measurements. She looked up with a smile. “333 centimeters!”
Hinata grabbed his hair in frustration while Kageyama smiled.
It was an effort to make his anger seem the same childish frustration he usually displayed. He may have increased his jump from the last time the team took measurements, 5 or 6 centimeters from the previous time, but that wasn’t enough. He needed to go higher. He needed to get better. He wouldn’t be able to stay on the court if he didn’t.
Jumping was the only thing Hinata was good at. And he wasn’t the best.
“You owe me three curry buns!” Kageyama yelled at him.
Hinata began arguing with the boy while the rest of the team began their own conversations, the intensity of awaiting everyone’s measurements over. He felt a few others glance his way and hoped they weren’t disappointed with him while he spoke with Kageyama.
Takeda ran into with an intensity rarely seen. He looked to the captain, panting from the run there. “Is everyone here?”
“Gather round!” Daichi called the group together. Everyone piled into a circle around their advisor and captain. Takeda stood in the front, smiling, and he looked at the players. After a quick good afternoon, the teacher began to speak.
“Thank you all for your hard work. This is sudden, but I have some big news. Kageyama-kun.”
Said person stared in surprise. “Huh?”
“You’ve been asked to attend the All-Japan Youth Training Camp!”
The teams’ jaws collectively widened in surprise as they turned to their setter, a newfound respect in their eyes. Everyone began freaking out, even Yachi and Kiyoko who spoke on the side.
“Holy crap!” Tanaka shouted, a hand on Tsukishima’s shoulder as he looked towards Kageyama.
Hinata felt like he had turned to stone next to Kageyama as he looked to him in wide eyes. Kageyama was being recognized on a national level. Everyone in the country had their eyes on Hinata’s setter.
Vines started to appear at the edge of his vision.
Tanaka and Nishinoya immediately pounced on the younger boy, congratulating him appropriately by messing up his hair and jumping onto his back. Kageyama was moving up a step in the world of volleyball. He had moved onto a different level.
Takeda stole their attention again as he continued. “But the training camp is going to be held for five days at the beginning of December, and right before the Spring tournament in January, so it’s not a requirement to go.”
Kageyama and Daichi immediately looked up at the same time.
“He should go!”
The two looked at each other, and Daichi smiled one of his trade marked captain smiles. Takeda smiled as well, hoping this would be the result.
Hinata, who finally felt the stone break and chip off of him, stepped forward. Kageyama and him were a duo, a pair that resulted in a quick attack that shook the world of high school volleyball. They had both improved an incredible amount because of each other, never leaving one behind.
“What about me?”
Silence befell the group.
Tsukishima looked to him, tilting his head in a condescending stare of fake concern. “We’re talking about the All-Japan here. All-Japan. Representatives for all of Japan under 19. Do you understand that?”
“Of course I do!” Hinata glared at Tsukishima. They were a duo, was that not as obvious to everyone else as it was to him?
“So… They only one who got an invite was Kageyama-kun.”
A bolt of lightning visible to only Hinata struck him in that moment. He felt his body turn to stone again and embarrassment rolled over him. Nishinoya must’ve noticed something, because he began to tease him while ruffling his hair, an action so familiar Hinata felt himself ease up again.
“Alright, listen up!” Takeda called for everyone again with a firm clap of the hands. “Also happening in the beginning of December… will be a special training camp for promising rookies in Miyagi Prefecture. Coach Anabara from Johzenji High School just gave me a call. It’s apparently an idea to try to level up Miyagi Prefecture’s volleyball skills as a whole. This is apparently only open to first-years… It’s basically a mock youth camp. One of our players has been invited… Tsukishima-kun.”
The room fell quiet again at the revelation. Hinata clenched his fists, nails digging into his skin. Yamaguchi broke the silence by turning to his friend, screaming his awe. Everyone else soon joined and expressed their thoughts on the matter and congratulated the blond.
Hinata shook with frustration. What about him.
“Sensei! What about me?”
“Um… Well, Tsukishima-kun was the only one invited to this one.”
Lightning struck Hinata again. He tuned out the conversations the others we’re having with Tsukishima and Kageyama.
“Okay, I’ll go ahead and tell them you’ll both be participating.” Takeda scurried out of the room again.
Hinata glared at the ground, muscles tensing as he growled in frustration. He needed to go higher. How was he supposed to get better if he wasn’t invited to a training camp? How was he supposed to stay on the court.
“Hey.” Kageyama placed a hand on Hinata’s shoulder as he gave him a smile that radiated deep in Hinata’s bones and reminded him of an old rivalry. His mind reminded him of a conversation held long ago between steps of a school neither attended anymore, between people neither were anymore.
“I’m going on ahead.”
Only the best can stay on the court.
The vines began to slowly make their way towards Hinata.
Hinata found himself at Coach Ukai’s store later that evening in the travel in one of the aisles. He was comparing the different travel toothbrushes when Tsukishima and Yamaguchi entered. The two spoke as they leisurely roamed around the store. The topic of their conversations the news received at practice earlier.
Yamaguchi knelt to face the meat buns while he spoke of the All-Japan training camp. “I’d love to go there someday.”
“Why not sneak in?” Tsukishima said with a hint of a smile.
Yamaguchi laughed lightly. “I’d be arrested on the spot.”
Hinata felt his body tense with frustration all over again as he left the store. Yamaguchi said something to him on his way out, but Hinata continued walking without stopping.
Yamaguchi made a good point. Hinata would be arrested.
It was late, and Hinata was tired. His bike ride tonight felt so much more difficult than usual. His body was exhausted, and he didn’t have the energy to do much else but lay on his bed.
Hinata didn’t go to sleep. His mind was busy.
Hinata had to get better. He needed to learn how fight, how to be a strong player on his own, without Kageyama, or else he wouldn’t be the last one on the court. He’d be left behind, like he was today.
Without Kageyama, Hinata wasn’t worth much.
That was what everyone else said. Those words drilled into his mind by everyone other player and adult who doubted him. Not many people believed he was good on his own.
Hinata needed to change that. He felt like a vine was slowly following up, reaching for his ankles to hold him back. He couldn’t let that happen. He had to stay in the game.
With a need for improvement on his mind, Hinata quickly began preparing a plan for tomorrow. To be strong, you had to know strong.
Everyone lined up as the Coach read out the names on his clipboard. He looked up from his clipboard and smiled to whom he called out before returning and repeating the process. Hinata slowly became aware of Tsukishima’s sidelong glare at him through the roll call.
“Koganegawa Kanji, Date Tech.”
“Goshiki Tjutomu, Shiratorizawa.”
“Kunimi Akira, Aoba Jouhsai.”
“Kindaichi Yuutarou, Aoba Jouhsai.”
“Hyakuzawa Yuudai, Kakugawa.”
“Tsukishima Kei, Karasuno.”
The coach looked back down at his clipboard with confusion rising on his face. He then looked up at Hinata, then down again, repeating the process a few times before looking even more confused.
“You weren’t invited, right?”
Hinata stood straight with his shoulders back, his resolve unwavering.
“Hey! You’re Karasuno’s number ten.” Koganegawa poked his head out from the neat line the players stood in. Everyone else in the room quietly murmured as those who he had played against before started to recognize him.
“How friggin’ stupid are you?” Tsukishima turned towards Hinata, annoyance written on his face in a way Hinata hadn’t seen before.
Hinata turned to him oblivious. “Well, I didn’t want to get arrested.”
Tsukishima scoffed for a second, before realization hit him. The annoyance on his face tripled as he leaned forward towards Hinata. “Yeah, but what would possess you to come here? Wait. You’d go if you wouldn’t get arrested? What the hell kind of thought process is that? You moron… You absolute moron.”
Hinata saw the other players watching as Tsukishima got increasingly mad at him, getting closer and closer until he was screaming in his face. A few were laughing (at him, or Tsukishima, he wasn’t sure.)
“Alright, settle down.” Coach Anabara interrupted. “Uh, Number Ten, follow me to my office please.”
Hinata didn’t drop his shoulders, following the coach with more pride than anyone else would have in this situation. He followed the man into his office, and they stopped at a neatly cluttered desk. He looked through his clipboard before grabbing the phone and dialing a number.
“Hello? Hi, this is Coach Anabara, from the Miyagi First Years Prefecture Camp. No, Tsukishima is fine. Well, this is about--” He paused, asking Hinata for his name before continuing. “Hinata Shouyou. Yes, he’s here. No, we don’t know how. Yes, you can talk to him.”
Hinata was handed the phone, and he was pretty sure that his right ear had gone deaf after just a few seconds. He had forgotten how loud Coach Ukai was when he was angry. He quickly stuttered out an apology.
The line went quiet for a moment, before Takeda was heard from the other line.
“Hinata-kun, being a go-getter and completely thoughtless are two different things.”
That made him feel worse than Tsukishima and Coach Ukai combined. Hinata quickly slammed his head into the metal desk, frowning at the bruise it would leave but not feeling guilty. Coach Anabara startled. Hinata stayed put for a moment, frustrated that no one else realized he had to get better. He had to continue.
He had to learn. Hinata slowly lifted his head and placed the phone to his mouth.
“It’s not that I think practicing here is more important than practicing at Karasuno. But I want to participate at a training camp that’s going to be filled with strong players. I want to see what they’re like outside of matches, and see why they’re strong. I want to know!”
Takeda was in the middle of telling him it doesn’t excuse his actions when Coach Washijo took the phone from him.
“It’s not like I care if we have another ball boy around.”
Hinata startled. He thought the coach had a grudge against him, maybe he was wrong. But then Coach Anabara startled too, so he guessed he wasn’t. This was just an act of mercy.
“Let me just say this,” Coach Washijo looked Hinata in the eye. “Without that setter, Kageyama, I can’t say that I sense any worth in you. If you don’t want to be the ball boy, you can go home any time.”
What stung the most was that it was true that without Kageyama he was worthless. He struggled with everything containing volleyball not so long ago, and even now he knew that he had shitty receives, a serve that barely made it over the net, and blocking abilities on par with everyone else.
Coach Washijo left the room, and Hinata stared at the floor daring his eyes not to let any water out. He clenched his fists before letting out a deep breath.
“I guess we’ll go back to the others, if that’s all.”
Hinata nodded and followed him back to the gym, where the other first-years stood in a group. He heard conversation coming from them, and he wondered if he was that topic of that conversation. The two coaches went to one end of the room and called everyone over. The group broke apart from their conversation and jogged light heatedly over.
Hinata saw his moment and took it, bowing deeply to the group. “Sorry for interrupting practice! I’m a first-year from Karasuno High School, Hinata Shouyou. I’m 164 centimeters tall and my position is ball boy. Thank you for having me!”
His voice carried louder than he expected, and everyone in the room stared at him like he had grown an extra head. Coach Anabara even stifled a laugh in his shoulder which Hinata saw anyway. Tsukishima glared at him.
Hinata paid no mind. He was going to grow as a player. He was going to get better. He had to fly, or else he was going to fall. And if he fell, then the vines would surely swallow him.
The first night of the camp, Tsukishima approached him as Hinata caught the ball after hitting to himself for a bit.
“Unlike the King’s camp, this isn’t an excused absence. We have to go to school tomorrow like usual.”
“Tsukishima-san. I-I’m… sorry. For the trouble--”
“Yeah, could you not apologize? It’s not like being an impulsive dumbass is anything new for you. You mad that you can’t really touch the ball. Serves you right. Wanna cry, saying you’re going to quit? Keep doing your best, ball boy. Make sure you don’t waste a precious five days of practice before the Spring tournament.”
Hinata stayed with clenched fists staring at the ground. He desperately willed himself not to cry, and swore at the few teardrops that managed to escape. He waited a bit until after Tsukishima left before he packed his things up.
He shouldn’t let his words get to him. It was Tsukishima. He was always an asshole.
He better make sure he doesn’t waste five days of previous practice time.
What were you doing for the last three years.
Vines clawed at Hinata’s ankles desperate to pull him down, desperate to still him. Hinata hesitated at removing them.
As soon as Hinata stepped outside Shiratorizawa, Coach Ukai was waiting outside with his car.
“Come on.” Ukai motioned for Hinata to get into his car. The two stayed in silence for the trip, Hinata staring outside the window while he grumbled in frustration from the day’s activity. The car slowed to a stop in front of Coach Ukai’s store.
Hinata stayed quiet even as his coach prepared tea, opting to bite his lip raw.
“Did you really think they’d let you join the practice if you went?”
Hinata didn’t reply. The vines were starting to tighten their grip on his ankles. Ukai let the boy sit in silence for as long as he wanted, while the tea pot screamed in the background.
Hinata grew tired of the silence. “Everyone’s so far ahead of me, so I wanted to do something to catch up.”
“That doesn’t make it okay for you to cause everyone trouble.”
“Right.” Hinata dipped his head low, preparing himself for another lengthy display of disapproval.
“So you volunteered to be a ball boy?”
Hinata looked up, slightly shocked the conversation wasn’t where he thought it was going. “Yup.”
“You stuck your nose in all this. You’d better not regret this. Think about what it is that only you can do there.” Ukai leaned closer in, a smirk now appearing on his face. “Also… Don’t go underestimating what it takes to be a ball boy.”
Hinata looked up in shock.
The vines temporarily let go of him.
The next day at school, the vines seemed to return. Knowing that both Daichi and Takeda were disappointed and angry at him made him feel terrible. The others weren’t mad, but they still found the situation humorous. Just typical Hinata pulling off a ridiculous scheme.
Nishinoya was the only one on the team’s whose reaction didn’t make Hinata want to shrivel up. The older boy pounced on him, asking how training camp was and what the other boys were like. Tanaka joined in towards the end, and Hinata felt himself let go the stress their previous conversation had conjured.
None of this prevented Hinata from not paying attention to class, however, as he focused on his next plan of action. He ignored the vines scratching at his ankles, begging to bury him.
Shiratorizawa’s third years showed up the next day.
Coach Anabara introduced them to everyone, and Hinata felt Ushijima glare at him the entire time. The first years began to express their awe towards Ushijima being there, and then their worries about playing him. Everyone soon began to get ready for the practice match.
“I spot the number ten from Karasuno!” Tendou pointed his finger at Hinata, a mischievous smile across his face. The other first years startled as if they forgot he played volleyball, and wasn’t just the ball boy. “I’m going to cut you down to size even more!”
One of the first years who were oblivious to what was happening asked Hinata to fill his drink. He nodded and ran off, apologizing to Tendou. He quickly began to help with the preparation of the practice match before standing by the score board.
“This would be more fun with number ten.” Tendou muttered right before the match began. Ushijima sent a glare his way.
The first years lost the practice match relatively quickly, and while the players began their diving drills, Tendou approached Hinata.
“Why aren’t ya playing?”
“B-Because I wasn’t actually chosen to be here…”
“Huh? Then why the hell are you here? And why weren’t you chosen?”
“I crashed their practice.” Hinata ignored the second question, knowing the only answer was because Kageyama wasn’t here, so he was rendered worthless. Tendou began laughing, and chose to bring Ushijima into the conversation to note how crazy he was.
Hinata bit his lip as he withheld the glare from the spiker.
“What are you even doing here?’
Hinata was called to mop the floor before he could reply.
He ignored the plummet his stomach experience from the conversation.
On the court, Hinata quickly made it clear to his opponents that he was a player to be wary of. Most teams made sure they always had a blocker on him. They watched his every action awaiting a chance to stop his-- to stop Kageyama’s quick attack.
That wasn’t the case here.
What are you even doing here?
The vines began to wrap their way up his legs.
In the beginning, it took Hinata a few embarrassing mistakes before he stopped himself from acting like a player. He then began to take his job of ball-boy seriously, something even the other rookie first years were skeptical of. The other first years players ignored him, for the better part, but laughed at him when he slipped up. It felt a little strange, to be laughed at by players who had seen him as an equal not so long ago. Most of them had faced him on the court, and they themselves feared being on the receiving end of the quick attack. During a game, they all knew what he was capable of.
But it became clear that they didn’t see anything in Hinata when he was without Kageyama. So they laughed.
Hinata kept trying to remind himself that he was used to being under-estimated. He could deal with this. It would only make him a more fearsome player, and then he could prove them all wrong. His skin itched in determination and fear.
The training camp wasn’t difficult for only him, Hinata knew. The players struggled to learn each other as temporary teammates instead of opponents. Having to see everything and everyone in a new mindset for a week led for them to forget what Hinata was like outside the camp. It made sense for them to treat him lesser, honest.
What are you even doing here?
Hinata slowly slipped inside the equipment closet. Today was coming to an end, and everyone else was distracted and paid him no mind.
What are you even doing here?
He marched like a broken toy of a soldier towards the pile of mats. His lungs began to choke as the vines slowly began taking over his body.
“What the hell am I doing here?” Hinata slamed his head into the pile, as tears began to form despite his effort to hold them back. His body was stiff as he used the pile as mats as a silencer for his wretched sobs. White knuckles gripped the edges as he tried to get his emotions under wraps.
What were you doing for the last three years?
Make sure you don’t waste a precious five days of practice before the Spring tournament.
I can’t say I sense any worth in you.
The taste of blood entered his mouth as he bit the inside of his lip. His eyebrows tense with stress and frustration. He couldn’t fight the vines alone.
What are you even doing here?
Don’t go underestimating what it’s like to be a ball boy.
Remembering Coach Ukai’s words struck him. The vines began to slowly leave his body.
Think! Hinata mentally disciplined to himself. He needed to change his perspective. Change the way he thought. Find what it is that only he could do here.
Hinata released his head from the pile, face soaked in a combination of tears and sweat. His eyes were wide in a panicked desperation to prove himself worthy to stay on the court.
He exited the closet. Tendou sent him a curious glance
Hinata needed to get better.
The others didn’t stop doubting him, questioning him.
He sucked up the mockery behind his back. He could deal with it.
Hinata began to watch and observe the other players. He watched Kunimi do a receive that used a split step, something his friend tried to teach him long ago for tennis. He watched how others used their height. He watched how they thught and why they moved the way they did and how the other players read one another.
Hinata felt that he begininning to grow. And for once, he was happy others refused to see it. It meant he could surprise them.
The Shiratorizawa third years left after a long day. He was reminded he had no food or board for the night. Hinata stayed and practiced.
His timing was crappy. But he began to be able to read the other players more.
By the time Hinata left, it was dark out and his stomach was craving nutrients. He had a long journey home, consisting of two hour long train and bus rides and a half hour bike ride. He began to think of what to eat, and once he began to scratch the surface his determination to improve got a hold of him. He remembered Coach Ukai’s lectures on how the team needed to eat right, or else all the training in the world would be useless, because they needed to eat to regain muscle.
He took out his phone and dialed his Coach, his one track mind getting ahead of him.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Coach, what should I eat?”
“Wait, I’m sorry. Is it okay that I ask you that?”
“Who the hell else would you ask? First, you should be drinking a sports drink with amino acids… But you probably are already.”Hinata began writing this all down. “You’ll need some protein, too. Even convencience stores have protein drinks now. What you’ll also need is carbs. Something like a banana or 100% orange juice. And then… get homr and eat a proper meal!”
Coach Ukai seem startled from the other line when Hinata said the end with him. He laughed lightly.
“And make sure you get some sleep.”
Hinata smiled before picking his bag up and jogging to the training station.
Hinata began to work harder during and after camp. He practiced his timing of receives as he stood behind the court, catching stray balls. He practiced his read blocking as he stood above the court and to the side, watching the players spike. He practiced treating his body with the precision needed to become a great volleyball player.
The people who should be watching weren’t, and the people who shouldn’t were. But no one really payed enough attention to understand how quickly he was growing.
After his first call to Coach, Hinata began to ask more questions, not just from him but from his friends as well. He called Nishinoya and Daichi a few times to ask how they personaly positioned themselves for a receive to compare with their styles with those he saw during camp. Both gave him more than enough of an explanation, and offered to help him when he got back. He texted Bokuto and Kuroo what their thought processes were doing a block, to which he got energetic responses from both, with the first adding in the fact that he’s glad his son reached out to him. He even thought about calling Kageyama, maybe just to see how he’s doing, before quickly deciding against it.
Hinata knew he needed to improve on his obvious weak points, but it was during one of the last days of camp did he realize he could also improve his strong points. He thought about who to call to ask, before realizing that such a specific topic like this would require someone with a wide range to ask. He opted for Coach Ukai.
“Ah, Hinata? What is it this time? Do you need another set of stretches to try?”
“No. I know I have to improve my receives and blocks, but I was wondering if there’s any way to improve some of the goods I’m good at so I’m really good at them, you know? Like my jumps. I know I improved them absentmindely, but is there anyway to get higher.”
“Vertical height is something difficult to improve as quick as the others. As long as you maintain your form and continue practicing, that’s about it.”
“Maintain… your form? What do you mean.”
“You know, proper jumping form. Hinata, you do think when you jump, right?”
“Not really Coach. I’ll try to improve on that. What should I be thinking about?”
Coack Ukai paused on the other end. “Hinata, when you jump, is that pure instinct?”
This time, the pause was lengthy, and Hinata swore minutes passed as he heard his Coach calm breath over the line, saying nothing.
“Meet me tomorrow outside my store after school.”
The line went dead.
The next day, Hinata met with Coach Ukai. The man was waiting outside his store in anticipation of his arrival, and upon seeing Hinata approach he put his cigarette out and stood up a little straighter.
“Come on, I have someone I want you to meet.”
Ukai led Hinata to his car, reminding him of his seatbelt, before taking off.
“What you said yesterday. About your jumping. That was true, yea?”
Hinata startled at the idea of lying. “O-of course it was! I’m sorry if it’s a bad thing, or--”
Ukai cut the kid off with a sharp look before paying attention to the road again. “It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually the opposite. If the way you were jumping before, without trying or knowing, put you that high into the air, what do you think could happen if jumped with some proper training.”
Hinata began to understand.
“I’m taking you to see an old buddy of my grandfather. He’s an athletic trainer, helps professional athletes stay in shape when their seasons are over and shit. After our call yesterday, I talked to my grandfather. He gave me this guy’s number, and I spoke to him. He managed to fit us in today. Apparently he helped the little giant learn to jump properly too.”
Hinata jumped in his car seat, an assortment of oohs and wahs leaving his mouth in excitement while he gushed out his thanks. Mentioning the little giant immediately set him into a good mood.
Ukai slowly pulled into the complex’s parking lot, turning the car off and looking at Hinata. “Alright, listen. I never met this guy in person, so I don’t know what this is going to be like. Just, don’t be nervous, okay?”
Hinata nodded, bouncing with anticipation. Ukai smiled before unlocking the car as the Coach and player duo stepped out.
Entering the building, Ukai looked at the note in his hand with the directions. He wouldn’t have guessed this building to be anything but office spaces, but here he was. Entering the elevator, he pressed the button for the basement.
When the two of them stepped out, both were shocked. It seemed the whole floor was a gym of sorts, looking like an obstacle course with props set up around the whole floor. Bright fluorescent lights scattered the ceiling that stood high above them, and there were a couple pairs of trainer-athletes warming up and stretching. As they entered, freezing and staring, a man approached him.
Hinata eyed the man. He had a long face with a five-o-clock shadow, dark brown hair that was close to being black, and wore a pair of simple athletic clothes and glasses.
“Ah, you must be Ukai Keishin? And Hinata Shouyou?” The man looked between the two of them.
“Yeah, you must be Hiraoka. Thank you for making room for us.”
“Oh, it’s no problem. Your grandfather was quite the Coach, gave us some of the most difficult training I ever went through when I played on his team, and the students he brought over were always remarkable.”
Hinata looked between the two as they talked before smiling sheepishly. He was beginning to improve, but he wasn’t quite a strong player yet. “Ah, I’m not a genius. That would be some of the others on the team, like Kageyama.”
Ukai frowned at the uncharacteristic self-doubt from the boy, before crossing his arms in front of himself. Hiraoka looked at the boy in surprise before smiling again.
“Ah, but Ukai never sends ordinary players here.” Hinata froze with no counter-argument to such statement. Hiraoka continued. “Let’s begin, shall we?”
Hiraoka led Hinata to a corner with some yoga mats, before leading him in a stretch. Ukai stood to the side, observing. After about half an hour of properly warming up, Hiraoka led them a separate area. The floor was made of the same rubber material the court at Nationals would be made of, as most professional courts are. There was a tall object in the middle, with lines marking each centimeter on the edges, and a box of chalk next to it. The process would be simple, not unlike what they had done only a few weeks prior. He motioned for Hinata to do the familiar action.
“333 centimeters. That isn’t bad at all, especially for your height.” Hiraoka wrote the number down. “Now, I’d like to ask what goes through your mind when you jump. What part of the body do you use?”
“Eh? I-I don’t really know. I just start running, and then I jump using my feet. I never thought about how I jump when I do it.”
Hiraoka looked semi-surprised. “Well, you can get pretty high even without using good form. When you jump, you need to use the balls of your feet. Not only will that help you soar, but it’ll help you keep your balance in the air as well. Your feet should be about the same distance apart as your hips. I noticed your feet were a little wide, which could put strain on your knees. The movement you make with your arms are good. Do you think you could try again, taking note of what I told you?”
Hinata stared at the man in wonder while he spoke, before letting his face settle into one of fierce determination. He backed up a bit more he began to sprint. When he reached the line marked on the floor to jump, Hinata placed his feet down, focusing on his stance, before launching himself into the air.
As he came down from the jump, Hinata felt like a feather floating to the ground. Ukai stared in awe as he jumped like he’s never seen. This moment felt similar to watching the quick attack for the first time.
“Wow! This time, you reached 338 centimeters. And that was only your first try, Hinata. It seems you were wrong about not being a genius.”
Ukai watched as for another hour, Hinata kept jumping with Hiraoka giving him notes on his form. By the end if the session, Hinata had reached a remarkable maximum of 341 centimeters. Hiraoka wrote down a list of stretches of exercises for Hinata to practice at home that could increase his muscle mass needed for jumping.
“Thank you for helping us. My grandfather and I both appreciate it.” Ukai thanked the man after he handed Hinata the paper.
“Thank you!” Hinata bowed deeply.
“Ah, it was no trouble at all. I’ll see if I can come to one of Karasuno’s matches at nationals. It’s only proper for an alumnus.”
Coach Ukai told everyone to stay after practice the next day. Energies were high from everyone returning from their respective trainig camps, and they immediately began running drills. All the players who left came back with a new vigor to them. Hinata even opted to not spike for half the practice, and asked if he could try receiving instead. Daichi and Nishinoya were both more than happy it seemed with this revelation, and corrected his form or note his timing everytime the ball would hit him in the face.
Before they could all change, Coach Ukai whistled everyone to circle up.
“A few weeks ago, we took measurements of everyone’s jump.” The team nodded, confused as to why this was being brought up. “While he spent the last week trying to improve himself, Hinata recently made a discovery that not only was he not jumping properly, but that his vertical height was much, much higher than previously measured. I believe it would be beneficial for the team to see so they could factor this new height into our plays, especially Kageyama. Once you all finish your water break, we’ll head to the basketball court again.”
This seemed to be the last thing everyone expected Coach Ukai to say. A silence washed over them, even the managers who were just as shocked as the rest of them, before Nishinoya once again broke it. He grabbed Hinata’s shoulders and bounced behind him.
“Wow Hinata! How did you even learn about that?”
“I wonder if his new height is better than Kageyama’s!”
“How the hell did he manage to jump higher! It hasn’t been that long!”
Hinata awkwardly chuckled while he spoke to Nishinoya. The group began walking to the basketball court, and Hinata felt Kageyama staring at him. When they arrived to the other gym, Coach Ukai diligently began to turn on the lights and set up the ladder while Yachi and Kiyoko got the chalk.
Everyone began to line up similar to how they were weeks prior. In two lines, everyone stood still, watching Hinata with anticipation, as he stood at the end of the gap in the middle of the group. He stared at the basketball hoop in front of him, and the distance he had to run. His stomach flipped in nervous energy, but Hinata payed it no mind. After a few moments, Hinata rubbed the chalk on his fingers.
He ran forward with careful strides, and stopped for a moment at the base of the basketball hoop, spreading his legs an equal distance according to his hips, knees slightly bent, pressure on the balls of his heels, and launched himself up.
Everyone stared in wonder and Hinata flew and smacked the backboard, landing in what he was told was good form. Yachi pulled out the measuring tape and quickly went to work, before an expression of genuine shock came across her face.
No one moved as they were frozen in anticipating. Yachi turned red as she faced the group. “H-he jumped 341 centimeters.”
It seemed no one was expecting such a number. It took a few moments before anyone spoke, and it seemed Coach Ukai had to be the one who broke the silence.
“Alright, so you can now see how far Hinata can jump. I expect the team to utilize this during the tournament. Kageyama you may want to practice serving to Hinata at his maximum height, but don’t rely on it. I want it to be a surprise factor we can pull on our opponents in the middle of a game.”
Once Coach Ukai finished speaking, it seemed all chaos was released.
Tanaka and Nishinoya began to roughhouse the younger boy. “Hinata! What the hell was that?”
“How did he improve eight centimeters that quicky?” Asahi looked on in horror while Suga patted his shoulder.
“Way to go Hinata!” Daichi called out.
Kageyama marched over to Hinata and crossed his arms. “We’re practicing tomorrow after practice.”
Hinata turned to Kageyama with a devilish grin. “Hey! You owe me for the three curry buns I bought you last time for having a higher jump than me!”
The rest of the days leading up to Nationals was spent in costant training.
Hinata found his receives to be a great deal steadier than they were not so long ago, with the split step he used helping him greatly. His receives still weren’t the best, but at least he knew his team could count on him when the ball headed his direction. His blocking improved as well, and Hinata found himself to learning to think while blocking, something he never did as much as he did with other apsects of the game.
The team noticed his improvement too, which felt nice. Hinata remembered the feeling of drowning, being buried alive by vines of self-doubt, when he realized that everyone around him was getting stronger except for him. Now Hinata was stronger as well, and he was happy.
Their first day of Nationals went great, if they ignored the sneaker mishap, and they continued to play another day. Over 40 teams were eliminated that day, so Hinata was incredibly grateful that they got to stay on the court.
He and Kageyama continued their quick attack, and he knew that once he needed to use his extra height to surprise the enemy, the transition would be easy.
The second day of the tournament they were going against the Black Jackals, who had just as intense of a crowd and marching band to cheer them as their team members. The setter of their team, Miya Atsumo, went to the same All-Japan youth camp as Kageyama. The two of them seemed familar to the point of friendly, a fact that surprised most of their team. Hinata was not as bothered by this as he much as he thought he would’ve been.
The game was intense. Both teams were good, strong teams, with a will to fight. The match was incredibly close, with both teams closing the gap every time one appeared. The Miya twins were a near unstoppable force, but so were Hinata and Kageyama. As the game continued, more and more people gathered to watch. There was the media, of course, as well as more familiar faces. Bokuto and Akkashi stood watching from the sides, as the Nekoma team, and a few others from Kageyama’s training camp. Everyone was curious to see how this would play out.
When the other team called a time-out, Karasuno circled up on the sidelines. Kageyama looked to Hinata, a grin of determination appearing.
“I think we should do a quick attack with your highest possible jump. They’ve gotten used to positioning and timing their jumps at the height you’re going now. Changing it right now could help us gain enough points to widen the gap we just got.”
The team seemed to agree, and they all held mischevious grins as they got back into positions for the game to continue.
It was safe to say that no one was expecting for Hinata to launch himself an extra eight centimeters into the air on the next quick attack. Before Hinata even received the ball, Hinata began running, quickly, to the right, and launched himself up with all the correct elements he had learned for an excellent jump, and flew straight into the air. The block prepared for him were too short, and he had a view of their entire court from his side. Hinata quickly slammed the ball to the floor.
The whole audience were quiet for a moment before the audience cheered for Karasuno, who had now taken a three-point lead.
Hinata’s team tackled him as they all praised him on his kill. Even having seen it before, his fellow team members were pleasently surprised. From the sidelines he saw Bokuto looked a strange mixture of proud and mortified, while Akaashi smiled and patted Bokuto’s shoulder. The entire Nekoma team seemed thouroughly shocked of his progress since the last time they held a practice match. Kuroo smiled as if he had a plan had just been put to work. Kenma’s phone was no where in sight, and he seemed more interested and excited than Hinata had ever seen him. Even the players from the All-Japan camp, who Hinata did not know aside from their faces, were surprised at his and Kageyama’s new quick attack.
“Wow.” One of the media announcers spoke on the inter-com to both the live audience and those she was recording for. “Karasuno surely seems to be a diamond in the rough right now. It seemed that their Number Ten, who seems to be player Hinata Shouyou, had been hiding a powerful jump. Years later, and another Little Giant has returned to Karasuno!”
Hinata stilled at the praise. A wide grin made its way to his face as a few happy tears began to slide down. He had finally done it.
Kageyama punched his arm lightly. “Don’t get too proud. The game isn’t over.”
Hinata nodded and got back into position, eye on the ball.