It's a superstitious ritual that has been played out on playgrounds, driveways and basketball courts since the beginning of the game. As Lynbrook wrapped up its halftime shooting Friday, Brooke Gerstman wouldn't leave the court until she made her last shot.
That Gerstman needed four attempts to make a doorstep layup was frivolous, but it provided a comedic moment for a player many coaches and competitors believe is the best Nassau public schools have to offer in girls basketball this season.
Gerstman is averaging 20.4 points and has Lynbrook (8-3, 6-1) in the hunt for a Conference A-III title in its first year in the league. Her success ultimately will determine how far the Owls go in the postseason, with each game potentially being her last of competitive basketball.
"It's been a lot of thinking, but at the end of the day, it's just four more years of basketball or it can end now," Gerstman said of her season-long struggle to decide whether to play in college.
The 5-8 point guard, who notched her 1,000th career point in the third game of the season, has considered offers from Colgate and several Division III schools but now is strongly leaning toward giving up the label of student-athlete in favor of a college experience solely as a student.
"I love the game and I know I do. I've had a great high school career, so many great teammates I've played with, but at the same time, I'm really looking to focus on my academics," she said. "I still have the love for the game. I'm going to keep playing it, but not necessarily on the college level."
Gerstman had 27 points and 10 rebounds in Friday night's 55-39 win over Great Neck North. That's typical -- she's led the team in scoring in nine of 11 games -- but those numbers tell only half the story. She also had six steals and five assists, including a three-quarter-court pass in the first quarter in which she whipped the ball across her body with one hand and made it appear effortless.
"Of course I like to score, but a pass is just as fulfilling," she said. "They think I'm going to shoot, so now when I drive, they think I'm going up, and that leaves all the players on the outside open, and it comes down to them making the shots. I do like kicking."
The fierce competitor does have a showman's side.
She even approaches the free-throw line with a rabid intensity, her right foot in front of her left, bouncing in her all-black shoes and long black socks like a wolverine ready to pounce on its prey. That's fitting; she might attend the University of Michigan, where the Fab Five made the style famous in the early 1990s.
With Jen Fay transferring to Nazareth this year, Gerstman has had to provide even more of the team's scoring. She embodies the term "floor general'' not only because she is the point guard but because she talks her teammates through plays even without the ball in her hands.
"She walks them through the plays -- 'Come set a screen over here' -- she understands the game where some of the younger ones don't yet," Lynbrook coach Heather Manikas said of Gerstman, whom she readily calls the "heart of the team" and the best player she's had in seven years as coach. "She's leading them through that for the next chapter of Lynbrook basketball, but good God, we're going to miss her next year."
As the season winds down, Gerstman's playing career may be doing the same. She's intent on going out not only as a great player but as a champion.
"I want that county title. Haven't had one since . . . a really long time," she said, turning to the rafters of the Lynbrook gym in search of the 1978 county championship banner. "There's a date up there somewhere, but I want to represent Lynbrook . . . In 10th grade I was there, and I know how it feels to lose.
"I'm not letting that happen again."