illustration of main character, Junior, holding a basketball and looking over his shoulder

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie
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How does Junior explain his improvement in basketball in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian? 

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In the chapter "In Like a Lion," Junior explains his improvement in basketball is due to increased confidence from not being the "lowest Indian on the reservation totem pole" and from people actually expecting him to be good. On the reservation, Junior explains, he was a "decent" player but always assumed he would sit the bench and cheer for the "bigger, faster, more talented teammates" like his friend Rowdy.

Junior explains his improvement is thanks to "The power of expectations." He says, "they expected more of me, I expected more of myself, and it just grew and grew until I was scoring twelve points a game." At Reardon, Junior's coach made him a starter on the varsity basketball team as a freshman. The coach even told Junior that he could see him becoming an all-state player and even play ball at a small college. This second statement shocked Junior, who asks, "How often do you hear the word 'Indian' and 'college' in the same sentence? Especially in my family. Especially in my tribe."

This is why, to Junior, the game against the reservation team became so important. He needed to prove to himself that he was worthy of these new expectations. He tells a reporter doing a story about the game:

"I have to prove that I am stronger than everybody else. I have to prove that I will never give up. I will never quit playing hard. And I don't just mean in basketball. I'm never going to quit living life this hard, you know? I'm never going to surrender to anybody. Never, ever, ever."

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