Life After Basketball: Or, the Road Back

So, it’s basketball season. Teams at the high school, college, and pro levels all across the nation are practicing, getting ready to tip-off another terrific season in what is a tumultuous time for the industry. In a world that is so complex with so many people, and so many motives, things can stop making sense pretty quickly.

However, there is one thing, one sound that will always make sense to me. Sometimes, it is the only thing that makes sense.

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Swish.

That sound right there is music to my ears. It is something that takes away all of the pains and struggles of modern life, even if it is just temporary. And for the first time in seven years, I am not a part of a basketball staff at the high school or college level. I don’t get to hear that sweet, sweet sound anymore.

The one thing that kept me going at times, the one thing that would break me out of depressive spells, the one thing that made sense is gone.

But life goes on. I write this partially as catharsis, and partially because I know that there are many people out there just like me: both athletes and managers. Something is a part of you, part of your identity for so long, and it can disappear just like that. However, life away the game has brought some valuable lessons, and leaves some time to reflect.

There is a void left by something that you put in so much work for, for so long. Yet nothing lasts forever. I am willing to do anything to get back. Until then, I’m spending time to fill the void left by a game I love so much.

Right now, I’m filling that void with graduate school. Thank goodness I put in as much work in the classroom as much as I did on the basketball court, because I earned a full academic scholarship to University of Cincinnati, and have the opportunity to teach two sections of a Comm-1071, which is Intro to Public Speech.

I really enjoy teaching. There is a certain satisfaction in helping people reach heights that they never thought they could achieve. I love seeing my students improve. It’s the same reason I want to be a basketball coach: My passion is helping others. I enjoy teaching a whole lot more than my graduate classes, though I still enjoy both sides of the graduate school equation.

My work as both a summer camp counselor/basketball coach, as well as my work as a graduate instructor has all but cured my fear of responsibility of other people. I have always had a great ability to be responsible for myself, but the idea of being responsible for other people terrified me growing up.

Now, I am no longer afraid. I embrace responsibility. I actually believe in myself, and that is pretty great. In the past, I’ve sometimes been afraid to say “yes, I can do this.” But yes, I can do this. I can make it.

Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 1.23.19 PM
Coaching basketball and working with kids this summer was a blessing. Camp Androscoggin is a special place with special people.

I don’t mean to sound cocky. There is a weird dynamic, a balance that one has to achieve. Too much confidence to turn into cockiness, a recklessness that can hamper one’s ability to improve. Not enough confidence can cause one to be run by fear, also hampering one’s ability to improve.

So, I like to think I am confident. Not necessarily confident in my skills, but confident in my ability to work my butt off, as well as listen and learn new things every day. I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

It is sometimes difficult to relax because any time I relax, I feel like I’m not doing enough to improve. In fact, that is another thing I need to improve on. I need to learn how to say, “it is OK to take a break. It is OK to enjoy life every once in awhile.

To change subjects, one of the most important things that being away from the game has taught me: How to respond to adversity.

Life does not always work out exactly the way you want. It rarely does. It isn’t about what crap is thrown at you, it is how you respond to the adversity. I try to emphasize that to my students in my class, as speeches and presentations almost always have some sort of adversity that forces a student to adjust.

Rather than sit and pout about not receiving any graduate assistantships for basketball, I took the opportunities that were presented. I spent the summer living without air conditioning coaching basketball at a summer camp in Maine.

I had to live in one room with six nine-year-old, but the experiences at that camp was invaluable in developing skills as a leader, communicator, and basketball coach.

I continue to develop my leadership skills as a teacher in graduate school. Like I said before, life isn’t perfect. However, if you take the opportunities presented to you, it can still be pretty darn good.

All of this being said, I’m not completely away from the game. I’m working very closely with one nationally-ranked school, and have done some consulting work with players and coaches on some other staffs, but technically, I am still a free agent.

As most of my work is with recruiting, my work has to remain highly confidential until National Signing Day. It isn’t the same as being actually on staff, but it is something. It is something that appeases the thirst, even if it is temporary.

I watch game film whenever I can. Thank goodness for FIBA’s YouTube channel, because it has so many great resources for coaches in how to teach certain drills, as well as numerous offensive and defensive sets.

Even though I am not working with any players right now, I realize it’s important to continually improve my knowledge of the game, as well as continually develop things that I can more tangibly work on, such as my video and graphics skills.

A wise teacher once told me: “If you’re not getting better, you’re going to get worse.”

I try to live by that motto. I know that if I am to ever receive an opportunity to get back into the game, I need to spend just about every moment working on my skills so that I can be the best candidate I can possibly be when that opportunity comes.

Or should I say, if  that opportunity comes. That thought sometimes creeps into the back of my head.

“What if you never get a chance to work in college basketball again? What if you’re wasting your time?” 

That is a thought that terrifies me. There is something special about college basketball. The competition, the recruiting, but most of all, the relationships you build.

There are very few places where you can develop intimate relationships with 12-15 young men, and help them achieve their dreams. That’s really what basketball, and life is all about: the relationships you build. The memories you make.

I am a firm believer that you can have the best game plan in the world, but if you have a cruddy relationship with your players, it won’t matter.

Your players have to know you care, and gosh darn it, I care a lot. I miss that. I miss the morning workouts, the late night bus rides, the laughs shared after dumb jokes.

I even miss the times when Andy Kennedy gets mad, and rants about “counterfeit defense,” or how he needs “every day m—-fers.” I miss that intensity. The accountability. The idea that getting better is so important, that Coach will expend all of that stress and energy to make sure we succeed.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Kentucky
Love you coach. Even when you’re mad. (Photo via OleHottyToddy)

So yeah, I miss it. I’m willing to do anything to get back. My ultimate goal within the next few years is to find a job as a video coordinator, or if it comes to it, a graduate assistant somewhere. I don’t care if it is in New York City or Nome, Alaska.

I just need to get back in the game. I will sleep in the office. I will pick up coach’s dry cleaning. I just need to get back.

The thing is, I am not asking to get back as charity, but because I know I can contribute and do a great job. I love this game so much, and have multimedia skills and creativity that can help any basketball program in the country. As cocky as it sounds, I believe it. Even at that, I work every day to improve those skills to make sure I can maintain that confidence that I am a terrific candidate.

I just need to get back in the game. I will sleep in the office. I will pick up coach’s dry cleaning. I just need to get back.

But once again, I only say these things because I want to be back in a position to serve others. I want to be able to serve coaches, players, recruits, and provide a school with something that makes it a better place. I want to be that guy that makes people say, “hey, he is a hard worker and cares about others.”

I don’t say this because I care what other people think about me, but because I really do care about serving others. It is something that I don’t necessarily feel comfortable talking about. I’d rather show via my actions.

However, this is a medium where I don’t have much choice. I’m away from the game, so the best I can do is make my case, and continue living for others.

I need to get back to the only thing that has ever made sense in my life. Basketball is the only thing that gives me peace. I go to sleep thinking about defensive schemes. I have nightmares about Jeff Teague switching onto LeBron James. When I’m at the bar with friends, I often find myself wishing I had chalk so I could draw up offensive plays that creep into my mind.

I’m a junkie. Basketball is my addiction. Until my next opportunity comes, if it comes, I have to do everything possible to make sure I am the best I can be. I want that responsibility. I want to be a leader of young men. Until then, I will continue to be the best teacher, student, worker, and friend I can possibly be. So that one day, I can return.

Some day, I want to get back to the most beautiful sound in the world:

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Swish.

I’d do anything to hear that sound again.

 

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