As I mentioned when I posted this link on Facebook, this will be the first entry for my “WordPress Wednesday’s.” Just as that sounds, every Wednesday I’ll post a new entry not just for your attention, but to exercise my brain a bit. Maybe yours too. We’ll see how long it lasts. (And I do realize it’s techincally Thursday, but give me some credit I started writing at 11:04 PM)
Let’s talk basketball. Not about Lebron James’s future, what city he’ll end up in, who he meets with to discuss his free agency, or if I think Kobe will win another ring. ESPN does that everyday. I bet that I have your brain swirling though. This is a bit more personal, more about the relationship between basketball and me. That’s right, relationship. Since I stepped foot on to the blacktop at Westwood Elementary in Concord, CA, grabbed a slippery, orange, spherically-shaped piece of rubber, and tossed it into the net only to hear the infamous “swoosh,” it was over. Over as in there was no turning back. The love shifted from standing around in baseball fields waiting for little kids to possibly hit the ball my direction, to the constant movement and shuffling inside that 94-foot rectangle. Let’s go on a journey.
I moved to Livermore before fourth-grade where, after playing with some local kids at May Nissen Park down the street, I had a nearby neighbor hunting down my house to recruit me for his CYO team. Let’s not get the wrong idea, I’m not saying I was worth the trouble. However, it was nice to know I was recognized and requested to be included on a team full of strangers who would later become friends and classmates of mine (thank you, Andre Peoples). From there came the tournaments across the Bay Area, Junction Avenue Middle School, East Avenue Middle School, more CYO in between, Livermore High School, even an AAU traveling team. Basketball, basketball, basketball. It’s all I ever ate, slept, and dreamt about. The politics and business of the game grew stronger with age but my love grew exponentially with those things. Though my physical stature wasn’t ideal for the eyes of recruiters there wasn’t anyone who could tell me basketball was not an option. Not to mention our horrific win-less (yes, win-LESS) streak during league play throughout high school. I’m not afraid to admit that. That’s old news. But when high school finished and a small sense of reality slapped me in the face the dreams started to fade.
Fresno, California was the next destination for me, and basketball. With a lack of options from major budget cuts across universities in California I apprehensively enrolled in Fresno State in August of 2004. It was rumored that the school held a strong Psychology program, which brought me at ease about the decision. But you know I had one thing in the back of my mind, basketball. Despite the few years before my enrollment that involved shootings, drugs, and poor grades, Fresno State was a legitimate contender in the NCAA tournament in late 1990’s and year 2000. The university had released some players into the NBA you might be familiar with such as And 1 Playground legend Rafer Alston, Courtney Alexander, Melvin Ely, Rod Higgins (the first), Dominic McGuire, and the 10th overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft Paul George. Might not be the most impressive line-up but if you’re familiar with the NBA you get the picture. Let’s turn the page.
It was my sophomore year of college, 2006. I was still a gym rat, still a suburban white kid with a chip on his shoulder on the court like I had something to prove. With an entirely new coaching staff entering the 06-07 season rumors swirled around campus that walk-on tryouts were to be held in the Fall semester. The thought crossed my mind of course, but eventually passed. The confidence in my abilities on the court lingered, but I truly felt there was no possible way I would come close. No way. A Division I college basketball team, really? No chance. Fortunately I was in decent shape and had the voice of my buddy Mike tell me, “C’mon man you’ll never know if you don’t show up.” That’s all it took. That semester we showed up at 6 AM in the North Gym along with at least 70 others who hoped to fulfill the same dream.
On day one we broke into teams and scrimmaged. Luckily the were players I was familiar with, players we hooped with every night in the Rec center. We were grouped into four teams and rotated to play each team at least once. Our team won every game. I didn’t score much, but I didn’t need to. It wasn’t about scoring, it was about all of the fine details learned from every coach who yelled in my ear coming into sync on that morning. The whistles blew after the final game and the assistant coaches approached a few players to take down some information. My heart pounded when I saw one them approach me. “Where you from? Bay Area?” Coach Slade asked as he glanced at the Chabot College logo on my cutoff. “Yeah, Livermore actually,” I said a bit embarrassed. He thought I went to Chabot, but clarified otherwise. He congratulated my efforts, and it was enough to get my name on the list for day two of the try-outs. You serious?
The second morning was similar to the first but with fewer players. We broke into a few lay-up lines to warm up and then it was time to run. With a solid team, we ended up winning each game again. Winning wasn’t something usual to me, but it was easy to accept. I felt like I played well, especially with a transfer recruit who guarded me throughout the morning. Nothing exceptional, just efficient. I combed through every fundamental detail in my brain and let the game come to me. I knocked down shots, created a turnover, threw a few assists, and stayed as vocal as possible without getting too involved with every play. It seemed like an eternity before the run was over. Little did I know, former BYU Men’s Basketball Coach Steve Cleveland watched the entire session. He called everyone into the circle at halfcourt and announced that his coaches were looking for one slot, maybe two, to be filled and we would be notified within a couple days. And I thought the try-out felt like an eternity…
Two days later I was preparing to leave for an afternoon class. I was in the middle of grabbing some books and throwing on some shoes when my Sidekick started to buzz. The caller ID read a local but unfamiliar number. Normally I didn’t answer but in a time like this, how couldn’t I? I answered, only to find out it was Coach Moon, one of the assistants who attended the try-outs. There went my heart, pounding away. He started small conversation, asked me how my day was and whatnot. After a few minutes my mind was racing only to realize what he had actually asked me. He offered me a spot on the team. “Are you serious?” I asked repeatedly. He mentioned something about his staff’s original desire to keep only one player, but they decided to pick up two of us. “Us,” as in me. I accepted, of course I accepted. Then I proceeded to run around the house like a maniac 5-year old child who had eaten too much ice cream. I called my Mom, I called Elizabeth, I called Chase, I called anyone else I could think of at the moment to share the news. Unbelieveable news.
I attended grueling morning workouts, afternoon practices, study group sessions, team meetings, optional shoot-arounds, a physical, even open gyms I wasn’t supposed to. Anything to prove I was committed to the opportunity. I had people celebrate with me, people who hated repeatedly. “YOU!? What!???” they asked. Plenty of laughs. Reactions ranged from professors who praised my efforts to so-called friends who eagerly expressed their bitterness. Regardless it was a proud moment. A moment that was defined by huddling in a circle after an afternoon practice and, while the coach was talking, I stared down at my practice jersey the entire time. I read the phrase over and over and over. “Fresno State Basketball,” I mouthed without audible sound leaving my throat. I carefully etched each screenprinted letter and number with my eyes to test the genuity of that moment. I made it. I shared the company of players who had been flown across the world from Europe, recruited at the powerhouse Fairfax HS in LA, transferred from Cal, and an all-time scoring leader in the Central Valley amongst others. That was my moment. A time in my life I wouldn’t trade for the world. I even autographed a basketball after practice that would be donated to a local elementary school. I wonder where that ball is…
Unfortunately it came to an end. I turned my back on basketball. Now let me reiterate, I’m not sharing this story for any limelight. The story should inspire you if anything, or maybe help you understand a piece of my history. A relationship with something you love should never diminish simply because you felt you reached your potential. There are certain things, and people, that will stick with you throughout the rest of your life whether you realize it or not. My opportunity on the team came to an end at my own decision. I wasn’t kicked-off, I wasn’t cut, none of that. It was one of the most difficult and strenuous decisions I have made in my entire life. More unfortunately, the game that I loved put other things in my life in jeopardy. My classes, my financial stability, my personal relationships, my body. The amount of time consumed by the sport I thought I loved started to ruin my real future. Let’s face it, the NBA wasn’t calling my name (although I am a firm believer in following dreams). But my relationship with basketball grew to an enormity that a 19-year old, unrecruited, 5-foot 10-inch, suburban white kid couldn’t handle. With much to my regret, I had to let the opportunity go.
With the negative thoughts, the “what-if’s,” and the nonbelievers to the side let’s take a look at the real benefits of this. Trust me my stomach churned for nights on end about the possibilities that would have presented themselves had I hung on a bit longer. Let’s not dig too deep into that. I’m a man who seeks the positives in life and realized at the point in time, those were my circumstances. I took a chance and succeeded. I had nothing to lose. You want statistics? I became part of the less than 2% of high school basketball players to make it to the next level. The Division I level. I gave Livermore, a city known for cows and wine let alone basketball, a piece of myself and a handful of people something to be proud of. I did that for my grandfather, my parents, friends, and my unborn children (okay, maybe that’s pushin’ it, but think about it). Of course I didn’t run around immediately telling everyone my story. I was too embarrassed mainly because by the time anyone found out I had already let the opportunity go. But those who knew showed their appreciation. And that was enough. It took time to sink in, the constant questioning never ceased. This was about the bigger picture, not about me. This was my relationship with basketball, something I knew would never disappear.
I still played every chance I had after that experience. Won a couple intramural tournaments, made some incredible memories and friends. I play sparingly when I have a day off. That love for the game, although will never grow as intense, will always remain. Sometimes you have to understand your boundaries with the things you love, even with the people you love. There’s a level of functionality that can be reached, just be sure you keep those things and people close to you. The journey can continue.