This is going to be really, really therapeutic for me.
Tonight is our—the University at Albany men’s basketball team—final home game of the 2015-16 regular season. Before us is the opportunity to become the winningest single season team in the program’s 16-year Division I history.
Every year, the team, fans, and University’s Department of Athletics honor the seniors, as they walk to center court joined by members of their respective families, as the PA announcer reads their list of on court contributions.
I am a senior this year. And like those who graduated before me, as well as those who will after, tonight, I will take that walk to center court, accompanied by my parents and brother. Just like they’ve done for everyone else, the crowd will applaud. At center court, my mother will be presented with flowers, and I with a framed action shot of me during a game.
Anyone who has ever been to any Senior Night game anywhere will have seen it all before.
The only thing that may be a little different is what the address that the PA announcer reads as I make my way to midcourt.
I walked on to the UAlbany men’s basketball team four years ago; and I’ve been a walk-on ever since (if you clicked on that link, note that I was what the website calls a “plain” walk-on).
Just like my teammate, and good friend, Peter Hooley, I’ve been a member of three America East Conference Championship teams; my name appears in NCAA Tournament box scores in games against Duke, Florida, and almost Oklahoma (we were in the game until the last few seconds, so my coach decided not to empty the bench); I’ve taken eight dreadful bus rides to, and from Bangor, ME, as we play “the state’s premier public university,” twice a year.
But, the bulk of my contributions to the team, to the University, have taken place off of the basketball court. Like locker room conversations with my former teammate Jay Guerrier, who I consider an older brother. Or pregame prayers with Pete.
Know, of course, that however these moments encouraged Jay or Pete, they did the same for me; possibly, even more. I don’t intend for to use the word “contributions” to reference some gift that I gave, emotionally separated from the moment.
Indeed: I want any who read this to be convinced that, not only have I been present for the last four years, but more; I’ve been emotionally, physically, and spiritually invested in my coaches, teammates, fans, and all other supporters.
Like, during my sophomore year, when we trailed Stony Brook University at halftime of the America East Championship game. I was numb, and exhausted from forcing myself not to care whether we won, or lost, because, well, what should it matter to someone without any of hope of contributing to the cause on the court?
And then, pausing from my self-wallowing, I looked at our lone senior captain that year, Luke Devlin, who had battled, for at least two seasons, with a severely surgically-repaired back; some days, he could barely move. And yet, here he was giving everything he could muster to share with his teammates one, final, conference championship.
I was reminded then, of the lessons all athletes are taught about the relationship between self, and the team: at all times, in all things, the self is second.
So, I prayed.
I asked that God would strengthen my teammates—those who played—so that they might play selflessly, and without fear of failure. But also, that our opponents might do the same. And should we lose, that He might grant us peace, of spirit, and mind, that we would know that we did what we could. Yet, should we win, indeed, all thanks would be to Him for the alignment of His will with the desires of our hearts.
That day, Luke (and a few others of us) became two-time conference champions.
My goal in sharing these thoughts is that, for anyone who has played the behind-the-scenes role on a team—whether it be athletic, or at work, or in church—know this: that you have a role and a responsibility nonetheless. I encourage you to look back, and smile, being confident that you have helped, even if no one has ever said “thank you,” or, “good job.”
Furthermore, for anyone, who is coming tonight, I want you to know a few things:
- I love basketball, and I love my teammates.
Make no mistake: I may not have played a lot during my four years here, but still, few things bring greater joy to me than dribbling, shooting, or passing a basketball (I love defense too).
- I red-shirted this year.
Commonly, coaches start seniors on Senior Night. Ray, Ev, and Pete start anyway, but I will not be joining them on the court this evening.
I’ve decided to red-shirt this, my final undergraduate year, in the hope of playing somewhere next year, as pursue a graduate-level degree.
- I can play basketball.
Often, the idea surrounding those that don’t play is that they aren’t skilled enough to contribute.
Yet, I contended that there are many on teams across the nation that can play, but for a number of reasons, just haven’t been given the opportunity; and not all of these reasons are negative.
Below is a tape of highlights from my senior year of high school that I watch sometimes. It’s not the greatest reflection of where my game is now, but, for those who’ve wanted to see me play: it’s something.