First: thank you for spending this week with me. Thank you to all who read, shared, liked, commented, thought, and felt. How I wish that, one day, I will be able play some part in making each one of you feel as special as you all did me.
I will continue to share my thoughts. I pray you all do the same here, and among your pockets of friends.
My final season at UAlbany came to a close quite quickly; unexpectedly. We were upset by the University of Hartford Hawks, in first round America East Tournament, and, for the first time in my career, missed qualifying for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Instead, we were selected to compete in the College Basketball Insider tournament (CBI), in which we ended up losing — again, in the first round — to Ohio University.
I watched, stone-faced, as my teammates cried. After the last four years, I simply didn’t have any more tears. My crying had been done, unaccompanied, in the gym during late-night workouts; and in my room, after games in which I did not play. I embraced my teammates, and was moved by their emotion. But, I didn’t cry.
This series of posts was not published with the intention to hurt the reputation of any of the coaches mentioned. Nor was it to discourage anyone from walking-on to a Division I basketball team.
The root goal of this project was to publicize the truths of my experience as a walk-on.
While, it is indeed my story, I know that student-athlete mistreatment is not an issue exclusive to UAlbany; competitors across the country – and across divisions – experience similar, and even greater acts of disrespect.
If I might have a moment to clarify a few things:
Captainship, scholarship, and trust.
This past season – my senior season – Coach Brown named me one of three captains.
He told me that he thought of me as a leader among my teammates, and that I had earned his trust.
Thus, I became the second walk-on to be named a captain under Brown’s tenure – the first since 2003.
When the announcement was made public in early October, the media wanted to hear what I thought.
And, for the most part, I was honest.
In an interview with Brady Farkas of ESPN Radio 104.5, The Team, I said that I felt “really, really blessed and honored to be considered,” trustworthy by, first, my teammates, and then my coaches.
That was indeed true.
But, secretly, I wondered what it meant to be a captain, as the only player paying tuition.
I grew even more confused when, during our first scrimmage – against UMass Amherst – I was subbed in with only three minutes left in the third and final period – which was not an actual part of the game, but rather, a time for the coaches to give some of the lesser experienced players a few minutes to show what they were capable of.
Afterwards, I decided that I wanted to red-shirt my final year.
I prayed about it, and a few days later, I called Coach Brown.
He sounded happy to allow me to sit for the year. Perhaps, he thought it was a good idea. Or maybe, he was relieved to have a concrete reason/answer as to why he wasn’t playing one of young men he had named a captain. Maybe he knew that it was a great feel-good piece for a Times Union sports writer, or Time Warner Cable News reporter to break.
For the rest of the year, I struggled to find my authoritative voice.
Who was I to give any critique, or direction to Joe Cremo, the eventual America East Sixth Man, and Rookie of the Year? Or to David Nichols – an uber-talented, and heady point guard, who I hope will have a legitimate opportunity to run the show this coming season.
I felt like there were months that I spent quietly watching as my teammates excelled, eventually tying the record for program wins in a single season.
After a while, I didn’t believe Coach Brown.
I knew that I was indeed deserving of being named a captain. But I didn’t believe that my leadership qualities were foremost in his mind – they were, at best, a safety net. He could do the nice, good coach thing, and name the lowly walk-on a captain, and, he didn’t have to worry about my questioning it, because, hey, I was actually deserving of it; and capable of handling the responsibility.
And then, I grew resentful.
I didn’t want to speak up. I didn’t want to meet with coaches. I didn’t want to be congratulated.
For me, it didn’t mean what many though it did, or should.
What is a captain, who, over four years: never earned a scholarship; didn’t play?
Where is trust in that? Where is belief? Where is opportunity?
And what’s more (secondarily): should anyone tell you that I wasn’t good enough to be given any such chance, we can play one on one, or five on five. Then, they might judge more accurately.
During my four years, I won plenty of team workout one on ones, and plenty more private matchups between my teammates and me.
There were some who did play that I was better than, and others who were better than me. Some of them played well, and others, not so well. The difference is that they were given an opportunity. Forget the scholarship – a free year of school, including, my favorite, books – they were given a chance to succeed, or fail. And often times, they were given a twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth chance; AS THEY SHOULD.
Not one player has a perfect night every night.
In fact, mediocre nights are more common than great ones, for many.
I’ve learned – and you should too – not to let a coach, or boss fool you into thinking that you’ve earned their trust, if you’ve not accumulated a body of work. You might be well-liked by that person. But, he, she, or they, probably doesn’t trust you. And that’s not a bad thing. Trust should be earned. But, that requires opportunity.
This piece is titled Back Where We Started because, I thought that I would be spending the coming year at another school, as a graduate student-athlete.
That looks unlikely, as the few coaches I had exchanged emails with, have not emailed or called me back in over a month.
In many ways, I feel like I’m walking-on again – marketing myself, proving that I won’t be distraction, and then (secondarily) that I’m a good basketball player.
I’ve done that already.
I’m thankful that it happened, and that it’s over.
I won’t do it again.