Today was a very special day. It was a day that confirmed the reason why I pulled the trigger a couple weeks ago to quit my job, leave my comfortable downtown apartment to move down to Eugene, destined to sleep on a friends floor and work as a college basketball coach for mere peanuts. Today I was able to positively affect a young man’s life and simply introduce him to a world that he has never been exposed to. Walking the University of Oregon campus and seeing his eyes light up like a little kid on Christmas morning makes coming home to a sleeping bag and a cold floor well worth it. “Are there many killings here?” A question like that would never cross my mind but for a kid from the poorer part of Brooklyn that is his reality. It would be world news if a shot were fired on the UofO campus. Middle class kids, like myself, take for granted every day all the unique opportunities that are at our very finger tips and tend to think things like college is all just part of the plan for everyone. Today, this young man was able to see a world that he’s only heard stories of. I could tell by the look in his eyes and by the crackle in his voice when he said, “Coach, I need to be at a place like this.”, that he wanted badly to be a part of it. Now it’s up to us to find a way to make his dream a reality.
Today is one of those days that you realize you must begin to let go of the past to progress in the future. For the longest time I’ve been holding on to the things that haven’t worked thinking that by some miracle they will all of a sudden start working. Short cuts to happiness aren’t working and they never will. It’s time to put my head down for the next few months and grind away to be a better son, brother, coach, mentor, friend and overall person. The bars and nightlife aren’t going anywhere and neither will I if I continue down that road. Tonight I just paid off my credit card which %95 percent of it consisted of booz and food when eating out. The other %5 consisted of necessary gas. I have a very unique opportunity to affect the lives of 15 student-athletes. As I told one of my players the other day “You have to want success for yourself more than anyone else.” But I want it just as bad for these kids because I’ve been down the road they are traveling and I know it’s hard but the pay-off is well worth the struggle. If I can get them to buy into that and ultimately buy into themselves then the possibilities are endless. I tell my players not to take this opportunity for granted but I must also say that to myself because at the end of the day I am getting PAID to do something that I LOVE, which is to coach a sport and guide young people towards their dreams on and off the court. Times will get tough but I must persevere for the greater good. WORK, WORK, WORK, and HAVE FUN! This second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, team, season, only happens once. You’ll never have these opportunities again so make the most of it and HAVE FUN while doing it. Don’t take anything for granted.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014, at 9 AM was one of the proudest moments of my life. The journey to this moment started a couple weeks ago when I found out that one of my big fellas was struggling in one of his classes. Knowing that this school was probably going to be his last if he were to fail this class, I made it a point to meet with his teacher to see if there was anything we could do to help him get on the right track and turn things around. After a lengthy conversation she was willing to allow him to re-take the first exam which was originally taken 6 weeks prior to this conversation. He would have one week to study and to do whatever it took to make the most of this unique opportunity. I sat down with him to create a “success plan”. It was made clear that we would be starting from square one because there was no foundation to build from. I asked “do you have the text book?” he said “No, it was too expensive and I couldn’t afford it.” Luckily, from my experiences I knew that some text books would be available to check out at the school library, so we went to the library and he checked out the first library book of his life. The next step was to print out the exam review and show him how to match it up with the text to create an outline to study from. I then gave him some note cards and a highlighter and said “you have one week to prove to yourself that you belong here. You’re capable of doing much better than what that first exam score showed, but you must truly believe that and be willing to work for that success. If you need any help, let me know.” For the next week his routine was: morning workout with me, food, study hall room, practice, bus home, study, sleep, and repeat. Come Monday night I wondered if the bus would be running early enough for him to make it to campus at 7:30 for his test. I texted him to check and sure enough the bus would not get him there on time. I said, “I’ll be at your place at 7. Be ready.” 7 O’clock came and we were on our way to campus, he was nervous and kept saying that he was ready and that he was “going to prove it to us”. Before he got out of the car I told him what I tell all my players, “You don’t have to prove anything to us. Do this for you.” He went to take his test as I went to work out some of our other players. 9 AM came as he walked into the gym with tears in his eyes. I was thinking the worst and asked “what happened..?” I’ll never forget when he said, “Coach, I’ve never done that good on something in my entire life.” In the moment I was so overcome with joy the only thing I could do was give him a hug and tell him how proud I was. Sure enough a few hours later I went to his teachers’ office hours to go over the test with her and she too was shocked. She said, “Coach, at first glance this going to be a B+, if not an A.” Final result after official grading of the test,,, %92. After exchanging high fives and leaving her office I couldn’t help but shed a tear myself, because I knew firsthand from my own experiences that a moment like this could very well be a life changing moment for him. He now knows what he is capable of and must continue to hold himself accountable to that standard. I tell my guys all the time, “I don’t care where you’re at, all I care about is that you’re continually improving on and off the court. One small victory at a time.” This victory is one that I’ll never forget.
“Our long term success is the result of the small victories we accumulate every day.” Rick Pitino, University of Louisville Head Men’s Basketball Coach