Don't Put Me In, Coach (4 page)

BOOK: Don't Put Me In, Coach
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During that moment, time seemed to slow down as my thoughts raced through my mind.
Am I really about to make the biggest shot of the game after sitting on the bench for all but 15 seconds? Why did Coach draw a play up for me even though we have five future NBA players on our team? And if the other team knew the play was for me, how did I get so open?
I was entirely aware that this was the most important shot in my life and it was literally one second away from happening. It all came down to this.

With just a few seconds left on the clock, Daequan saw that I was open and took two dribbles toward me to make the pass easier for him. He then picked up his dribble, faked a pass in my direction, shot a fadeaway with two guys in his face, and stared in amazement as his shot barely grazed the rim and the buzzer echoed throughout the gym.

Game over. We lose. Just like we drew it up.

Even though he squashed my potential moment of glory, I eventually forgave Daequan for not passing to me. Chances are that I would have missed the shot anyway, so it actually worked out well that I can now just place all the blame on him instead of having to search for an excuse for my failure, and that’s really all that matters. Besides, there were way too many good memories from my years of playing AAU to care all that much about this
one minor setback. It was without a doubt the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball, and rightfully so considering we had the best AAU team of all time, which isn’t so much my opinion as it is a fact. (Our starting five of Mike Conley, Eric Gordon, Daequan Cook, Josh McRoberts, and Greg Oden are all in the NBA and are all either playing huge roles for their teams or have had full-body pictures of themselves wearing nothing but a do-rag leaked on the internet.)

When I finally got to know my teammates better, I discovered that we actually had a lot in common, and I became good friends with most of them. Even to this day I keep in touch with a lot of guys from that team, although that might change with a couple of them after they read this book. Either way, I’ll always cherish my time with that team because it was the first time in my life that I felt a sense of brotherhood with people other than my actual brother. This kinship was so important to me, in fact, that when three of my teammates committed to Ohio State, I decided to apply there as a safety school in case my own basketball recruitment didn’t work out, even though I knew nothing about the school and had never even seen the campus. As it turned out, this was a great decision on my part because I was in desperate need of a safety school when my recruitment to Harvard wasn’t the done deal I thought it was and ended up going down in flames rather quickly.

FIVE

O
ther than having an immaculate stubble-beard and being hung like a stallion, the one characteristic of mine that I’m most proud of is my refusal to take things too seriously. I’m a strict believer in the philosophy that life is way too short to do anything but have as much fun as you possibly can. Sure it’s a philosophy that makes me just as mature and responsible as the cast of
Jersey Shore
, but it’s also a philosophy that makes me an enjoyable person to be around. Simply put, I’m only on this earth for a short period of time, and I’d rather spend that time being happy than stressing out over dumb things like “having a job” or “paying child support.”

Now, like any red-blooded American, I do have some pet peeves that piss me off to no end (such as writers who put parentheses in the middle of sentences and consequently ruin the flow of the sentence, discovering a lack of toilet paper while on the toilet, and terrorism, just to name a few), but that doesn’t change the fact that my main focus in life is to have a blast and not let things bother me too much. When I was at Ohio State, I was welcomed
with open arms by Coach Matta because I helped keep the team loose. Since I never played, I wasn’t expected to take things as seriously as the scholarship players and was therefore allowed a little freedom to screw around, which ended up being great for (mostly) everyone. In high school, though, it was a completely different story. My same attitude toward life that was celebrated at Ohio State was frowned upon at Brownsburg High because, believe it or not, I was the best player on our team.

Looking back, my biggest problem throughout my basketball career was always that I never thought of basketball as anything other than a game, primarily because it isn’t anything other than a game. While I do have a competitive side to me, my motivation for being good at basketball never was that I wanted to be the best. I was motivated to get better solely because being good made the game more enjoyable, kinda like how most guys who play video games don’t necessarily want to be the best at “Halo” or “Madden,” but rather just want to be good enough to make it consistently fun. So when my high school hired a new coach before my junior year who was a young guy trying to establish himself as a bit of a hard-ass, well, I guess you could say we butted heads.

As the head coach at a big high school in the most basketball-crazed state in America, his focus was on making everyone on our team the best basketball players we possibly could be, which is why he held preseason workouts at 6:00 a.m. before school started. And as a 17-year-old high school junior who only cared about stealing gas money from my mom’s purse and looking at boobs on the internet (some things never change), my focus was on doing everything in my power to not have to go to these workouts. The reality is that I’m not sure I’d wake up at 5:30 in the morning even if I somehow knew that my family had been taken hostage, so it goes without saying that I wanted no part of waking up that early to play basketball. Luckily for me, I was the quarterback of the football team and could always use football as an excuse for not being able to go to basketball workouts. (I’m not saying this was the only reason I played football, but I’m also not saying it wasn’t.) Even
though I technically could have gone to basketball in the morning and football after school, I thought that doing so would contradict my philosophy of not taking things too seriously and thus decided that the 6:00 a.m. workouts could suck it. My coach wasn’t exactly thrilled with this decision.

When basketball season finally arrived, our conflicting mentalities became even more of an issue. All of us who thought we had signed up to play basketball suddenly found ourselves constantly running sprints, doing defensive slides, or lifting weights. I’d been wrong before, but it seemed to me that it would have been a good idea to use an actual basketball if he was trying to help us become better basketball players. My teammates felt the same way about these practices. Our collective feeling could best be summed up with Kenny Powers’s quote to Principal Cutler: “I play real sports. I’m not trying to be the best at exercising.”

I mean, it’s not like I wanted to play grab-ass every day at practice. It’s just that when the varsity guys consistently got yelled at for little things like making fun of the JV guys, I realized that a serious problem existed. (What’s the point of even playing high school sports if you can’t haze the younger guys?) As the leader of the team (and as a guy who has a bad habit of being brutally honest), I felt a responsibility to voice the team’s collective frustration to our coach. I accomplished this in a one-on-one meeting I had with him, during which he asked me how the guys on the team felt about him and I told him point-blank, “We all think you’re an asshole and you’re taking all the fun away from basketball,” which, coincidentally, is the exact same thing I told Evan Turner just about every day at Ohio State. Surprisingly, my coach didn’t look that upset, but I could still tell that I had done some pretty irreversible damage. After all, it’s common knowledge that calling your coach an asshole to his face is at least a seven on a scale from one to Spreewell.

Even though Coach wasn’t visibly upset at the time, in the next few weeks he set the tone for the rest of my high school career by taking out all of his frustrations with the team on me. When guys were late for 8:00 a.m. Saturday practices, it was my fault because
I was the team leader and I should have been the one to call them in the morning to wake them up. When our team lacked defensive intensity in practice and started to get schooled by the JV team, I was the one who was supposed to get everyone to pull their heads out of their asses. Hell, I even expected to get yelled at when one of my teammates got caught littering and smoking the reefer. Virtually everyone on the team hated his tough-guy approach (three guys quit within the first month of practice), but I took all the heat because I had the balls to tell him to lighten the F up. What’s worse, when he confronted the entire team and told anyone who had a problem with him to speak up, my teammates hung me out to dry by keeping their heads down and their mouths shut. (I hope you’re reading this, guys—you’re all a bunch of pussies.)

Because of this, our coach unfairly labeled me as lazy, since he was under the impression that I was the only one who thought his practices were too strenuous. The way he saw it, I had a terrible work ethic and wanted to play kickball every day in practice while all of my teammates busted their balls to make our team better. My response was twofold. First of all, who in their right mind wouldn’t rather play kickball than run sprints? It’s f’ing kickball. If the worst part about growing up is getting all sorts of unwanted body hair, the second-worst part about growing up has to be that kickball isn’t as socially acceptable as it is when you’re younger. In high school, kickball is second only to dodgeball as everyone’s favorite game in gym class, but if you ask guys in college to play kickball, they’ll almost certainly respond with “Nah, that’s gay. Let’s go get drunk instead.” So excuse me for wanting to play kickball while I still could.

Secondly, I wasn’t lazy so much as I was normal. I worked on my game more than anyone on the team, but since I, like every other person on our team, wasn’t a fan of conditioning for 30 minutes every day after practice (or playing any defense whatsoever), I couldn’t shake the “lazy” tag from my coach’s mind. Throughout the next year and a half, we frequently butted heads over my perceived
lack of work ethic, but nothing serious ever came of it. That is, until the tail end of my senior year.

Toward the end of my high school basketball career, it became clear to me that the only chance I had at playing college basketball was if I went to Harvard. I was recruited by all sorts of mid-major schools from all over the country, but I told them pretty much from the start that I wasn’t interested because I had grown up in a Big Ten family and had always wanted to go to a school from one of the six BCS conferences. That wasn’t to say that I thought I was above playing mid-major basketball, but was more of a reflection on my view of the college experience as a whole, as I grew up always wanting to go to a school with a huge student population and a huge campus whether I played basketball or not. The obvious problem with this, though, was that I simply wasn’t good enough to get basketball scholarship offers from big schools, so I was left stuck in the middle ground of not good enough and not interested.

But after I gave it some thought I realized that I really did want to play basketball in college, so I gave Harvard a chance only because it was Harvard and I was apparently a pretentious dick when I was in high school. Harvard’s coaches started recruiting me during the spring of my junior year, shortly after I averaged 17 points per game on the court and off the court scored a 2000 on my SAT (missed one f’ing question on the math section both times I took it). After they watched me make it rain a handful of times with my AAU team during the summer, it seemed pretty obvious that my combination of skills and smarts (for a basketball player anyway) made them all moist in their panties. They called me about once a week for the rest of the summer and eventually had me on campus for a visit. After my visit I was pretty set on going to Harvard, but their coaches wanted to watch me play in one last high school game before making their decision about me.

In the week leading up to the game, my coach and I got into yet another argument. This time he was upset because he thought I wasn’t rebounding as well as I should’ve been, even though I was
a small forward/shooting guard who was averaging 5.5 rebounds per game (or 4.5 more rebounds than should have been expected of me). Everything boiled over when I failed to follow my shot during a scrimmage and he stopped practice to ream into me like never before. I calmly explained that the reason I never followed my shot was because I expected the ball to go through the basket every time I shot it. (This was always my pet peeve with coaches—no good shooter in the history of the game ever consistently ran toward the basket as soon as he shot the ball.) He didn’t take too kindly to me talking back and decided to take the argument to another level by bringing up other problems he had with me. At this point, my blood really started to boil and I may or may not have told him to go fist himself.

Back and forth we traded verbal blows for another few rounds, and when the dust finally settled I had been kicked out of practice and suspended for the entire first half of the game the Harvard coaches were coming to. (It should be noted that he had known for over two weeks that the Harvard coaches were coming to that game.) I begged and pleaded for him to make me run thousands of sprints instead, but it was to no avail. When the game rolled around, I served my time as I sat on the bench the entire first half and noticed that the Harvard coaches in the stands were visibly frustrated. Then, when I came out of the locker room and returned to the court after halftime, they were gone and I never heard from them again. I ended up scoring 13 points in the second half, and we squeaked out a close game, but it was all for naught. My only opportunity at playing college basketball was up in smoke.

Throughout my career at Ohio State, I was often introduced to people as “the guy who turned down Harvard for the chance to be a Buckeye.” I obviously never corrected anyone who said this, because being known as the guy who turned down Harvard was like being known as a guy who turned down an orgy at the Playboy mansion. People respected me much more than they would have otherwise, since they thought I must really have a lot going for me if I told the most prestigious college in America that they
weren’t good enough. Well, now you all know the truth. In no way did I turn down Harvard. But just so we’re clear, if everyone wants to continue believing that I did, I’ll be perfectly fine with that.

BOOK: Don't Put Me In, Coach
13.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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