Don't Put Me In, Coach (5 page)

BOOK: Don't Put Me In, Coach
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I had originally applied to Ohio State only because Greg, Mike, and Daequan committed there, but the more I looked into the school the more I realized it was a perfect fit. Upon learning that I was going to join him at OSU, Greg used his power as the number-one recruit in the country to persuade the coaches to not only let us be roommates in our dorm but to also let me be a manager on the basketball team. In the end, we never actually roomed together because as soon as the coaches offered Greg a dorm that would come with his own bedroom instead of the shared bedroom that our dorm room would have had, he kicked me to the curb. (After hearing all about his sex life every day at practice, this turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise.) Nonetheless, I did become a manager for the basketball team, which was something I agreed to do only because one of the assistant coaches told me that being a manager meant I would be on the practice squad and get to play against the real team every day in practice. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was a bold-faced lie.


first met Coach Matta 20 minutes before my first practice as team manager my freshman year. He came into the gym a half-hour early to walk around and greet the handfuls of people who were there to watch practice, which was kind of surprising to me. Since I knew next to nothing about him, I watched him closely so that I’d have some sort of idea of what to say to him.

I instantly noticed that every person he talked to seemed like the funniest person to ever live, because at some point during every conversation Coach Matta would burst into hysterical laughter. Seeing this again and again made me nervous that I was supposed to have a joke lined up for when I ultimately met him. I rummaged through my brain for the perfect joke to make him laugh harder than the others that people were throwing at him, but everything I thought of was either racist, extremely offensive, or racist.

Left without an appropriate joke, a sense of defeat came over me as Coach Matta introduced himself.

“Hey, Mark, good to meet you. Let me ask you something. Do you know how I got into coaching?” I obviously didn’t know, and
I was completely thrown off guard that he would ask me that, but before I could think of a response, he started with his answer:

“Well, my first job out of college was a greeter at Wal-Mart. I think I might have been the only greeter in the history of the company who was younger than 95, but whatever. I made what I thought was decent money, and it was easy work. Until one day this fat, ugly bitch of a woman came into the store with her two kids. She was cussing at them, and I even saw her smack one of the kids in the face as they were walking in. Just the worst mother and one of the worst people I’ve ever seen in my life. So when she came in, I decided I’d put her in her place. I said hello, told her that her kids were adorable, and asked her if they were twins. She looked at me like I was crazy and said, ‘Are you blind or just retarded? Of course they aren’t twins. One is ten and the other is six. What the hell would make you think that they were twins?’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, ma’am, but I just couldn’t figure out why in the world someone would want to screw you twice.’ ”

As soon as he hit his punch line, Coach Matta busted into laughter and walked away, leaving me speechless.

Everything suddenly made sense—he hadn’t been laughing with everyone he talked to because he was laughing at
jokes. No, he was laughing at
his own
joke. I was stunned and immediately knew that he and I would have no problems getting along. In less than a minute after meeting the guy, he had already told me a joke that hit my trifecta of joke-telling: pass the joke off as if it’s a true story, make sure the joke is so corny/dumb that the average person will groan, and finish it off by laughing louder than your entire audience combined. Not only did he execute all three flawlessly, but he took the joke to a whole new level by failing to reach a logical conclusion, since he started by asking me if I knew how he got into coaching and then proceeded to tell a story that in no way explained how he got into coaching. It was pure genius and damn near brought a tear to my eye.

Once I found out that Coach Matta and I had the exact same sense of humor, my nervousness subsided and I became genuinely
excited about my role as team manager. All it took for this to change, though, was quickly discovering that “being on the practice team” was apparently another way for OSU basketball coaches to say “doing nothing but bitch work.” Sure I was naive to think I would actually practice with the team every day, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was entirely lied to and ended up doing everything I wanted to avoid. Instead of making it rain in practice, my responsibilities included filling up and handing out water bottles, wiping up sweat off the floor, rebounding for any player who asked me to, and doing anything else that needed to be done but nobody actually wanted to do.

After about a week and a half, I made up some excuse about how I wanted to concentrate on my studies (more like concentrate on all those college babes, am I right?) when I told the graduate assistant who was in charge of all the managers that I was quitting and he could S my D. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I thought I was too good to be a manager or anything like that. I think college basketball managers are doing the Lord’s work and don’t get anywhere near the credit they deserve. Shoot, some of my favorite people from my four years at Ohio State were basketball managers (no—not you, Barrale), so I have a ton of respect for them and would have had no problem doing what they do. It’s just that … ah hell, who am I kidding? Of course I thought I was too good to be a manager. My ass could’ve played D1, yet there I was chasing down Daequan Cook’s errant shots and wiping up Greg Oden’s ball sweat. Screw that.

A few weeks after I tendered my resignation (if you know what I mean), I got a phone call from the same coach who originally promised me I’d be on the practice team (even though Ohio State has no such thing) and then completely failed to deliver on his promise. This time around he told me that a few players had gotten injured and, because of that, the team didn’t even have enough guys to conduct a scrimmage in practice. I’ll be damned if the next words out of his mouth weren’t something about wanting to know
if I would be willing to come back and serve as a practice player for the team.

Apparently he and Coach Matta remembered watching me play in a few AAU games when they were recruiting Greg, Mike, and Daequan, and they therefore had a solid understanding of what I could bring to the table. Still, I was hesitant to accept his offer since it felt a lot like déjà vu, but when he went on to say that I would actually be a walk-on and would get to sit on the bench during all the games, I decided it was a risk I was willing to take. When I walked into the players’ locker room the next day and got ready for practice, Greg and Mike quickly figured out what was going on and came over to my locker to tell me how genuinely happy they were that I was on the team. Meanwhile, Daequan didn’t say anything and most likely thought to himself,
Who the hell is this white boy?
even though he and I had been AAU roommates for years.

Once I was given a jersey and officially added to the roster, I felt a greater sense of power than I’d had when I was a manager. Sure going from manager to walk-on was only a step up in the college basketball hierarchy in the same way that going from Chris Kirkpatrick to Joey Fatone would be a step up in the *NSYNC hierarchy, but that didn’t matter to me. This promotion gave me the confidence to say and do things that no other person in my position would ever have had the balls to say or do. Throw in the combination of me being a longtime friend of the best player on the team and also being fairly confident that Coach Matta and I shared the same sense of humor, and suddenly I felt untouchable.

In the next few days I threw some of my best jokes at Coach Matta to gauge how similar we really were, and he loved every one of them. From there, I made fun of a couple of my teammates in the locker room without any real consequence, either because they knew Greg had my back and could destroy all of them or because they were just laid-back guys. Either way, my confidence snowballed, and within a few weeks I had comfortably established myself as the comedic relief for our team. Coach Matta gave me
the freedom to let me be myself, which was something I wanted so badly but was never allowed to do during high school, so I took the opportunity, ran with it, and made it the focal point of my four-year career at Ohio State.

So there you have it. That pretty much sums up how a guy from rural Indiana with no discernible talent not only found his way onto the number-one-ranked basketball team in America but also became one of the loudest voices (and unquestionably the biggest smart-ass) in the locker room of said team. As my time at Ohio State wore on and my “story” got more and more national exposure, high school kids from all over the country would often ask me for advice, usually because they planned to follow in my footsteps and emulate my career as a manager turned walk-on. While I’m always flattered that people think anything that comes out of my mouth is worth listening to, the truth is that it’s really not that difficult to do what I did. All it takes is being born abnormally big, hitting puberty before everyone else your age, and taking a liking to basketball because you are so huge.

From there, you have to dominate local rec leagues to the point that refs feel the need to screw you over, and then consequently turn to AAU basketball in hopes of finding better competition. Next, make sure you play really well against one of the best AAU teams in the country (and make sure they’re from the same city as you), and in the process expose a serious flaw of theirs that could be alleviated with your skill set. When they inevitably ask you to join their team, become good friends with your new teammate who just so happens to be the number-one recruit in America and pray that the NBA institutes a rule that makes guys go to college for at least one year before they enter the draft. After that, cross your fingers that your own basketball recruitment goes down in flames so you can follow your friend to whatever college he goes to and he can use his power as the team’s best player to get you a manager gig.

Do your best to make sure the basketball team you are a manager for only has 11 guys on it, and then hope that a few of those
guys get hurt so that maybe, just maybe, you’ll be asked to join the team as a walk-on. From there, you’re going to want to make sure that you can make fun of your teammates without getting curb-stomped, but not before you check to see if the head coach has a similar sense of humor as you and is one of the only college basketball coaches in America who would let you get away with screwing around on a daily basis. And that’s really all it takes.

In other words, you have to be one lucky sumbitch.



—Facebook message sent to a random girl
from David Lighty (my teammate from 2006 to 2010)
using my account


was officially added to the Ohio State basketball roster exactly one day before the first game of the 2006–2007 season, which was pretty perfect for me since I was able to continue my streak of skipping preseason workouts that dated back to my freshman year of high school. When one of the assistant coaches called me on a Wednesday night and asked if I wanted to walk-on, I was actually in the middle of packing a suitcase because I had planned on leaving campus after my Thursday classes to go back home to Indiana for the weekend. My dad and I were also thinking of going to the Ohio State football game at Northwestern on that Saturday. Instead, I called my dad after I hung up with the assistant coach and told him that I wouldn’t be able to go to the game or even make it home for the weekend because something had come up.

Being the parent of a kid he had just sent to college, he obviously assumed that “something has come up” meant that I either got arrested or got someone pregnant, or the opportunity had arisen to do things that could lead to getting arrested or getting
someone pregnant. Since the public perception seems to be that playing college basketball is synonymous with being in trouble with the law and/or fathering handfuls of kids, I guess he wasn’t entirely wrong, but I still felt like I needed to assure him that I wasn’t in any kind of trouble. When I told him that the assistant coach had asked me to walk-on (even though I had quit my job as manager two weeks earlier), he let out a relieved sigh and told me how happy he was for me. I can’t say for sure, but I imagine my dad’s turn of emotions was the exact opposite of what Laurence Fishburne felt when his daughter called to tell him that she had landed her dream job and then went on to explain that her dream job involved a bunch of random men putting their wieners in her cinnamon ring.

Shortly before practice started on Thursday, Coach Matta approached me in the practice gym and congratulated me before saying, “I hope you stayed in shape over the summer or you’re going to be hurting the next few weeks.” I assured him that I had been working out rigorously for the past few months and was in great shape, which was a claim that ranks right up there with “It’s not you, it’s me” and “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” on the list of the most blatant lies ever told. I’m pretty sure he could tell that I was lying (probably because I was 15 pounds overweight and had either barbecue sauce or Cheetos powder on every article of clothing I owned), but he nonetheless said okay and then started to walk away. After a few steps, though, he turned around and said, “I forgot to mention. Now that you’re on the team, I’m going to have to ask you to shave your beard. It’s nothing personal. Just a team rule.”

BOOK: Don't Put Me In, Coach
3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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