You Just Never Made It, Kid

*Inspired by a true event*

Freshman Year

It was fall of their Freshman year in high school when Kevin was rebounding for his neighbor and long-term best friend, Dijon, a week before high school tryouts. Growing up, Dijon was always seen as the best player in his class, being a 6’1″ point guard with superb dribbling skills and a deadly jumper with accuracy from 25 feet out. He surely had a bright future ahead. Kevin was never much of a player, standing at a unimposing 5’9″ with a shaky handle for the ball, but a decent eye for the rim. This worked for Dijon because Kevin would always rebound for him when he had no other teammates to workout with. When Dijon was catching his breath, he’d rebound for Kevin who couldn’t reach from three-point range, but had a nice mid-range jumper. Once Dijon started varsity at point guard as a freshman, Kevin and Dijon stopped working out together because Dijon’s teammates took up most of his time. Once the season was over, Kevin walked into the coach’s office, unannounced, and said, “I wanna play.”

Kevin knew it’d be a difficult task to make the team having no in-game experience. Most of the upcoming players on the freshman squad already had privilege over newcomers, and the incoming freshmen were solid players. Since his ball-handling would never be good enough to compete with Dijon, or any of the other back-ups, he decided that if he was ever going to make the team, it’d be because he played good defense. So every day until the sun went down, he worked on his conditioning, and played defense against Dijon when he wasn’t away for AAU tournaments.

Sophomore Year

The school year began, and tryouts quickly approached. Every year Dijon sneaked into the PAL each Thanksgiving between dinner and dessert to get some shots up. Kevin always tagged along, except this year was different. While Dijon was sure he’d make the team, it was Kevin’s first year ever trying out for the team. Instead of Kevin rebounding for Dijon, Dijon rebounded for Kevin. Kevin knew in the back of his mind that he’d have to compete with his best friend the next day to earn a back-up spot on the team.

“You just never made the cut, kid.”

Tryouts began the next day. For the most part Kevin was paired up with the JV players except for a few drills that required both teams to play together. Sprints came easy for Kevin, having worked all summer on his endurance, and he made sure that he was the first to complete every sprint. He made it past the first tryout, possibly out of the coach’s respect for Dijon, but the coaches called Kevin into the office after the second tryout and explained, “We love how hard you work, and how hard you play defense on Dijon, but there are other players who we need on our team. You just never made the cut, kid.” Upset, Dijon hastily stormed into the coach’s office, and pleaded for them to change their mind. They negotiated a deal to keep Kevin on the practice squad, but he wasn’t allowed to play in the game, or be on the roster. Kevin jumped on this offer, and saw it as an opportunity to prove to himself and others that he belonged on the team. By the end of the year, Kevin earned the reputation of being the hardest worker on the team. Meanwhile, Dijon was closing in on a 1,000 point milestone.

Junior year

By the time Thanksgiving came around, Dijon thought that the coaches would surely put Kevin on the roster. Throughout the summer, Kevin worked endlessly to improve his quickness and ball handling skills, and it was clearly paying off. He was able to keep control under pressure, and he was starting to grab rim pretty easily. Dijon, on the other hand, grew a few inches during the summer and started to get some serious looks from Division I colleges throughout the country. The coaches announced Dijon as captain of the squad.

“There aren’t enough spots on the roster, but there’s room for you on the court.”

Tryouts began, and Dijon was a monster standing at an imposing 6’4″. At least, he seemed like one standing next to Kevin, who was a frail 5’10”. Despite the height difference, Kevin was able to grab rebounds over other players, but was turning the ball over more than dishing out assists. His defense, as always, was stellar. Just not stellar enough. “I’m sorry, Kevin, you’ve become a good player, just not good enough. You’re hard-working, dedicated, have a great attitude, and will push players every day in practice. While there aren’t enough spots on the roster, there’s plenty of room for you on the court. We’d like to offer you one more year on the practice squad, in exchange for a spot on the team next year. What do you say?”

“I accept,” Kevin said. However, Kevin never truly accepted the treatment he was receiving from the coaches. Who would? The coaches were basically using all of his hard work to their advantage. And what for? A chance to work in practice, but watch from the stands? Instead, he accepted it as a challenge. He knew that any opportunity to compete in a sport that he loved should never be taken for granted. Besides, at this point, all that mattered to him was to prove to the coaches that they were wrong for taking him for granted.

Senior year

Dijon and Kevin meet at the PAL the day before the first tryouts. Dijon and Kevin dedicated the summer toward getting stronger because the school Dijon committed to required that he gains some weight. And since Kevin is definitely on the team this year, he no longer has to focus on developing his skills as much as previous years. Kevin tosses an ally-oop to Dijon and Dijon flushes it with two hands. “Ready for the season?” Dijon asks. “It’s our time now.”

That would’ve been true to Kevin, but the sophomore point guard from JV impressed the coaches during the summer league, and they already planned on making him the back-up for the upcoming year. “I just want to get in the rotation.” Kevin responds emphatically, knowing damn well that he’d be sitting the bench.

“I want you to model yourself after his work ethics.”

The next day, the coach stops tryouts after Kevin knocks over a few girls from the gymnastics team after diving to save a ball. “Everyone, you see Kevin over there?” Everyone pauses, waiting for the coach to make a joke. “He’s been doing that for two years now, and he never saw a minute on the floor. That’s why him and Dijon are co-captains of the team this year. I want you to model yourself after his work-ethics. If everyone can do that, we might just make a run at winning it.” The air stood still for a moment while everyone absorbed what just happened. Kevin worked hard. No one could ever say anything about that. But Captain? Even if he worked the hardest on the team, he’d rarely see time on the floor. Even he knew that.

“They just weren’t deep enough.”

The entire year, Kevin played the hardest defense out of anyone, pestering at the ball, pulling at jerseys and shorts, and knocking the occasional ball loose from the sure hands of Dijon. Some days, despite being his best friend, even Dijon hated him. Kevin rarely saw any action on the court though. Sure, he’d get a few minutes in a blowout win or loss, but that was against JV players. He wanted to go in when it mattered. As the season progressed, Dijon had his way with opposing teams, but their record was suffering. 6-7. It’s a team sport, but their team just wasn’t deep enough.They had just one game left in the season to make it to the playoffs.

Tight game. Ten seconds left. They trail by 1. 

Kevin hears his name called as the players materialize around the coach for their final time out. The coach draws up a play to give Dijon the final shot. The horn sounds, and Kevin in-bounds the ball to Dijon. Ten. Kevin wonders why he’s in. Nine. The crowd stands tall and silent. Eight. Onlooking eyes burn holes through his body and gather in the pit of his stomach. Hands cover mouths and eyes. Pom poms shake. Seven. Both benches grit their teeth and lock arms. Six. Dijon takes a hesitation dribble. The defense slaps the floor. Five. Kevin trails Dijon. Dijon crosses the ball over and approaches the three point line. Four. Dijon gets double teamed, picks up the ball, and pivots. Three. Dijon passes the ball to Kevin? Two. Kevin shoots the ball, hoping it meets it’s mark.

One. Kevin misses.

Half of the crowd shrieks and then gasps into silence. The other half erupts into cheer. Kevin kneels, hands on head. They shake hands and ride the bus home.

Dijon and Kevin gather at half court in their empty home gym. Kevin wonders, had they played on their home court, would that shot have gone in? Maybe the lighting, or the forgiving rims would have sparked just enough familiarity for him to meet his mark. Kevin asks, “Why did you pass it to me? You could have taken those guys.” Dijon slowly spins, surveying the stands, and studying the banners like he’d never see them again. He thinks of all the sweat that once dropped on that floor, all the shots that went in, and all the shots that were sure to miss. Dijon looks at the names on the banners and thinks there should be more. He shifts his eyes at the basket, and thinks of his future. It reminds him of his past. About how many shots Kevin rebounded, how many times he had the ball stripped away from him, and how often he was motivated to be better. Without Kevin, he wouldn’t have been the player he’s become.

Dijon answers,

“Because you deserved it.”

***

Finding Your Identity

An athlete has three identities. The first one is the most primitive, and relies mostly on instinct. The second one connects the first to the third. The last one is the most complex identity, built through years of hard work and dedication.

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Identity #1
The first identity has the highest sense of entitlement, and lowest sense of work ethic. It bends, or breaks under pressure, and expects things to be given before it’s earned. It is the most primitive type of athlete because it feels natural for them to operate at their own comfort level. What they don’t know, however, is the moment you feel comfortable is the moment you lose. The moment you feel entitled, is the moment the rug is swept from beneath your feet. These types have great potential, and inconsistent signs of greatness. Quite frankly, their greatest enemies are themselves.

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Identity #2
This identity fills in the missing pieces. They are some of the most fierce competitors who use their enemies’ spite to fuel their passion. They have a high sense of work ethic and entitlement. They are the soar losers who hang their heads in defeat, but come out firing the next time they meet. They are prideful beyond belief. Which works in their advantage at times, but against them when others test their ability.

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Identity #3
The final identity is never satisfied with their work, regardless of their talent. To them, pain is a part of commitment, and discomfort is a part of growth. They’re well-rounded, strong-willed, team, and individually oriented. They’re willing to improve on their own, and use their strengths to make their teammates better. To them, the offseason is tougher than the regular season, the fourth quarter seems like the first, and while everyone else would say they’re tired, this identity is just warming up.

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How to find your identity.

By not taking shortcuts.

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Some may say shortcuts are nothing but wrong turns, while others say they’re outright immoral. However, for those who take shortcuts, what’s the use when it brings you from your goals? Completing tasks (at times) seem unnecessary, but it builds character. It teaches you that anything is possible with the right mentality.

It makes you fight when things seem insurmountable, and brings positivity to the most negative situations.

It builds on instinct.
Except, instead of relying on the impulse of avoiding discomfort and accepting defeat, you’ve learned the instinct to survive.

You’ve learned that things aren’t given, they’re earned.

And if you allow yourself to take shortcuts, then you can never feel the entitlement of earning anything, can you?

Play To Your Strengths

PLAYING TO OUR STRENGTHS

When I get introduced to new people, friends mention that I played center for Rowan University. Almost every single time, people say…

“You’re pretty short for center.”

When I played in high school, I’d play anywhere from the point guard, to the center. Every single summer, I’d spend hours and hours shooting jump shots, working on ball handling, quickness, and stamina, and basically did anything possible to turn into a guard. By the time my senior season came around, I felt prepared to play point-center if I had to.

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I was wrong. The moment I was put in as point guard, I knew that I’d never feel comfortable handling the ball again.

I just wasn’t good at it.

But I ignored it.

The universe was telling me to be a forward/center, but my mind was telling me to be a guard. I shot 300 shots each afternoon, ran a few miles a day, and spent countless hours doing ball handling drills, hoping to become a guard.

If there’s anything anything I’ve learned from my four years, it’s to play to my strengths.

One day, I received some great advice from a childhood friend/fellow Prof athlete.

He said, “Whatever you do, play to your strengths. As long as you do that, you’ll be fine.” 

Why do people work on the things they’re not, instead of developing the things that they’re great at? Image

Most things in life operate in team settings. Whether it be your family, work or friends. What we should do is utilize our strengths and focus them toward the team goals.

Every time we go to work, step on the court, or stroll onto the field, we go to war. Our teammates are our soldiers fighting along-side us. Our team is our army. The overall goal: to maximize our abilities as a unit.

The true essence of teamwork.

In war (much like football), if the army sends enforcements toward the left, the right is weakened. If enforcements are sent to the front, the rear is weakened, or vice-versa. But if we focus our enforcements to each side…

Everywhere is weakened. 

But what if we focus on becoming well-rounded? Does it work the same way?

Future employer may ask: Where are your strengths? And inevitably, where are your weaknesses?

It’s important to know your weaknesses as well your strengths.

Everyone has potential in something. And yet, some people are more successful than others. The trend that we’ve found is that  the most successful people are the ones who’ve been able to maximize their strengths. 

For all we know, we may have all the skills in the world to become great at something we are truly gifted in. If we deny ourselves of this possibility, it means that we are less concerned with our strengths, and more concerned with concealing our weaknesses. 

Playing to your strengths means that you know what you are, and you know what you aren’t. And if we focus on being good at everything, we won’t become great at anything.

So stop with trying to be great at everything. It’s impossible, and foolish. Try to find what you love, and know your weaknesses just as well as you know your strengths.

If you stay within yourself, it makes things much easier.

Yes, it’s great to be a well-rounded person, but…

When we put our weaknesses above our strengths, our strengths become nothing but great potential.