Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Evolution of My Relationship with Coach Stallings (and My Jump Shot)

The first year I was a manager, I was a part-time manager. I did video editing, recruiting mailouts, and labeled envelopes up in the basketball office, but I was not at practice every day and the job was not an everyday thing. By the end of the year, all of the players at least knew who I was if they didn't necessarily know me personally and the assistants did for the most part as well, I just wasn't sure if Coach Stallings knew me.

We had only three true interactions during my freshman year. The first was when I almost bumped into him in my first week in the office and realized "o shit, that's the head coach". The second was when I borrowed a key from our head manager to let Kentucky shootaround the night before our game with them, and I needed to give the key back but couldn't get a hold of Sam, our head manager. Since the game was on ESPN and a huge matchup, students camped out for the game the night before and Coach Stallings bought all the students pizza the day of the game. Not knowing what to do with the key, I just gave it to him and said, "Coach, can you give this to Sam Ferry?" and he looked at me then said "ok". That was the first time we really spoke. The third time was when he asked me to rebound for a guy so he could speak to one of the assistants.

The lack of recognition was no fault of Coach's. We never really needed to interact. I was around a good amount and Sam said I could be there so he knew I was in someway affiliated with the program, but we didn't establish a real solid repoire. As a sophomore, I became a full time manager, and at one of the first team workouts we had, one of the assistants introduced me to coach, told him my name was Dan, we shook hands. It was nice. There were a few other moments during the year when I thought he said my name, but he was actually referring to one of our coaches, either Dan Cage or Dan Muller. There were eight managers and I was new, so again the level of trust and familiarity wasn't there, but then came the watershed moment my junior year.

It was opening night vs Oregon at home. Everyone was excited for the game, we had a chance to be special and energy was high. About 40 or so minutes before the game, I was walking into the locker room and Coach was walking out. It was just the two of us, I didn't know what to say so I just said, "Coach". Then he looked at me, made eye contact, nodded and said "Dan". It was such a beautiful, simple moment of bonding. I rushed to our head manager Will Hulings to tell him the news and we had a mini celebration that lasted about 30 seconds. Throughout the year he continued to use my name on a pretty frequent basis, we chatted a few times, but nothing major. Same goes for the beginning of senior year, but then it all changed on December 20th.

There was all of that worry about whether the world was going to end on December 21st, so I tweeted some #EndOfTheWorldConfessions. One of them was about the first time Coach said my name, and Coach isn't on Twitter so I didn't think he would see the tweets. Well after the team got back on the 26th, the next day Coach Stallings asked our head manager Rob (@robcross924) where I was (I was on a cruise with my family) and Rob said I was on a cruise and that I'd be back tomorrow. So coach told Rob that he heard about my tweet discussing the watershed moment that was our interaction before the Oregon game and told him that when I got back he was going to call me by name frequently just to screw with my head, and boy did he ever.

So my first practice with the team was December 30th (we had a game the 29th), and this conversation between Rob and Coach was unbeknownst to me. I was rebounding for the guys before practice when all of a sudden I hear this voice that sounds just like Coach Stallings', but this voice said "Hey Dan Marks, come here". I was thinking 'full name usage? Woah, what is going on', the voice did belong to Coach Stallings and I go over and he says, "Do you have any Nike shoes (I was wearing New Balance)"? I said "Yeah, I do coach, do you want me to get them?" He replied yes and as I started walking away said, "How was your vacation? I hear you went on a cruise". I was flabbergasted, so many thoughts were running through my mind, all I could say was "yeah I had a good time" before going to get my shoes.

I thought that interaction was going to be the conversation for the day, but then something inexplicable happened. I used to shoot jump shots holding the ball on the opposite side of my head, it was a funky looking shot but went in a decent amount, but then a friend of mine who is a basketball trainer, Drew Hanlen, told me to try changing the shot. So I did. During a break in practice, I was shooting jump shots and Coach shouts "Dan, when did you learn to shoot on the right side of your body?" I told him I had just changed recently and he complimented my form, then he asked me to get on the 1-2 (how we teach the guys to prepare for a shot). At this point I felt completely and totally mind fucked, I had no clue what was going on, my nerves were super high. I took a shot and missed then he said to take another. Another miss. Then later he asked me to take a free throw. A third miss. I was devastated, it was my time to shine, Coach's eyes were solely upon me and I wilted under the pressure.

Then after the guys went upstairs to lift weights, I was in the gym and Coach Richardson, our shooting guru, came over to teach me how to shoot free throws. Any time Coach Rich tinkers with your free throws, you know you've made it. Every guy who has played here has had their free throw go under the microscope of Coach Rich. Analyzed thoroughly then adjusted, and now it was my turn. The torch had been passed, and my whirlwind of a day came to a conclusion.

The next day was New Year's Eve and Coach always gives the team a speech about safety on that day, so in the middle of giving the speech, he goes, "Where's Dan?" I raised my hand, and he said "I don't need to worry about you tonight do I, you'll be in the gym working on your shot right?" I said "yeah coach sure". This whole calling me by name thing in the middle of practice or a speech was really freaking me out. I just didn't get it, but it was the start of a truly great bond.

We now crack jokes (he's made quite a few at my expense recently actually), exchange pleasantries, and talk about the success of the manager intramural team. I even introduced him to my parents, and he put down his Diet Dr Pepper (his favorite drink) to shake their hand and told them he wished he could have gone on the nice vacation we went on. Solid impressions were made all around, and now I am no longer surprised when he uses my name, it's become second nature. As my time with the program winds down, I become appreciative of the late blooming relationship myself and CKS have developed, to the point where I would describe it even as chummy at times. I can't wait to see what surprise he has in store for me on senior night, especially since I'm the only senior left in the program. We've had two managers jump ship and John Jenkins leave for the NBA, but I've soldiered on and made it to this point so I'm expecting big things Coach, including blog readership.

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