Sunday, March 31, 2013


Blog fans, this just came into the Managing Memorial headquarters. If any of you watched a Vanderbilt game this past year, you undoubtedly saw star point guard Kedren Johnson struggling with a nagging shoulder injury. Kedren hurt the shoulder early in the year and any time he fell on it, he would be writhing in pain. Many players in his position would have stopped playing and shut themselves down, especially since our team didn't have a chance at postseason play but Kedren battled through the injury despite knowing he would need surgery after the year.

This past Thursday Kedren underwent surgery on his shoulder and after coming out of surgery, and reflecting on the injuries of Nerlens Noel and Marcus Lattimore this past year, Kedren decided he didn't want to play basketball anymore because he didn't think it would be worth it. For those of you who don't know, Kedren has a burgeoning rap career and he has decided, after seeing the NCAA's endless commercials about their student-athletes going pro in something other than sports, to begin this career right away. He figures if he is going pro in something other than sports than why not get a head start on that career.

As part of his career path Kedren will be enrolling in the Blair School of Music to take classes there full-time instead of part-time as many athletes here do. While he plans on getting his degree from Blair, Kedren has already received interest from numerous hip-hop labels about a potential recording deal. Right now it seems like the front runner in the race is Aftermath Entertainment which is also home to his hero, Kendrick Lamar. After he is cleared to travel, Kedren will be flown out to their headquarters in Santa Monica, California for an audition. Since he is no longer with the team, this is NOT a compliance violation, so need to call our Compliance Office.

While it is sad to see a talented player like Kedren put basketball behind him, I am happy to see him pursuing his passion as a recording artist. Kedren was a fearless player on the court and a down-to-earth guy off of it and I'm sure his presence will be missed greatly by the guys on the team, but I am also sure they will support his decision 100 percent. Best of luck to Kedren in his future endeavors.

As much as I would like to think this blog has some type of power, if any of you actually believed I would be the source to report on something like this, you are too naive to be reading this blog.

Happy April Fool's Day, and thanks to Nate Watkins for the idea for the April Fool's post! Now, a very happy birthday to Kedren whose birthday happens to be today, and be sure to check out his music here.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sheldon Jeter: A Man with Big Dreams and Bigger Balls

My first impression of Sheldon Jeter came last year when he was on campus for his visit at the end of April. To be totally honest, I was really unimpressed and so were some of the older players on the team. He had a hitch in his shot and missed a lot of them, and in pickup he was pretty bad. I thought we were reaching by recruiting him and thought maybe we just wanted to add another body to our recruiting class given how many upperclassmen we had leaving.

Once Sheldon got to campus, I wasn't much more impressed with him as a player. He showed flashes of his athleticism in team workouts and early practices, but he didn't look like a great basketball player. He was pretty poor defensively and offensively, other than some highlight dunks, didn't really stand out in the way that fellow freshman Kevin Bright did. By the time our first game rolled around, I didn't really envision Sheldon playing a big role for this team, but after the first game I suspected there might be a chance that I was wrong.

The reason I thought I might be wrong wasn't because Sheldon played well, because he didn't. He shot 1 of 6 and wasn't a real difference maker, but what impressed me was that he took 6 shots in 17 minutes. As a freshman. Coming off the bench. In my time here, all of the freshmen players from John Jenkins my freshman year to Kedren Johnson last year were brought along slowly. They didn't gain freedom right away, it came over the course of the season. Sheldon didn't necessarily gain freedom offensively right away, so much as he took it, and that wowed me.

We were a young team this year with guys playing roles at this college level that they had never played before and many guys on the team played hesitant both at the start of the season and throughout the year, Sheldon among them. Aside from Kedren Johnson, I'm not sure there is a player on the team with more confidence in himself and his abilities than Sheldon. It wasn't easy to see that at first, but as the season wore on, everyone was able to see it.

I like to say Sheldon has no conscience on the court and that is why I love watching him play. Any time he checks in, the first time he touches the ball from the 3 point line, the ball is going up instantly. There is no second thought, it's going up. It just is. Sometimes it goes in and sometimes it doesn't but it always goes up. There is also at least one time a game where Sheldon badly misses a three causing the coaches and bench to cringe alike because there is a good chance it came with 29 seconds left on the shot clock, but he also makes a lot of them (39 percent).

Sheldon also attacks the rim relentlessly. I feel like he would be right at home at Florida Gulf Coast on their "Dunk City" squad. Sheldon loves to get animated when he makes a big play and has a series of pretty funny reactions and faces after a big play. His aggressive driving mentality and ability to get to the foul line really helped us in conference play. He played with no fear and always played hard on the floor. He certainly made his share of mistakes but I'd personally rather see mistakes made because of aggression as opposed to passivity. His animated nature also helps fire up the team in big games and big moments.

Some photos of Sheldon's many expressions

In addition to his confidence on the court, Sheldon is very confident and comfortable with himself off the court. Sheldon doesn't try to fit in or conform to what other guys in the team are doing or anybody else is doing, he is very independent and secure with who he is. While he may receive flak from some of the other guys on the team for wearing printed jeans, John Lennon-esque sunglasses, his instagram name, or hanging out with a group called "The Wolfpack", it doesn't bother Sheldon what other people may say about him. He is not going to change who he is just because some people may want him to and that is not easy to do sometimes.

There are only 15 members of the team and with the amount of time required to spend doing team related activities whether that be practice, games, travel, or lifting weights is enormous. As I mentioned in this post, it is easy to get absorbed into the "basketball/athletics bubble" and not get to experience life outside of that and Sheldon tries to reach out to others outside the basketball team because he enjoys interacting with the broader community, and I like that about Sheldon. He is comfortable with himself enough to carve his own identity at the school independent of what others may expect of him, and it is refreshing to see.

Sheldon and "The Wolfpack"

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The 4 Stages of Shelby Moats' Vanderbilt Career

As I mentioned in this post, one of the players I've become close with in my time here is Shelby Moats and he is one of the players I'm most likely to stay in touch with even after I graduate. Shelby is a really good guy, he's smart, insightful, and just a good person. He also happens to be the most popular guy on campus in terms of his appeal to the female population because he combines all of the attributes sorority girls on this campus look for.

He's White, tall, good looking, smart, very social, an athlete, but he could also double as a frat guy if he really wanted to. He really bridges the gap between athlete and regular Vandy student very well and you'd be hard pressed to find 5 girls on this campus who don't have some form of a crush on Shelby. In this post I will detail the 4 stages of Shelby's Vanderbilt career that led him to this point.

STAGE 1 - THE MEATHEAD STAGE: Shelby is from Waconia, Minnesota a suburb of Minneapolis and as mentioned above he is White and good looking, so it would be easy to throw the "pretty boy" label on to him. I think Shelby was aware of his background and that the pretty boy perception could be out there regarding him so he came on to campus with a serious edge. He wanted to prove himself as tough, hard nosed, hit you in your mouth type of player. He played a very physical brand of basketball and was almost brutish in his play during practice. In the macho culture of Division I athletics, Shelby wanted to prove he belonged (despite not necessarily looking the part like say Festus Ezeli).

He would get bloodied up or bruised because he dove on the floor so hard during the season. He was black and blue all over because he went so hard. He also had a sometimes explosive temper as he struggled to find ways to effectively channel his passion. He was, and still is, very hard on himself when he makes a mistake, but it is something he has improved on significantly in his time here. In addition to his fiery on-court demeanor and flares of anger, Shelby had a buzz cut hairstyle and got tatted up during this period. He was really embracing the meathead persona, even lifting weights on off-days with Curtis Turner, our strength coach to build himself up.

STAGE 2 - LONG HAIR, DON'T CARE: Stage 2 began toward the end of last season, as Shelby began gravitating more away from the banging on the blocks to working on a more finesse game. He was training himself to be like a stretch 4 type, a power forward who could space and stretch the floor with his outside shooting. As the year went on he became more comfortable with his jump shot and started to drift toward the three point line in practice. Once the season ended, Shelby worked really hard on his three point shooting  and on improving his skillset outside of just bringing an attitude or edge any time he stepped on the court.

This period of drifting to the three point line came at the same time as his decision to let his hair grow out and went to California for the month of May last year. Shelby spent the month of May in Los Angeles with a friend and was right at home, adopting the California cool, laidback persona and even picking up new vocabulary like "hella".

Shelby wanted to model his hair after "Thor", who is pictured below. He didn't cut his hair from March of last year until November of last year when Coach Stallings issued an ultimatum on his flow, "Either get it cut or you don't play", so Shelby decided it would be best to sacrifice his hair for continued playing time and after Thanksgiving, the hair was cut to more reasonable proportions. When he had the flow, Shelby played with a headband type thing to keep the hair out of his eyes, but when the hair went that went also.

STAGE 3 - CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE: Stage 3 occurred slightly after the flow was gone. This stage lasted throughout December and January of this past year. The team was struggling during this time and Shelby was also struggling personally. After not playing very much as a freshman, he was struggling to adapt to the expectations that came with playing 20-25 minutes a game. He was also playing out of position at center out of necessity to the lack of big men on this year's roster. The combination of playing a position in which was he was severely undersized and not meeting the expectations he had for himself, this was not a great period for Shelby.

He was very hard and himself and it seemed like all the fun of basketball was gone for him. During practices and games, he just didn't look happy on the court and it was unfortunate because at the end of the day basketball is just a game. As Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said last year, "In the grand scheme of things, basketball and and basketball players really aren't all that important". Basketball serves a lot of purposes in terms of uniting people, building pride, etc., but at the end of the day it is a game. Nothing more, nothing less. I told Shelby not to wrap his self-worth up in his play on the court. In 10 years, people won't remember how many points he had versus Butler but rather whether he represented the university well and was a good person.

During this period, Shelby had some very good games including versus Kentucky at home, but also some bad ones like at Missouri and at Tennessee which led to him not being in the rotation for a few games. It really was an up and down time for him and he even tweeted "Maybe I'm playing the wrong sport, with how many fouls I pick up maybe I should play football haha" or something along those lines. He really just wasn't sure of what he could do, he felt overmatched and overwhelmed, but ultimately that led to the last stage of his career thus far: The Finally at Peace Stage.

STAGE 4 - FINALLY AT PEACE: Since about mid-February, Shelby has finally come to peace with his place on the team and at this school. He has always realized that coming to Vanderbilt was more than just a basketball decision, that getting a Vanderbilt degree would position him to be successful in life in the long haul. However, now he has truly realized all the opportunities he has here. He will be going to London in May to study abroad and takes a very difficult course load for his Econ major. He truly wants to get the most out of his experience here, both on and off the court.

On the court, Shelby was at peace as well. He realized that as long as he gave it his all every game, there was nothing to hang his head about. Sometimes in life you will be overmatched, but if you give 100 percent than you really have nothing to be ashamed of. He no longer lets outside expectations or his own expectations interfere with the way he plays or views the game. Basketball is now more fun for him because he is realizing that it isn't the end of the world if you have a bad game. Shit happens.

He's enjoying life as a student and an athlete and that is why I have a ton of respect for him, because he wants to get the most out of his time here in every way possible, and he has really matured over the past two years to get to this point. It's always cool to see the way someone progresses in their time with the team, and Shelby's progression has been very impressive to watch, and I'm proud to call him a friend.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The All-White Party

Every year at the beginning of the school year, some of the Black fraternities on campus hold an "All-White" party at the Student Life Center. At the beginning of my sophomore year, John Jenkins and one of my fellow managers Chris Clark invited to go with them and some of the other guys on the team to the party. Well I got to the party and I was one of I think 7 White people, with two of the others being Jordan Smart and Aaron Noll, and then two more being women's basketball players.

I had no problem being one of the few White people there out of a couple hundred people, but there was a bigger issue at hand. Everybody knew how to dance. I personally love to dance, but I'm just horrible at it. I've embraced the fact that I can't dance, but I still do it anyway because usually there are a lot of people at a given party who can't dance either, but everyone there could. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of seeing me dance, I'm something along the lines of a much lighter but equally incompetent Albert Brennaman (the Kevin James character from Hitch). The link I attached is one of my all-time favorite movie scenes because I've been there and done that. I've never made a pizza or done the Q-Tip, but I've come pretty close.

So as the party went on, I was trying to stick to the Hitch philosophy of keeping my elbows 6 inches from the waist and staying in that safe zone. It was boring, but probably the right move. However, there was a very attractive girl that was there and we exchanged eye contact so I thought it would be a good idea to ask her to dance. She said yes which was a positive first step, but once we got to dancing, I knew I was screwed.

She had great quickness on the dance floor, hip flexibility was off the chart, and her feet were quite nimble. She had an array of moves that overshadowed anything I could do. Lateral quickness has never been a hallmark of my athletic ability and I had a lot of trouble keeping up with her. We danced for a couple of minutes and I was pretty out of breath and broke into a light schvitz (sweat) probably both out of nervousness and working so hard to keep pace.

After those first few minutes, she tried showing me how to dance or certain ways to at least give the appearance of knowing how to dance. She was very smart and a good teacher but sometimes you just can't teach ability, and I had minimal ability. So after another couple minutes of dancing, she turned to me and said "White boy, you can't dance". I was crushed. I knew I couldn't dance but hearing it from someone other than my mom or sister made the reality sink in. It's a devastation I still have yet to overcome to this day.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Night Nick Souder Became Jordan Smart

After detailing a night out at UK in my last post, I am going to take you through the most fun night in my manager career. It took place last February in Gainesville, Florida, and what a night it was. The night started off with us landing in Gainesville at around 9 PM Eastern time and heading to the hotel for a post-flight snack. On the bus ride from the airport to the hotel, myself, Rob Cross, and Nick Souder determined we were going to go out.

I really wanted to go out in Gainesville because I had visions of beautiful women serenading Tim Tebow and him turning them down for Sunday Mass, and that all of these women were just looking for someone else and I thought maybe I could be their Timmy T. It also didn't hurt that Chandler Parsons graduated the prior year, because I always imagined CP being on a Monday-Thursday schedule. He would get girls while the rest of campus studied then take weekends off. He could just reverse the normal operating procedure because he was a 6'9" good looking White guy who was going to the NBA. And he won SEC Player of the Year, he was probably living the life. So with Chandler and Tim gone, there was a vacuum of stud White guys in Gainesville that I thought I could fill and convinced Rob and Nick to tag along.

So we got to the hotel and we thought about changing before going out but decided against it. So we all went out in some form of Vandy gear, with me personally wearing a long-sleeve pullover and a pair of practice shorts. We made the calculation that we could dress like a Florida frat guy and blend in or wear Vandy stuff, try to convince people we were walk-ons, and get noticed in a crowd. It was a brilliant strategy that paid significant dividends later on in the night, but first we had to get to the bars.

We asked the hotel desk clerk where the best place to go was and she said Midtown was the best on a Friday night so she called us a cab, and what a ride we took. Our cab driver was an ex-soldier who got dishonorably discharged from the Army for smoking weed one too many times. Instead of owning up to his mistake, he apparently threatened to assassinate President Reagan because of his "hypocrisy" and "pro-gay attitudes". Our driver didn't understand why "I couldn't suck on a joint but two guys were allowed to suck each other's sticks, and they got to stay". To him the real issue was gays in the military, not smoking.

In addition to being homophobic, this man was also a racist. I can't remember why exactly he said he didn't like Black people, but he threw the N-word around quite a bit throughout the ride. At one point he asked if we were offended by it, obviously we were, but we just said no because we feared the man. As a Jew, I was personally fearing for my life. After he made the observation that there were no Blacks in the car, I was quite certain he would ask if there were any Jews in the cab. It seemed like a logical next step. I was half-expecting him to to do a Heil to Hitler and to find a copy of Mein Kampf beneath his seat next to a DVD of "Birth of a Nation".

This driver was completely insane, like legitimately nuts. He was spewing hatred to people he barely knew, but once he neglected to ask if there were any Jews after the first two minutes I felt somewhat safe, assuming in his eyes I could pass as a certifiable White WASP. Once I got past my fear, I was highly entertained. He was like the KKK, the owner of Chick Fil A, and Ann Coulter rolled into one, it was the funniest cab ride I'd ever been in. When we got to our destination, I was almost upset we had to leave him behind, but it was for the best.

So once we got out of the Klan Karavan, we were in Midtown Gainesville. The weather was really nice and there were a few outdoor bars on the block, one was called The Swamp and the other was called O!o. We decided to go to O!o, the line was pretty long and we were unsure whether or not the age was 21 or 18 to get in but we got in line and never found out, they just let us in. The place was packed, and it wasn't just packed with regular old girls. These girls were freakin' gorgeous and they were everywhere, and many of them approached us.

The first girl to approach us was Marisa, a member of the Dazzler dance team at UF. The Dazzlers are one of the top dance squads in the SEC right there with Mizzou's Golden Girls for best looking and Marisa was gorgeous. She asked if we were with the team and I tried to say we were walk-ons before Rob blew our cover. Then we talked about the game and if the UF basketball team was treated as Gods on campus. She went through the characteristics of each player (she hung out with Erving Walker a lot she said), and when she got to Erik Murphy, she was either really impressed or slightly creeped out that I knew he was dating a tennis player. Probably the latter.

After our conversation with Marisa concluded with her revealing she had a boyfriend, the three of us went in different directions. I started to talk to a girl who acknowledged the Vanderbilt gear I had on. Vanderbilt was her first choice over UF, so I think she might have been living out her fantasy of going to Vandy by talking to me. While I was talking to her, Rob was talking to a girl named Caro. She was very cute and it was clear she was attracted to Rob, but at the time Rob had a girlfriend so he refrained from doing anything he might regret, though he did get her number. Nick was third-wheeling Rob at the time.

As I continued to talk to this Vandy girl, Rob and Nick moved on to talking to these two girls named Lysette and Stefanie. When the girl I was talking to left, I went over to join the conversation. Lysette and Stefanie tried to convince me that the girl I had been talking to was a member of the Florida Quidditch society, and I semi-believed them because I didn't know any better (it turns out she was not chasing the Golden Snitch in her spare time). We were informed that Stefanie had just broken up with her boyfriend and was visiting Gainesville because she needed a weekend away, and we talked with them for awhile and at one point I saw they were on Twitter, and taking the opportunity to up my follower count told them to follow me, which they did.

The two of them left, and me, Rob, and Nick stuck around the bar a bit longer then we left also. We went to a place called Munchie 420 which is apparently the place where everybody goes when they are drunk to get greasy fried food. We really wanted to eat, but the line was so long so we left. I was low on cash so we went to an ATM, and it wasn't a Sun Trust ATM so in a total lapse of intellectual capability I turned to Rob and said, "I can still take money out here, right?" He replied yes, but two girls behind us snickered, "It's cause he goes to Vanderbilt". After the two girls withdrew money, we followed them to Pita Pit which was another drunk hangout for UF students.

These girls were named Courtney and Jessie. They were sorority sisters in UF Theta. Courtney was the sober one, tasked with making sure that Jessie could find her way home alright because she was hammered. She was beyond hammered actually, she was incoherent. We got to Pita Pit and she asked us a bunch of questions, and me, Rob, and Nick decided she would be a perfect person to sell our walk-on story to.

So when she asked Nick what his name was he said it was Jordan and that he was on the team. She didn't believe him at first, but with a little convincing she came to believe that Nick Souder was in fact Jordan Smart. Nick told of his high school days at Lexington Catholic, and how he was a great shooter for the Gold Team, but allowed out because he knew he wouldn't be playing the next day. After filling her in the background of his life, she asked to see "Jordan's" photo on the team website. This is where the cover could have been blown, but she was very willing to believe in the reality that she was dining with Jordan Smart at 3:15 AM in Gainesville.

Other than both being White and both being from Kentucky, Jordan and Nick don't really look alike. So when we pulled up the team photo, she said, "That's not you, that doesn't look like you" and Nick was very quick on his feet, saying "O no that was taken freshman year, I looked way different then". After looking over the photo for a minute or two Jessie made the declaration that Nick looked suitably like Jordan and kissed him on the cheek.

 Jordan Smart            Nick Souder

She was really into Nick, err Jordan. She was feeling him big time. Her friend Courtney even asked Nick if he had a Twitter (she was already following me by that time) and Nick gave her Jordan's account. The thing is, Jordan's account was private so you had to request to follow him so that's what she did. After splitting some gyros with Courtney and Jessie we got in a cab that dropped them off at their dorm and then took us back to the hotel. It was like 3:45 in the morning, but Stefanie the chick who just broke up with her boyfriend was tweeting at me.

We had a convo, first through Twitter mentions, then Twitter Direct Messages, and then got to texting. It took place over 2 hours. I knew it was kind of a fruitless conversation because I knew she wouldn't be coming to the Hilton Garden Inn at 4:30 but she was pretty sarcastic and entertaining so we kept talking. At the same time, Caro and Rob were texting, and she happened to live in an apartment near the hotel, but Rob stayed disciplined and went to sleep in his hotel bed

The next morning when we woke up, the three of us were in the elevator with Jordan. And he goes, "Who's Courtney, she requested to follow me" so Nick filled him in on what happened during the night. Jordan laughed and said his trademark "Wowwww" before allowing her to follow him.

Then during the game, myself and Rob were on the bench, but Nick was in the film deck filming it. However, Jordan was on the bench. So during the game, Jessie texted Nick "I see you on the bench!!" despite the fact that Nick was nowhere near the bench as the film deck was at the top of the arena. It was at that point that Nick revealed his true identity not as the guy on the end of the bench, but the guy filming the guy at the end of the bench. And that concluded our Gainesville festivities, in one of the most fun nights I've had in college.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Going Out on the Road: UK

One of the most fun things to do on road trips is go out at night. As long as we get all of our stuff done and it is a weekend, the managers are likely to go out on the road. It is great because we can make up our own identities and nobody will have a clue if we are telling the truth or not. We can pretend to be walk-ons, regular students, or admit to being managers but whatever we do, girls on the road are impressed because we go to Vanderbilt.

At Vandy, girls here aren't impressed that we go to Vandy because they go here too, but at other SEC schools when you say you go to Vandy you might as well say you are Albert Einstein. They automatically assume you are an absolute genius and in my case that happens to be true, but it isn't for everyone else at this school. So the combination of making up identities of who we are and being worshiped for our brains makes the road a good time, so over the next few days I'll share some of my favorite stories from going out on the road.

I will start with Kentucky last year. We played Kentucky on a Saturday afternoon last season and got to Lexington on Friday night. That night I went out with Rafi Goldman a fellow manager to an off-campus UK frat party. One of our mutual friends is in a frat at UK and invited us there. When we got there I must say I had never been to a house that reeked of weed more than that house. It was like a smog of marijuana hovering over the house, it was a total stench and smelled gross.

I was at the party with Rafi for a few hours and at around 2:30 AM was pretty tired and wanted to go back to our hotel which was like 15 minutes away, but I couldn't find Rafi, he was off somewhere so I just said "screw it, I'm going back". I called the Lexington cab company and they said it would be a 45 minute wait for a cab, which was not acceptable because I hate to wait. So I improvised.

I walked out of the house onto the street and found a pledge sitting in a car and offered to pay him to take me back to the hotel. I told him I worked with the team and went to Vandy and where we were staying and he said he would drop me off after doing some stuff for his frat brothers, but at least I would be in a moving vehicle. So I got in the backseat of the car with 2 girls, a tall blonde and a shorter brunette. I was on one end, the blonde in the middle, the brunette on the right and a frat brother up front with the pledge.

When I got into the backseat the blonde asked me if I went to Vanderbilt because I had on a Vandy pullover. I said yes, and she goes "Oh my god, you must be so smart. I wanted to go to Vandy but I'm just not smart, but I need a smart man. People at UK just aren't very smart. You must be smart, I like smart guys" then proceeded to put her head in my lap. Needless to say I was intrigued, and as we approached her dorm I considered hopping out of the car with her and her friend. However, my phone had died and I had no idea where I was and doubted I would be able to make it back in time for breakfast in the morning, so I reluctantly stayed in the car.

After dropping the two girls off at their dorm, we had to drop the frat brother off at his house. He lived like 10 minutes away so we went there and dropped him off, the dude was kind of a prick. I was glad when we got rid of him but then after we dropped him off he called the pledge and ordered him to pick up his girlfriend from the frat house and take them to his house. So we went back to the frat house to get the girlfriend then dropped her off at the brother's house.

At that point I had been in the car for 30 minutes but at least I was entertained, and then the next stop was even more entertaining. The pledge got a call to pick up brothers from the Lexington Deja Vu (the strip club), and at this point it was 3:30 AM. So we go to the Deja Vu parking lot at that time and golly what a crowd. There were a few guys on Harley Davidsons tatted all the way up, real stereotypical biker dudes. A few drunken frat guys, and then also some professional looking guys who probably had wives and were claiming to be "away on business". A real interesting mix.

So the three frat brothers get into the car and ask who I am and the pledge tells them I work for the Vandy team and he's dropping me at the hotel. Immediately after the introduction is made, two of the guys say, "Vandy f*cking sucks. Really y'all suck. Except Jordan Smart, J-Smeaze is cool". Jordan was a former walk-on from Lexington and these were two of his high school teammates. They made a very classy first impression. So after sharing stories about Jordan, at 4:07 I finally arrived back at the hotel and promptly proceeded to pass out.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Looking Back: Why I Managed for 4 Years

Sorry for not blogging much this week, it's been a long week with the SEC Tournament. With this post I am going to try sum up the last four years and what they've meant to me. When we lost to Ole Miss on Saturday, that officially ended my affiliation with the Vanderbilt basketball team (in an official capacity), and as I cleaned out my stuff from Memorial Gym, I thought a lot about the experiences I've had.

I have always loved basketball from a young age. I'm not particularly skilled, outside of a very consistent mid-range jumpshot and a high basketball IQ, but I have always loved the game. I grew up playing basketball any time I could whether at the neighborhood court, in my driveway, or at school. I played all the time and even had a mini 6 foot hoop in the house I used to shoot around on during winter when it was too cold to go outside. My dad had Nets season tickets while I was in middle and high school and I lived and breathed Nets basketball. I was a die-hard and I had a good run with the Jason Kidd/Kenyon Martin/Richard Jefferson teams.

Me with Brook Lopez and former Net Ryan Anderson

I also collected trading cards, newspaper clippings, game programs, ticket stubs, and autographs over the years. My autograph collection is pretty extensive, ranging from Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd to Walt Frazier and Bill Walton. I would go to games hours early, thanks to my mom and dad's willingness to do that, seeking autographs and photos with my favorite players. I would bring a binder of cards to be signed and if I didn't have a player's card I would have them sign a game program.

I knew the ins and outs of the Meadowlands Arena like no other: where to position myself to get the most autographs, which security guards were easy to get by, and where the celebrities sat. Before each game, I also looked up the radio and TV announcers of each opposing team seeing if I recognized any former players or coaches among them. Mike Fratello, Flip Saunders, Cedric Maxwell, and Walt Frazier were among those I met. I also got autographs from celebrities like Jay-Z, Jeremy Shockey, and Spike Lee who went to the games. Ahmad Rashad took a leak next to me one time and I saw Stephen A. Smith at the concession stand another time.

This passion for basketball is why I responded to an email sent by then head manager Sam Ferry seeking new managers my freshman year. It is the reason I initially took the job. I wanted to be around an SEC Basketball program and see the inner workings of it. I remember being in awe my first practice of being there as an observer (I was part time as a freshman so I wasn't required to be at practice, but I observed it once or twice a week), thinking how unbelievably cool it was to be in that position.

On that first day, Sam told me not to rebound for anyone or do anything but after practice Steve Tchiengang came over to me and said "you a manager?" in his deep voice, I said, "kinda" and then he goes "then rebound for me. I need to practice my jumpshot." I knew I wasn't supposed to say yes, but honestly I was pretty intimidated by Steve, actually very intimidated so I got up and started rebounding for him. Sam came back and asked why I was doing that and I said, "well it didn't seem like Steve would take no for an answer" and that was a good enough reason for Sam.

Throughout the year I still pretty much in awe of the situation I was in particularly as I got to know more of the players and coaches particularly John Jenkins, Steve, and Chris Meriwether and Coach Dan Muller. It was also pretty sweet when I got to let the John Wall led Kentucky team into Memorial and met Erin Andrews. I had a really positive experience as a freshman and I liked working part time because I could work whenever I wanted to, I didn't have any set hours or obligations, and was essentially a volunteer.

Sophomore year I became a full time manager and that was much harder to deal with. What I didn't realize as a freshman only working part-time, is just how much of a grind the season is. No matter how passionate about basketball you are, your love for the game begins to wear down during the course of a season. It is very exhausting because you go to class all morning then to practice in the afternoon till 6 or 7 then have to do homework. It was really a tough adjustment. It was so much time and a lot of thankless grunt work. I still enjoyed being around the team and liked the access I had, but the passion just wasn't the same. The sheer amount of time you spend around the game is a commitment like no other and it came at the expense of doing other things on campus. I lost touch with some close friends and got kind of sucked into what I call the "Basketball Bubble".

The basketball bubble is essentially when during the season you really only see members of the basketball program. Your schedule is very different from that of other students, you can't really participate in many other extracurricular activities, and unless you make a conscious effort to stay in touch with people it is easy to lose touch because basketball becomes such a single focus. As someone who likes to change things up and can't stand doing the same thing every day, the sameness of the days started to irritate me and bore me. There were many days, and still were this year, where I didn't want to go to practice or shootaround and just wanted to do other things. The time off from basketball I did have I spent on schoolwork or catching up on sleep because I was so exhausted. It was a very tough adjustment.

Junior and senior year, I got to travel with the team which was my favorite part of the job, but still faced indifference towards many of the daily tasks associated with being a manager. Practice was tough to get excited about after the first month or so of the season and the standardization of everything was the same. Travelling helped change things up a bit and I got involved with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and wrote for The Vanderbilt Hustler and Dime Magazine during the year just to try and do some different things within the time I did have away from Memorial, so when looking back this past Saturday I came to a realization on why I stuck with this for 4 years.

I didn't stick with this because of my passion for basketball, though that is still there. I still love watching games on TV, talking to my dad about the NBA, and playing pickup with my friends, but that is not what made me stick with the program as a manager. It is easy to be a fan, rooting for the team when you want, but when basketball becomes a job it can be very hard to balance your passion with your responsibilities. That is why I always try to do different things within the context of the program whether it be playing ping pong after practice with Kevin Bright or exploring a new city on the road during downtime, I love maximizing the opportunities being a manager gives me.

And that is why I have stuck with it, because being a manager has given me the chance to experience things and meet people I never would have otherwise, and those experiences and people will stick with me the rest of my life. In 50 years I won't remember sitting through a 2 hour practice, but instead getting stuck in Oregon on the road trip from hell. I'll remember manager pick-up games before practice and travelling to places as diverse as Milwaukee and Starkville, Mississippi. I'll remember winning the SEC Championship and dancing with Mickey Mouse at Disney Land, but most importantly, I'll remember and stay in touch with the people I've met.

Through this program, I have had the opportunity to form a lot of new friendships and relationships that I hope to maintain over the years. I haven't liked everybody who's come through the program and I'm sure some people haven't liked me at various points (as hard as that may be for you all to believe), but I have met a lot of special, special people through this program. I want to specifically acknowledge our managing staff this year and last year: Will Hulings, Chris Clark, Zach Kleiner, Rafi Goldman, Tyler Anders, Brian Suh, Nick Souder, and Rob Cross. They are not only co-workers but like family to me because we spend so much time together and all share the same experiences whether it be going to a hot tub on the road or going out and pretending we are walk-ons (there will be some exclusive posts on this), these are great guys. Really good guys.

In NYC last year with the manager staff

I also want to recognize a few players who have had a profound impact on me. The first is John Jenkins who has been a great friend since freshman year, and you can read more about our relationship here. Also, Chris Meriwether who is the nicest, most helpful guy I have ever met. He doesn't know the word "no" exists because he never says no to anybody or anything. He is incredibly classy and an all-around unbelievable guy. Then there is Steve Tchiengang. Our relationship has evolved from that first encounter into where Steve told me I threw the best passes of any manager last year and try to help me improve my ever mediocre swag. Shelby Moats has also been a great friend, he is very insightful and there is much more to him than you just see on the basketball court. There are countless others I could name, but I feel like those guys have had the most impact on me throughout my time here so I wanted to recognize them.

Me and Steve last year

There is the coaching staff, particularly Dan Muller, David Cason, and Curtis Turner, and also people outside the program. Wes Rucker, the beat writer for, has become a good friend and is one of the funniest, most knowledgeable guys I've ever met. I've met a lot of NBA GM's and scouts, with five or six calling me last year to ask me about various players in the SEC. It was pretty sweet that NBA talent evaluators valued my opinion and listened to what I had to say. John Hammond and Jeff Weltman of the Milwaukee Bucks being the most notable. They have invited me to practices and pre-draft workouts in the past and are first rate guys as is their whole staff in Milwaukee.

I won't continue on listing people because this post is long enough, but the experiences and the people are the reasons I did it all four years. The passion for basketball helped, but after that first year it wasn't the driving reason. To give up a good portion of your social life and all your vacations for the program requires more than just love of the game. It requires love of the people surrounding you each and every day.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


For those of you who know me, you know napping is a huge part of my every day routine. I love taking naps, and there are certain days when I wake up after going to bed very late where the first thing I ask myself is when I can lay back down to sleep. Naps are very rejuvenating for me especially because I keep really bad hours. I usually go to bed late which is something I've tried to change, but it is easier said than done.

Napping is also a crucial part of my gameday routine. After we have our team meal four hours before tip-off for home games, we have about an hour and a half of free time before we have to be back at the gym. During that time, I always take a nap, but not in my dorm. If I went back to my dorm to nap I'd be able to sleep for less of the time because I would have to account for the time it takes to go from the dorm and back, so I just nap in the gym.

There are two potential napping spots for me at Memorial. The first is the Rebounder's Room. This is where our basketball alumni can meet and greet during Games. It has drinks, popcorn, and sometimes other food for the alumni, but its key feature is two soft leather couches. The couch cushions on this couch kind of sink, and they are really comfortable. The second place I nap is the Coaches locker room, right across from the team locker room. This room has one couch and a few leather chairs. The couch in here is really firm, quite the opposite of the one in the Rebounder's Room.

Last year, after our team meal and before we played Kentucky on ESPN, I was taking my customary nap, this time in the Rebounder's Room. I was in a deep sleep because it had already been a long day with College Game Day, shootaround, and all the other festivities. I was tired and needed the nap. It was going well until about 45 minutes into the nap, the light in the room went on. At first I thought I was dreaming and tried to fall back asleep but then I opened my eyes and saw cameras and a whole crew of people. I was totally unaware of what was going on.

When I moved past the initial groggy stage of waking up from a nap, I heard someone say "Dick, I think this will work. We just have to wake the kid up on the couch". So the next thing that happens is Dick Vitale, Dickie V, comes over and says "WAKE UP BABY!" and one of the producers says we need to borrow the room to shoot this video. Despite waking up earlier than I would have liked, Dickie V does make for a better alarm than my phone.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Conflicted Eric McClellan

The undisputed star of the Gold Bombers is Eric McClellan. While Nate Watkins is the off-the-court leader of the Gold Team, Eric or "E", is the on-court leader both with his play and his vocal nature. E had to sit out this year after transferring here from Tulsa where he averaged 8.5 points for the Golden Hurricane last year, but decided to transfer when the head coach at Tulsa was let go.

The only reason E is on the Gold Team is because he is ineligible this year. If he were eligible he would be one of the best players on the team, and he will make a huge impact on the team next year. He is a 6'5" pure point guard who is also a very good shooter, and someone who can get to the rim easily. He also gives 100 percent every time he steps on the court. He doesn't coast or take plays off, even if he gets hit hard going to the rim.

Most importantly though, E is a vocal leader. It would be easy for a guy as talented as Eric to act like a jerk or be selfish while playing with the Gold Team because he is far and away the most talented player (other players in the past have done that), but he has never done that. He always looks to get his teammates involved and never gets mad or shows poor body language around them, and is relentlessly positive. He always shouts out "good play" or "good shot" when one of his teammates does something well and is the first person to help them up. I think part of the reason E fits in so well with the Gold Team is that he had no high-major offers coming out of high school, so he can identify with being in that underdog role trying to prove himself every day, and he certainly has.

For example, during pre-season workouts Eric was recovering from a foot injury and while a lot of guys would sulk or feel sorry for themselves, E did the exact opposite. He was at every workout cheering other guys on, clapping on the side, and being attentive during the drills. His positive approach to dealing with injury was the best I've seen of anybody during my time here. It was very impressive, as is his attitude during the games. Even though he doesn't play, nobody cheers harder than E for the team to succeed. After every made basket, he is like a human pogo stick, jumping up and down wildly because he is so happy for his teammates, and that is why next year will be so hard for E.

Due to the fact that he is one of our better players, E will certainly be on the Black Team in practice next year. There is no doubt, but E has become so infatuated with the #Gold4Life(G4L) culture of the Gold Bombers that he doesn't want to turn his back on Gold Team. I think what E may attempt to do is try to make Gold the new Black so that he can retain his personal G4L status and convert a whole new group to Gold as well. I don't expect that to happen, but while E will be playing a lot of minutes next season, part of him will be torn about leaving the Bombers behind.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Carter Josephs: The Gold Glue

I am returning to my series on the Gold Bombers today with a profile on Carter Josephs, after doing ones on Nate Watkins and AJ Astroth already. Carter is the glue that keeps the Gold Bombers together. The Bombers have a unique set of personalities from the outgoing, boisterous Eric McClellan to the sarcastic, witty Nate Watkins, but Carter is a steadying influence on the squad. He is not judgmental in any way, gets along with everybody, and is a fantastic listener.

My first impression of Carter came when he visited campus last year with his dad. Carter came to practice twice, ate a team meal with us, and I still don't think he said a word on his visit. At least I didn't hear one come out of his mouth. His dad asked a lot of questions and was friendly but Carter was super quiet. I remember after he left, nobody had any idea what he thought of Vandy, and when he committed as a recruited walk-on later on in the year, some players' memories had to be triggered about who he was, but he has been a great addition to the team.

Carter is a sounding board for many guys on our team, not just the Gold Bombers. They can complain to Carter about class, playing time, other players, girls, or anything else and he will listen intently (or at least pretend to). He never interrupts or chimes in with his own opinion unless asked, which is refreshing for people on a team where everybody has an opinion on everything and they aren't afraid to share it. This is why Carter's roomate Sheldon Jeter has been known to start lengthy discussions on the meaning of life with Carter at 3 AM, because it is a good opportunity to get his thoughts out there without having them dissected.

Carter also is not a big fan of conflict so he seeks to avoid it at all costs. He doesn't like to rock the boat, he doesn't fluctuate much in his mood on a given day. He's very steady and consistent in his attitude and approach toward things.

He is also, as AJ Astroth pointed out, our most consistent practice player. A typical Carter day of practice includes one airballed three pointer toward the beginning during shooting drills, no more than 2 shots during practice, 3 to 4 assists, minimal turnovers, and a lot of steals and deflections. You know what you are going to get out of Carter every day and that is why the coaches and players like him because he works hard to make the other guys around him better. He knows his strengths and his limitations, and he plays to them. As Coach Stallings likes to say, "know the difference between what you can do and what you can't do" and Carter certainly does.

Carter is also a favorite of the managers because he always throws his laundry in on time, never loses anything, and most importantly is always willing to help us out. There are some players past and present who when asked to help carry something for instance or if we can put something next to them on a plane will ask why they have to do it and not someone else. I won't name names, but one of our players said earlier this year, "I don't why I have to carry something, you never would have made Jeff or the older guys last year do it. I shouldn't have to do it this year", that was an irritating and frustrating thing to hear.

Whereas Carter on the other hand, never says no to helping us out. He realizes we work hard and if we need help, he doesn't complain about having to do it. Other players who have a really good attitude toward helping us out are James Siakam and Nate Watkinsin particular. This kind of sums up Carter well though, he's always willing to lend a hand or listen if you want to talk. I'm glad Carter has evolved from his no-word recruiting visit cause it's been good getting to know him (and his friend Troy from home who came to visit and who is a really cool guy) this year.

Take a Climb Up the Social Ladder with Shannon Gordon

Shannon Gordon or "Gordo" as he is known around the program is the team's athletic trainer. Gordo's primary responsibilities include taping the guys before practice, arranging treatment, overseeing rehab from injuries, and keeping the guys and their bodies intact throughout the season. Gordo's secondary responsibilities revolve primarily around arranging team meals. Gordo is the point person on all catered meals at Memorial Gym, as well as hotel meals on the road. Any time the team eats, it is likely that Gordo arranged it.

While those two things occupy most of Gordo's time, over the past two years Gordo has been trying to carve out another niche in the program: that of the ultimate social climber. At team meals on the road, we usually have four tables. Two are for the players, one is for the managers and support staff (strength coach and SID), and one is for the coaching staff. Two years ago, and even at times last year, Gordo used to sit with the managers and support staff at team meals. He was one of us, but then something dramatic happened, that changed the trajectory of Gordo's career with the program.

One day, and I can't remember when it was exactly, Gordo sat for a team meal with the coaches. Myself, the other managers, and Curtis Turner, our strength coach, thought it would be a one time thing, but it has become permanent. Gordo is now regularly seated with the coaches, and he is not just a silent observer at their meals but often the most talkative member of the table. It is clear he is trying to ingratiate himself with the higher ups and inflate his value to the program, as more than just a trainer, but also an entertainer.

In addition to sitting with the coaches at meals, when Coach Stallings or one of the coaches is out recruiting and not travelling with the team, Gordo often sits at the front of the bus or plane. It is usually custom to leave those seats empty, but Gordo feels very comfortable sliding into them these days. He also loves to chat up boosters, administrators, and anyone else who comes to practice. He is like a party host who makes the rounds to everybody who shows up, and occasionally Coach has questioned Gordo's penchant to engage in "Social Hour" discussions during practice.

Recently, Gordo has had Patrick, another athletic trainer, come to practices and even sit on the bench during some games. Myself and Curtis believe that he is training Patrick to take over the role of trainer so he can move up the hierarchy into a new, more posh position with an office that doesn't include a cold tub. We aren't quite sure what position Gordo is angling for, but my guess is that since we didn't replace Coach Muller on staff this year after he left for Illinois State (we promoted Dan Cage, so we have 5 instead of 6 coaches this year), Gordo is trying to work himself into a full-time coaching position. I wouldn't be shocked if he's on the road next year recruiting or doing the pre-game interview with Joe Fisher, that is how quickly he is ascending into the bourgeoisie of the program.

Since I'll be gone next year, I'm counting on you Commodore fans to keep me posted on any developments with this. I have given you a peek into the social climbing, and now I expect you to make well informed observations on the man who could succeed Coach Stallings as head coach at this rate: Shannon Gordon.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Kevin Bright

I am going to take a short detour from my series on the Gold Bombers to feature Kevin Bright. I am doing this because Kevin has made repeated requests to appear in the blog, and usually I wouldn't oblige considering how much we already do for the players, but this case is different. Kevin is one of my favorite players to have been through the program in my time here. Other than Chris Meriwether and Brad Tinsley, I'm not sure any player has been as universally liked by everyone in the program as Kevin has. It is impossible to dislike that guy, really truly, and I can usually find faults in most people but there just really aren't any with Kevin.

Kevin rarely gets clowned on in the locker room because everybody just likes him. The only thing he gets made fun of for is his German accent and that doesn't even count. The thing about Kevin that I really like is that he treats everybody in the program in the same way. He treats the managers with the same respect he gives the coaches and everyone in between. I don't think he has a bad bone in his body, and I also like Kevin because of his unwavering faith in my jumpshot. While some players may not have faith in my ability to win a shooting contest, Kevin always has the faith I will pull through and last week I was on fire for him. I completely rewarded his confidence.

Kevin is also an incredibly hard worker, he works on his shot after practice all the time and shoots every shot at game speed. He is always very focused when he works out, he doesn't just do it for the sake of doing it, he wants to get a lot out of it, and he has because he's the best shooter on our team. It also helps that he isn't afraid to make a big shot. In addition to his shooting ability, Kevin is always tasked with guarding the other team's top scorer and along with Dai-Jon Parker is our best perimeter defender. He uses his size and length to really frustrate opposing players and make them work for everything they get, which isn't an easy role to take on as a freshman.

Kevin and I have also bonded over ping-pong. Our all-time series is something like 12-2 in favor of Kevin with a few close losses on my part, but it is still fun to trash talk him. He always wants to play but then when it comes time to play Kev tends to disappear. I'm not sure why, but he is still scared to play me, he just won't admit it at this point. Just say you're scared Kev. Just say it.

I can't even think of anything else to say about Kevin without repeating myself. So I'm going to end by saying, Kev that last haircut you got needs to never happen again. That was a bad cut bro, sorry to say but as an expert on all things hair, I just can't approve a cut like that. Other than that though, keep being yourself cause you're a great dude.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Senior Day and a Tribute to John Jenkins

The last few days have been pretty special for me. Working for the basketball team has been an unbelievable experience. I've gotten to meet people, see places, and do things not a lot of kids have been able to do. Being a manager is definitely not a glorious position and it can be very hard at times in the middle of the season to surmise the energy to go to practice another day after class. However, when it is all said and done, it's been an awesome four years. It was pretty cool to get interviewed by the Media on Friday and great to have my family in town for the game and to be presented with a new mop by Coach Stallings autographed by the team (thanks to Jeff Lockridge for the photo).

There was one thing this day was missing though and that was one of my best friends and my classmate John Jenkins. If John had been back for his senior year, this would have been his day too, a day to celebrate one of the best players in Commodore history. The only reason I made the Channel 4 News or The Tennessean is because John left me behind as the only senior, so I had to pay him back somehow. Just because John went off to pursue his dream of playing in the NBA, doesn't mean he shouldn't have a chance to be celebrated by the fans. So underneath my team polo, I wore a John Jenkins Hawks T-Shirt and pulled the polo off during the ceremony because I wanted to make John a part of this in someway. I thought wearing that would be the best way to include him in the ceremony without him actually being there in person (though his family was there).

John has meant a lot to me over the years. We met back in country music class as freshmen. After one of the listening quizzes, John tapped me on the shoulder to ask what the answer was to a few different questions cause he wanted to know if he go them right (unfortunately he didn't because despite being from Nashville, country music isn't John's type of thing). After that day in country music, was my first day attending practice and John and I talked for awhile after. Then we started playing video games, shooting around after practice, and hanging out a lot. His and Wes Tate's dorm room was like a second home for me freshman year, I was there so much.

I think the reasons me and John became so close are two-fold. I think the first reason is cause I am not really into status or who John was, I am going to be myself in any circumstance and I think he respected that about me. A lot of people try to impress him because of who he is, but I was always the same person whether around John or anyone else and I didn't treat him like a God of some sort. A good example of this is at campus parties. John was known across campus for his presence at parties, or lack thereof. John has never had alcohol in his life, and when we went out John always stood in the corner or against the wall watching the happenings around him with his polo buttoned all the way to the top. Most people couldn't get away with standing against the wall at a party, but because of John's status there would always be people coming and going out of the corner. Unfortunately, some of the time there were more drunken frat guys coming to say how great he was then cute girls, but those are the breaks sometimes. He appreciated that I wasn't one of those guys who sucked up to him at parties.

John is also very down to earth, so he liked to do things with "regular (non-athlete)" students. For example, the day after the team lost to Murray State in the NCAA's our freshman year, John came back and played football with a me and a bunch of my hallmates for 2 hours. It was a blast, then the next day we all played pick-up in Memorial. It was a blast for all of us and we did it a couple more times throughout the year. John also called my cousin when she was in the hospital for a stomach infection and never turned down a photo or autograph opportunity from anyone.

The second reason I think we became good friends is cause we both love basketball. I'm a total basketball junkie, I can recite random facts and stats about the NBA, and just know a lot about basketball history, the NBA, etc. John is also a basketball junkie, always watching film or working out to better himself. We both had a mutual respect for the passion and knowledge the other had for the game. John was the hardest worker I had ever seen in my life. He was completely and totally focused on the task at hand at all times, and wanted to gain every edge imaginable.

He would be in the gym all hours of the night, working out with anybody and everybody who would rebound for him. Sometimes it was Sam Ferry (our former head manager, now the Director of Basketball Operations at Monmouth), sometimes myself, sometimes Rob Cross (our current head manager), sometimes his high school coach Seth Massey, sometimes with our coaching staff, and then sometimes with his personal trainer Drew Hanlen.

Drew owns and operates Pure Sweat Basketball, a training company he started a few years ago, and is an absolutely brilliant basketball mind. His clients include John, David Lee, Bradley Beal, and Kim English among others. John epitomizes the philosophy Drew tries to instill in his clients "It's not the amount of hours you spend in the gym, it's how you spend the hours you are in the gym". John didn't need to spend 3 hours on a workout because he goes so hard in each one that he gets more out of a 20 minute workout than most guys get in an hour. He is so focused, and his reps are the same each and every time, that it is hard not to be amazed when watching him work out cause he never seems to get tired. At the end of the year, the coaches had to tell him to stay off his feet cause he was working too hard.

So to summarize this long and lengthy tribute to John, he is a special kid from a great family. I am honored to call him a friend, and I wanted to make him a part of my senior day because it should have been his senior day. He poured his heart and soul into the basketball program every single day, and took pride in putting on the Commodore uniform whether it be before practice or a game. It meant a lot to him to play for this program and it's unfortunate the fans never had a chance to formally thank him for his accomplishments. So that's why I wore my Jenkins jersey yesterday, he will always be my classmate.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Media Day

Once or twice a week, the local Nashville media comes to Memorial Gym before one of our practices. They come to interview the players and Coach Stallings about past or upcoming games, and to shoot some video as well. Yesterday was like any other day for the media. They came to the gym, interviewed our players and coaches, but then they asked our Sports Information Director, Andy Boggs, if the program had any seniors. They knew we didn't have any senior players, but were wondering if there was anybody who was going to be honored at tomorrow's game. Boggs replied that there was a manager (me), who was a senior and the media expressed an interest in speaking to me. They had no clue what they were in for.

I have always been a big fan of media and multimedia. I wrote for my high school newspaper, write for The Vanderbilt Hustler, and interned at Dime Magazine in the summer of 2010 and still write for them today. I'm also pretty big on Twitter and have always loved reading the newspaper and magazines. However, up till today, I've never really been featured in media, so this was big for me. I wasn't nervous though because I have always been a natural on camera, dating back to home movies from my toddler years. I was such a cute kid, the signs of future stardom were always there. I also am never at a loss for words and love to tell stories, my friends consider my stories to be some of the best they've ever heard, so I was ready for my moment.

I got up in front of the cameras from Channel 2, Channel 4, and The Tennessean's Jeff Lockridge, and was an immediate hit. I'm not the type of person to give tired platitudes or use cliches, I just go with my gut on what to say, so I was honest with them and they ate it up. They asked how I got into mopping and why I enjoy it. They asked about my major and if I provided any type of leadership to the younger guys on the team. We covered a wide range of topics and I'm not going to lie, I had a blast.

It was a lot of fun, and a nice change of pace. The season can be a grind for players, staff, and coaches. It's long and a lot of the time the days blend together and you get into the same routine day after day. It can be overwhelming at times, and doing the same thing day after day is something I'm just not great at. I need to change things up and keep them interesting, otherwise you lose sight of the fact that this is just a job, and in the grand scheme of things basketball really doesn't matter much. It can be easy to get bogged down in wins and losses or the daily tasks that come with being a manager, but you have to keep perspective and remember that basketball is just a game. It's supposed to be fun, so I had some fun today.

Check out the finished product from Channel 4 News. Thanks to Chris Harris for the feature. Then there is the nice feature in The Tennessean, courtesy of Jeff Lockridge.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

AJ Astroth

The relationship of AJ to the Gold Team is a somewhat complex one, and I am going to use a metaphor to describe it. In high school, during your freshman year you begin to form a group of friends that you hang out and do things with. The people you hang out with are never set in stone, but usually there is a core group of guys that always hang out together. Then at the end of freshman year, when you have this group of friends, at the beginning of sophomore year you hang out with the same people. But then a new kid comes to the school in 10th grade, and he's cool, but you aren't really sure if you want him to be a part of the group. After getting to know the new kid for a few months, the group decides they like him and he just becomes a part of it like everybody else.

Well, AJ Astroth is the new kid who moved to town in the 10th grade. He started off the season shifting between the Black and Gold teams in practice, particularly when Dai-Jon Parker was ineligible. After injuring his hamstring and then the return of Dai-Jon, AJ went to the Gold Bombers. At first the Bombers were skeptical of his true allegiance. Nate Watkins and Carter Josephs wondered if AJ's heart was truly in the right place and if he could really become a member Gold For Life or G4L. This period of suspicion lasted into the new year, but then AJ slowly became accepted by his fellow Gold members. Now he is an integral part of the G4L Family, and he brings a lot to the Golden table.

AJ and I have always had mutual admiration for one another, and I think that stems the fact that neither of us has a filter. For instance, AJ tweeted something the coaches didn't like earlier in the year and was reprimanded for it, while my dad has requested the deletion of numerous of my own tweets much to the dismay of my loyal followers. AJ also pitched on a legendary locker room joke last week I pulled off last week. I usually speak my mind, and I'm a terrible liar so even if I wanted to lie, I really couldn't. People on the team know that if they want an honest, no BS answer they can ask me for one and I will give it to them. However, I can be quiet and reserved at times, I don't always speak my mind just usually when asked.

AJ, on the other hand, is always talking. He is the second most talkative and loud member of the team behind Kyle Fuller. If you walk into the locker room at any time and don't hear one of their voices, it is likely we either lost or they left the gym. I always have these visions of myself walking somewhere in ten years and hearing AJ's voice because it would stand out in any circumstance. AJ is a happy go lucky kind of kid and always smiling. He always brings positive energy to the locker room because he never gets down. He always lifts my mood, particularly when he sings Eye of the Tiger, "Dan's the Mannnn..... Going to Work", it always gets me going. He has also called me an "inspiration" and "his hero" on a few occasions, and he might be the first person to ever say I'm his hero outside of my mother so that's nice.

Since AJ talks quite a bit, he opens himself up to the ridicule of others but AJ always defends himself ferociously. He has a response for everything, sometimes even to the coaches during practice, but he has toned down on those since the start of the year because those never end well (YOU! YOU! YOU!). AJ is also not afraid to ask the tough question. If he doesn't know the answer to something, he will ask. A great example of this is when Rod Odom brought a cardboard poster into the locker room and AJ asked what material it was made of. Rod replied, "Cardboard, what else would it be?" to which AJ said, "I'm not sure I thought maybe tile cause I didn't really get a good look." Penetrating stuff. Investigative journalism could certainly be in his future.

So AJ, since I know you read the blog, I want to conclude by saying: you're my everyday Superhero. I know this song isn't J. Cole or Drake, but I think you'll enjoy it. Keep inspiring AJ.

Gold Bomber: Nathan Watkins

Over the course of the next week, I will be unveiling profiles of the Gold Bombers. The Gold Bombers is the self given nickname of the Gold Team in practice. Each day in practice, we divide the team into Black and Gold with the Black team made up of the starters and those currently in the rotation and the Gold Team being everybody else. The Gold Team serves as a pseudo scout team for us during practice and they take a lot of pride in their role. They may not play very much, but they work hard every day to make the starters better, and are a great group of guys. The current incarnation of the Gold Bombers is: Eric McClellan, Nate Watkins, AJ Astroth, James Siakam, Carter Josephs, Andris Kehris, and Alex Gendelman. I'll start off my series on the Gold Bombers with a profile on their leader: Nate Watkins.

Nate is the undisputed leader of the Gold Bombers. He bleeds gold and would do anything to keep up the integrity of the Gold Bombers or G4L (Gold For Life) Squad. Nate is the executive authority on who gets membership into the Bombers, and monitors all Bomber activity. He makes sure that there are no traitors in the mist thinking about jumping ship onto the Black team on any given day. The members of the team that go from Black to Gold and back, don't gain membership into this elite unit of walk-ons, transfers, and others. It is a motley crew of characters but nobody talks their role on the Gold Team more seriously than Nate Watkins.

While other players on the team are busy preparing for the Archie Goodwin's and Nerlens Noels of the world, Nate studies the tendencies of opposing walk ons who get playing time, and seeks to emulate them. Jarrod Polson of Kentucky has proven to be a potent inspiration for Nate this year. A walk-on actually playing major minutes, it's something Nate aspires to. He also looks at guys like Kikko Haydar from Arkansas and Skylar McBee from Tennessee, to see what his future holds. Nate makes no qualms about his dreams of playing in the NBA one day. He has a high basketball IQ, a semi-consistent jumpshot, and weighs about 180 pounds. Scouts are drooling over the potential he's shown in shootarounds and pre-game warmups.

While Nate dreams of going to the NBA, he also has a dream of being the Club Trillion leader. For those of you who don't know what Club Trillion is, it's a collection of walk-ons and end of the bench players across the country who compete for who can enter the most games with their only recorded statistic being minutes played. It is called a trillion because, the player has 1 in the minutes column then all zeroes, and the name was coined by former Ohio State walk-on Mark Titus who is like a God to Nate.

Nate is currently in the top 30 of the Club Trillion rankings, but well behind the leader: Baxter Price of Mississippi State. Due to injuries and suspensions, Miss St's available players have dwindled for each game, so Baxter has been playing minutes but not recording stats (he hates to shoot). On February 23rd, Nate got to compete with Baxter in the last 2 minutes of our game vs Miss St. Nate dominated the match-up clearly intimidating Price. It was the first step in Nate's conquest of the Club Trillion leaderboard, and what makes him so perfect as captain of the Gold Bombers.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Anatomy of a Coach Rich Scouting Report

I firmly believe that we have the best assistant coaching staff in the country. We have four coaches, who are all different but bring a lot to the table individually. Our lead assistant, Tom Richardson, is very detail oriented. Rarely does anything slip by Coach Rich, he is incredibly sharp and notices everything. While that is great for the team because he does a great job of preparing and teaching the guys, when it comes to his scouting reports, it can be a bit tedious.

Each of the four assistants, at the beginning of the season, are assigned teams to scout on our schedule. After watching the team play, and picking up on trends they turn their observations into a 6 to 8 minutes scout tape. The 6 to 8 minute tape is if you let it run from beginning to end without stopping, but Coach Rich is not really into a free flowing scout tape. The DVD remote that allows him to control the pace of the scout tends to nestle into his hand like a baseball into a worn in glove. The remote becomes a part of his hand, a true extension of it. And his thumb and the pause button develop an intimate relationship as the two interact every few seconds. This constant stopping and pausing of the scouting report can be cumbersome as the scout tape starts to turn into a short film that might be eligible for the "Best Short Film" award at the Oscars. I'll file the paperwork for next year's awards.

I love watching the scouting reports because it is interesting to see the tendencies of the players on film show up in the game, but there are only so many times I can see Archie Goodwin use a jab step to get to the rim. We do the scouting report at the end of team meals so after I've eaten a lot, and the eating part of the meal tends to last about 15 minutes before we delve into the scout which can last another 15 to 20 minutes. So being on a full stomach, with the lights dimmed and a hotel bed screaming my name can sometimes lead to drowsiness during the scouting report, but overall they are really well done.

This post is all out of love for Coach Rich (all of my posts are really, I love the opportunity I have had to meet different people throughout the program) and the job he does, especially since he complimented me on the blog the other day, but felt it was timely given that I nearly dozed off during the Auburn scout this past weekend.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Stuck in an Elevator With You

This past Saturday, there was a bit of a scare in the men's basketball program. At around 10:22 AM Central Time, myself, walk-on Andris Kehris, and strength coach Curtis Turner boarded an elevator on the second floor of The Hotel at Auburn University. As the elevator was attempting to close, Kevin Bright stuck his arm in the door but the door did not open fully, it only paused before shutting again. We pressed the button to go down but the elevator didn't move. We tried going up, but nothing. Occasionally, when someone called the elevator on the second floor the door would open a bit and we would see more members of the team heading to breakfast before eventually everyone had gone down without us.

We ultimately used the elevator phone to call the front desk and someone came to fix the elevator, but not before 20 minutes of captivity. During those 20 minutes, I really wasn't afraid of being stuck, I'd been stuck before and I had great company in Coach T and Andris, my biggest fear was our status, or lack thereof in the organizational hierarchy. The three of us exist somewhere towards the bottom of the hierarchy because we could all be pretty easily replaced and the team will still function fine without us and I will explain why that is so. It't not like the team was missing it's starting point guard or head coach, it was missing a senior manager, walk-on, and strength coach

I'll start off with Coach T. Curtis was the least expendable member of the travelling party. He actual had a valuable function to perform that day: stretch the team before the game, but before then his role was limited. He wondered aloud how long it would take for anyone to notice he was missing. While Coach T was needed for the game, we could have brought in a temp strength coach that night or had the players lead their own stretching. It would have been tough to survive without Coach T motivating the team during stretching, but again not an absolutely essential loss.

Some members of the team (i.e. Nate Watkins) would have been fine if Andris stayed stuck in the elevator, but I was glad he was with me. Andris is incredibly confrontational, he sees a debate or argument in almost every statement made by someone else. He and Nate often get into arguments as Andris spews pro-Latvian propaganda while Nate retorts with conservatism, Southern Pride, and a dash of American exceptionalism. Andris has said, "Nate still believes the Confederacy won the Civil War despite historical fact disputing such non-sense." I find the debates highly entertaining, but Nate was probably relieved Andris was stuck in the elevator while Andris was relieved he didn't have to hear Nate talk about the South being the center of the Earth.

In addition to his confrontational nature, Andris is expendable because he is the 14th man on a 15 man roster (he's not 15th because Eric McClellan is ineligible this year). Andris is our scout team center, but he really only stands at 6'6" or so, so he's not really a center. Andris claims he was a great wing scorer at the Rec Center prior to joining the team, so clearly his skills are not being maximized as the scout team center. Due to his lack of size as a five-man, and the coaching staff's reluctance to unleash him on the perimeter, Andris is probably the least likely walk on to appear in a close game, making him the player least needed on gameday.

I'll finish off with myself, I am easily the most expendable member of the program at this point and it is not even close. I have about a week and a half left with the program, so I'm essentially dead weight at this point. I still go through the motions of productivity, but consider this like senioritis for managers. I've worked hard for three and a half years and put myself in a good position to get a job going forward so I'm just kind of coasting to the finish. The once great appeal of doing team laundry has faded with time, while the desire to just chill and do whatever the hell I want has increased. Though the desire to do what I want has always been strong, I'm pretty independent and don't really do things the same way a lot of others do them. Really, I'm just saving whatever gas I have left in my managerial tank for this blog and senior night.

Without me, the team easily could have found someone else to get stats during timeouts at the game that night. Unlike the mop, my role on the road is not highly skilled or hard to learn. I go to the scorer's table, pick up four stat sheets, and hand them out. It's not that difficult. While my current value was low, my future value was nil because I'm not returning for a fifth year as a manager. I easily could have been left behind and while the team would lose a valuable source of entertainment, they'd be fine, and I would get to go on a Spring Break cruise after being released from the elevator. I was quite expendable in that elevator and really questioned if there was some deeper meaning behind my captivity.

Ultimately we all returned to the team and took on our traditional roles with the program. They didn't throw a party upon our arrival at team breakfast, though there were croissants there and those were a really nice touch. Haven't had a good croissant in awhile, so I was glad they thought to include those in the meal. Next time, I'm stuck in an elevator though, I'm taking Kedren with me.

Myself staring at Andris, while Coach T snaps the photo

Saturday, March 2, 2013


As I mentioned in my last post, being a manager is not the most glorious job in the world. We don't get to play and we have to do a lot of busy tasks, errands, and laundry and so on but that is not the worst responsibility we have as managers in my opinion. My least favorite part of the job is pre-game shootaround, and it is not even close. The only thing that is close is which I hate more a home game shootaround or an away game shootaround? They both have their fair share of minuses, and I will detail them for you.

First I will take you through the worst part of a home shootaround. We are required to be at the gym 45 minutes before the shootaround begins. I wouldn't mind coming to the gym that early if there was actual stuff to do but we literally have to put five items on the court and shootaround is set up: gum, a few towels, balls, and water. That's it. We get set up in like 30 seconds, then just watch TV till shootaround is ready to begin. At an away shootaround we don't have to set anything up, it is all set up for us, but having to go to shootaround means leaving the hotel bed, and that is something I just hate to do. HATE. TO. DO. Sleeping in comfortable hotel beds as opposed to the broken egg crate mattress I usually sleep on is one of the great parts of travelling, so I cherish every moment I have in a hotel bed (I will dedicate a whole post to hotels later on), and shootaround deprives me of those precious moments.

Now for the similarities between the two. The one part of shootaround I do really enjoy is rebounding for the guys. I will sometimes joke around, sometimes clap, and always get hit by a flying airball at least once (Carter I'm looking at you). We shoot around for about 10 minutes then move into groups: post guys and perimeter guys. I always rebound for the post players, not because I can identify with playing the post, but because I occasionally get called into run the pick and roll. I think I do a pretty good job of emulating a game speed pick and roll, but the coaches don't always feel the same way myself and the players do about my abilities. We also have only 4 true post players on our team so there's so much less chaos, much more relaxed vibe on that end. It's also worth the price of admission just to see the inevitable Andris (Kehris, our walk-on from Latvia) horribly missed reverse layup when we work on post moves.

After we finish the 20 total minutes of shooting, that is when utter boredom sets in. The managers have no role in the shootaround for the last 40 minutes, our presence there is highly questionable, and I look for any alternative activity to sticking around for those last 40 minutes. During the last 40 minutes, the team typically runs our plays 5 on 0, go over the other team's plays, shoot free throws, and other non-live activities. There is nothing exciting to watch because I've seen us run the plays since October and our free throw shooting hasn't exactly been a sight worth seeing this year (no offense guys).

At home during those last 40 minutes, I usually go downstairs to set up game coolers, team meal, or do team laundry. Those activities aren't exactly stimulating, but compared to the alternative they are actually quite exciting. On the road, I get much more adventurous. My first order of business is hitting up press row or scout seating. I always look to see if anyone cool is coming to the game that I might want to talk to later, so that's the first thing I look at. Second, I will usually tell Rob our head manager that I need to use the bathroom and while that is true most of the time, I turn a trip to the bathroom into an aimless wander around the arena. I always poke around underneath looking for any stray T-Shirts, hoping to catch a peak into the locker room, or if I'm lucky running into someone to talk to.

After those two things have been done, we are typically 20 minutes away from finishing and that is when I look to socialize with others. My go to socializing option is our strength coach Curtis Turner. Coach T is the best in the business and not only because he gets our guys jacked up, but he has some penetrating insights into the team and life in general. One of the top people I've met to shoot the shit with, no subject is off limits with Coach T and we cover them all during a standard road shootaround. It can range from whether the sideline reporter for the game is hot to what food we hope is included in pre-game meal. If Coach T is busy, I'll usually talk to Tim Thompson our radio color guy and exchange thoughts on the team or basketball in general. Our radio staff is fantastic. If Tim and Curtis are unavailable, I'll make the reluctant decision to chat with my other managers. The decision isn't reluctant because I dislike my fellow managers, I actually love them, but more because if I'm chatting with them there's a much higher chance of me being asked to do something than if I'm with Coach T or Tim. So I typically try to avoid those interactions in an effort to conserve all of my energy for the game (that's not really the reason at all, but that's what I'm going with).

So to sum it up, I don't enjoy shootaround because it is a lot of time being committed for not a lot of responsibility. Whether it's the 40 minute early arrival time to set up five items or being dragged out of a wonderful dream in a magnificient hotel bed, shootaround just isn't my thing, but if that's the least favorite part of my job, then I have a pretty damn good job.

Friday, March 1, 2013

FREE FOOD and its Effect on My P-Bod

One night during my freshman year, I went out with some friends to what was then called Varsity Grille and has since changed names about seven times. On this night there was this really hot girl who was pretty into me, if we are being quite honest and at one point during the night she told me, "you have the perfect body for my type. Perfect". She was pretty drunk when she said that, but hey, drunk actions are sober thoughts right? Needless to say, it is not every day that I got comments like that on my 5'10", roughly 170 pound physique. It was quite an honor, and it is something I have tried to live up to ever since.

In my attempts to live up to that Perfect Body (or P-Bod for short) reputation, I have attempted to eat healthier at times and work out a decent amount. I've never been overweight or totally out of shape, but I've had some periods of pseudo-intense fitness that last somewhat long, I still workout a decent amount and eat relatively healthy. The biggest obstacle though to my P-Bod maintenance has been the free food I get from the program, particularly on the road. If there is food in front of me, and it's free, I'm going to eat it.

A given road trip starts off with a pre-flight meal before we leave for our destination. The food at this meal varies from Famous Dave's BBQ to Outback Steakhouse to Amerigo's restaurant. My personal favorite is Famous Dave's. Fantastic ribs, great cole slaw, and a killer banana pudding. I always feel bloated after eating it, but that is part of the appeal. Amerigo's comes in second just for their garlic crackers with the Spinach and Artichoke dip. It is absolutely phenomenal.

After we leave the gym, once we get on the airplane they give us a bag of snacks. I usually don't eat much eat on the plane but I am a sucker for the rice krispie treats. Upon arriving at our destination, we have a snack that consists of sandwiches and chips... and ice cream sundaes. I of course skip over the sandwich and head right to the Sundaes, the best ones come with strawberry sauce and rainbow sprinkles, indulging in a late night treat.

The next day we have a team breakfast, I usually go with eggs, hash browns, and 3 to 4 pieces of french toast, then a pre-game meal which is like chicken, steak, mac and cheese, etc with more ice cream for desert. Then after the game we usually each get our own box of pizza and then there is more food on the plane. That is a lot of food over a 24 hour period, but it's always so good.

The real killer is Tournaments. The SEC Tournament last year was just a shit show for me. We had 4 meals a day, all buffet style and I was just eating. And eating. And shitting. Then eating some more. It was like being in heaven, just surrounded by free food at all times. I couldn't get enough. I put on 6 pounds in 5 days at the Tournament, it was really bad, but so worth it at the same time.

So as my time with the program winds down and my access to free all-you-can-eat meals goes to zero, I'm hoping I make the maintenance of my perfect body a full-time priority. There are girls out there just waiting to see what I have left to sculpt, and I just can't disappoint them.