Friday, June 21, 2013


With seemingly every type of wife getting their own TV show these days, I decided it was time for the Vanderbilt Basketball wives to get some love as well. So after a lot of back and forth, deciding whether to do this post, after talking to Eric McClellan, he encouraged me to go ahead with it. So this post looks at the women behind the scenes of Vanderbilt basketball. Every man has a woman in their life that has some significant impact over them, and this post looks at those (in)directly affiliated with the men's basketball team. Enjoy meeting this cast of unique and beautiful characters.

So I'm going to start off this post by introducing... well nobody, because I'm not actually writing this post. The only reason I even created this post is because some of our players begged me not to do, so I wanted to picture the reactions on some of their faces or what they were saying as they read the first paragraph: "That's low bro, this shit is not funny" and so on. It's basically the same reason I did the April Fool's post on Kedren Johnson. So for those of you who actually believed I would share your private lives on my blog, all I have to say is "Gotcha bro(s)".

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Three Amigos: Nick, Hagan, and Kasey

Last week, during the blog's list week, I did a post on the 10 coolest people I've Met Through Managing, but purposefully left two people off of that list, because I couldn't adequately describe them in a paragraph or two. Those two people are Hagan Southworth and Kasey McRay, our manager Nick Souder's best friends from growing up. Kasey is a rising senior at Louisville and manager of their basketball team, while Hagan is at Kentucky majoring (I think) in something having to do with horses or equine care. I can't quite be sure, because academics are rarely a discussion around Hagan.

These two guys are both memorable for me, but in completely different ways because they are almost exact opposites as people with Nick straddling the middle with a slight lean toward being more like Hagan. I will probably stay in touch with them both going forward, but more so with Hagan because he spends most of his time on his feet as opposed to his knees like Kasey does.

When describing Hagan, just imagine an even more outrageous version of myself. We get along so well because we both really don't care what other people think of us. We are going to be who we are and if you want to be around us, great, if not then that's fine too. We aren't going to change who we are for anybody, and we both have impeccable storytelling abilities. Not only can we both tell good stories, but we will both do things solely for the sake of the story involved with doing such a thing, not because we have any actual interest in doing it. Like the time Hagan decided to flirt with a girl who was rather unattractive before concluding "well her body is a solid seven and her face a solid two, so I guess she's a 4.5." Meeting Marshall Henderson falls into this category as well, although we both have a fascination for Marshall because he embodies everything we wish to be and gets away with it. Just Marshall Henderson doing Marshall Henderson things.

Hagan is the kind of friend you have where nothing truly surprises you when you hear from or about him. If Nick were to tell me Hagan was put in a chokehold while attempting to break into a federal prison, I can't say I would honestly be surprised. I'd just be like, "O Hagan, being Hagan" kind of like people said with Manny Ramirez and "Manny being Manny" with the difference being Manny was getting paid millions of dollars to be Manny while Hagan makes most of his income betting on horses at the Keeneland racetrack.
The guys around the team like Hagan for the same reasons they like me, cause we are both honest and genuine, nothing about either of us is fake, and they like Kasey for exactly the opposite reasons.

Kasey is sort of like our head manager Rob Cross. I have never seen Kasey work with the Louisville team, but can only assume he would be like Rob, based on his interactions with our players. While Hagan wouldn't be caught dead kissing ass (unless of course he thought it would make a great story), Kasey is the king of showing the players how great they are and showering them with praise. He is like their homeboy, and treats them with a sort of reverence most people treat their idols with. And last year during our Rites of Spring music festival was exhibit A.

Kasey and Hagan came down to Vanderbilt for the festival, and when some of the basketball players had people over in one of their dorms, Kasey was all over it. He kept telling Festus Ezeli "Bro, you are so good bro, you are so much better than any other center. You are going to the NBA, it's happening. You are going to make it" when he wasn't simultaneously telling Rod Odom, "Rod you are my boy. You're my boy for life. You're my boy" every five minutes. At one point Steve Tchiengang said to him in his deep, baritone voice, "Hey man, shut your mouth. You are talking too much." That didn't quiet Kasey down because we left the room soon after.

Kasey's dap-fest continued when we went out. To give someone dap is to basically acknowledge their presence and say whats-up to them. I personally feel like a person should give me know more than two daps in a night: one when they first see me and one when they leave, but Kasey and one of our other managers Rafi Goldman are dapaholics. They dap like nothing I've ever seen. We get to the club. Dap. I take a leak. Dap. I talk to a girl, mid conversation. Dap. I get dapped out around them, it's just too much.

While that is one side to Kasey, there is another, contradictory side, and that is the superfan side. I admire Kasey because he is the most steadfast supporter of an athletic program I have ever seen. He lives, breathes, and eats Louisville sports and his tweets and Facebook statuses serve as a constant reminder to the rest of us that Louisville has the best athletics program in the country, and it is hard to argue, based on the year they have had (Sugar Bowl win, women's basketball national runner ups, baseball in Omaha, and men's basketball Big East and national champs). And anyone that dares cross the beloved Cardinal red is in for a lashing out, like former Kentucky star Doron Lamb who dared to predict UConn would beat Louisville and after Louisville won, was promptly called a retard by Kasey.

Kasey wants to be a college coach and I have no doubt he will be a good one. He is passionate and knows basketball, but most importantly he believes in the place he works for and what he does and that is the key to building a culture anywhere.

So while they didn't make the list of the 10 coolest people I met due to space constraints, consider Hagan and Kasey numbers 11 and 12 on that list.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I've Been Everywhere Man

As the last post during List Week, this post looks at the extensive travelling done by the men's basketball team. Being a manager has allowed me to see places I may not otherwise get to, and I have seen a great deal of this country, particularly the south as a result. So in this post, I break down the mileage I have logged in my two years travelling with the team by reviewing our schedule from the 2011-12 seasons. Check out just how far we have gone (NOTE: The mileage only includes the miles it takes to fly/drive to a given town, so bus rides from airports to hotels/arenas/etc are not included):

2011-12 SEASON

Legends Classic, East Rutherford, New Jersey: 1772 miles round trip

@ Louisville; Louisville, Kentucky: 348 miles round trip

@Davidson; Charlotte, North Carolina: 818 miles round trip

@Marquette; Milwaukee, Wisconsin: 1120 miles round trip

@South Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina: DID NOT GO -- SICK

@Alabama; Tuscaloosa, Alabama: 494 miles round trip

@Arkansas; Fayetteville, Arkansas: 1058 miles round trip

@Florida; Gainesville, Florida: 1156 miles round trip

@Ole Miss; Oxford, Mississippi: 468 miles round trip

@Georgia; Athens, Georgia: 610 miles round trip

@Kentucky; Lexington, Kentucky: 426 miles round trip

@Tennessee; Knoxville, Tennessee: 360 miles round trip

SEC Tournament; New Orleans, Louisiana: 1068 miles round trip

NCAA Tournament; Albuquerque, New Mexico: 2434 miles round trip

TOTAL = 12,132 Miles traveled for me during 2011-12 season

2012-13 SEASON

@Oregon; Nashville to Salt Lake City then Salt Lake to Eugene Oregon: 2407 miles one way

Returning from Oregon, AKA the trip from hell, which you can read about here:

Eugene, Oregon to Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles to Nashville: 3,077 miles one way

@Old Spice Classic; Orlando, Florida: 1378 miles round trip

@Xavier; Cincinnatti, Ohio: 542 miles round trip

@Arkansas; Fayetteville, Arkansas: 1058 miles round trip

@South Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina: 882 miles round trip

@Missouri; Columbia, Missouri: 864 miles round trip

@Tennessee; Knoxville, Tennessee: 360 miles round trip

@LSU; Baton Rouge, Louisiana: 1174 miles round trip

@Kentucky; Lexington, Kentucky: 426 miles round trip

@Mississippi State; Starkville, Mississippi: 572 miles round trip

@Auburn; Auburn, Alabama: 604 miles round trip

@Florida; Gainesville, Florida: 1156 miles round trip

@SEC Tournament; Nashville, Tennessee: 11.4 miles total for 3 games there

TOTAL = 14,511.4 Miles traveled

So to sum it up, over the course of two seasons travelling with the team, I have logged 26,643 miles of travel for team related activities. That is the equivalent to about 9.2 trips cross country from New York City to San Francisco. I have been to 21 different cities across the US (literally), from East Rutherford, New Jersey to Eugene, Oregon. I have seen places I never knew existed before arriving at Vanderbilt or never imagined I'd ever end up in (this primarily applies to Starkville and Oxford, Mississippi).

This wasn't a tour of America's most well known cities or the nicest, but I got to see parts of the country I hadn't been before (and I've been to many, as I went on a bus trip across the US while in high school) and ones I probably won't end up in again. Being a part of a college basketball team is not only a unique experience in seeing what a high-major Division I program is like, but also in getting to explore the country. As a manager, I got to see more of the places we went than most of our players because during down time, I didn't need to rest up for the game, I could actually do and see things.

Some of the highlights of my travels include:

  • Hot air ballooning with my dad in New Mexico
  • Getting invited by the front office of the Milwaukee Bucks to attend a practice while in Milwaukee
  • A night out in Gainesville, Florida
  • Walking around Oregon's campus and their athletic facilities 
  • Meeting the different groups of people I talk about in this post and in this one
  • The heated pool in Baton Rouge with spraying hoses
  • Disney World
  • Bus tour of New Orleans and a po-boi sandwich there, as well as the World War II Museum
  • Skyline Chili in Cincinnati
  • The Muhammad Ali Museum in Louisville
  • The 9/11 Memorial in New York City
I've been everywhere man, and here is a map to prove it (I created a Google Map, with the places I've been marked off, it's pretty cool if I may say so myself).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ranking the SEC Arenas

One of the coolest parts of being a manager is travelling with the team and experiencing the different arenas across the college basketball landscape. In this post I will rank all of the opposing SEC venues, in order, from "Don't bother seeing a game there" to "Absolutely must go" (NOTE: Have not been to Texas A+M's Reed Arena and Memorial Gym is not included here, so there are 12 arenas in all). Also, as I mentioned in this post on photography, I try to take a picture in each arena we play in, so I have included those photos here as well.


Maybe it was the fact that the game took place at 12:30 on a Sunday afternoon and people were either at Church or hungover, but the attendance for our game vs UGA last year was pathetic. You could literally count the number of people in each section and add it up in your head. That's how poorly attended the game was. There were so few students there that I was able to steal T-shirts from like 2 whole rows of their student section without anyone caring. Some people call the arena "The Stegosaurus" and it certainly lives down to that nickname as it is ancient and lacking in any atmosphere whatsoever.

Stegeman Coliseum


In terms of the actual facility the "Tad Pad" is the worst in the SEC. It is a big circular dome that looks like a classic cookie cutter arena from the 60's, which it is. It has lights that hang down from the high ceilings like you might find in a dilapidated high school gymnasium, and the lighting is very poor. I mean the lights even went out during a game versus Arkansas this year. The fans had a little passion when we played them, but since we absolutely destroyed them they looked to entertain themselves in new ways by throwing ice and popcorn onto the court. I wouldn't recommend going here, but next year it might be a good time just to see Marshall Henderson in his friendly confines.

Tad Pad (notice the hanging lights)


There was a decent crowd at our game in Tuscaloosa two years ago, the problem is that their arena is not conducive to any type of atmosphere whatsoever . They do have this fan who holds up a fathead of himself underneath one of the baskets,

but outside of him the biggest cheers of the night were for Bama football center Barrett Jones who was honored at halftime. The arena feels like an airplane hangar and the fans feel very distant from the court, and when you combine that with the football first mentality of the school, you get a poor game experience.

Coleman Coliseum


I would probably put "The Hump" lower but I am cutting their fans some slack for this year. They had a team that was hit with more injuries than any I have ever seen and was devoid of SEC-level talent. Combine that with their 40 point loss to us, and you get an absolutely dead building. Myself, Coach Turner, and some others on the bench spent most of the game speculating on how a female who was a perfect ten ended up sitting courtside with a guy who was like a five. Coach T concluded he must have owned a big farm or something around the Starkville area in order for something like that to take place.

A very empty Humphrey Coliseum


Unlike the 4 arenas listed above it on this list, Auburn Arena is not a decrepit facility. It was built a few years ago and is actually really nice, but it feels weird. The arena is very spacious and for the amount of room it takes up, it could definitely seat a lot more fans than it does, but when you struggle to even fill up the current capacity, there is no need for more seats. That program has a certain lifelessness about it, epitomized by the fact that there is a suite area in the arena dedicated solely to football tailgating. That tells you all you need to know about Auburn.

Auburn Arena


The Gamecocks have a pretty big arena, but have not fielded a good team in recent years to support it. Nothing really stands out about this arena other than this flag waving hippie who is at every game and stomps his feet and bangs on the stands when South Carolina is doing well. I feel like if Frank Martin builds a good team, this could be a tough place to play.

Colonial Life Arena


Inside the Maravich Assembly Center, it has a very futuristic feel to it. It kind of feels like you are in an arena  that belongs on a spaceship. It is hard to describe, but it is a cool feeling. The best part of the arena is the Tiger Call they do before the game. They bring their band out and have essentially a five minute drum roll introduction. It is BY FAR the best intro they have in the SEC. It is very creative and different, as most teams play some type of hip-hop music but they dim the lights and have the band do an incredible performance. Fun stuff.

Pete Maravich Assembly Center


I like Thompson Boling, it is a really nice arena, but to me it feels more like an NBA arena than a college arena. It is an enormous arena, that feels a bit cavernous at times because it is so large, it doesn't have that kind of in-your-face, tough-to-play-in feeling that other arenas do. Since we are rivals with UT, the atmosphere at all our games there has been very good, but it doesn't get to quite the noise level of the arenas ahead of it on this list. Maybe it has something to do with the acoustics, I'm not sure, but having said all that I would definitely advise seeing a Vandy-UT game there for the rivalry though.

Thompson Boling Arena


Mizzou Arena is relatively new, having been built in the mid-2000's and it is a beautiful arena. It seats around 15,000 but feels very cozy and everybody feels close to the floor. The most impressive part of Mizzou Arena is how knowledgeable the fans are. I mentioned the "Mizzou Antlers" in this post and how they made personalized signs taunting each of our players. They went the extra mile to get info on us, and they did. Also, that weekend there was a big football recruit in town and the fans were chanting his name during a timeout. When the fans know their stuff, it makes the game more fun and the atmosphere better. Not to mention the Mizzou Golden Girls Dance team is the hottest in the league.

Mizzou Arena


Bud Walton Arena is known as "the basketball palace of Mid-America" and while I wouldn't go so far as to call it a palace, it is a very unique arena. Everything about the arena is designed to make the opposing team feel uncomfortable. For an arena of its dimensions, BWA has the most seats per capita of any arena its size. They jam them in there, and mainly in the lower bowl. Also, the Hog logo at mid-court is enormous, the scoreboard hangs very low over center court, and the out of bounds lines are very thick, making you feel like you are crammed in. The arena fits with their "40 minutes of hell" style of play that is all about making the opponent uncomfortable, and their fans are pretty rowdy too. All in all, a very fun place to watch a game.

Bud Walton Arena (notice the enormous logo)


The O'Dome is a very weirdly designed arena. The way the seats are designed there, it is almost like the stands go up straight vertically instead of at an incline. It feels like everybody is right on top of the court, and for the fans in the front row, they literally are right on the court. The fans behind our bench can see into our huddle and are relentless in their taunting of Coach Stallings, especially if he loses it during a timeout. They let him have it. The front row of their student section, the Rowdy Reptiles is also practically on top of the court, and Kedren Johnson called it the toughest place to play because of how everybody is so close to the action. Combine that with the humidity in the arena and chlorine smell, due to it being attached to the swimming complex and you get a unique environment. The fact that Gainesville (click on that link for an epic tale of a night out at UF) is a great town, and the Dazzler dance team lives up to their name and dazzled everyone on our bench, certainly doesn't hurt.



I am going to just quote from my post on Kentucky for this section. Simply put, if you love college basketball, you must see a game here:

"Later in the season we went to Rupp and that was my first personal experience there. We lost the game but I was astounded by the arena and the atmosphere. Rupp is old and dumpy, but it seats 22,000 people who absolutely love their team. It's not that UK fans are the most rowdy or rabid bunch (I think Arkansas and Florida fans are more vocal), but the sheer number of them is overwhelming. 

It is 22,000 people wearing blue and while the fans aren't necessarily screaming the whole time, when UK is struggling, the entire building rises up as one and it is like you are competing against not just the five guys on the court but the entire arena. It is a hard feeling to explain but you almost feel like the fans are injecting their passion and will into the team during certain moments, it's like they are refusing to let them lose, no matter what. When the fans start standing and cheering during crunch time, they can almost will the team to victory and it is a magical thing to witness, even if you are on the other side."

Rupp Arena

Friday, June 14, 2013

10 Coolest (Non-Vandy) People I've Met Through Managing

To start off list week, I did a list of the 10 most famous people I've met through being a manager and my experiences meeting them. That got a lot of traction thanks to including Marshall Henderson on the list, as well as a Twitter shout-out from Gary Parrish of CBS Sports, before unveiling the best Ricky Reno quotes yesterday.

Now in today's post, I will discuss the ten coolest people I've met through being a manager, who are not in anyway affiliated with the basketball program (since the majority of my other posts are dedicated to those people). These are ten people who I probably never would have come across if I wasn't a manager, and people who I have not only met, but established friendships and relationships with that I hope will last for a long time. Without further ado, here it goes (NOTE: I will include their Twitter handle at the bottom of the paragraph describing each person so you can follow them on there). Also, they are just numbered, this is not a "coolness" ranking cause they are all pretty cool:


The first time I met Drew was toward the end of my sophomore year when he was working John Jenkins out at Memorial. My first thought upon seeing him was 'who is this guy?' And when I later found out over the summer that he was a Belmont basketball player who also happened to own his own basketball skills training company, called Pure Sweat, I was blown away. Most kids in college have no idea what they want to do until they graduate and even then many people don't have an idea, but here was this guy who was not only a Division I athlete with that crazy commitment but also had his own business and counted the Golden State Warriors' David Lee among his clients.

I was so intrigued by Drew that I reached out to him via Twitter because I wanted to do a story on him for Dime Magazine, where I was interning at the time. I ended up doing a big feature on him for the magazine, which you can read here (pages 34-35), and upon interviewing him became even more impressed. I have never met anybody as confident in themselves as Drew who worked relentlessly to back that confidence up.

The thing about Drew is, you never know where to find him. He is always on the move whether it be visiting one of his NBA clients (which include John, David Lee, Orlando Johnson, and Bradley Beal) or running a clinic, he just never stops working. He "lives" in St. Louis but is hardly there enough to really call him a resident.

I have a ton of respect for Drew not only for his work ethic and ability as a trainer, but for the way he really cares about his clients. He doesn't charge a set rate to them, but rather asks them to pay him what they think his work is worth because for him if he does a good job, the money takes care of itself. Also, if a player is having a problem with their game or needs to work on it, he is readily available to go visit them, watch film, or talk it through. He is also that way with his friends, always willing to help out or give advice, and I am lucky to call him a good friend.

Follow Drew @drewhanlen and @puresweat


During my internship with Dime Magazine, I learned one of the hardest parts of conducting an interview is getting your subject to feel comfortable with you so that they open up to you. If the person you are interviewing doesn't feel comfortable with you, your story is probably not going to be so good. Well, Wes Rucker of has this down to an art.

I've never met a beat writer, and I've met a lot, who knows more about the people or the program he covers than Wes does. He is an incredibly talented writer, but his best ability is his ability to relate to people and establish relationships with his subjects. He is a wealth of knowledge of all things Tennessee and any time we played them, I would always make sure to catch up with him just because I loved to hear him tell stories. He just knows so much and it's not just about the game, but about the program, the culture, and the people involved. I could listen to him speak for hours.

Last year, when I was working on a feature for Dime on Jarnell Stokes (you can read it here, pages 24-26), I called Wes for some background and he gave me 27 minutes of info on Stokes. It was crazy, and just great  anecdotes. I think the quote that sums up Wes for me is one Cuonzo Martin told him. After Cuonzo got the job, he sat down for an interview with Wes and picked Wes' brain about the players on the Vols' roster. Later in the season Cuonzo told Wes he batted about .900 with his assessments. The guy just gets it. And if any of you want to learn anything about UT, just approach the guy with the beard in the press box at the next Vandy-UT game, you won't be disappointed.

Follow Wes @wesrucker247


As someone who dreamed of playing in the NBA when younger, before that dream came crashing down around the 8th grade, I have always wanted to be a part of the best basketball in the world. When my playing dream died, a few years later I knew I wanted to ultimately become the General Manager of an NBA team. Through managing the Vanderbilt program, primarily thanks to having three NBA players during my tenure, I have gotten to meet tons of NBA front office personnel.

Hopefully next year I will have a job working in some NBA front office and the contacts I've made through managing will surely play a big part in that if it happens. Last year during the draft, five or six teams called me asking about players from the SEC and picking my brain and I had to pinch myself to make sure it happened. One team though, the Milwaukee Bucks, went above and beyond and invited me to observe their draft workouts for what made for three of the best days of my life.

I got to sit in their draft meetings, their interviews with players, and they asked my opinion on everything. It was surreal, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to their entire front office for not only welcoming me, but while there treating me like a member of the team. It was special and they are a special group of people who I want to acknowledge here: John Hammond, Jeff Weltman, Billy McKinney, Dave Babcock, Jon Horst, Dave Dean, and Jon Nichols.

Follow the Bucks @bucks, Jon Nichols @jon_e_nichols, Dave Dean @bellaclyde


I met Alexa through John Jenkins and his freshman year roommate, Wes Tate. Alexa was a friend of theirs from high school and would hang out at their dorm during our freshmen year a lot and I got to know her well. We became friends primarily because at the time we met, she had just gotten a concussion and I had one in high school, and it was nice for both of us to talk to someone who went through the same things because unless you have a concussion, you really can't explain what it's like to someone else.

From there we become very close, and she is the type of person and friend who I feel comfortable talking about anything with. And there are very few friends each of us have that we have that level of comfort with and for me, she is one of them. She will always give advice or offer to help in a given situation and is brutally honest, which is nice because so many people I know are full of crap. She's a great friend, who I'm really glad I've gotten to know.

Follow Alexa @miss_alexa


This group of people is one I won't necessarily stay in touch with, but the collection of fans from opposing student sections that I've met on the road is really cool. When I have some down time before each road game, I always try to go over and talk to the people at the front of the opposing student section. If I wasn't a manager, I'd be in their position: front row for every game. The people that sit front row are usually incredibly passionate about their team and also very knowledgeable. I would argue that student fans are some of the most knowledgeable groups of fans out there.

Some of my favorite student sections were Kentucky, because they are just crazy fans in general, Oregon because their fans were very creative, and Xavier where I met some guys there who were just total and complete basketball junkies. I loved chatting with them because they just knew there stuff, and they were basketball nerds like me.

I think the most knowledgeable fans were the Mizzou Antlers. These fans had signs for every single one of our players, including Andris Kehris, our walk-on who was not even eligible yet. The funniest sign though was directed at Rod Odom. Rod was supposed to get a car around the time of that game, but there had been complications and he tweeted about his disappointment over not having his car. So the Antlers' made a sign saying "Sorry about your car Rod, you just have to walk now like the rest of us". To stalk our guys on Twitter, that is real dedication.

Follow Xavier fans @morethanafolan1 and @AJB_xu ; Follow Mizzou Antlers @the_antlers


It is always cool to see Vanderbilt alumni in the world of sports, but it is especially cool when an alumni lives in Nashville and happens to cover Vanderbilt as part of his job. For those who don't know, Mitch oversees the Athlon Sports magazine and does the pre-game football radio show as well as sideline reporting in games. Mitch has not only been great in helping me out with looking for possible internships in the past, but he is a good source of info on the other Vanderbilt teams.

Due to his status at Athlon and with his football coverage, Mitch provides information about the other programs and it is interesting to hear his take on a number of issues. He comes to practice quite a bit and is always willing to talk and as I move out of Nashville, I will definitely be relying more on Mitch for the inside scoop now.

Follow Mitch @AthlonMitch


Like with Mitch, Lee is a Vanderbilt alumni in the sports business, but he covers the NBA for Sports Illustrated. It's not a bad gig when you fly around the country doing feature pieces for one of the top sports publications in the world and getting to meet and spend time with NBA players. In fact, it's pretty awesome. Lee has been very helpful for me as I look to start a career in the NBA, giving me little tidbits and advice on what to expect on the various personalities across the league.

Follow Lee @SI_LeeJenkins


I may have met Gabby at some point if it weren't for basketball, but I probably wouldn't have become good friends with her. She is just a quality person, through and through. I don't think Gabby has a bad bone in her body. She is so nice and friendly with everyone and has a great sense of humor. While Gabby played for our women's team, since she wasn't part of the men's program, she can be included on this list.

Gabby and I get along really well because we both keep the proper perspective on things relating to basketball. Basketball took up most of our time in college, but it's not the be all and end all of our lives. At the end of the day, there are things a lot more important than basketball and we both realize that. Gabby is also one of those people who I always feel I'm on the same page with. We have a lot of similar observations and views on the people and events surrounding us, and it's funny to exchange stories because we have overlapping friend groups. I'm really glad I got to know her, particularly over this last year, she's a great person.


Jaafar is Steve Tchiengang's agent and is based out of Orlando. After I did a Dime Magazine story on Steve, Jaafar reached out to me last year and we met at a workout of Steve's in South Florida last summer. When we were in Orlando this year for the Old Spice Classic, Jaafar suggested we try to get together and meet. When I had met him in the summer, we only spoke for a few minutes, so I didn't think this meeting would last more than 30 minutes and it took place late at night so I was quite tired.

However, after five minutes, Jaafar and I really clicked. As an agent from a small firm, he has an interesting perspective on college athletics. He is not part of a big agency that gets 7 to 8 players each draft class, but he has to rely on getting one or two, and those are guys who aren't surefire NBA players. He has to try to sell guys like Steve to the NBA and also get them to sign with him out of college despite not having the name recognition of other agents. We ended up chatting for almost 3 hours about all sorts of topics ranging from draft prospects to guys he was targeting to Mediterranean food. After the meeting, I was glad I didn't just go to bed that night, but took the time to meet with Jaafar.

Follow Jaafar @KingSportsG


Coach Massey was John's high school coach at Station Camp, which is about 25 minutes from Vanderbilt. He came to most of our home games while John was at Vandy and a number of practices as well, and since we were both close to John we bounced ideas off of each other about ways we could potentially help him get even better. That evolved into more lengthy conversations about basketball, and I will always appreciate a call I got from him last December.

Sometime in December, he had texted me saying that he was frustrated with his team, particularly his best players' effort, in their last few games. I suggested that in the next game if that happened to sit those players and play whoever you know will play hard and don't worry about the result. I told him to be willing to take a loss in order to prove a point (my favorite NBA team, the Nets, had done that once with their star players sitting them in the second half after an embarassing first half effort - that's where the idea came from) and the next game he did that... except he won.

So he called me after the game and said, "You just got your first win as a coach. I did what you said and we pulled it out... A newspaper guy asked me why I played so many young kids and I told him I talked to a good friend and he said you've got to play who plays hard, and those guys were playing hard, and it worked." It was really cool for him not only to thank me, but give me credit for a win. I'll always remember that phone call

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Definitive Ricky Reno Quote Collection

As I said in the intro to my post yesterday, this is a week of lists and favorites on the Managing Memorial blog. And today, I present to you not just a list, but a collection of brilliance uttered from the mouth of our own Ricky Reno. Ricky is the head maintenance man at Memorial Gym, and I encourage you to read this post before delving into the quotes below. Please enjoy:


"I'M BIG PIMPIN Y'ALL. BIG PIMPIN' IN THE BUILDING. Got this whole outfit for $13."


"Now, Rod, you know big daddy goin to that NBA now. You gonna need to step up when daddy is gone, you need to be da new daddy Rod. John he gone, it's you now Rod. Needa be scorin some buckets next year, no more bullshittin now Rod. You needa step up, be da man, be dat big man now that daddy's gone. He ain't here no more Rod, you still here. John he gone. He makin money, he gone, he not comin back. Need big things from you Rod. Big things. Real big things. Be out there workin hard cause yous da man, you got that Rod? Yous da man."


"66-40 ain't that a bitch! Y'all need to find some other school to be playin' at, I can't be cleaning up for no losers. This shit is unacceptable, can't be havin this no more, nuh uh."

Rod Odom asks: Rick, you know Rob likes them ratchet girls?

Ricky: "Well you know some of them ratchets they be good for me some times. Those pretty lookin girls always be asking for something all the time. Buy me dinner, buy me lunch. Always needin money, well I need sex ho! The ugly ones always just happy to be with me, they know they lucky so they ain't so demanding on me. It be kinda nice sometimes."

"There was one time when I was here during the summer and I got stuck in one of dem elevators. It was like 3:00 in the mornin and it was the summer and it was real hot. I was one of the only people in the gym and I kept screamin 'Hellllllllpppppppppp. Helllllppppppppppp.' I was like one of those people in the 9/11 just screamin "Hellllllllppppppp. Helllllpppppppp'. Finally got out of there but you know I was real scared up in there"

"Girls be like buses, you miss one, you get the next one"


"I'm watchin' the game with my friends and you be at that foul line and I'm tellin them you gonna make those shots cause every night you up there in the gym with Rob shootin them free throws. Swish. Swish. Swish. Then you in the game, everybody watchin, the bright lights and I'm like 'you got this'. Then it's CLANK, CLANK, and you missin them bitches. Come on now, can't be doin' clank, clank, all that time you practicin'"


"Y'all need to be payin real close attention right now. You see that team out there, that team is some winners. They be winnin' the whole thing, the best team. Y'all are not the best team. You need to learn from them, listen to them, watch them, you can't be missin any of this. I need to be workin for a team like this, so you need to watch this and learn."


"You always eatin that Chinese food in here late at night. It stinkin' up the place, that shit stink. I need to start callin you Ching-Dong, Ding-Dong all that food you be eatin. You eatin' food and leavin it in here smelling, no wonder your girl never come around here no more. Y'all be bringin girls in here and they seein this shit, and they like 'Nuh uh, can't be messin with this man no more. This fuckin slob, nasty ass. Can't be havin it'.

And then your girls never come back, girls don't want to be with no man who can't take care of his shit. It just ain't attractive. If you lookin to bring a girl around, you need to clean your shit up, otherwise you just gonna be sittin here by yoself. No girl wanna see this shit, you wonder why you ain't have no girls around, look at this place. You ain't gettin laid, bringin no girls here. You can try to say, 'O baby, it's not that bad. I'm sorry I'll clean it up'. But one smell of this locker room and they get out, just nasty. Ain't got no time to here your bullshit."


"You my man, always lookin out for me. You know though I lost some weight last week. Lost myself a good 4 pounds so shouldn't be eatin this but you know I do love my sweets. Love myself some sweets."

(the next day, run into Ricky with my family, including my grandma who is anxious to know how expensive the cupcakes were because she had heard they were $5 each)

"Ma'am, I don't think they are that much ma'am. Five dollars seems a bit much for the cupcake. I'm thinkin more like $2.50 or $3 but I can assure you ma'am these are top, top o the line cupcakes. These are the real gourmet, top o the line cupcakes ma'am. These are the best cupcakes you gonna find, lots of icing on them. You know, if you lookin for a cheaper cupcake you can go down to the Cupcake Factory down on 6th Street, they got the cupcakes there for Dollar Fifty each. Not as much icing, but still some good cupcakes."


"You know I been here 13 years, don't know what they want my contract renewed aroun August. Tryin to come back, do you know (random name I don't know). Keep your ear to the ground, try to get yourself in on some of the gossip, some of the rumblins, see what they thinkin bout me. Tryin' to get that new contract."

(If Ricky is not back there will be program wide protests)


"Some women call me Big Papi, but I want you to call me Daddy Romance."

"I'm not one of those real possessive types you know. Not one of those clingy guys. If you want to get with your boyfriend, your cousin, your girlfriend, you know that don't matter to me. As long as I get me some lovin', everything's alright."

"You got any kids? O you got two daughters. Where's the daddy at? He a hit and run daddy? Maybe a Drive-By Papi?"

(after he hangs up the phone, talking to me)

"This one is six feet tall. A big boo. She kinda a  freaky young thang. 35 years old, already invitin me over. Met her payin my water bill yesterday. She was real into me."

"I keep my house to myself. It's a bachelor pad. Real fly. No roomates, no overnight visitors. Hit and quit. Can't support no one else."

"My other chick she 36 but she forgot my birthday so imma forget her lunch money next time she wants lunch. Keep her stomach growlin'."

"I'm goin to the new social club on Church Street for my birthday. Same club as the people who run the Jazz and Jokes Club downtown. My nephew says it's real nice. Goin' by myself in case I see somethin I like in there. If I bring a lady, can't bring no new lady back. Not takin that chance."

"I got some college students livin' next door and they got some fine young thangs comin' over on the weekends. Maybe I'm gonna ask them where they goin this weekend. Go out with them, spoil em with some of my old man money I get from hustlin them purses."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

10 Most Famous People I've Met Through Managing

This week on the blog will be a week of lists and favorite things. I am going to do four different posts, the first of which is this list. Being a manager allows you to meet all different types of people, and that is one of the coolest parts of the job, not only getting to know different people in the program, but meet people outside the program that you otherwise might not get to.

This list looks at the ten most famous people I've met due to being a manager (NOTE: they are not listed in order of their famousness, just numerically). Some people might think some of the things I talk about below are "unprofessional" or something along those lines, but I just love meeting people and if any of you saw these people, I'm sure you would have wanted to introduce yourself as well. Enjoy:


My meeting with the Texas Governor and former presidential nominee almost didn't happen because I walked right by him the first time I saw him. I was leaving our locker room to go to the media room down the hallway before our game versus Texas A+M this season and saw the Texas A+M head coach, Billy Kennedy, talking to someone and overheard him say, "And then I told the guy that my day job was governor of the great state of Texas, and turned around and it was Rick Perry.

Before deciding to introduce myself, I was thinking of a way to cleverly incorporate the word "oops" into my intro after Perry's infamous gaffe during a debate last year. I couldn't figure out a way to include that in the intro so I just went up to him and he was a nice guy. He was there because his son was a Vandy alum and he is a A+M alum so him and his son came to the game. We chatted about the high price of tuition and he asked if there was anything I could learn that could be worth $56,000 a year and I told him I hoped I was learning something. Then I asked him to sign my roster card and he did, but his autograph was not in script, it was in print. I wasn't sure how to interpret it at the time and it still befuddles me to this day.


Growing up, I lived outside of Washington, DC until I was 9, and since my dad was from New York, I was a New York sports fan despite growing up there. Those New York teams included the Knicks (when I moved to New Jersey, I became a die-hard Nets fan) and my favorite player was Allan Houston. I used to cut out photos of him from the New York Times to collect and I loved watching him play. This buzzer beater he hit in 1999 to beat the Miami Heat in the playoffs is one of my earliest basketball memories, and solidified him as my favorite player.

So last year when Houston was at one of our practices in New York, it was hard for me to contain my excitement. He was one of my childhood heroes and he was sitting like 10 feet away from me during one of our practices, I must say I was not focused at all on the job at hand. I shook his hand after practice, and it was a really cool moment for me.


Eugene, Oregon and the campus at the University of Oregon were two of my cities and campuses respectively, as I detailed in this blog post. Their athletic facilities including their arena were absolutely incredible and Phil Knight was responsible for them, as well as that small company known as Nike. When we were at shootaround and I saw a table at center court with placards that said "Reserved for Nike", I got my hopes up that Phil Knight would be at the game. He is one of the most influential people in sports over the last 50 years and has shaped the landscape of the apparel and shoe business forever. He is a genius and I was really hoping to meet him, and luckily I did.

I told him that the facilities he had built at Oregon were remarkable and what a great tribute they were to his alma mater and he was very nice and appreciative of my compliments. I then asked for a photo, and snapped one right before game time.


One of the worst games I ever had to sit through in my managerial career was our game at Arkansas this year when we lost 56 to 33. Every time I looked up it seemed we were either turning the ball over or Marshawn Powell was scoring, so the highlight of the game was when they showed Arkansas alum Cliff Lee on the big screen. As a Mets fan, I am all too familiar with just how good Lee is, so at halftime, in the 10 to 12 minutes or between when the team goes in the locker room and when they come out (only the head manager, Rob Cross, is allowed in, the rest of us stay on the court) so myself and one of the other managers, Brian Suh went over to introduce ourselves.


Ever since Vandy football lost the opener to South Carolina last year, I have been bitter toward their football program. We got jobbed on that missed pass interference call on Jordan Matthews and should have won that game. Anyway, when we were in Columbia for the basketball game this year, before the game Nick Souder mentioned that he saw Steve Spurrier walking around, and he was wearing some hideous garnet jacket. I then went on a quest to find the "Ole Ball Coach".

I have always been intrigued by Steve Spurrier as a coach known for his genius but also his infamous press conferences in which he will often call out members of the press. And I also had something to tell him. When I found Spurrier in some bourgeoisie booster room, I introduced myself and lied that my dad was a Florida alum and huge fan in order to get his attention so that I could drop the bombshell on him: IT WAS PASS INTERFERENCE AGAINST J-MATT!! Coach Spurrier laughed and said something along the lines of "I don't make the calls" at which time I said well to make up for that call, how about a photo, and he said, "Alright, but that doesn't mean I'm admitting it was a bad call young man" while chuckling.



Bobby Knight is a legend in college basketball and the reasons for that vary from his quasi-abusive practices as a coach to his unprecedented and sustained success at Indiana University. Coach Knight's reputation precedes him wherever he goes, and you can see immediately why he had made some enemies over the years. Coach Knight was broadcasting our game versus Kentucky this year at Memorial Gym (you may remember that as the game where he got confused about the difference between the shot-clock and game clock) and before the game, myself and a fellow manager, Rafi Goldman, wanted to meet him.

As you probably realize by now I'm the type of person that will go up and introduce myself to anyone (except that cute girl at the bar, then I get gun shy, but that is another topic entirely), but I'm not going to lie, going about this introduction was frightening. Rafi and I sat in the stands behind him for 10 minutes trying to figure out how to make our big move. 'Should we get pictures or autographs? Is it Mr. Knight or Coach Knight?' we asked each other during that time before realizing no approach would be any less intimidating than the other.

We waited until another person asked him for a photo before asking for one ourselves. He wasn't dismissive of us, but he certainly didn't embrace seeing us. It was like when one of the ESPN or ABC sideline reporters tries to interview Gregg Popovich during a game. He looks like he would rather be anywhere else and that is how Coach Knight was, as you will see in the picture below. He wasn't even looking at the camera and we got out of there as soon as we could with shoulders tense and a deep breathe.


I talk more about my relationship with Calipari and the Kentucky program here, but Coach Cal certainly fits as one of the 10 most famous people I've met. He is college basketball's biggest villain (at least as a coach, most villainous player is next on this list) because he so openly flouts conventional wisdom about team building and how to build a great program. He gets the best players every year and when I interacted with him over the last four years you can see why.

Coach Cal has a way of making you feel like the most important person in the world when you talk to him. I'm a manager for an opposing team and he made me feel that way, so I can imagine what he makes recruits feel like. He goes out of his way to thank me each year for helping them out and it's like 'wow this is John Calipari' each time he does it because he has such an aura around him. He knows he is great at what he does and he makes you believe it when you talk to him. He is so smooth and so consistent in his message, it is remarkable and you just want to say at some point 'come on man, is this real?' because he has cultivated his image and his brand so well. However, by the time I got done being in awe of his presence, I never had the chance to ask that question.


As mentioned above, while many see Coach Cal as the biggest sideline villain in college hoops, it is safe to say many feel the same way about Marshall Henderson and his on-court antics. Every college basketball fan has an opinion of Marshall and usually it is polarized: you either love him or you hate him. And I love him. He is just so damn entertaining. Marshall is the embodiment of what everybody wishes they could be as a basketball player: one with a complete and utter green light.

Marshall could take a shot from the stands and while Andy Kennedy might shake his head, he won't take him out of the game because the next time down the floor he will spot up from 35 feet and swish a 3. He was like Jimmer Fredette with an attitude, and it was so fun to see because not only was he a straight gunner but a crazy personality on the court as well. It made for an incredible combination. I feel like I might feel differently about Marshall if his teammates and those in the program didn't seem to love him so much. Most of coaching outside of X's and O's is getting guys to buy in and molding the different personalities into a cohesive unit, so if Andy Kennedy can get Marshall Henderson to buy in and his teammates are ok with it, then I'm cool with it too.

I met Marshall this year at the SEC Tournament. He was sitting in the stands after our first-round game watching the game after us. That was a Thursday night and for those of you who follow him on Twitter, you know Marshall has a weekly ritual known as #WhiteGirlWednesdays. So I asked Marshall how his White girl Wednesday was and he replied, "It was fucking terrible. They kept me locked up in the hotel all night"(and I then said he could have had girls over) and he continued "I did. I had five of them. Fell asleep on all of them though." Marshall Henderson for you ladies and gentlemen.


At the time when we played Auburn this year at their place I had just seen the "You Don't Know Bo" documentary on former Auburn football and baseball star Bo Jackson. He was a mesmerizing talent, and he was sitting 10 feet away from me the whole game... except I didn't know it until the second half. I noticed a few kids coming up to Bo during the first half but couldn't figure out who he was, then asked our strength coach, Coach T, who that was and he said Bo Jackson.

So after having been entranced by his athletic ability in the ESPN 30 for 30, during a timeout I went to get my camera from the locker room, planning on taking a photo after the game, but Bo got up with a minute left. It was a conundrum for me as I wanted the picture but didn't want to be blatantly leaving the bench to do it, but then I figured I only had a week left so they probably wouldn't fire me before then, and got up to get the photo. I was the last photo he took before disappearing into the Auburn night (or some place to pay Auburn players for former Coach Gene Chizik, I can't really say).


Last year when the SEC Tournament was in New Orleans, a lot of important people were staying in our hotel. We were staying there, as well as Tennessee and then various contingents of media reporters, SEC officials, and NBA scouts. It was big time, and I knew that right as I walked in when I saw Nolan Richardson standing in the lobby. Richardson is responsible for one of the most exciting brands of basketball around and is a legend and there he was just chilling in the lobby, so I introduced myself and he wished us luck in the Tournament before heading to the bar where he ate alone and ordered Buffalo Wings.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Selflessness Personified: Doing Team Laundry

To be a manager, you have to be selfless on some level because our job revolves around fulfilling the daily needs of our players and coaching staff. You can't have too big of an ego as a manager, because if you do then you won't do your job successfully. One of the first things you learn as a manager is that no job is beneath you. That may be cleaning the locker room before a game or going to pickup sandwiches for the coaches after practice. It could be anything, but there is no more selfless act as a manager than doing team laundry and working in the Memorial Gym laundry room. Not one.

Laundry is something that nobody likes to do, even for themselves. It is a hassle, especially to put away all your clothes after it is done. As a Seinfeld aficionado, one of my favorite George Costanza quotes is when he told a girl, "I hate laundry, if I could I would buy 365 pairs of underwear so that I only had to do laundry once a year". That quote sums up my attitude toward doing my own laundry, but for the last three years, especially last year I wasn't only doing my own laundry, but the team laundry as well.

Since Vanderbilt does not have an equipment manager, the managers are in charge of team laundry. There are few more humbling jobs than washing another man's clothes, particularly 15 of the sweatiest men on campus. The clothes we washed were full of the three S's: Sweat, Stench, and Shit. Not literally shit, but I'm using that as sort of an overarching word here to describe the accumulation of nastiness that was found at all times in our laundry bin.

As someone who has a mild case of OCD, having to siphon through the dirty drawls and soaked practice uniforms is disgusting. I'm sure it would be for anyone. The clothes get put into the bin weighing three times as much as they do when we return them to the guys, washed and dried. Touching this collection of clothing is like engrossing yourself in a garbage dump of sweat. It's just suffocatingly wet and the smell is often unbearable.

One part of doing team laundry is counting the uniforms after games, which I was a chief responsibility of mine. I became so familiar with the sweat patterns of our players, both from mopping the floor during games, and dealing with their clothes that I often could make a pretty educated guess about which player's uniform I was holding. I am not proud of this fact because how can you take pride in knowing the perspiration tendencies of other people? It is like someone taking pride in knowing when their roommate likes to watch porn and engage in affiliated activities. It is really something you would rather not know, but unfortunately this knowledge was heaped on me like an albatross around my neck. At least when I was mopping the sweat, the mop served as a mediator between me and the perspiration, but with laundry, the two forces collided head on.

I knew that Kedren Johnson's jersey would always be the heaviest, not because he played the most, but because Kedren would sweat in Antarctica. His glands operate on another level entirely. Kevin Bright and Shelby Moats also always got a good workout in on the court. Then there were the jerseys that were almost completely dry and those belonged to players like Nate Watkins and Carter Josephs. They were like the inverse of Kedren, they didn't sweat because the world was unfortunately deprived of seeing them in any significant action on the court.

While the laundry in itself is awful, what is worse is that the place where we wash the clothes is just as disgusting. The Memorial Gym laundry room is a smoldering pit of unrelenting humidity. It's like a laundry room located on the equator, it just burns vapor. Any time I walk in there with my glasses on, they come out fogged up, my breathing gets labored, and my shirt gets moist.

I never told our players this, but guys if you are reading this and want to make it appear to the coaches that you worked up a sweat before practice, without actually "working" just sit in the laundry room for 10 minutes and Coach will think you went hard in a pre-practice workout. I really hope one of them tries it and lets me know how it goes. I spent a lot of time in that laundry room, and that is a place I never intend to return.

There were a few positives to being such a laundry expert. First off, my sense of time has become immaculate. I practically have a mental alarm set to 27 minute washer and 60 minute dryer cycles. There was very little in-between time when I did laundry, it was flipped right away, like a one man assembly line (with help from some of the other managers on certain days). I was very efficient and I now have the ability to usually not need to set a timer to know how long I need to do something for, it's quite nice.

The second positive is that when the laundry is finished it needs to be folded and put away. This takes place in the locker room. Where there is a television. On days where practice was really long or after a poorly played game, I would seek out refuge in front of ESPN and take extra care when folding the towels. It was a nice way to be productive and at practice while working at your own pace. Nobody perfected this art like former manager Doug Browne, who was a senior my sophomore year. He mastered this like no other as he would disappear for long periods of time and be found watching SportsCenter after practice.

The third and most positive thing to come out of this task, is realizing that nothing is too belittling of a task for me to do going forward. Like I said earlier, having to do other people's laundry is a very humbling experience. It is complete and total servitude and if I can do that, then no task will ever be beneath me going forward. I really hope prospective employers (mainly NBA and NBA D-League teams) read this post and that my writing is so clear that they can visualize the sweaty jerseys and smell the stench for themselves, and then proceed to hire me to do a job nothing like this. That would be the ultimate laundromatic payoff.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Commitment to the Cause

One thing that many fans and people who are not around a college basketball program (or any college athletics program really) don't realize is that the player's commitment to the sport involves so much more than games and practices. It is easy to think that aside from those two things, athletes are allowed to live the lives of regular students, but they have so many other commitments to the program and the university as well. They have to go to class at least 12 hours a week, then there are film sessions, weight lifting, study hall hours,  workouts with the coaches, community appearances, and treatments to consider, plus a lot of guys like to come in and shoot on their own. These guys work more than a full time job as a student athlete, their commitment to the sport always amazes me.

As a manager, the time commitment is huge as well, but I would have to be delusional to say it compares to what the players have to commit. All of the stuff I just mentioned above (except class and workouts with the coaches) are not things we have to do really. Also, the physical exertion of playing basketball at the highest level of Division I is truly exhausting. These guys practice anywhere from an hour to 2.5 hours per day, depending on the time of season, and then have to go to study hall or do their homework. It really is a lot on their plate, especially at a place like Vanderbilt. The obligations never end, not even after the season is over or before it starts.

Within two weeks of getting on campus, the players have weight lifting scheduled almost every day, along with individual skill workouts a few times a week, and then pickup games. That goes until the season starts and then when the season ends, all of that picks up about a week and a half later. You have all seen those commercials and t-shirts with the slogan "Basketball Never Stops", but these guys epitomize that phrase, all year round. And that is what brings me to my next point, these guys, not only are obligated to the program during the school year, but in the summer as well.

Most Vanderbilt students finish the school year at the end of April or early May, and then return home for the summer and usually find a job or an internship, while getting a chance to get real world experience in whatever field they plan to go into. It is also a time to get away from campus, spend time with your family, and reconnect with old friends, but for the most part, our basketball players don't experience this kind of summer. They get to be home for the month of May, but when June comes around, they are essentially required to be back on campus for summer school and summer workouts (NOTE: this does not only apply to Vanderbilt, it applies to the vast majority of Division I programs in the country). This is especially true now with NCAA rules allowing teams two hours per week over the summer to practice.

So while many Vanderbilt students are just beginning jobs or internships as June gets underway, our basketball team is back on campus ready to work. By spending the summers on campus, these athletes are in Nashville 11 out of 12 months a year. That is an insane commitment. There is no off-season for them, they always have something going on. If you compare this to the NBA schedule, when most players' seasons end in April, they are not required to be back at their team facility until September (unless playing in a Summer League). That is essentially five months off, away from the game of basketball, and those guys are making millions of dollars.

So while I know most of our fans truly appreciate the players we have, next time you see these guys, thank them for putting the time in to represent your favorite team. Obviously, getting a full ride to Vanderbilt and the opportunity to play in the SEC is one few people have, but the sheer amount of time these players put into being able to represent the Commodores is astounding. The craziest part is that they have these 11 months of basketball activity and play about 32 games (40 minutes long) which is 1280 available minutes per season. And let's say an average starter plays 25 minutes per game, that is 800 minutes they play per year which is the equivalent to 13.33 hours.

So to sum it up, these players are committing themselves to this university for over 300 days a year, all for the chance to play a game that matters for just over half of the hours in one day (and most players don't play 25 minutes a game). It is remarkable when you think about it, and is something that needs to be realized by those not around the team. Being a Division I athlete is not all glory and bright lights, but actually mainly grunt work and empty gymnasiums.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Managing Greatness: Being a Manager During the John, Jeff, + Fes Years

One of the coolest parts of being a manager over the last four years is having spent three of those years around three different NBA players on an almost daily basis. At many programs (unless it is place like Kansas or Kentucky), a manager is lucky to be around for one NBA player, but I got to watch three of them every single day, and it is pretty special to have been able to do that. While John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, and Festus Ezeli are all in the NBA, they each brought completely different things to the table while in school. Their greatness on the basketball court was so special, because each of their styles were so unique, and I am going to try to convey in this post just what it was like being around that every day.


John is the most driven individual I have ever been around. In college he had a singular focus: become the best player he could be, and he honed his skills each and every day with a zealousness I have not seen from anybody else in any field. John was in the gym every day and every night, putting up jumpers, working on ballhandling, or watching film. He couldn't stay away from the game, his love for it seeps through in everything that he does. Despite not being a vocal leader, John had the respect of everyone on the team and was named captain as a junior because of his relentless work ethic, and that didn't just come after practice, but it showed in every game and every practice as well.

John has an enormous chip on his shoulder. Despite being ranked the 15th overall recruit in the Class of 2009 by and averaging 42 points per game as a senior in high school, that wasn't good enough for John. Most kids would have rested on their laurels with those accomplishments but John wanted more. He craved more. He was devastated that he was not a McDonald's All-American and also wanted to be #1 in his class, and whatever criticisms there were of him, he took to heart: "Not strong enough", "Not a great athlete", "One dimensional", "lacks size", "doesn't defend". John stored those in his memory and worked with a maniacal passion and extreme confidence to prove that those things didn't apply to him or that he could overcome them and still be great.

That is why John's game, other than the end result, is never fully aesthetically pleasing. His jumpshot is pure and picture perfect and when he drains a 30 foot three with a swish, you just have to watch in awe, but what people forget is everything that it takes to get that split-second for an open look. John would run off screens, back and forth, back and forth, and never get tired. Nobody wanted to defend him not because he had such incredible stamina. It wasn't easy for John to get open, but he became an expert at how to find that crevice of daylight to launch his shot, and that is what I enjoyed most about watching John: the process.

It wasn't easy for him to be great, nothing was easy about his three years at Vanderbilt, but his relentlessness both on and off the court was just amazing. He just found a way to get it done, and he did. He always did.


Jeff is kind of like the exact opposite of John in my mind. Whereas John never really had the "measurables" that NBA teams look for, that was never a problem with Jeff. While John was ranked higher coming out of high school than Jeff, it was clear from day one to people that Jeff had that "it" factor. He was just a natural at the game of basketball. Everything came so easily to Jeff and that is what made him such a joy to watch. Whereas John would work his tail off just to clear space, because of his ridiculous athleticism and strength, the game just never overwhelmed Jeff. He was so fluid on the court and just so smooth.

There is really no way to describe the way Jeff looked on a basketball court. He was like a natural, who was born to play the game of basketball. You felt like there was nothing Jeff could not do on a basketball court his senior year. While he struggled with confidence in his jumper his first two years, and even a little his third year, his senior year you felt like he was unstoppable. And when everything was clicking for Jeff, he was one of the best players in the country. He never missed a game in his career and played both ends of the floor with the same tenacity that made him so tough as an all-around player.

There were games and practices where all you could do was shake your head at what Jeff was doing. I remember distinctly, our game versus Florida in 2012 at their place. We weren't playing well as a team, particularly dealing with their press, but Jeff was awesome. He singlehandedly kept us in the game with his play on both sides of the floor. Then there was the Ole Miss game where hit his first seven shots and scored 23 points in the first half. It was an amazing display and one that captured just what a great player Jeff is when he has everything going for him. He tantalized you as a manager because everything would be ho-hum and then he would do something spectacular that would remind you just how special he was.


Watching Festus play was nothing like watching John or Jeff play, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that he picked up basketball so late in his life. Festus had never played organized basketball until he was 16 and was so raw at the time that he got cut from his high school team (for a fantastic profile of Fes' journey to Nashville, read this SI story by Pablo Torre), and watching Festus was at times like watching a high schooler or a young college player, because he was getting so much better every day. He was constantly improving and you felt like you were watching him go through basketball's equivalent of a growth spurt, but that's what made him so intriguing as a player.

Festus was so big and so strong, but he never really had any idea just how talented he was or just how much bigger he was than his opponents. Confidence was always an issue for Festus because he felt like he was perpetually playing catch-up to guys that had been playing since they were three years old and it frustrated him at times. It also frustrated Coach Stallings as well. For instance, Coach would design plays that got Fes the ball within 3 feet of the rim, but often times instead of just going up with the ball, he would take a dribble, and that never ended well. It was like he had to constantly be told what he should be doing because everything was still so new to him and he absorbed so much every day, that at times he forgot he was 6'11 and 260 pounds.

It was so rewarding to see Festus succeed for everyone in the program because he wanted to succeed so badly. Festus never wanted to let his teammates down and worked so hard not just to better himself but to prevent himself from ever failing the team. Despite the inevitable growing pains, he was frustrated when he would make the same mistakes over and over (like leaving his feet on pump fakes) and the those frustrations were so intense that Fes would sometimes be like in his own world it seemed like on the bench. He didn't always know how to let a mistake go and move on and it lingered with him because it crushed him if he let the team down. That is why for so many in the program, it is so awesome to see Fes playing a lot and playing well in the NBA. It's because he made it. After everything it took, he's at the top now.