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:
1. DREW HANLEN - OWNER OF PURE SWEAT BASKETBALL; FORMER BELMONT BASKETBALL PLAYER
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
2. WES RUCKER - WRITER, GOVOLS247.COM
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 GoVols247.com 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
3. NBA EXECUTIVES AND SCOUTS
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
4. ALEXA VICENTE - STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA
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
5. OPPOSING FANS AND STUDENTS
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
6. MITCH LIGHT - MANAGING EDITOR AT ATHLON SPORTS; VANDY FOOTBALL PRE-GAME RADIO HOST AND IN-GAME SIDELINE REPORTER
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
7. LEE JENKINS - WRITER, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
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
8. GABBY SMITH - FORMER VANDY WOMEN'S BASKETBALL PLAYER; VANDY GRADUATE
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.
9. JAAFAR CHOUFANI - AGENT, KING SPORTS GROUP; REPRESENTS STEVE TCHIENGANG
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
10. SETH MASSEY - HEAD BASKETBALL COACH AND TEACHER, STATION CAMP HIGH SCHOOL
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