At Vanderbilt, our managerial staff is incredibly diverse in their backgrounds, basketball experiences, and how they came into the position. Some managers like Rob Cross, Nick Souder and our current freshman manager Zach Hamer reach out to the program before arriving on campus. Others have connections to the coaching staff that get them on board, but some are randomly recruited through email or Facebook. That is how Zach Kleiner joined the program.
At the beginning of last year, I posted in the "Vanderbilt Class of 2016" Facebook group about openings on the managerial staff. One of the responses was Zach. These interviews are pretty informal and usually take place over a mediocre lunch from Rand Dining Hall. Some meetings are group meetings, others are one on one. My meeting with Zach was mano a mano.
The first thing that struck me about Zach was the fact that he was actually in college. Zach is about 5'6" with freckles, red hair, and a face that looks closer in age to a middle schooler than a college freshman. Upon finding out that Zach was a fellow Jew, I almost asked when his Bar Mitzvah was but refrained. He strikes a diminutive pose and was rather quiet. I told him what the job entailed and then we kind of just sat there in silence. I wasn't blown away by any stretch because we rarely spoke during the meal, but at the time there weren't many other candidates for the job so I told Rob we should look at hiring him.
Ultimately we did hire him, and while he was quiet during our lunch, he quickly conveyed his boisterous personality upon joining the program. He was a fireball of energy. The great thing about Zach is that you could ask him to do something, and his eyes would get wide, he'd nod his head, and say yes, then get to work. He was always happy to be doing the job, and as someone who had been through the ringer for 3 years, I couldn't always match his enthusiasm. The big test for Zach though was the first time he hung out with the players in a social setting.
As I mentioned, Zach is small. He is like the textbook example of the guy that every girl thinks is just so adorable, but who is permanently stuck in the friend zone because they won't date someone shorter than them. Across campus you would frequently see girls run up to him and shout "Kleinnerrr!!!" before hugging him then asking for an introduction to Shelby Moats.
In this post I discussed the tenuous social status of managers on campus. We are lower on the social rung than both frat guys and athletes, and most of the time guys find it much cooler that we work for the team than girls do. It doesn't help when you are a short Jewish ginger either, but Zach makes up for that with his outlandish personality and he was put to the test by the guys early.
Because of how young he looks, Zach was the butt of many jokes early in his career. Managers get clowned on a good amount because in the basketball hierarchy the only other person on our level of influence and sway is Ricky Reno, the head maintenance man at Memorial Gym, but he even holds more clout than we do. So Zach got thrown some verbal punches but he responded very well and conducted himself with the right degree of brushing it off while also standing up for himself and he was immediately accepted into the basketball family.
Upon acceptance, Zach worked his way through the gym with a smile and positive attitude every day. I honestly felt horrible when I was at practice and in a bad mood because Zach was always in a good mood. On our trip to Auburn, I was particularly exhausted but Zach was so positive, I ultimately went along with him and started smiling so hard my face hurt. His positive personality even brought personal recognition from Coach Stallings.
As I detailed here, establishing a relationship with the big man is an uphill battle. It took me 3 and a 1/2 years for Coach Stallings to laugh at my jokes and fix my jumpshot, both watershed moments. Now, he greets me with a warm embrace and a firm handshake. Heart melting stuff. This year though he actually referred to Zach by name on a number of occasions, a big step, though coach has yet to call him by his nickname "Little Bit", we still hold out hope he might do so.
So while Zach didn't jump off the page as a promising candidate at Rand, he turned into a spectacular diamond in the rough manager. As the man personally responsible for finding and hiring him, I take a measure of pride in Zach's success, it's like I'm leaving behind a legacy of unathletic, Jewish managers for him to uphold. I have the utmost faith he will.