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The Player Coach

Never at any point in my life did I imagine myself coaching basketball. I grew up loving and obsessing over it but never had a desire to coach. I fell in love with the game the first time I saw a swish. It was beautiful. I was always outside trying to emulate every Allen Iverson move. The crossover, the fade away mid range… I even had an arm sleeve. If I was inside, I was watching the Kentucky Wildcats with my dad. I started sneaking into random gyms as I got older. I have probably been kicked out of every local church but I just wanted to play somewhere… anywhere. One thing was certain… I loved the game of basketball.

My cousin played for Oldham County so I showed up to The Roy in 2017 as a fan. I sat watching in awe of the atmosphere. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately in my case, the Colonels lost. I remember feeling like I could have done something to help get them over the hump. Whether it was through strength and conditioning or just by breathing confidence into each player, I wanted to try and help. I kept asking Dubby (cousin) to tell Coach Z that I would come help with this off seasons workouts.

I waited and waited but I don’t think I ever got a response. So one day I just kind of showed up. And then I showed up again the next day… and the next day. Training athletes is something I have always found fun. To see them push themselves to reach goals is inspiring. At the end of the summer, Z asked if I wanted to join the staff.

“Absolutely!”

I remember listening to a Gilbert Arenas podcast where he talked about his best friend in college being the “player coach“. A guy that’s on the coaching staff but is really more of a player. The guy that is always willing to go get shots up with you no matter the time of day. My goal was to settle into that role while learning more about the high school game. I felt as if I was constantly chasing knowledge. Always asking the guys questions off to the side in order to better understand the philosophies expected of them. I love the game but I had a lot to learn. Thankfully I had one of the best coaches in the state to learn from.

We finished the year 31-6 with a trip to the final four. It was an unbelievable ride to be a part of. A kid that used to sit with his legs crossed right in front of the TV watching UK was now standing at half court of Rupp Arena. It was overwhelming. So many great memories that I will always cherish. Beating two of the top 10 teams in the state by a combined 60 points in back to back nights led by Jackson and Zach, Dubby’s game winner vs Collins, Dre’s six threes in the first half of the regional championship… and of course Travis Henderson’s shot that sent us to the final four!

It would have been easy for me to walk away after the year we had. My cousin was graduating and being undefeated in the regional tournament sounded good to me! But in all honesty, I am slowly getting older (even though it doesn’t seem so slow nowadays) and a big part of me was ready to settle down into a career, find a lady and have some little hoopers of my own. I never realized the amount of time coaches dedicate to the game and players but let me tell you, it’s a lot. But I enjoy every second of it!

I remember being completely exhausted after the trip to Lexington and ready for a break from everything. My phone vibrated shortly after getting home and my decision to leave or come back for another year was answered. It was Sam Campbell asking if we could go to the Y tomorrow to lift and get shots up. From that day on, I was training him just about every day. The drive and ambition he showed to improve every facet of his game made him easy to coach.

His fuel to become a great player fueled my drive to come back and give everything I had to this program. The time spent in the weight room, on the track, open gym… it was all a grind this off season. We had a young and inexperienced team coming into this season after losing 5 seniors but that made the journey that much more fun.

The season was chalked full of ups and down. Our message and one of my main priorities this year was to remain even keel. Meaning we as a team never got too high or too low, no matter the circumstances surrounding us. We faced one of the toughest schedules in the entire state and we took our fair share of lumps. It would have been easy for our guys to cave in at multiple points during the season but they always bounced back stronger than before. The brutal schedule resulted in a win/loss record that led most people to question whether or not we could compete for the regional championship. But our guys were calloused from battles and were ready to make a post season run.

We fell short of our ultimate goal but we made some incredible memories leading into the championship game. Nobody picked us to win in the 1st round against a very tough Collins team who probably has the best back court in the state. It was the type of game only a tough nosed, battle tested team could have won… and our guys did it. In overtime, (down 2 with 2.1 seconds left on the clock) on a last second shot from Sam freaking Campbell.

For those keeping score, I’ve been a part of the program for two years and Coach Z is 2-2 drawing up late game winning plays. It’s special to see the play drawn onto the board and then executed to perfection by our guys in a game of this magnitude.  It was surreal seeing that shot go in and watching the fans mob him at center court. I don’t know exactly how many times (it’s a lot) I have witnessed him counting down “3… 2… 1…” before shooting and then celebrating like he just won a big game when it was just us two in the gym.

You can form your own opinion on this past season but to me it was amazing. I felt I had learned enough from the year before that I could actually contribute to the coaching aspect. I got to witness the guys on this team do some special things on and off the court. All of them came out to Gustavo’s to support me and my family during the benefit for Logan. Winning basketball games is important but being a servant leader is special. I will forever be thankful for the act of kindness they showed me that night!

I told each one of the guys that I loved them and if they ever needed me, I’ll be there. The game of basketball has given me so much these past two years because I have had the chance to get to know these young men and their families. To be that person I wish I had in my life when I was their age. Sports… winning… it has always meant everything to me. I grew up in a single parent household with an alcoholic mother. Wearing a uniform or jersey felt like I was escaping my reality and becoming a super hero. It gave me the outlet I needed when I was growing up and it fostered a competitiveness that can seem a bit crazy to most. I now use that drive to motivate my guys and get the most out of them. 

I promise to keep pushing these guys to reach their goals and have their backs at all times. The game of basketball has given me so much and I want to repay the favor. These last two years have been a blessing to my life and I am looking forward to many more just like it!

To the seniors… Dylan, Cole, Christian and Teague… thank you for letting me be a part of your lives. I genuinely enjoyed every day I got to spend with you guys. From the hard fought battles in the girls gym over the summer (when it felt like we were playing in a sauna), to the track, to the weight room, to practice, to the bus rides, to the courts and all the Fazolis we could eat. I love you guys and if you ever need buckets… you know my number!

#WeAreOC

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