Late Fragment - Raymond Carver

And did you get what
You wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
Beloved on the earth.


I don't own a TV. It's not really a topic of discussion until a caught-off-guard houseguest visit and realizes they have committed to spending 48 hours without a television to watch. Maybe that's why I don't have many houseguests. There are many valid reasons why I don't own a TV. Cable is too expensive - therefore I'm cheap. I work too much - therefore I'm never home. Television bores me - therefore I'm pretentious. But owning a television doesn’t mean enough to me. If it did, I would own one. In spite of all the aforementioned excuses, I would buy a TV. But it means more to my houseguests than it does to me. So therefore, I have no intention of buying one.

Going home. That also didn't mean enough to me. So that's why, barring the coincidental recruiting trip to Michigan, I never went home to spend time with family. Once again I have valid reasons (excuses) why I didn’t. Flights are costly; my work schedule doesn't allow many opportunities to go home; Flint, MI depresses (& slightly scares) me; all my friends have moved away....blah blah blah. The truth is, however, going home just didn't mean enough to me...until it did. Until an uncle and cousin both died within 2 months of one another. Until my mom was diagnosed with Ataxia Cerebellum in March. Until my aunt suddenly passed away in May. Or the day I finally went home and half of my extended family came to see me because no one could believe I was actually there. Or when I told my cousin he looked old and he reminded me we were the same age (I'm actually a year older) but he looks old to me because I hadn't been home in years. Maybe when my cousins introduced me to their kids and I didn't even know my cousins had kids. "Wait, you have kids?" And my cousin's kids didn't know they had a cousin who lived in Nebraska. "Wait, where is Nebraska?!?"

Something changed during my last visit home. And what I realized in my desire to be aloof and selfish, was that I was the one that was missing out. Flint, MI was going on without me and memories were being made that I would never be a part of. And I had the power to change that. And all it required on my part was effort, a small amount of time, and cashing out some frequent flyer miles. Being an active part of my family's lives and being able to appreciate them in life more than death means more to me than any reason (excuse) I've ever made. So I will go home more regularly. And I will make time to work out. And I will be disciplined enough to make healthier eating choices. And I will sleep more and work unnecessarily less. And I will strive to be present in everything I do. (But I'm still not buying a TV.)

If it means enough to you then you will do whatever it is that you claim you don't have time, energy, or money to do, like finishing the degree you're always talking about. If you want to write a book, Google "How to write a book" and start typing. If you want to get in better shape, make a concerted effort to make positive changes in your lifestyle. If you're 350 lbs. and you want to be a world class ballerina, that's not going to happen so be realistic.

"If we stay where we are, where we're stuck, comfortable & safe, we die there. If you only want to know what you already know, you're dying. New is scary & new can be disappointing. New is life.” Help, Thanks, Wow - Anne LaMott

We all have reasons (excuses) why we can't work out or why we don't eat right or why we don't make time for the people we should make time for. Don't come up with reasons (excuses) to support your apathy and lack of care. Take ownership of it and proudly admit that it just doesn't mean enough to you. Because if it did, you would.

So why don't you?


Being Present


I have been reminded a few different times that I’ve been delinquent in my writing. I Chalk it up to being busy or lack of motivation but now it’s a moot point. Because here I find myself, wide-awake at 4 am typing away. Clearly “something” happened. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing. Why am I always compelled to write in the face of tragedy or sadness? Why do my words often come from a place of despair?

“Things” happen all the time. Meeting new friends. Getting pregnant. Falling in love. Losing your job. Death. Sometimes you’re prepared but many times it’s unexpected. Unplanned. Unheralded. Untimely. Unfair. And because things just happen, I have tremendous respect for those that are able to live in the present. Enjoying and appreciating what each moment of each day brings. Not dwelling on the past. Not worrying about the future. Being fully focused on the present. My mental training consultant describes this as “the Alpha Zone”. When you’re able to be 100% invested in that particular moment with no regard for past failures and no fear of future shortcomings you’re in the “Alpha Zone”. I love this.



If I could live just 75% of my life in the “Alpha Zone”, I think of how much freedom I would allow myself to exist in. Emotional freedom. Physical freedom. Mental freedom. I still dwell on decisions I made 3 years ago. I’m wasting valuable space in my mind focusing on people that I will never communicate with again or revisiting experiences that were meant to be one and done. Regret is asinine. You make decisions because, at the time, you thought it was for the best. Or maybe you didn’t think at all. But that’s what Prince liked to refer to as this thing called life. And living.

Ginny Doyle was not a friend but a colleague - someone I coached against for 7 years in the A10 conference. I respected her tremendously. In fact, she was one of the few people in this profession that I authentically liked. She was consistent, kind, and genuine. There was nothing flashy or trendy about her. Maybe this is why she was one of the few people in this profession that I authentically liked. I found out about her tragic death via a text lying on the beach enjoying my self-diagnosed “deserved” vacation. Imagine my horror when I clicked on her twitter page to see that her last post foreshadowed her impending death.

A few weeks later I received another text announcing one of my favorite college teammates had passed away. This time the announcement didn't catch me off guard. I was waiting for it. Anticipating it. Although you never really are prepared to hear that your 42 year old friend is dead. No matter now long or hard she had been battling cancer. You can't be prepared for that because 42 year olds that compete in triathlons and eat organic food aren't supposed to die. And respected practical college coaches aren't supposed to die in hot air balloons.
But they do. And they did.

Which compels me to write this: stop dwelling on the past. Stop worrying about your future. Stop selling your souls for 15 year old kids. Stop pimping out your 8th grade daughters. Stop worrying about rankings or being on "Who's Who of Who Gives A Crap" Lists. Stop skimming the pages of today and take the time to appreciate the actual words that are written. Stop straddling the present. Stop posting pictures of your damn dinners. Because if you really are #teamcleaneating #teamfit #teampaleo - we don't need pictures as proof. We’ll see it in your ass. (And besides, that's not going to stop you from dying in a hot air balloon or getting pancreatic cancer.) Stop spending so much time focusing on what the guy next to you is doing & start being more invested in your family, friends, happiness, life, present. The present truly is a gift. And not enough of us spend time there. Truly there. In the present. We invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on seminars and books and workshops on how to be happy while riding the positive bus to training camp while balancing full buckets of positive dogs when the reality is - you have the power to empower yourself. Choose your attitude. Attitude really is a decision. Control the controllables. Because you can't control what you can't control. And live in the moment - meaning give everything you have to that particular moment. Everything. When you're at work - give it your all. When you're with your partner - be 100% present. When you're eating dinner - enjoy the hell out of that gluten-free taco. And in doing so, you are winning each day, one minute at a time. You win enough minutes. You win enough days. You spend enough time zoned in.

Zoned in.


Choose it or lose it sister!


“A bully can smell a victim from a mile away.” - Maya Angelou

It’s true… no one likes a bully. But who really embraces a victim? And please, before I draw the ire of various advocates, I’m not referring to victims of sexual assault, child abuse, domestic assault – or others who have suffered destructive or injurious actions from an entity or individual. That type of pain and suffering is real and I would never minimize or make a mockery of it. There is a different type of victim I’m referring to - the ‘put the pity in pitiful’ types. We all know that person and at some point, maybe just for an instant, we have been that person.



I knew what the word pitiful meant by the time I was six years old. My mom used it frequently. “Stop being pitiful! No one feels sorry for you.” As a child, when you feel wronged or hurt, those are the last words you want to or need to hear from your parent. You want, need to be coddled – told that everything will be all right. You want your mom to stick up for you and destroy the person or people that have reduced you to this pathetic state of being in the first place. And if that is what you got growing up, then you didn’t grow up in my household.

Those same words that seemed so harsh coming from my mother’s mouth as a child were the same words that actually empowered me time and time again as an adult. Prevalent and embedded in my brain during times of absolute weakness, those words brought me strength and comfort when I needed it most. In a way, they became a virtual hug from my mother, transcending distance and physical barriers. They were there in college, handling heartbreak caused by the hot football player who wanted to share his wealth. As a young police officer, when the insolent supervisor thought it would be funny to make me pick up garbage that had blown up against the department fence… in broad daylight. I heard them as a homesick and lonely professional basketball player fighting off an awesome rash in Europe, unable to understand the doctor responsible for my health and recovery. And as a coach, every time, with every kid that I opened my arms to but whom instead gave me the middle finger. And never more so than in the meeting with the athletic director who told me at the beginning of a season, that short of winning a national championship, there was absolutely nothing I could to keep my job. Through it all I could hear my mom’s words resonating loudly. “Don’t you dare let them see you cry. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Don’t. Be. A. Victim.”

I heard this great analogy the other day. You want to know exactly how people feel about victims? Pull your car over on the side of the road, put on the flashers, put up the hood, and attempt to flag someone down for help. See how long it takes before one of those good Samaritans pulls over and helps you. On the other hand, get out of your car and start trying to push it down the side of the road. Drivers will nearly wreck in their haste to pull over, jump out and help you push. Bottom line: if you want help, help yourself first. People love that. They embrace that. They respect that. Everyone hates a bully, but no one loves a victim.

During my time in St. Louis, I was actively involved with an organization that supported women who were survivors of domestic abusive relationships. I was attracted to them because of the fiercely strong women that I encountered at the fundraisers. Their stories… their resolve… I found so empowering. I went from donating money to volunteering to eventually becoming a board member. Every opportunity I had to expose my young impressionable players to this incredible organization I took advantage of. I wanted them to receive the message that bad things might happen to you, but you cannot let them define you. These women are mothers, lawyers, nurses, and housewives, and the men they depended on emotionally and oftentimes financially, rocked their worlds in the worst way possible. In most cases these strong women had nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and were forced to rebuild their lives, at an age when most of us are secure and preparing for retirement. But woman after woman, story after story, became lessons in toughness, endurance, perseverance, and a fighting spirit that eclipsed anything I have ever experienced in my lifetime. More survivor — less victim.

I just finished Pat Summit’s latest book, Sum It Up. She overcame the odds at every juncture in her life and now, as she’s facing the biggest obstacle she’s ever encountered, she still refuses to feel sorry for herself. She has turned her Alzheimer’s diagnosis into a very public opportunity to raise money and awareness to help improve the lives of others. The ultimate anti-victim.

Life is tough. So you can protect yourself with bubble wrap and let your head hang low, or you can strap on your helmet and have at it. It’s always a choice.


Take a walk in her shoes…2013


(This is a two-time recycle. I wrote this original piece several years ago, shortly after Melissa Erickson was diagnosed with ALS. Two years ago I edited it and reposted it to help generate interest in her fundraiser and organization. Last week, on June 5th, Melissa lost her battle with the disease. She fought it to the very end. If you ask any of the thousands of people that showed up to her annual pub crawl fundraisers over the years or the many lives that she touched with her courage, humor, and candor, they will tell you that she won this fight. I coached Melissa. Or was it the other way around? If you’ve read this piece before, read it again. It’ll be worth your while. I promise.)

“In my shoes, just to see
What it’s like, to be me
I’ll be you, let’s trade shoes
Just to see what it’d be like”
- Beautiful (Eminem)



Nearly everyday, I walk. I walk because running hurts my knees. I walk because I have a dog that needs exercise to curb his hyperactive behavior. I walk because it affords me an opportunity to think through that day’s schedule. I walk because I can listen to my iPod and catch up with the latest songs. I walk because it’s guaranteed prayer time. More than anything however, I walk because Melissa Erickson can’t.



I coached Melissa Erickson for one season during her senior year at the University of Washington. She was part of an amazing senior class that led us to a share of the Pac 10 title and a trip to the NCAA Elite Eight. Melissa was a 6’2 reserve small forward who could hit the 3 and bang with the best of them. She was an enforcer who wore a goofy white headband when no other white girls were wearing goofy white headbands. She was different. She was unlike the other seniors on that team. They were great students who worked hard everyday in practice, never talked back and never ever rolled their eyes to express their displeasure. Melissa, on the other hand, was the queen of back talk and rolled her eyes so much I was sure they’d fall out of her head and land right on the court someday. Melissa never met a sprint that she liked and enjoyed partying far more than studying. I was a young and energetic first year D1 assistant coach and I was gung ho about class checks, discipline and following the rules. As you can imagine, I was Melissa’s worst nightmare and she was my biggest challenge. That might be why I loved her so much.

Melissa was real. No one is supposed to love running suicides. And if you say otherwise, don’t stand next to me when lightening strikes. Practice is not fun. Going to 8am classes isn’t something to be looked forward to. Mo would agree to all of the above and lived her life accordingly. She was at UW to play ball, win games, have fun, meet people, and get her degree. All of which she did. What she also did was display an unbridled passion, loyalty, and commitment for her team and love for all that was purple and gold. When we won Pac 10’s, she passed out those big giant candy sucker rings and wore one, (& ate it), at our subsequent Selection Sunday press conference. If a teammate’s boyfriend broke their heart, she was the first one to round up the girls to do a drive by on the poor and unsuspecting chap. If an opponent got too rough with one our players, the Sopranos music would start playing and Mo was there, headband and all. She even looked out for our freshmen…especially our freshmen. Mo taught me that you didn’t have to be “perfect” in order to be a great teammate or a valuable member of the team.

Chasing Melissa around and holding her accountable made me a better coach. She taught me patience, forgiveness, and how to not take things so personally. Melissa prepared me far more for this profession than any of the 3.8 GPA angels I would go on to coach in my career. Watching Melissa grow and mature made all the drama worthwhile. The wins validate you as a college coach but they don’t define you. What truly justifies your existence is the impact you make on your players. Even several years later.

“Hell, we don’t gotta trade our shoes
And you aint gotta walk no thousand miles
In my shoes, just to see
What it’s like, to be me…”


Almost 8 years ago I found out that Melissa had been diagnosed with an early form of ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that takes away your ability to do things that I know I take for granted. Balance, jumping, running, dancing, swallowing, talking, walking… The disease usually strikes between the age of 40 and 70. Melissa was diagnosed a day before her 28th birthday. ALS doesn’t care about race or gender. It can strike anyone. ANYTIME. Unfortunately ALS is fatal. Usually within 5 years of diagnosis.

The fight that Mo showed on the court when it came to protecting her teammates or securing a win is the same fight that she has taken to the battle against ALS. The Melissa Erickson that used to complain about 8am practices and study hall now delights in waking up in the am to load her wheelchair into her custom van to go see a Husky or Seattle Storm game. The Melissa Erickson that used to do anything to get out of running a sprint dreams at night of being able to run just once more. She’s inspiring others because of how she refuses to accept what ALS has in store for her. She’s motivating to me because she is making the most of everyday she has. Without complaint. Without self-pity. Without a doubt.

I walk everyday because it means something to me. It’s not just about me and my schedule and how tired I am. I walk because I have this healthy body. I walk because I’ve lived a very blessed life. I walk because I’m appreciative of the people that have supported me. I walk because maybe tomorrow, I might wake up and won’t be able to. I walk because I can. I walk because Melissa can’t…

Every year there is a benefit that raises money for Melissa’s foundation. This year the money will be distributed to other deserving organizations per Melissa’s wish. It’s a pub crawl, (www.ringaroundtheneedle.com), which is 100% fitting for Melissa. Lord knows that woman loves beer. But once again, REAL. It’s not easy for me to make the trip to Seattle so I have missed a couple of pub crawls. In fact, I missed last years because we had a recruit on campus. Ironically enough, we lost that recruit – to UW. Melissa is probably somewhere laughing her ass about it. Melissa’s memorial is June 21st in Seattle at Hec Ed, the place where she knocked down 3’s in her big goofy headband. We have team camp here in Nebraska that day. But I’m still making the trip to Seattle. When a player needs you, you be there, right? Isn’t that what coaches preach during the recruiting process? Melissa doesn’t need me next Friday. But I need her. I’m going to walk the talk. Literally.

40 and Counting...

This has been a crazy year…I lost my job, got a new job, relocated, and turned 40 – in that order. Although each of these events brought their own challenges, turning 40 was the most significant. Maybe in part because as a child, teenager, & young adult, you have a perception of what 40 looks like, feels like…is supposed to be like. And on the eve of my 40th birthday, on the bus ride to USC for practice, it dawned on me that this scene wasn’t really what I had envisioned. And I say that without a hint of cynicism or chagrin – it just is what it is. That’s something I’ve picked up in my 40 years. MOST times things don’t go as you plan, they go the way they’re supposed to. And a lot of times, you have absolutely no control over that.

After I got fired I went shopping. (This was out of necessity since 75% of my wardrobe consisted of logoed gear from the school that had just relieved me of my duties.) One of the first things I saw upon entering the mall was a t-shirt hanging in a window. “IT IS WHAT IT IS” it read. Hmm…coincidence? Of course but I bought it nonetheless. And in a bit of irony, when I asked the merchant why that particular t-shirt cost $30 when the others were all $19.99, his reply, (you already know the answer), “I don’t know. It is what it is I guess.” Yes it is, whether you like it or not.

What other riveting life lessons have I learned in 40 years? Thought you would never ask…

• Let’s start with this…it’s never as bad as it seems OR as good as it seems. Never. Ever. EVER. (It’s usually somewhere right in the middle.)

• When in airports, take a few extra minutes to take the stairs instead of the escalator or walk the terminal vs. jumping on the moving sidewalk. Unless you’re going to miss your flight – then run like hell.

• Know your role & shut your hole. That’s pretty self-explanatory.

• As depressing & hopeless as this seems, if the system doesn’t want you to succeed, you will fail. It doesn’t give you permission to throw in the towel. It doesn’t mean you can’t fight for what’s right or perform your role with passion. It just means that sometimes, it is what it is.

• Funerals are for the living – not the dead. Which is exactly why I don’t want one. You want to come party with me one last time and tell funny stories that involve me? Come on! I welcome it! But we’re not going to get all dressed up in black and cry over a spiritless body because it makes you feel better. And you’re also not going to tell everyone how great I was. Because the reality is, I do screw up & I do rub some people the wrong way. But that’s who I am. Imperfect. So don’t make a big deal out of my dying, or I will come back and haunt you.

• Don’t buy expensive accessories or earrings. When you lose them you’re going to be really pissed. And trust me, you will lose them.

• What people have to say about me is none of my business. This has taken me a little longer to buy into opposed to say…take the stairs instead of the escalator, but this has far more relevance. Once I grasped this, my life became a lot more peaceful. I can’t control what other people think of me or say about me. I try & live my life in such a way that I am kind to others & carry myself in such a way to leave a favorable impression but at the end of the day…haters gonna hate.

• Everything happens for a reason & rarely is it the reason we think. It’s not our job to question why. Kind of along the lines of that “it is what it is” theory.

• Life isn’t fair. My two brothers have battled drug & alcohol addictions for most of their adult lives. They have done unspeakable things to their bodies, yet have both survived to see their 50th birthday. In the meantime, I have been to the funerals of more twenty year olds than I care to recall. Former players, brothers of players, childhood friends…so many other young, vibrant, passionate men & women with big goals & unfulfilled dreams. Recently we’ve all been impacted by the massacre of small children in the innocence of their own classrooms. Why are they gone but others with deliberate death wishes that repeatedly take life for granted get to breathe this precious air? Because life is many things, but fair it is not.

• What used to mean so much means so little & what used to hold little significance matters more than anything these days. The longer I live, the more I realize the less I need.

• A child’s laughter is my favorite song. I am a music lover. Growing up with Bonnie Miller as a mom you didn’t have much of a choice. I attended my first concert, James Brown, as a four year old. And then I saw him again as a thirty year old so I could actually have memories of seeing James Brown in concert. I’ve rocked out at Kid Rock and gotten secondhand smoked out at Lollapalooza. I’ve laid on the grass at seven Dave Matthews Band concerts and watched the grass being passed at Ziggy Marley. My iPod consists of everything from Simon & Garfunkel to Kei$ha, (I never said I had great taste in music. Just said I loved it.) With all that being said, I will take the sound of a small child laughing any day. It’s truly music to my ears and the only song that will make me smile, no matter what my mood. And I don’t need $200 speakers to appreciate the quality and high definition of it.

• My purpose in life isn’t to get rich or impact others. My purpose is to live and love as authentically as possible. And if I get rich or impact others in the process, well…#winning.

• Mo’ money, Mo’ problems. I actually learned this one from Biggie Smalls. I didn’t understand it then. And making $17,000 a year, how could I? Big, I get it now. Thanks for the heads up.

• And finally, a very wise woman in my life wrote this in my birthday card last month, “Don’t forget to listen to Luther, trip over invisible lines, & never ever come to work without brushing your teeth.” All of which I have done but no more. Not that I’m 40 and all wise and stuff.

50 year old Shimmy? I am so ready for you.

Final Thoughts From A Bar Stool In Tower Grove

I’m overwhelmed by the amount of text messages, tweets, and emails I’ve received in the past few days. (Only 3 phone calls however. No one likes to talk anymore?) Anyway, I’ve been in awe at the volume and quality of them all. Former players, alum, coaching colleagues, friends, boosters, reporters, and people I’ve never met and share nothing more than a tweetship with reached out to me. I won’t say how humbling it is, because that would be borderline “humblebragging”. Instead I will say what I really feel. It’s been awesome.

The last time I was showered with such attention and affection was about ten weeks ago. Although the amount of attention was the same, the reason for the outpouring was polar opposite. A few days ago I got hired. Ten weeks ago I was fired. Even then, during that very gray period in my life, I was still overwhelmed and yes, I still would describe it all as awesome. Absolutely awesome to know that in spite of my dismal win/loss record, I have still made an impact over the course of these past 7 years. It made me wonder what would happen if I actually died….

Which leads me to my next point, I didn’t die. My contract didn’t get renewed and that was really unfortunate but I didn’t die. Although at the subsequent WBCA convention, a few people tiptoed around me like I had died, which couldn’t have been farther from reality. Even though headed into this past season I knew it would be my last one, (although I had been told that headed into the past 4 seasons), I still refused to formulate or put into motion a back up plan. I feared doing so would keep me from being 100% focused and committed to my current situation. I lived each day like it was simultaneously my last and as if I would be here forever. Focusing on giving my absolute best to that day and the people I encountered within it.

My former players fought to the very end because I fought to the very end. And because we fought to the very end, we were able to accomplish some things together that we can all be proud of. Picked to finish dead last before the season started, we not only qualified for the A10 tournament but we advanced to the quarterfinals for only the 2nd time in program history. And in doing so we beat a Charlotte team with 3 All Conference players, (to our none), that we had no business beating. And that is a memory that will forever be ingrained in our heads...

“That shit didn’t work. And I’m mad about it. I’m mad that I didn’t accomplish that goal. I’ll always be mad about it. But in the face of that anger I can recognize that I’m stronger and better because of the journey that occurred.” That was a direct quote from one of my best friends over dinner. She wasn’t talking about a job. She wasn’t talking about a basketball record. We were discussing her failed marriage. In a lot of ways getting divorced is very similar to getting fired. However, I gained a great deal of perspective from that dinner conversation. Life is life. Basketball is basketball.

Do you have any idea of what it’s like to give a pre-game speech not knowing if it will be your last pre-game speech EVER as a head coach? Some of you do. And we can relate. It’s tough. Maybe one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. But what gets you through is the realization that as you’re standing there, in that locker room staring in the eyes of those 20 year olds, it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s ALWAYS about them and never about you. Because without them, there was never a you.

During this ten-week period between low and high, I’ve learned a lot about myself and other people, but mostly about myself. I’ve learned that I am not a failure. I just didn’t reach all my goals. I’ve learned that people you thought were your friends really aren’t. And real friends come from the most unlikeliest of places. I’ve learned that wins and losses don’t determine who you are. Your character determines who you are. (Wins and losses just determine whether or not you get your contract renewed.) I’ve been schooled, humbled, and above all blessed. More than anything I’ve been blessed. I am blessed.

I like to throw the word ‘faith’ out there a lot. In fact, I even have it tattooed on my wrist. According to Hebrews 11:1, Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you cannot see. Faith. I’ve really had to walk the talk these past ten weeks. I’ve had to be faithful that I would land on my feet. Faithful that God’s Will would come to fruition. Faithful that everything would turn out for the best. I’ve gone through a period of self- doubt and trepidation. Do I want to coach? Can I coach? Should I coach? (Yes!, Yes!, and Yes! if you’re keeping track.) I went to Greece and got my groove back. (Stella had her Jamaica. Shimmy had her Athens.) I’ve explored other career paths but all roads kept leading back to coaching. I’ve been turned down and courted, offered and denied but ironically never deterred. And through it all, I found my home and in all places, Lincoln frigging Nebraska. And as I write this, this is the most genuinely happy I’ve been in a very long time. Change is the opportunity for things to be better. For all involved parties.

It’s time to move on. There is no fail. There is no success. As grating as this might be to your ears, it just is what it is. You leave it better than it was when you found it. I can say that with 100% certainty, I left it better than I found it. I’m excited about my future. Matured from my past. I’m proud of what was accomplished and the lives that were impacted. Mine included. Towards the end I was no longer fighting to save my job. That fate was sealed 4 years ago. I was fighting for them. And because I fought, they fought. And because they fought, we will always have Charlotte.

If it’s good it’s wonderful and if it’s bad it’s an experience. Thank you St. Louis for this wonderful experience.


So You Think You’ve Got Probz…

For those of you that know me, you know I like to tweet. It’s what I do in lieu of dating. Twitter is my personal life. Sad but true. Anyway, there is a Twitter account that depicts the “life” of a student athlete. Well, I should say the “problems” in the lives of student athletes. It’s actually called, @StudntAthlProbz. Here is a recent sampling of those perceived problems that student athletes face on a daily basis:

• I’d say I’m tired from getting up for black Friday but that’s when I have to get up most days anyway. #studentathleteproblems

• Everyone saying, “I don’t want to be back at school” AT LEAST YOU WENT HOME. #studentathleteproblems

• Having to take multiple showers a day after multiple workouts. #studentathleteproblems

• Wait, people actually get time off to see their families on Thanksgiving? #studentathleteproblems

• Fine I didn’t want to go out for Halloween anyway…#studentathleteproblems

Ok, Ok…you get it. Basically the tweets represent the poor and disadvantaged student athletes of America’s various colleges and universities. The tweets transcend divisions or gender or even sports. All student athletes should be able to relate to the hapless perils of other overworked student athletes. A few of my own players have taken to retweeting @StudntAthlProbz in a show of solidarity and support. “Hey! I hear you @StudntAthlProbz! I feel your pain!” “Preach @StudntAthlProbz! Preach! I have to go through the same stuff as you!” “Wow! @StudntAthlProbz is right on with that last tweet! My legs burned walking up the stairs too!” “Word to your mother @StudntAthlProbz.”

I read these tweets, and although I too can relate, (I was a former student athlete before I became a current coach), I find them more irritating than amusing. Each post and retweet is an opportunity to complain about something that many “regular” students envy and covet. Let’s call it what it is, a 140 character pity party.

I am a student athlete. Woe is me. In 4 years I will accumulate more Adidas/Nike/Under Armour/(fill in the blank) apparel then my neighborhood Sports Authority. In 4 years I will travel all over the country, sometimes out of the country, to compete in a sport that I told the coaches that recruited me I was PASSIONATE about. I will stay in nice hotels and eat at nice restaurants and even fit in the occasional opportunity to sight see or soak in some local culture. When I return home from these road trips, I will walk through a mall and people will recognize me and ask me for my autograph. In return I will look really cool in front of my non student athlete friends. (Oh wait, I don’t have non student athlete friends. Because according to @StudntAthlProbz….all my friends are athletes. #studentathleteproblems) I will get invited to speak at local schools and these small children will hang on to every word I say because I am what they dream of becoming someday. I will have access to resume workshops, networking opportunities, and in some cases, influential boosters who will help me get internships and jobs not available to my “regular” classmates. Finally, I will graduate from college with no or minimal student loans to pay back. I got 99 Probz but a student loan ain’t one.

I have recruited the heck out of my student athletes, some harder than others, but I can’t recall a single “Please” coming out of my mouth. I didn’t get down on my knees with my hands clasped pleading for them to bring their talents to St. Louis, (or Tucson or Seattle for that matter). In fact, I often tell my recruits that what they are about to embark on is incredibly tough and not for everyone. If being a student athlete were for everyone, then everyone would do it. To be a student athlete requires a great deal of commitment, hard work, and discipline. You have to have more than love for your chosen sport. You have to be PASSIONATE about it. (There goes that word again.)

Passion is derived from the Greek work “pashos” which literally means: “to suffer”. I love Twitter. But I will not suffer for it. I’m passionate about coaching the Billikens. And I have suffered for it. And student athletes, that’s exactly what you’re doing, suffering for what you’re passionate about. Your suffering comes in the form of your social life, your time, your opportunities to go home, and the physical strain placed on your body. It’s great preparation for the rest of your life. Because trust me, this will not be the only time you have to make sacrifices or suffer for what you are passionate about.

Tweet and retweet away but please, let’s keep our perspective and not be ungrateful or petty. In the end, those are some nice probz to have.

Not a N*gger Lover

I've been called everything and anything. However, nothing I've ever been called cuts me to the core the way "Nigger" does. Not half breed, bitch, tomboy, zebra, ...NOTHING stings worse, is more infuriating, or stops me dead in my tracks the way it does when someone calls me a nigger. I can remember each time I've been called this and exactly by whom.

There was the time I was visiting my mom's best friend in Lake Tahoe. There was a little white boy who found it necessary to call me a nigger and spit at me before taking off and running away. We were at a park. I had done nothing to him. I guess he didn't want to share his slide and swings with the black stranger. He couldn't have been older than 6. I was 11. I was stunned. To this day I can remember exactly how it felt. I wanted to chase after him and beat him down but I was too shocked to even move, let alone pursue. To this day, when I hear anyone talk about Lake Tahoe, I don't think of the beautiful mountains I saw or the sounds of the casino, I think of the little red head boy at the park.

Then there was the time I was working at the Teen Center. I befriended a young Asian girl who was troubled and drifting in and out of homeless shelters. I thought we had formed a pretty good relationship. One day she came in upset and she took her anger out on me... the only black staffer working. She threw honey mustard packets at me so hard they exploded on my chest and she said, "Get the fuck away from me you black nigger bitch! You can't help me! You're just a nigger!!!" Just a nigger....JUST a nigger. As if my degree from the University of Michigan, my time spent traveling the world, my work ethic and passion and commitment to all of those teens at the shelter was negated and irrelevant. Because to this 16 year old Asian girl...I would always be JUST a nigger. She, being a minority herself, felt as if her status and lack of accomplishments were somehow more significant than anything I had or will ever do because I was black and she was yellow. Apparently yellow trumps black.

I was sitting at a NFL game while working at the University of Washington. Seahawks vs. Raiders. I was sitting alone waiting for my friends to come. There were two Raiders fans in front of me. Two white guys in their 30's. A black lady was rude to them because they were cheering loudly. She started arguing with them and then left to find an usher. When she walked away one of the guys said to the other, "Fuck that nigger bitch." The other friend, who remembered that there was another "nigger bitch" sitting behind them tapped his friend and gestured back to me. The offensive friend looked at me, turned red, and said, "Ma'am. I'm sorry." He didn't have to apologize. Apologize for what, showing his true colors? Clearly if he could call someone a nigger bitch then 15 seconds later call someone "ma'am" he is the worst kind of racist. He’s the racist that smiles in your face while the whole time they really think you are the scum of the earth. Everyone within earshot heard. I don't know what was worse... the embarrassment I felt or the empathetic looks on their faces knowing that none of them had any intention of defending me.

The last time I was directly impacted by the word Nigger was at a Sugarland/Kenny Chesney concert two summers ago. Now maybe that was my fault as I probably had no business being at a Sugarland/Kenny Chesney concert knowing that I would risk being the only black person there but I wanted to go because I enjoy country music. I left the safe haven of my circle of friends to get a couple of beers from the concession stand. I stood in line behind three young adults. "What the fuck man? She's always hanging out with fucking niggers. Fuck that nigger lover." He turned around and did not apologize when he saw me. In fact, he showed no remorse. He did say, "I didn't know you were standing behind me." I replied, "It shouldn't matter." He shrugged, turned back around, and finished his conversation. I had to continue to stand in line behind this racist for at least 5 more minutes...each second gone by made my blood boil until I could literally feel sweat rolling down my back. I was angry. But at whom? The racist? His parents for raising a racist? Society for being tolerant of racism? Me for not giving him a piece of my mind? I would have to go back hundreds of years to get to the core of whom my anger and rage should be directed towards. Hundreds of years…

I remember being in 4th grade and attending a nearly all white school and my "friends" freely used the word nigger and then would look at me and say, "no offense Shimmy. You're not like them. You're one of us." Why? Because my mom is white? Because I don't fit into your stereotype of what a "nigger" looks like and acts like? As an 8 year old I wanted to scream out and say, "NO! I'm not like you. I'll never be like you or be one of you." But as an 8 year black kid at an all white school, you're just happy to have friends. Even racist ones.

I don't believe black people should have ever taken ownership of the word Nigger. Just because we have claimed it as our own and added our own swag to it by dropping the "er" for an "a" at the end does not mean that it is ours for the taking. That word will never be ours. It was always "theirs" used to oppress us, humiliate us, hurt us, and most important... keep us in our place. The word nigger was someone’s way of reminding Black people that they are inferior. Regardless of their level of education. Regardless of their wealth. Regardless of their status in comparison to any other ethic group. Inferior.

No other word in the human language has been used to oppress an entire race of people. We're not talking about gender, religion, or sexual orientation. We're talking about an entire RACE of people... for hundreds of years. Putting it in a rap song or calling your homeboy one doesn’t validate it any more than when a White man calls you one.

This is why I feel the way I do. You may or may not disagree and the wonderful thing about our country, the one that our ancestors broke their backs to build, is that we have freedom of speech. I can't keep any of you from saying what you want to say or feeling how you want to feel. But this is how I feel. (My blog remember?) In addition to everything already aforementioned, the other reason why I don't like the word is that Black people sound just as ignorant saying it as White people do.

The following link is a well-written synopsis and a college student's take on the “N” Word. Maybe you’ll find it interesting and/or enlightening. I also have read interesting pieces on why people thing it's acceptable for Black people to embrace the word and claim it as their own. A good read on that side of the coin would be "Nigger" by Dick Gregory, (I have a copy if any of you would like to borrow it). As anything in life, I challenge you to do your homework and come to your own conclusion and stance from an educated point of view and not just one formed by opinion or emotion.

http://wrt-intertext.syr.edu/XI/Nigger.html

Whatever your take is on the subject, be prepared to support it... with intelligence and articulation.
 

Take a walk in her shoes 2.0

(This is a kind of sort of recycle. I wrote this original piece a few years ago and have edited it to make it 2011 worthy. If you read it two years ago, read it again. It’ll be worth your while. I promise. And you know you trust me.)


“In my shoes, just to see
What it’s like, to be me
I’ll be you, let’s trade shoes
Just to see what it’d be like”
- Beautiful (Eminem)



Nearly everyday, I walk. I walk because running hurts my knees. I walk because I have a dog who needs exercise to curb his hyperactive behavior. I walk because it affords me an opportunity to think through that day’s schedule. I walk because I can listen to my iPod and catch up with the latest songs. I walk because it’s guaranteed prayer time. More than anything however, I walk because Melissa Erickson can’t.

I coached Melissa Erickson for one season during her senior year at the University of Washington. She was part of an amazing senior class that led us to a share of the Pac 10 title and a trip to the NCAA Elite Eight. Melissa was a 6’2 reserve small forward who could hit the 3 and bang with the best of them. She was an enforcer who wore a goofy white headband when no other white girls were wearing goofy white headbands. She was different. She was unlike the other seniors on that team. They were great students who worked hard everyday in practice, never talked back and never ever rolled their eyes to express their displeasure. Melissa, on the other hand, was the queen of back talk and rolled her eyes so much I was sure they’d fall out of her head and land right on the court someday. Melissa never met a sprint that she liked and enjoyed partying far more than studying. I was a young and energetic first year D1 assistant coach and I was gung ho about class checks, discipline and following the rules. As you can imagine, I was Melissa’s worst nightmare and she was my biggest challenge. That might be why I loved her so much.

Melissa was real. No one is supposed to love running suicides. And if you say otherwise, don’t stand next to me when lightening strikes. Practice is not fun. Going to 8am classes isn’t something to be looked forward to. Mo would agree to all of the above and lived accordingly. She was at UW to play ball, win games, have fun, meet people, and get her degree. All of which she did. What she also did was display an unbridled passion, loyalty, and commitment for her team and love for all that was purple and gold. When we won Pac 10’s, she passed out those big giant candy sucker rings and wore one, (& ate it), at our subsequent Selection Sunday press conference. If a teammate’s boyfriend broke their heart, she was the first one to round up the girls to do a drive by on the poor and unsuspecting chap. If an opponent got too rough with one our players, the Sopranos music would start playing and Mo was there, headband and all. She even looked out for our freshmen. Especially our freshmen. Mo taught me that you didn’t have to be “perfect” in order to be a great teammate or a valuable member of the team.

Chasing Melissa around and holding her accountable made me a better coach. She taught me patience, forgiveness, and how to not take things so personally. Melissa prepared me far more for this profession than any of the 3.8 GPA angels I would go on to coach in my career. Watching Melissa grow and mature made all the drama worthwhile. The wins validate you as a college coach but they don’t define you. What truly justifies your existence is the impact you make on your players. Even several years later.

“Hell, we don’t gotta trade our shoes
And you aint gotta walk no thousand miles
In my shoes, just to see
What it’s like, to be me…”


Almost 6 years ago I found out that Melissa had been diagnosed with an early form of ALS, or Lou Gehrigs disease. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that takes away your ability to do things that I know I take for granted. Balance, jumping, running, dancing, swallowing, talking, walking… The disease usually strikes between the age of 40 and 70. Melissa was diagnosed a day before her 28th birthday. ALS doesn’t care about race or gender. It can strike anyone. ANYTIME. Unfortunately ALS is fatal. Usually within 5 years of diagnosis.

The fight that Mo showed on the court when it came to protecting her teammates or securing a win is the same fight that she has taken to the battle against ALS. The Melissa Erickson that used to complain about 8am practices and study hall now delights in waking up in the am to load her wheelchair into her custom van to go see a Husky or Seattle Storm game. The Melissa Erickson that used to do anything to get out of running a sprint dreams at night of being able to run just once more. She’s inspiring others because of how she refuses to accept what ALS has in store for her. She’s motivating to me because she is making the most of everyday she has. Without complaint. Without self-pity. Without a doubt.

I walk everyday because it means something to me. It’s not just about me and my schedule and how tired I am. I walk because I have this healthy body. I walk because I’ve lived a very blessed life. I walk because I’m appreciative of the people that have supported me. I walk because maybe tomorrow, I might wake up and won’t be able to. I walk because I can. I walk because Melissa can’t…

Saturday, August 27th, is a benefit for Melissa’s foundation, which is being held in Seattle. It’s a pub crawl, www.ringaroundtheneedle.com , 100% fitting for Melissa. Lord knows that woman loves beer. But once again, REAL. I originally wasn’t intending on going because of the time, distance, and inconvenience factor. After trying to justify all of this to myself I realized how selfish I sounded. I could hear my own voice in my own head saying, “If it means enough to you, you’ll find a way to get it done.” You see, that’s what I say to my players when they try to justify why they can’t do something. Because Melissa means enough to me, I’m going to walk the talk. Literally.

SGM’s note: I never solicit anything, but this is my website so in this case, I’m doing whatever I’d like. If you can’t make the event, please consider making a donation to her foundation. And if you live near me in St. Louis and make a donation, I’ll buy you a beer at my favorite Lou pub. We can have our own crawl in Mo’s honor. She would get a kick out of that.

Old Dog. New Tricks.

The other day I was taking my dog for a walk in the park on a particularly hot spring day. He’s a feisty little boxer/pit mix and he usually exerts a great deal of energy on these walks. He gets so excited and he’s constantly pulling and tugging me in every direction. Since I’m the stronger of the mutts, I usually wear him out first.

A little background about my pooch: He refuses to drink from the doggy fountains that are scattered throughout the park. In fact, it’s become a game we play. It’s the “Stubborn Hot Dog Game” as I like to refer to it. He would rather stand in the middle of the park, panting and drooling all over than go near the fountain and drink the cool & refreshing, (albeit recycled I’m sure), water. I have tried using my hand as a cup to no avail. I’ve wrestled and pulled him closer to it, only to end up with water all over me. One time I tried to force his head under the water in what turned out to be a really ridiculous misunderstanding. (Someone in the park accused me of waterboarding my dog. It was bad all around.)

In order to circumvent his disdain for the doggy fountain, I’ve started using his dog bags as a makeshift canteen. He looks like a snobby dog and I’m sure the other dogs make fun of him when he walks away but neither one of us really care as long as he is hydrated.

So let’s fast forward to this last trip in the park. He’s being dramatic, (he gets it from his mama), and in obvious need of water. I spy one of those fountains he is not fond of and then I realize there is one problem: I didn’t bring a spare doggy bag for him to drink out of. I look around for something, anything, that I can use as a replacement and I saw nothing. That’s the great thing about St. Louis Parks, for the most part they’re actually very clean and void of litter. (At this particular moment I wished I lived in Detroit.) There was no way I was filling up my shoe with water so I looked at him and said in my best dog whisperer tone, “Today is a day of growth for you.” He, as well as anyone within earshot, looked at me as you might imagine they would look at me and we headed to the fountain.

The water came out and he did what he normally does, took a step backwards and looked at me as if to say, “Really? This again?” I know what is best for him. I know that it’s important he drink water at this very moment because he’s hot, overheated, and exhausted. His body needs it. I know what’s best for him even if he doesn’t. So why won’t he drink the water? Drink the friggin’ water dog!!!!” It hits me right then and there. This is exactly how I feel in my day (& night) job as a basketball coach. I know what’s best for this program, for this team, for these players. And I make decisions to put them in positions to be successful. Sometimes that means disciplining them so that they learn from their transgressions and not be destined to repeat them. Sometimes that means playing a player out of position because it’s what we need from them, even though they don’t think they’re equipped for it. It could be encouraging a student athlete to reassess their choice of a major because even though you want to be referred to as Doc, that 11 ACT and 2.1 GPA says the closest you’ll get to being a Doctor is drinking a Dr. Pepper at lunch. It means starting a certain line up because it gives us the best chance to be successful. Regardless of what the decisions are, the bottom line is that I have a very good grasp on what behooves individual players on my team and I do my best to lead them to make choices that make sense. Much like I lead Flynt to that fountain when I know that he needs to drink water.

And oftentimes like Flynt, my players also refuse to drink. They would rather stand there and pass out than change majors, work on their ball handling, or follow team rules. We put them in positions to be successful, provide them with unlimited resources, and lead them to the water and yet they still refuse to drink. And the more I pull and tug and push and encourage, and sometimes even yell, the more I end up frustrated, soaking wet, & standing in the middle of the park looking like an idiot.

I changed my tone with Flynt this last go around at the doggy fountain. I didn’t yell or pull. He tried to back out and I wouldn’t let him. I positioned my body so that he stood 6” from the fountain & stared directly at the running water. We did that. Together. In silence for at least 2 minutes. Then I cupped my hand under the running water and brought it to him. By the time it reached his mouth all the water was gone but he licked my hand anyway. I repeated it, each time bringing him closer to the running water until eventually he was drinking from the fountain and didn’t even know it. I literally thrust a fist in the air, (Tiger Woods style), & said, “YES!” I felt like I had just won an Oscar, (or better yet, an MTV Video Music Award because those are way cooler). It was an amazing breakthrough six years in the making. Six years to get this dog to do something that every other dog in Tower Grove Park does routinely.

So after all of that, what I’ve learned is this, you really can lead a horse, (or dog. or player) to water but you can’t make them drink. But you can make it so they have a clear understanding of why they need to drink. It requires ingenuity, creativity, discipline, clear communication, and patience. At least it did in this case. There is something going on here. Times are changing, as are the people in it. The world is shifting. And how we operate as parents, coaches, and managers has to shift too. If it doesn’t then you’ll fit into one of two categories: The Thirsty or The Wet and Frustrated.

How I got my championship ring

I love winning. I love jewelry. So naturally I love championship rings. I have 2 of these prized baubles from my former life as an assistant coach. I’ve earned none as a head coach...until now. This spring I finally got my bling.

Some of you that know our team record this past season, (notice I said “our” and not “my”. There’s no “I” in team, remember?), are probably scratching your head and asking yourself, “What the heck is she talking about? Do they give rings for last place?” No, they don’t and no, I’m not insane. Let me explain...

About a year and a half ago I met a tall, pale, and handsome young man sitting on a bar stool at my favorite St. Louis hangout, Van Goghz Martini Bar and Bistro. I’m not exactly sure how the conversation began or what initiated our introduction to each other, (after all, we were at a bar. There’s a lot about that night I don’t remember.). What I do remember, however, is that he was funny, quick witted, a lover of karaoke, and slightly cocky with an easy smile and personality to match. Me being the consummate team player and always putting the needs of my staff first, (in order words, if they are happy they work harder.), it occurred to me that he might be a great match with my assistant Stephanie. Once that thought entered my head my interaction with him became much more specific:

ME: “What do you do for a living?” “How old are you?” “Do you like sports?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “Are you gay?”

HIM: Attorney. 25. Former collegiate baseball player. Single. Straight.


On the surface I’m nodding as if I’m taking mental notes. Inside I’m screaming, “WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!!!!” I was sold. To me it was a done deal. Now I just had to convince Steph.

I told him I had the perfect girl for him. Or what limited amount of him I knew. He was intrigued so we Googled her on my iPhone. He read her bio and approved of her photo. Now as I’m recalling all of this I feel like some sort of techno-pimp. I shared with him what her bio and photo did not reveal. She’s sweet, selfless, hardworking, fit, a Cards fan, and the daughter of a pig farmer from Iowa. I have no idea how that last piece is relevant but maybe that’s something that a guy would find to be an endearing quality in his woman. After espousing Steph’s overall awesomeness, I got Tony to agree to come to our next home game so he could see her in action and if he wasn’t turned off by her sideline demeanor then we could go from there.

A man of his word, Tony came to our next home game and thankfully Steph didn’t act like a raving lunatic and get a technical, (that would come in the 2010-11 season.). Apparently Tony liked what he saw because when I met up with him later that night he seemed a little smitten. I sent her a text and tried to get her to meet us. She declined. I told her I’d buy her a drink. She declined. I told her I had a guy that I wanted her to meet. She hesitated…but still declined. I even took a photo of Tony on my phone and emailed it to her. Maybe that was a bad idea because she vehemently declined. To her credit, she was with her family at a hotel and didn’t want to leave. She left the door open by saying she’d be interested in meeting him another time.

How did I know that Steph and Tony would hit it off? I went with my gut. Great deserves great and I thought they both were pretty great. No clue that they’d be great for one another but I was faithful they would be.

A few weeks later Tony came to another game. (He brought his loud and obnoxious friend Big Tony but that’s a whole different story.) We celebrated at a Karaoke Bar. Duh. And Tony & his buddy met us there and I strategically made sure Tony sat near Steph. What’s really neat about this story is that Steph’s parents were there so unbeknownst to them, they bore witness to Cupid shooting his arrow. (And what’s really, really neat about this story is that I sang “The Pussycat Song” in front of Steph’s mom. That should come with an element of shame but alas, it does not.)

After watching her do her thing during the game, Steph got a chance to see Tony in action behind the mic. It doesn’t surprise me that she ultimately fell in love with the guy. Tony sang songs by the Jackson 5 and Hootie & the Blowfish that night. Was it his on stage swagger? Was it his monotone delivery? Or was Steph turned on by the confidence in which this ginger haired white guy belted out tunes made popular by his darker skinned brethren? I can’t answer that. She can. But I can’t. All I know is that they exchanged numbers at the end of the night and I felt like Chuck Woolery.

Now what happened between that night in January 2010 and February 2011 has nothing to do with me. It’s solely about the love Stephanie and Tony have for one another and their resolve and commitment to making their relationship successful. I can only attest to how awesome it felt to get that text message from Stephanie the night of February 28th after returning from our last road trip and game of the season. Ironically I was sitting on a bar stool at Van Goghz Martini Bar & Bistro at the time. (That’s what you call coming full circle). Her text, in short said, “I know it won’t take away the sting of this disappointing season but it wasn’t a total loss. Tony proposed to me tonight!” Stephanie isn’t wrong that often, or at least she would like to think so, but she was dead wrong that night. Her engagement to one of the greatest guys in the world definitely alleviated the heartbreak of our sub par season. It helped to put the losses into perspective. We didn’t get an A10 Championship ring this year but we got something better, (Note I said “we” not her. There’s still no “I” in team.). We got a ring that symbolizes the undying love of a beautiful young couple. A ring that won’t go out of fashion or end up tucked away in a jewelry box. This ring won’t tarnish or fade. A ring that reminds me, every time I see it, that there are far more valuable things in life than winning basketball games. Thank you Tony and Stephanie for reminding me that sometimes our true purpose in life has nothing to do with what we want or what we think it should be.

Clearly I’m in the wrong profession. I will be submitting my resume to eHarmony and Match.com first thing tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I’ve got a wedding to attend. Congratulations Lovebirds. Please continue to be good to one another. I love you both... 

Deep Thoughts from a Bar Stool in Tower Grove East

I’m sitting in my favorite neighborhood martini bar drinking a club soda with lime desperately trying to come up with the words to explain this season, which officially ended 48 hours ago. The fact that today is the last day in February and our season is over speaks for itself. I should be watching film of our 1st round opponent in the upcoming A10 Tournament. I should be packing. I should be planning practice with my assistants or having a last minute logistics meeting to review the itinerary with my DOBO and administrative assistant. I shouldn’t be here. Drinking club soda with lime while I type what words can never explain. But here is where I am.

I have some really special people in my life that have been absolute stalwarts for me during this season. They’ve helped me to maintain my perspective as well as my sanity. About a month ago one of those angels sent me an email. And as difficult as it was to read, what he said made sense and was correct. And I thanked him for his honesty and for caring enough about me to take the time to share what he did. My response to him in part is what I feel compelled to share publicly. Enough time hasn’t gone by for me to fully dissect what went awry this season. That process will occur after the rawness of the early ending has dissipated but in the interim something needs to be said. For my sake…

This has really taken a toll on me. Over the course of the last 6 years I have learned the true meaning of passion (derived from the Greek word “pashos” which literally means to suffer) as well as what faith & humility really means & how it applies to my life. As I have struggled mentally I have grown spiritually. And I can unabashedly say that I am passionate about this program.

So many crazy & inexplicable things have happened these last 6 years so far out of my control. But I just keep plugging away and staying true to my faith. And really...that is exactly what faith is. Faith isn’t being sure of what WE want to happen but being sure of what God wants to happen. The most difficult part for me is feeling like a failure. Failure is unfamiliar to me. What does that even feel like? It’s as foreign to me as time travel and Mandarin. I've always worked under the perception that hard work & perseverance trumps all & so far my track record proves it. Until now...but it's not my job to question why. It's my job to be obedient, work hard, live with passion, & most importantly...trust God.

I take great delight in each card, note, text, or email that I get from my former & current players. I know, which each one I receive, it's a reminder from God that although I want to win championships...HE wants me to impact lives. Including my own.

With that being said, I know that I'm not paid to impact lives. I'm paid to win ball games. I am not naïve in this sense.

This season is over but the lessons learned from it will remain tangible forever. You control what you can. Try hard not to worry about what you can’t and at the end of the day lay your head down knowing that you’ve cheated no one, including yourself, and done your absolute best.

I don’t sleep too much during the season but I have a feeling I’m going to sleep well tonight. That, I’ve earned.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

About a month ago someone asked me a question; a simple question. Maybe the easiest question asked of me in the last 5 years. The simplicity of it is the reason why I can’t believe that I struggled to answer it. I stammered, paused, hesitated, and eventually gave an answer that I thought would sound good. And since then, I’ve thought about the question and my response every single day, still searching for the right answer, assuming there even is such a thing.

I was asked if winning was the most important thing…if it was EVERYTHING. As a D1 basketball coach, I’m supposed to say, without hesitation, “Hell Yes!! Winning is the end all to end all!” Or maybe, because I’m supposedly an educator, the correct answer would be, “It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game” or some cliché-ish BS like that. I think I know what my answer would’ve been 6, 5, 4, or maybe even 3 years ago. I’m quite certain I would’ve been all about winning. Knowing me, I would’ve looked at the questioner like he was insane for even having the audacity to ask me something like that. Back then…

Which leads me to now…

Winning is everything. And winning means nothing. It’s what has motivated me and driven me these last 5 years and it’s what has broken me down and kept me up at night. It’s caused me to replace food with film and bright eyes with baggy eyes. It’s given me temporary satisfaction and pleasure and has been cause for a few nights, very few nights, of celebration.

Another colleague got disciplined recently. When I say colleague I mean a fellow women’s basketball coach at a mid-major who, in her pursuit of winning, broke all kinds of rules in the process. This is really happening in women’s basketball at the mid-major level. This would’ve been unheard of 10 years ago. What could possibly drive someone to risk her career as well as the careers of her entire staff? For 3-5 extra practice hours a week? To win 16-18 games & still not even make the NCAA Tourney? She doesn’t make big bucks. Not a household name. Outside of her own community, she’d probably go unnoticed but she cheated. Why? Well, I suppose because to some people, yeah, winning is everything.

And I’m sure there was a time when I thought the same thing. I’m sure it’s probably on the record somewhere. Some video taped interview or reporters transcript where I expressed that exact sentiment.

If I once felt that way, I don’t feel that way anymore. And maybe it’s because I haven’t won anything of significance in the last 5 years that I can say that. Maybe if we win an A10 championship I will look into the camera and say in my best champagne laced voice, “Psych!!! I was kidding!!! Winning rules all!!!”

But I seriously doubt it.

This last month, in my search for the answer to that question, I’ve thought about every single victory we’ve had at SLU during my tenure. It didn’t take long. I thought about the Charlotte’s and the Rhode Islands. The Missouri State & Wyoming games in front of 6,000+ fans and the 5-0 start in 2006. I thought about the Ball State game and the SIU-C beatdown. The “Shot” against WMU & again against LaSalle. I remembered the revenge game vs. UMSL and the pride game vs. Wash U…neither of which really mattered after all, seeing they were only exhibitions. I thought about all of them. Every. Last. Single. One. Then I thought about the heartbreaks. The near misses. Like the two Xavier games when victory was eminent but defeat was inevitable. Our 2nd half comeback at St. Joe’s last year. Or the OT loss at home against UMASS…and I thought about the pain and heartbreak that those losses caused. I relived all of them in my mind and as dramatic as it seems, I felt that pain all over again. I physically felt pained. And I still do as I write. If winning were everything, then wouldn’t I enjoy the wins more than I hate the losses? Wouldn’t I?

So…if winning isn’t everything, then what is most important? Helping other people to realize goals and reach expectations they never thought they could navigate? Growing and helping others to grow in the process? (I’m totally having a Jerry Maguire moment.) Using whatever platform you have to impact someone else’s life? Encouraging others to fulfill dreams that you were never able to? Coming home to someone that loves you unconditionally? (In my case a dog. I hate that but it is what it is. After living in 3 states in 8 years you realize that the long distance thing only works in Tom Hanks movies.) If that’s indeed what is most important then I’m pretty sure I’ve got all those areas covered.

Katie Paganelli. Amanda Kemezys. Pooh Gearlds. Hayley Leake. Tyler McIlwraith. Rachel Diener. Rachel Taylon. Theresa Lisch. Heather King. Jae Haynes. Ashley Hanlen. Mallory Eggert. Jacy Bradley. Lauren Woods, (even though she doesn’t realize it yet). Amy Klotz. Devonna Smith. Kat Hester. Nicole Johnson. Ayrie Robinson. Petra Jackson. Honey Brown. Stephanie Rich. Jarietta Benton. Their growth. Their development. Their fulfillment. Their success. That’s what this is about. Putting in more than you get back. Working your ass off to achieve something greater than you can ever comprehend and not selling your soul or cheating to get there. Looking at yourself in the mirror everyday and knowing that even though there is so much that is out of your control, you fight anyway. Because it’s the right thing to do. The only thing you can do. Having faith that this “thing” will work out the way it’s supposed to, not knowing exactly what the hell “it’s supposed to” means. Maybe “it’s supposed to” means you’re supposed to have 6 losing seasons and get fired. Or maybe “it’s supposed to” means you’re supposed to have 5 losing seasons and then win an A10 championship. Who knows?

Winning is everything. But at the same time…wining is nothing.

Give a little, Get a little

Attention all Saint Louis University students! I’m going to let you in on a well kept secret…are you ready for it? Guess what? You actually have TWO basketball teams here at your esteemed University. Shocking I know! One team wears jockstraps. The other, sport bras. One team features Kyle, Brian and Cody. The other team has Lauren, Ashley, and Courtney. One team is led by a Hall of Fame coach who loves to rock all black everything like Jay Z. The other team is fronted by a future, (ahem), Hall of Fame coach who wears short skirts and tall heels like Jay Z’s wife. One team is trying to qualify for the NCAA tournament and restore glory to Billliken Basketball. The other team is trying to have a breakthrough season and get over the hump in what has been a steady building process. Both teams feature hard working student athletes, your peers, who represent Saint Louis with class and passion. Both teams have staffs that work tirelessly in recruiting, practices, and game planning to bring glory to this University. BOTH teams need your support.

I know it’s not always easy to support a team that doesn’t win or exhibit success by sports standard of success. I played D1 basketball at Michigan. I get the whole “winning is everything” mantra. This isn’t what this is about. What this is about is building something that we all can be proud of and feel a part of. This is about giving your athletes momentum, pride, and energy. This is about supporting your own. This is about school spirit. This is about free textbooks. Free textbooks? Oh yes, this is definitely about free textbooks.

Student support means so much to me and my team that I’m putting my money where my mouth is. Literally. Last year we gave away free books to a fortunate SLU student who came to a game and won a drawing. I met Donald at the SLU bookstore and watched with great chagrin as the English/Communications major (that’s a whole lotta books people) pulled out his syllabus and loaded up on a semester’s worth of reading. I swiped my debit card and signed the receipt and shook Donald’s hand. He thanked me but it was more important that I thanked him. I thanked him for coming to the game, supporting my players, and demonstrating the best kind of school spirit; the unconditional kind. Donald said he had a good time at the game. He also said he’d be back. He didn’t realize women’s basketball could be that fun to watch. And the funny thing is I hear that a lot from first time customers.

We’re doing it again. This upcoming Sunday we play Murray State. November 21st at 2pm. Take a study break. For some of you, set your alarm to wake up a little early. Women’s basketball is a great cure for a Saturday night Humphries hangover. Walk over to Chaifetz. Fill out a little card and put your name in the box. Stick around until the last media timeout of the game to see if you’ve won books for a semester on the coach. And while you’re at it, cheer for a very hardworking, tough, passionate, & disciplined basketball team. If you don’t like it, don’t come back. If you do, then rejoice in the fact that you learned something new…you have TWO basketball teams at your University. They both wear Saint Louis across their chest and they both need your support…

Maddie's Rules

A few months ago I spent the weekend with my best friend and her family at their home in Columbus, OH. I had the absolute pleasure of sleeping in her 6 year old daughter Madison’s room during my stay. Pink, tidy, and shelves full of dolls, stuffed animals, and other little knick-knacks that 6 year olds collect. I didn’t exactly fit in…until I noticed the sign posted on her door. A sign that she wrote with her own 6 year old handwriting, misspelled words included, and taped conspicuously in a place where anyone entering would see. It took me a few minutes to decipher her 6-year-old intent but once I did, it made very adult sense. In fact, it got me to thinking. What if everyone on my team lived by “Maddie’s Rules”? What if I threw away our Billiken Contract for Success and instead replaced it with “Maddie’s Rules for Success”? We would take her rules and then translate them so that they were prevalent to the Billikens. It might go something like this…

Rule #1: “Michael is Not A Loud in My Room” Billliken Translation: “Sometimes Boys Make a Mess Therefore, Keep Them Out of the Locker Room”

I can’t count how many times I’ve come into the locker room for film or a team meeting and seen a look that can only be described as a cross between constipation and delusion. You might know it as heartbreak. That look means this: someone just broke up with someone else and that certain someone is going to be worthless in practice or the subsequent game. The Art of Compartmentalization is a fading craft. Maddie literally didn’t want boys in her room. I’ll just be happy if they stay out emotionally.

Rule #2: “No Food or Water in My Room” Billiken Translation: “Don’t Eat Crap You Have No Business Eating (or Drinking)”

I get college. I loved college. I didn’t love college as much as Asher Roth but I still loved college. However, I also loved taking care of my body and understanding that you get out what you put in. Literally. You can’t fuel an A10 Championship Machine with hot wings and Nati Light. And just because it’s light beer it DOES NOT mean it’s good for you.

Rule #3: “No Snoring in My Room” Billiken Translation: “No Snoring in My Room”

What can I say? Snoring roommates suck. (Which might explain why I’m still single.)

Rule #4: “No Farting in My Room” Billiken Translation: “Be Respectful”

Come on?! Really teammate? Really? Everyone has that one teammate who doesn’t understand the extent of his or her repugnance. Don’t be that teammate. Respect the fact that other people share your space, air, and environment. You don’t play golf, you play a team sport, therefore be a team player.

Rule #5: “No Burping in My Room” Billiken Translation: “Be Respectful”

See Rule #4 for further elaboration.

Rule #6: “No Being Nasty in My Room” Billiken Translation: “Be Respectful AND Pick Up After Yourself”

Maybe you’ve never really thought about who picks up that sock that you casually throw on the floor. Maybe you’ve never gave any consideration to how the showers get cleaned or how your practice gear always gets neatly folded and put back in your locker each day. Maybe it’s time you start thinking about it. Don’t take advantage of the service of others. That’s not very nice.

Rule #7: “You Get What You Get” Billiken Translation: “You Deserve What You Earn”

I’m a firm believer that you get out of it what you put into it. Guess what? Coaches DO have favorites. So do bosses, teachers, and whether they want to admit it or not…PARENTS! They favor the ones that cause them the least stress and work the hardest and do what they’re supposed to do, how they’re supposed to do it, and when they’re supposed to do it. You take care of business, and then you get what you get. You don’t take care of business, and then you definitely get what you get.

Rule #8: “Get Out When I Say Get Out” Billiken Translation: “Don’t Quit”

Too many times players bail when THEY think they’ve had enough. When THEY think they can’t take it anymore. Too many times they fail to realize that they were so close to whatever it was they were fighting for in the first place. Don’t quit when YOU think you can’t go on. We’ll, (bosses, coaches, parents, etc), tell you when you’ve maxed out. (& the beautiful part is, you NEVER max out.)

Rule #9: “No Crying in My Room” Billiken Translation: “Be Tough”

I don’t entirely agree with Maddie on this one. In fact, I witnessed with my own eyes her crying in her room. However, I will say this, she is the toughest 6 year old I’ve ever seen in my life. It took a lot to get her to shed those tears. Crying is ok when there is something worth crying over. When you’re passionate about something or someone, then cry if needed. But with that being said, what are you really passionate about?

Rule #10: “No Being Rude” Billiken Translation: “Be a Good Teammate”

Be coachable. Don’t be a jerk. Listen to others. Accept constructive criticism. Don’t be negative. Put other’s first. In other words, no being rude.

And that’s all she wrote. Simple. Straightforward. And with the honesty that only a child could project. And in the end, I think we all could learn a lot from a 6 year old.
 

All She Wants is...

For the record…I didn’t recruit Amanda Kemezys. I inherited her. She was an incoming freshman when I was the incoming coach. I will not and can not take credit for the foresight required in predicting the type of player she was to become or the impact she would go on to make on the women’s basketball program at Saint Louis University.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I will take credit for tearing her down, making her cry, stripping her of her confidence and at times pushing her to the brink of premature extinction as a women’s basketball player at Saint Louis University. And I will take great pride in that…

We came into each other’s lives at the right time. She was a lightly recruited 6’4 post player with soft hands and a physique to match. She was a mothers dream. Amanda was a polite, respectful, hardworking, Christian girl who possessed an effervescent demeanor and optimistic outlook on life in general. Like I said, Mothers Dream. Translation: Coach’s Nightmare.

A big kid who worked hard and with a ton of potential should be MY DREAM! After all, you can’t coach size or any other God Given attribute. Like soft hands, good feet, toughness, killer instinct, competitive fire…or can you? Can you?

Amanda is living proof that you can. I’ve never coached someone that has reinvented herself the way Amanda Kemezys did over the course of 5 seasons, which included a redshirt freshman year. I vividly, (& lividly), remember being in the locker room at LaSalle after a tough OT loss her sophomore year. I was angry. Very angry. The locker room was crowded and steaming hot. My make up was rolling down my face like it was trying to get away from me because it was scared too. I was some shade of red, (as I usually get when I go “off”), and I was directing all my energy towards Amanda. The Explorers had outscored us 10-0 in that OT period and all 10 pts had been scored on Amanda. Drop steps, drives to the basket, elbow jumpers...LaSalle was playing their own personal game of H-O-R-S-E. I told Amanda that my grandmother could play better defense than her. What I might have failed to mention, (or maybe I didn’t), was that Grandma died in 1998, (Lord rest her soul). Even thinking about it now I cringe. Man. I was brutal. Not sure if I had ever been so hard on a kid before, (Perhaps Katie Paganelli but this was a close second). She didn’t talk back. She never broke eye contact. She cried, oh yes, she definitely cried, but with the tears running down her face she looked at me and nodded her head as if in agreement. Most important, she didn’t quit. She didn’t quit that day. Or the next day. She didn’t call me in the middle of July and quit and she didn’t text me the 2nd day of classes the following semester and quit. She didn’t quit during spring workouts when I decided that whatever she could do offensively would be negated if she couldn’t play defense so instead of honing her hook shot she spent 2 hours a week with me doing nothing but slides, tennis ball drills, X steps, C cuts, chair drills, and closeouts. She didn’t quit when we struggled through a painful 10-20 season with teammates that were half hearted and uncommitted. She didn’t quit when she broke her foot for the 3rd time in her career. She didn’t quit when her closest friends on the team did.

At the end of her sophomore year I had my end of the season meeting with her and I was point blank. “YOU ARE TOO NICE. It’s ok to be a great teammate off the court and be the nurturer and comforter but on the court you’ve got to be the bitch! You’ve got to be nasty! You’ve got to be tough! You’ve got to be the lion and they need to hear you ROAR!! Especially when you’re 6’4! BE A BEAST!” She looked at me like I was crazy and although she didn’t say it then, I knew what she was thinking, “This lady is crazy.” And I was. I was absolutely crazy about her becoming one of the best post players in this program’s history. The flaw in that logic was SHE had to be crazy about it as well. As it turned out, she was.

No player I’ve coached has ever made the most out of so little. I’ve had very talented players who didn’t work hard but still achieved great success. I’ve been blessed with talented players who, in spite of their talent, still worked hard and achieved great success. I’ve never coached anyone like Amanda. She has no vertical jump. Not naturally strong. Runs the court like she’s on a treadmill. I have sweaters that have more fast twitch fiber than she does. But there she was, by her junior year being named to the A10 All Conference Third Team. That means she was voted one of the top 15 players in the conference. A good conference. With lots of great players. And she was right there with the best of them.

Her end of the season meeting that year was a lot more tolerable for her to withstand. However, it wasn’t all hugs and roses. I congratulated her on her success but challenged her to take it to another level. “You’ve established yourself as one of the best players in the conference and in our programs barren history book, but how about being one of the best leaders?” This was probably a harder challenge for her to embark upon than the countless pounds she’d lost or muscle she’d added. I was asking her to step outside her comfort zone and not only push herself but push her teammates as well. Instead of me challenging her, I was asking her to challenge someone else. And like everything else I had thrown at her over the last 4 years, she looked me straight in the eye and nodded. And she did it.

I don’t want you to get the idea that she just woke up one day and became Mickey from the Rocky movies demanding that her teammates eat thunder and crap lightening. It didn’t happen like that. Much like her transformation from the worst defender short of a graveyard into one of the best players in our conference didn’t occur overnight. She worked at it. She read books. Studied great leaders. Improved her leadership in small increments over the summer and with each day she became stronger and more confident in her ability to help her teammates reach their potential. She still was the one they ran to when their hearts were broken or when they needed a hug but she also was willing to stop practice when it got sloppy and get on everyone before I did. She found a way to balance both sides of her personality.

After a tough loss earlier this season, in a game in which she played very poorly, I tweeted that in spite of how she had played I wouldn’t trade her for anyone else. Character, in my words, will take you a lot further than a vertical jump. An assistant coach in my conference took umbrage to that. In fact, called me out on it. Asked me if by stating that, was I putting down their athletically superior athletes. I have nothing against vertical jumps, (in fact, I had quite the vertical jump myself back in the day. I also had character but that’s a whole separate column.), and it wasn’t a dig at their players as much as it was a compliment to mine. Even at her lowest point, she was able to look her teammates in the eyes and say, “I didn’t bring it tonight. I will get better and do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” And I can’t think of too many times after that in which it did.

Amanda doesn’t have the highest vertical. She’s not the fastest. She’s not the best post defender in the league, (although she has switched out on guards from time to time and done quite admirably thank you very much chair drills!). Amanda isn’t the best scorer in the post, and she certainly isn’t the most athletic. She doesn’t block the most shots or have the fanciest footwork. But when I say Amanda is the most complete post player in our conference, understand this: It comes without a hint of hyperbole and an absolute straight face. Amanda Kemezys finished her career as the most COMPLETE post player in the 2009-10 A10 season. She rebounds (9.1 rpg), scores (13 ppg/51% fg), blocks shots (4th in SLU history), and takes charges (1st on team). 6’4 and she takes charges??? She is a team captain. Has averaged over 25 hours of community service per year since her arrival, and has a 3.6 GPA. And yes, these intangibles do matter because we’re not talking about professionals. We’re talking about collegiate student athletes. Most important, she hasn’t changed. Amanda is still the same sweet, humble, honest, loyal, committed, hardworking, personable and polite young lady she was when I first met her. (Except with an added dimension of toughness, badass, and she cries a lot less.)

No, I didn’t recruit her but I’m sure going to claim her…Amanda Kemezys became the player I needed her to become without compromising the person her parents raised her to be. A mother AND a coaches dream…




*SGM note… Amanda came to SLU as a local kid with few options and is leaving as one of the most heralded players in SLU WBK history. 10th all time in scoring. 3rd all time in rebounding. 4th all time FG percentage. 5th in rebounding average. 6th in FT’s made and 9th in all time FT percentage. 3rd Team All Conference 2008-09. 2nd Team All Conference 2009-10. All Conference Academic Team 2010. ESPN District All Academic Team 2010.

In my opinion, Amanda deserved more than she received. She deserved more than the individual accolades and she will tell you in a minute she’d trade them all for an A10 Championship. The reality is AK came into a program building for the future. She helped to lay the foundation for the championships to come. She will be missed but her impact will not.

 

Perfectly Imperfect

Yesterday I asked my team to play the perfect game. I didn’t just request it, I demanded it. Threatened to send them back to the locker room or worse yet, relegate them to the bus if they weren’t playing perfectly. I said it without even the slightest hint of a smile. I wasn’t kidding. I’m pretty sure they knew it. They didn’t look at me like I was crazy. They didn’t roll their eyes. They just nodded and went out and did it. They played a near perfect game.

And we lost.

By 19.

How do you play the perfect game and still lose by 19, (& not be playing UCONN?)? Our idea of the “perfect game” had nothing to do with missed shots, turnovers, or blown defensive assignments. Our version of perfection will never show up on a statistical sheet. There is no stat line that measures whether or not you play with passion and no sports information guy in the world keeps track of intensity or focus.

After struggling most of the season to generate a consistent effort, we found ourselves in an unsavory position…at the bottom of the conference standings at the halfway point. Last week we dropped our 4th straight game, albeit to the #2 team in the conference, by 7 points and our morale was low and the frustration was evident. We opened up that particular game with a 9 pt advantage which forced the other team to call a timeout. They came out of their timeout and responded. We punched them in the mouth first. They punched us back – harder. Instead of retaliating, we spit out our mouthguard and ran home crying. Basketball is a game of momentum and when that team made their run, we lacked the competitive fire to respond. I have a big problem with that. That’s a reflection of me. And I am anything but lacking in passion or competitive fire.

After a day off that seemed more like an offseason, we regrouped. We watched film as a team and asked our players to lead the post film analysis. We can do all the scouting reports and watch all the tape in the world but ultimately, we have no control over the other team and what sets they decide to run or strategies they choose to implement. We can not control officials, (although some coaches try very hard to). We can not will shots to fall. What we can do, however, and always should do, is play with a great deal of spirit, competitive fire, focus, coachability, passion, intensity, and discipline. And that, boys and girls, is what we did NOT see on that tape.

I’m not going to lie. I thought about starting practice by setting up garbage cans on either end of the court and running the team until they literally purged themselves of their ambivalence towards playing with passion. But what good would that do? 10 angry players plus 4 frustrated coaches with 7 games to play equals a mess. Instead, the message that needed to be sent was, in spite of what has happened to this point, there is still an opportunity to have a successful season. I still believe in this team’s ability to grow, mature & blossom.

I put away the garbage cans and handed my whistle over to the captains. Literally. They planned & ran practice that day. We challenged them to be more aggressive in their leadership and be more accountable. You could absolutely feel the energy in the gym. The head started talking. The heart started beating. The soul was resurrected. This team came alive. And because of their inspired play, I realized that I wasn’t the only one that still believed. They instilled in me confidence, hope, and faith that we could finish strong and exceed expectations.

We were in a dark place but there was light at the end of that tunnel. Actually headlights. Attached to a train named the Dayton Express, which is where we were headed to play our next game. Playing an 18-5 team on the road is not the most ideal way to regain confidence. That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is playing an 18-5 team on the road is a great opportunity to instill confidence in a team that has nothing to lose but everything to play for.

Sometimes you have to look beyond the winning and losing, especially when you have no choice. Beating Dayton would not have made the rest of our season. Not if we go on to lose every other game. Losing to Dayton wouldn’t break our season. What if we end the season on a 6 game winning streak? But how we responded, how we played - definite deal maker or season breaker. The only chance we had to come out of Dayton Arena ALIVE was to play the “Perfect Game”. And that is exactly what we did – almost. Aside from a lapse in discipline here and there, we played a near “perfect” game. Before the game we defined perfection as 1) competitive fire 2) team spirit 3) passion 4) intensity 5) focus 6) discipline & 7) being coachable. We wanted to strive for “perfection” and allow everything else to take care of itself.

We lost that game. But we lost because on that day Dayton was a better team that capitalized on our tangible mistakes. We lost because on that day Dayton had far more weapons than we did. We’ve lost before, (15 times to be exact), but losing hurts a great deal less when you are 100% certain you gave your all and your teammates and coaches did as well. We celebrated great plays. We high-fived and fist bumped and encouraged in ways that we had not in our previous losses. We got on each other when necessary and demanded more from one another than we had all season. Each timeout I had to wait for the players to stop talking before I could start. Dayton punched us in the mouth and we said, “We don’t need no stinking mouthguard! We got this!” and went back in swinging. We battled hard until the very end and at the very end we were exhausted but not defeated. I can’t articulate it and unless you were in that locker room with us you will never be able to fully comprehend but this time losing felt different. I didn’t feel like a, well…like a loser.

We lost.

By 19.

Nobody’s perfect. 

 


Wishful Thinking…
2010 Edition

Those of you that have been reading the blog for a few years know what these next few paragraphs will consist of. I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I do believe, however, that if something means enough to you, you will find a way to get it done. I’m not going to wait until January 1st to get in shape. There is no due date on the size of my butt. If the fact that all I can wear are sweatpants doesn’t motivate me to get on the treadmill than a date change on the calendar certainly won’t.

To heck with a New Year’s resolution but hooray for wish lists. My alter ego, ShimShady is all about wish lists. Shady wishes for the things that I’d like to happen but sound ridiculous asking for. Shady does this every year. Inevitably, a few wishes actually come true but more often than not, (ahem, butt size.), they remain as such…wishful thoughts. However, that doesn’t stop Shady from continuing with the tradition.

I wish…

* …they would make kids like they used to.
* …while they’re doing that, make parents like they used to as well.
* …Eminem does not end up in Celebrity Rehab.
* …Amy Winehouse DOES end up in Celebrity Rehab.
* …Amanda and Katie would finish their careers with no regrets.
* …Ayrie, Ashley, Jacy, Mal, Nic, Pooh, Lauren, and Kat would finish their season with no regrets.
* …I could find a really cool pair of size 11 cowboy boots. Just for the hell of it.
* …for a hot shirtless neighbor to mow my lawn. Oh never mind, that wish came true. Thanks Bryan!
* …the WNBA would survive. And thrive.
* …for more quality time with my mom.
* …for less alone time.
* …to laugh more. Overreact less.
* …that my assistants will find this all worthwhile.
* …Shannon from the Make-A-Wish Foundation will get one more chance to run the floor.
* …I will continue to NOT please everyone.
* …my girls will find their knights in shining armor and leave the douchebags in tinfoil alone.
* …Steph will remain disciplined.
* …JB will learn to respect the art of chewing gum.
* …everyone will appreciate my sense of humor as much as I do. Get it? No. Dang.
* …President Obama doesn’t choke. Everyone needs a tough point guard running the show.
* …for, read my lips…No More Memos!
* …Flynt, aka RickyBobby, would stop peeing in the house. (Unless his wish is to be homeless.)
* …that KimBeezy would be more laid back. She’s starting to stress me out.

And finally, more than anything, I wish for…

* …a genuine and cognizant appreciation of each and every day I have on this earth.

When all is said and done, if the only wish that’s granted is that last one, I will consider this year to be a complete success. (And I’m quite certain Shady would agree!).

Cry Me a River

As unflattering as that photo is….as painful as the memory behind that hideous crybaby snapshot, it’s necessary to illustrate a point.

That photo was taken my senior year after a loss to Wisconsin. It was run in the Detroit area newspapers the day after the game. The circumstances surrounding that photo op are as prevalent to me today as they were 15 years ago. I cost my team a chance to win a game and I cried. I’m not Tim Tebow and my Player of the Year award wasn’t up for grabs. A National Championship didn’t hinge on me making those 2 free throws that would’ve tied the game but still, I missed. It hurt. I cried.

I cried because it hurts too lose. More important, it hurts to lose when you’ve worked so hard to win. When you have given your all and at the end of the game you still fall short, that hurts. It’s supposed to. And if those tears motivate you to put up extra free throws in practice so you never put your team in that situation again then they were not in vain.

The other night I went recruiting. I watched the end of the JV game before the Varsity game began. The home team lost in front of a big crowd consisting of a full band, a rowdy student section, and bleachers that were packed with parents, relatives, and at least 5 D1 college recruiters. Within 3 minutes of the loss, the JV players were scattered amongst the fans in the stands, juice boxes in hand, proudly wearing their home jerseys with Crocs and Uggs, texting and giggling as the Varsity team was warming up. Two minutes after the Varsity team lost, they were doing pretty much the same thing.

I understand their apathetic response to losing. I walked away from that game without any sense of sacrifice or feeling as if a single kid had poured their heart and soul into trying to win a ballgame. As a result, it didn’t hurt so much when they lost. I get it.

To hear my comrades talk, kids are immune to losing. It doesn’t mean enough to them because of all the AAU games they play in the summer. They’re desensitized. I call BS. I believe that when you work hard and you fall short or fail, it should hurt. Even if you do it again and again and again…game after game after game. I know this more than anyone. For the past 4 years, my staff and I have worked to rebuild a women’s basketball program. With every loss, I hurt. With every small victory, I rejoice. And occasionally, I will go home and cry-even when we are expected to lose. Because when you care, sometimes, every now and then, a tear falls.

The other day we lost a brutal game on the road. It was against a team we should have beaten, (everyone says that but we really should have. They hadn’t won a game all season and I warned our team that this would be difficult because of that fact alone.). Our team waited until 10 minutes were left in the game and we were down by 11 before they decided to play with a sense of urgency. They turned it on. Next thing you know, we’re tied with about 2 minutes to play. Unfortunately for our team, a foul here and a missed shot there resulted in us not finishing our valiant comeback and we ended up losing.

In the locker room there was anger and words exchanged amongst teammates and outward frustration but my question to the team was, “Why?” How can you be upset when you didn’t give your all? What right do you have to cry because you lost? In that moment, I preferred the Ugg wearing, juice box drinking, not a care in the world having high school players to my heartbroken seniors. At least the JV kids knew they didn’t deserve to win. At least they understood that in order to show genuine frustration, disappointment, or sadness over a loss, you must play with genuine passion, care, and emotion in the first place.

Tim Tebow got crucified in the media and on Twitter because of his post game tears on the sideline. Is it a bad thing to care more about the state of your team than your own image? Is it horrible to show emotion? When you are genuinely passionate about something – or someone – and you realize that when that clock hits zero, everything you’ve worked towards is over, I think it would be inappropriate NOT to cry.

Some athletes deserve to shed tears. Over the course of a game, or a season, or a career, their hard work and sacrifice warrants that right. Some athletes should never shed a tear. When you go through the motions and you do just enough to lose, then by all means, when the game is over – grab your juice box and your cell phones and proceed as usual. But when you give everything you have to give, whether it’s cheering from the sideline, leading by example or diving for every loose ball…and those free throws fall short or that pass drops incomplete, go ahead, let it out. You’ve earned it.


Take a walk in her shoes


“In my shoes, just to see
What it’s like, to be me
I’ll be you, let’s trade shoes
Just to see what it’d be like”

- Beautiful (Eminem)



Nearly everyday, I walk. I walk because running hurts my knees. I walk because I have a dog who needs exercise to curb his hyperactive behavior. I walk because it affords me an opportunity to think through that day’s schedule. I walk because I can listen to my iPod and catch up with the latest songs. I walk because it’s guaranteed prayer time. More than anything however, I walk because Melissa Erickson can’t.

I coached Melissa Erickson for one season during her senior year at the University of Washington. She was part of an amazing senior class that led us to a share of the Pac 10 title and a trip to the NCAA Elite Eight. Melissa was a 6’2 reserve small forward who could hit the 3 and bang with the best of them. She was an enforcer who wore a goofy white headband back when no other white girls were wearing white headbands. She was different. She was unlike the other seniors on that team. They all were great students and worked hard everyday in practice and never talked back or rolled their eyes to express their displeasure. Melissa, on the other hand, was the queen of back talk and rolled her eyes so much I was sure they’d fall out of her head and land right on the court someday. Melissa never met a sprint that she liked and enjoyed partying far more than studying. I was a young and energetic first year D1 assistant coach and I was gung ho about class checks, discipline and following the rules. As you can imagine, I was Melissa’s worst nightmare and she was my biggest challenge. That might be why I loved her so much.

Melissa was real. No one is supposed to love running suicides! And she made no bones about it. Practice isn’t fun! Going to 8am classes isn’t something to be looked forward to! And Mo never pretended otherwise. She was at UW to play ball, have fun, meet people, and get her degree. All of which she did. What she also did was display an unbridled passion, loyalty, and commitment for her team and love for all that was purple and gold. When we won Pac 10’s, she passed out those big giant candy sucker rings and wore it, (& ate it), at our subsequent Selection Sunday press conference. If a teammate’s boyfriend broke their heart, she was the first one to round up the girls to do a drive by on the poor and unsuspecting heartbreaker. If an opponent got too rough with one our players, the Sopranos music would start playing and Mo was there, headband and all. She even looked out for our freshmen. Especially our freshmen! Mo taught me that you didn’t have to be “perfect” in order to be a great teammate or a valuable member of the team.

Chasing Melissa around and holding her accountable made me a better coach. She taught me patience, forgiveness, and how to not take things so personally. Melissa prepared me far more for this profession than any of the 3.8 GPA angels I would go on to coach in my career. Watching Melissa grow and mature made all the drama worthwhile. The wins validate you as a college coach but they don’t define you. What truly justifies your existence is the impact you make on your players. Even if it’s several years later.

“Hell, we don’t gotta trade our shoes
And you aint gotta walk no thousand miles
In my shoes, just to see
What it’s like, to be me…”


Almost 4 years ago I found out that Melissa had been diagnosed with an early form of ALS, or Lou Gehrigs disease. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that takes away your ability to do things that I know I take for granted. Balance, jumping, running, dancing, swallowing, talking, walking… The disease usually strikes between the age of 40 and 70. Melissa was diagnosed a day before her 28th birthday. ALS doesn’t care about race or gender. It can strike anyone. ANYTIME. Unfortunately ALS is fatal. Usually within 5 years of diagnosis.

The fight that Mo showed on the court when it came to protecting her teammates or securing a win is the same fight that she has taken to the battle against ALS. The Melissa Erickson that used to complain about 8am practices and study hall now delights in waking up in the am to load her wheelchair into her custom van and drive to work each day. The Melissa Erickson that used to do anything to get out of running a sprint dreams at night of being able to run just once more. She’s inspiring others because of how she refuses to accept what ALS has in store for her. She’s motivating to me because she is making the most of everyday she has. Without complaint. Without self-pity. Without a doubt.

I walk everyday because it means something to me. It’s not just about me and my schedule and how tired I am. I walk because I have this healthy body. I walk because I’ve lived a very blessed life. I walk because I’m appreciative of the people that have supported me. I walk because maybe tomorrow, I might wake up and won’t be able to. I walk because I can. I walk because Melissa can’t…

Saturday, August 29th, is a benefit for Melissa’s foundation, which is being held in Seattle. It’s a pub crawl, (www.ringaroundtheneedle.com), followed by a trip to a Seattle Storm game. Beer, Buddies, Basketball, …100% fitting for Melissa. Once again, REAL. I can’t be there because duty calls. I will however, get up on Saturday AM and walk to get my day started. While walking I will think of and pray for Melissa and thank God that I’m in walking shoes and not a wheel chair. Much like I do everyday.


SGM’s note: I never solicit anything, but this is my website so in this case, I’m doing whatever I’d like. If you can’t make the event, please consider making a donation to her foundation. Every little bit counts. Let’s fight this – together.

 
I'm Still a Twit!

It’s August and I’m currently working on our agenda for our upcoming staff retreat and it just occurred to me that I never put closure on July. I’ve had pretty good feedback from “I’m a Twit” which gave you a retroactive look into my life on the road. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, (another one of Big Bon’s life lessons), so I’m giving you “I’m a Twit Take 2…life on the road continued”.

Read about my recruiting adventures during the last two weeks of the recruiting period. Then when you’re done, sign up for a Twitter account and follow me, my staff, and our players as we embark on our 5th, & most successful season to date. You want to know how we made history this upcoming season? Follow us on Twitter and be a part of that history! At the end, you’ll wish you had. In the meantime, here’s the behind the scenes view of life on the road. Enjoy…

@shimmy33 writes:
Had a blast last night @ TinCan with the girlz & honorary girl @twoj2003 aka Sergio. A few hrs to finish stuff & get ready for rd 2!
11:05 AM Jul 21st from Tweetie

Landed in Nashville sans hair straightener. The Chaka Khan look is not going to fly in gym tomorrow. Must find mall.
8:34 PM Jul 21st from Tweetie

50 miles to Louisville. Hometown of the best & most passionate volleyball coach in the country..Anne "Firecracker" Kordes!! Go Billikens!
9:58 PM Jul 21st from Tweetie

Made it to hotel. I do NOT have the 8 or 9 am game so pretty fired up. Will be able to go on nice walk tomorrow & start day off right! :-)
11:46 PM Jul 21st from Tweetie


Quick break before homestretch. Still raining. Look like Chaka Khan afterall. So glad I went out of my way for that straightener. wth.
4:51 PM Jul 22nd from Tweetie

Once again...I like the kids that weren't in position to take the charge but are the 1st ones over to pick up the fallen teammate. Bn a Bill
8:44 PM Jul 22nd from Tweetie

Back in room. Mickie D's in belly. Tomorrows grid done. Bring on my 8am game. Zzzzzz
10:21 PM Jul 22nd from Tweetie

Listenin to country to get in N'ville mode. "God is great. Beer is good. People are crazy" wth? U can write a country song bout athing.
8:43 PM Jul 23rd from Tweetie

Sitting @ my 2nd game of day in N'Ville. W/my good friend Heather from NIU. 1 of UM's finest. Great to see her in coaching! Hail!
11:17 AM Jul 24th from Tweetie

Last game of day. Flying back to the Lou & taking 1 day break from road for this chicks wedding. :-) http://yfrog.com/7eyz1j
4:15 PM Jul 24th from Tweetie

Landed & no one @ airport to pick me up. Had to take cab home. In august I'm firing everybody.
10:22 PM Jul 24th from Tweetie

Just had lunch with some of my girls b4 T's wedding. Fierce on & off court! P http://yfrog.com/17gdlj
1:45 PM Jul 25th from Tweetie

@ak5514 said I can't tweet from the wedding so I'm not going to tweet. But if I were tweeting I'd tweet that so far it's gorgeous!
2:05 PM Jul 25th from Tweetie

If I were actually tweeting from the wedding then I'd tweet that Trent started crying as T walked the aisle. Touching. But I'm not so...
2:21 PM Jul 25th from Tweetie

Introducing Mr & Mrs Trent Meacham.... A beautiful (& athletic) couple!!! Congrats T & Trent!! http://yfrog.com/epl8ej
3:16 PM Jul 25th from Tweetie

Made the most of my day "off" yesterday. A wedding & TWO movies. Proposal & Orphan. 1st made we want marriage. 2nd made me nvr want kids.
10:26 AM Jul 26th from Tweetie

I don't know if I have the best staff in country-bc I don't know every staff in the country-but I know I've got a GREAT staff & I love em!!
5:57 PM Jul 27th from Tweetie

Just bumped into former Billiken wbb alum Rachel Taylon! Ray wore #33 for SLU my 1st 2 yrs. Hard worker & very intelligent player.
7:47 PM Jul 27th from Tweetie

Still in Chicago. Feels like I've seen these kids before. Wait-I have seen these kids before.
1:26 PM Jul 28th from Tweetie

@kpags2311 give a big Twilliken welcome to wbb's own Katie Paganelli, who's joined Twitter nation! She's going to have a great sr year!
9:31 PM Jul 28th from Tweetie in reply to kpags2311

Jus landed in Des Moines. Saw tshirt that said "not everything is flat in Iowa" lol! TBD.
11:36 PM Jul 28th from Tweetie

Billikens are definitely in the house. Don't hate on the stripes. http://yfrog.com/579tbj
4:00 PM Jul 29th from Tweetie

Leaving Iowa...birthplace of the greatest stud of them all Stephanie Rich! Washington, Iowa's finest! Headed back to ChiTown to finish up!
5:04 PM Jul 29th from Tweetie

Just landed @ OHara...driving to Waukegan & praying that @billscoach didn't leave a schedule that involves an 8 or 9am game tomorrow....
10:53 PM Jul 29th from Tweetie

8am game. Dang you @billscoach.
12:32 AM Jul 30th from Tweetie

Watchin last game. Made an executive decision. Only watching games that I NEED to watch. Like my schedule way better than @billscoach 's!
5:19 PM Jul 30th from Tweetie

Done for night! Sat w/2 of my BFF's Molly & Heather during last game. 3 former Wolverines. Trouble. We prob laughed more than scouted!
7:06 PM Jul 30th from Tweetie

Last day of recruiting for July! Just did a head count...I'm one of 24 coaches left standing in Waukegan. Finish strong everyone!
11:30 AM Jul 31st from Tweetie

Recruiting this July was def impacted by this past season. We try to replicate what worked & not repeat what didn't.
2:00 PM Jul 31st from Tweetie

2 hrs till my house. steph & t already off road. HB last one standing. Thx for your commitment to our program guys. I appreciate it. :-)
7:23 PM Jul 31st from Tweetie

From airport straight to Sekisui-my fav sushi spot in the Lou. Haven't had sushi all month & was fiending!
9:35 PM Jul 31st from Tweetie


Couch. Dog. Sushi. Reality TV. July is officially over! Welcome home Shady! http://yfrog.com/1hrejnj
10:36 PM Jul 31st from Tweetie


WBK Billikens on Twitter:
Coach Shimmy Gray-Miller @shimmy33
Coach Tony Francis @billscoach
Coach Steph Rich @skrich11
Coach Honey Brown @honeyb14
Admin Asst Kim Burke @purpleeagle21
Amanda Kemezys #55 @ak5514
Devonna Smith #22 @devonnasmith
Katie Paganelli #23 @kpags2311
Ayriell Robinson #3 @ace_boogie1
Jacy Bradley #1 @billiken1
SLU Athletics @SLU_Billikens
Billiken Report @BillikenReport
 
I'm a Twit!

I know it might appear that this social media thing has gotten out of hand. I used to feel the same way. I never got into the facebook or myspace phenomenon and I realize that I’m remiss on even keeping up with my website column. So when Twitter was introduced, I was completely turned off. Who would be even remotely interested in what I eat for lunch or how often I walk my dog? Turns out, people are interested. Who would’ve thought?

Twitter has been a great way for us to give those that care an inside glance of who we are as coaches, people, and a program. If you had been following us, then you would know that I am completely random and pretty much have no twilter, (twitter filter). You’d know that Tony has a side job as a preacher and could probably make a nice living writing for fortune cookies. Honey loves her dog Jax way more than anyone should ever love a dog named Jax. And Stephanie, well, she obviously has far more of a social life than any of the rest of us because she hardly ever tweets.

If you followed us then you would also know about our camps, our player’s birthdays, have access to photos and video links that wouldn’t otherwise be posted, and get inside access to our eclectic team.

Most important however, if you followed us, then you would know that we are in the middle of our July recruiting period and you’d get a very vivid snapshot of a coach’s life on the road. I’ve tweeted faithfully the last two weeks during my travels across the country. Since July 2nd I’ve been to seven states, watched 75% of the kids in our 2011 class, been bumped off two flights, watched a ridiculous amount of games, gained four pounds, contracted a nasty eye infection, and got crapped on. Life on the road.


If you haven’t been following us on Twitter, I’m going to give you a chance to do that now, retroactively. I’ve reposted the highlights of my 1st two weeks of travel below. Don’t ask me how life has been on the road…read about it for yourself. Then get a twitter account and follow me at @shimmy33 Being a twit isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it can be pretty cool!

Enjoy…

My last night in my own bed for awhile. Going to enjoy these zzzz's bc after tonight it's hotel, motel, holiday inn....
1:51 AM Jul 2nd from Tweetie

@ airport in Baltimore which is NO WHERE close to where I'm trying to be. Anyway...just ate an Arbys beef & cheddar like it was my job.
9:35 AM Jul 2nd from Tweetie

In Tampa. One flight closer. Thats the +. the - is flight doesn't leave for another 5 hrs. + though is I have lots of work to keep me busy.
2:02 PM Jul 2nd from Tweetie

- I've been in airports (3 & counting) since 6 this am. + if not for that, wldve missed cn worlds most hairy man. Human ape. Serious. Omg.
4:14 PM Jul 2nd from Tweetie

15 hrs, 3 flights, 4 airports, 1 hairy man & 1 Deelicious beef & cheddar later...destination reached! Yayer!!!
8:28 PM Jul 2nd from Tweetie

Flite from atl-chi cancelled. Rerouted thru Detroit. This stuff happens but not s'posed to happen on very 1st leg! Praying for luggage
4:00 PM Jul 5th from Tweetie

I'm not one to complain about rental cars...I think that's a bit pretentious but the PT Cruiser? That was a bad idea.
10:26 PM Jul 5th from Tweetie

1st evnt done! Back @ airport. Decided to pass on the PT Cruiser. This one still not me but i like red! http://yfrog.com/14s70lj
7:19 PM Jul 6th from Tweetie

A big Billiken welcome to the newest member of our WBB family- Admin Asst Kim Burke! We're very happy to have her on staff. :-)
12:58 PM Jul 7th from Tweetie

Technically day "off" today. Slept in. Still in OH. Caught up w/world news. Daily walk then a pedi. Recruiting in sandals not cute w/jacked up toes.
11:32 AM Jul 8th from Tweetie

Guy just asked me where I'm headed. "Kearney" "woooow...that's really interesting" Not a good sign.
7:33 PM Jul 8th from Tweetie

Oooh...knew this Kearney thing wasn't a good idea. Oversold. I got BUMPED. Pain = watching 8 other coaches get on a plane meant 4 me. Sux.
7:44 PM Jul 8th from Tweetie

Not gtn to Kearney tonite. Gonna miss am games & no idea where my bags are. Attitude is a decision! Deciding to enjoy Denver tonight!
9:51 PM Jul 8th from Tweetie

Strap broke on my fav pair of flipflops. (fact that it broke is indicator how old these jokers are) shuffling thru airport like Fred Sanford
10:31 AM Jul 9th from Tweetie

I wouldn't expect to drive around in anything BUT this while in Kearney, NE. http://yfrog.com/0x4glj (it’s a mini van if you can’t open the pic)
1:48 PM Jul 9th from Tweetie

i read a map & got to gym. Might not seem like much but to those that know me...it's much. Feel chorus from Miss Independent coming on.
4:19 PM Jul 9th from Tweetie

I'm walking the trails of Kearney & I just got shat on by one of NE's finest. That's why I'm a Tigers & not a Cards fan. Hate birds.
11:38 AM Jul 10th from Tweetie

Umm..ok...still in NE. Flite deeelayed. Going to miss my connect to ATL. SuperKim rebooked me on redeye gtn into Hotlanta @ 6am!
6:30 PM Jul 10th from Tweetie

-Takn a redeye to make it to my 9am game +if not for that, wldve missed seeing G Clinton's P Funk band walk thru ATL airport! Atomic Dogs!
8:43 PM Jul 10th from Tweetie

Just landed in Hotlanta! Very excited that my baggage landed too! 4 hrs b4 my game but i won't take a nap. I might not wake up!!
5:27 AM Jul 11th from Tweetie

Fila Natls in the books. Back @ airport. Flying to Nashville, birthplace of the original jit herself...Downtown Honey Lynn Brown!!!
4:07 PM Jul 12th from Tweetie

Just landed in Nashville! Bad weather in atl spread so we circled in the air for over a hr. I've had some crazy travel for sure this mo!
8:35 PM Jul 12th from Tweetie

Despite overcast skies, great walk this am. Anytime you don't get pooped on is a great time. I like the birds much better in TN than NE.
11:13 AM Jul 13th from Tweetie

I woke up & my eye is red & swollen. Look like I got popped by Chris Brown. Wth? http://yfrog.com/5hmj5dj
8:44 AM Jul 14th from Tweetie

Watching my last game of the 1st 1/2 of viewing period. By this time everyone knows everyone. No book needed. Just sit back, see & be seen.
8:48 PM Jul 15th from Tweetie

On the road again! This time I'm headed HOME! I've been gone since the 2nd so it'll be nice to see the arch again. See ya soon Twillikens!
7:58 AM Jul 16th from Tweetie

The 2nd half of the recruiting period starts tomorrow so log in and stay tuned. The adventure continues!

Coach Gray-Miller @shimmy33
Coach Francis @billscoach
Coach Rich @skrich11
Coach Brown @honeyb14
Amanda Kemezys @ak5514
Devonna Smith @devonnasmith
Kim Burke @purpleeagle21
Ayriell Robinson @ace_boogie1
SLU Athletics @SLU_Billikens 
 

Life Lesson’s from Big Bon

Allow me to introduce my mother. Bonnie Lee Miller. Born in Detroit. Reared in Flint. After 34 years of working on a General Motors assembly line, the woman has rock hard calluses, varicose veins, and a kung fu grip like you wouldn’t believe. Hence our affectionate nickname for her, Big Bon.

As a person, my mom is about as average as average can get. She never went to college. She drives a mini van. And she just recently moved out of the same apartment complex we had lived in from the time I was 8 years old. She’s not big on adventure or change, (although something tells me that back in your younger days that might not have been the case.) She likes the sounds of Motown, James Brown, Elvis Presley, and Betty White. She worked a lot of overtime while raising me as a single mother so we rarely had “sit down” family dinners. In fact, my mom’s not much of a cook. True story: For the record, I DID have a turkey TV dinner one Thanksgiving. (I actually thought it was pretty funny. And probably better than anything she would’ve cooked.) My mom doesn’t wear fancy or expensive clothes and she hardly puts on make up anymore. She’s also had the same hairstyle for about 20 years. Raising six kids over 47 years has a way of taking the glamorous out of your life.

My mom’s a blue collar, union dues paying, middle class democrat. She’s been known to mispronounce words from time to time but that doesn’t stop her from giving her unsolicited opinion on just about everything. She believes timeouts are for basketball games, not children and is still getting this whole political correctness thing down. She can’t text, but does email, (albeit in all lower case letters with little use for punctuation.), just don’t send her any attachments.

Yes, my mom is just your average run of the mill person to the average run of the mill person. But to me, my brothers, my nephews and niece, Big Bon is anything BUT an average mom. It’s not the lessons that she taught us, or the advice that she doled out, that left an indelible impression. It’s the way and manner in which she taught us that stands out to me. Her expressions, sayings, convictions, & parenting style, although not perfect, borderline sadistic, and almost always politically incorrect, has prepared me for about anything I could ever face in life. At the age of 37 I still find myself making my bed in the morning, (because I’ll sleep better at night), and eliminating negative people from my life (because misery loves company). So in honor of this Mother’s Day, I compiled the Top 12 lessons that Big Bon has shared with me and that I still rely on in my day-to-day life as both a woman and a coach. Hope you get as much out of them as the rest of the Miller kids have.

Big Bon’s Dirty Dozen

1. Can’t never could.
(If you think you can or think you can’t, yep…you’re right.)

2. Everyone loves a challenge – especially boys.
(You can figure that out.)

3. You deserve what you earn.
(No one is going to give you anything in life. And the more you get, the harder you have to work to keep it. Otherwise, don’t get used to keeping it for long.)

4. Don’t be a half-ass.
(If you’re going to take the time to do something, you might as well do it right. One of my earliest memories is being awaken at 5:30 am, before my mom left for her 6:30 am shift, and being dragged to the kitchen. The night before, while putting away dishes, I haphazardly put a dirty glass in the cupboard. She didn’t just make me re-wash that particular glass. I had to re-wash EVERY single glass in the cupboard. Lesson Learned.)

5. Once you start something, you finish it.
(No quitting allowed because when you quit once, you’ll quit twice and the more you quit the easier it gets and quitting should never be easy to do.)

6. “One thing I can’t stand is a liar and a thief!”
(Yes, that’s a direct quote and I know she actually listed 2 things but it was the heat of the moment. Basically, integrity is really all you have. Once you lose your integrity, good luck trying to get it back.)

7. “I can do bad myself. I don’t need help struggling.”
(Another direct quote and that one actually took me awhile to figure out but once I got it, I got it! From the assistants I hire to the players I recruit, I want to surround myself with people who will help propel me towards success, not tear me down.)

8. Birds of a feather flock together.
(Pretty self explanatory but she really hammered it home when I got caught hanging out with the wrong crowd my junior year in high school. Once again, lesson learned.)

9. “You better not start it but you sure better finish it.”
(Growing up in Flint, MI, you get tested and challenged a lot by neighborhood kids. We were never allowed to throw the first punch but we were also never allowed to walk away once that first punch was thrown. Some people feel very strongly otherwise but my mom was adamant that we not allow people to push us around. Standing up for yourself was an absolute requirement in my family.)

10. “I’ll give you something to cry about.”
(There are people out there who really experience pain and suffering. And when you think of life in those terms, there was never a reason for me to cry growing up.)

11. More than a handful is wasted.
(Don’t be greedy. Don’t take too much or overextend yourself. Saying no and showing restraint is often difficult to do but sometimes it’s the only thing to do.)
And finally…..

12. “Ain’t no man ever going to ask you for no feet.”
(Completely and positively grammatically incorrect but don’t get caught up in that. Hear the message. In high school I was distraught about the size of my feet. It was always a point of contention for me. The message I got out of this was very powerful and has gotten me through many a tough day. LOVE YOURSELF! In the end, it’s your personality and attitude that truly makes up who you are.)

I’m the person I am because of the life lessons instilled in me by my mom. She’s more Peg Bundy than Claire Huxtable but that’s just fine with me. My mom was more of a teacher than a lawyer anyway!

 

Team,

As I'm sitting here watching the St. Mary's vs. Davidson NIT game chock full of chest bumping, fist pumping, high-fiving, floor diving, emotion showing, faces glowing, all about the team with the occasional primal scream action...I'm thinking of you guys and our meeting this evening. (yesterday evening. who's counting?) Anyway...you're on my mind.

In a nutshell...for those of you NOT paying attention today...

It doesn't matter at what level you compete. You can be an established Top 25 women's basketball program fighting for a national championship. You can be a "still getting used to being in the Top 25 clamoring to leave your legacy" team. You can be a barely D1 team clawing out of obscurity. You can even be a high profile major league baseball player that no one wants to be teammates with because your attitude and effort sucks. Or how about a seasoned vet in the NBA who knows his role, shuts his hole, and accepts his platform as a leader, whether he deserves it or not. Regardless of the level, chemistry is important. Commitment is important. In fact, they're crucial. Crucial to success and crucial to leaving a legacy. (You all were recruited here to make history so I know leaving a legacy is important to you.) Regardless of how much, (or how little), money you make performing at your sport - leadership, commitment, and chemistry will ultimately be the difference between your immortality or your demise. You want more? I'll give you more. How about being part of one of the greatest legacy's in NBA history and still thinking it's cool to get in the swimming pool with 14 of your closest, (and biggest) teammates to do post practice workouts knowing that the more time you spend together off the court, (or in that pool), will lead to direct and immediate success on the court. That's right, singing the national anthem together as a team, pushing your tables together at dinner because you don't want to be separated, and all 15 of you taking ice baths together in one tub, whether you fit or not really does lead to success. You can be one of or any of or all of these entities but the point is the same. Without team chemistry...without commitment...without strong leadership...you are quite simply WITHOUT. WIthout an opportunity to be great. Without an opportunity to do special things. Without an opportunity to be successful. WITHOUT.

We make this so much more difficult than it needs to be. When all it really boils down to is caring and commitment. Do you care and are you committed? Are you part of the problem or part of the solution? It's really quite simple. Decide now or forever regret it.

The Billikens are close...I believe that with every fiber of my being. The Billikens are close... Are you close enough to see it? Close enough to lament it? Or close enough to grab it?

2009-2010 will tell.

Go Blue!

Shimmy Gray-Miller

"Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not know." 

WISH LIST 2009

Guess who’s back? Back again…Shady’s back…tell a friend. Remember me? I’m the one that doesn’t do New Year’s Resolutions. (Although Lauren thinks I made a resolution to stop drinking Coke. I didn’t.) I don’t need the allure of a new year to stop doing something that if it meant enough to me, I would’ve stopped back in June or November. She made a resolution for me to stop drinking Coke. Not the same thing. Besides, I made a resolution for her to stop missing lay ups so we’ll see how that goes.

I am the one that believes strongly in New Year’s Wish lists. I am such the little wishful thinker. You would assume that I had more time on my hands than I do. Apparently this is what I do in lieu of dating. Lie around and wishfully hope. Here is what I’ll be wishfully hoping for in 2009...

· I wish for a really, really, really, really good security team for President Obama and his family.

· I wish we would find a cure for cancer.

· I wish Madonna would play the lead female role in an adaptation of Benjamin Buttons. After all, isn’t she pretty much growing old in reverse anyway?

· Speaking of Madonna, I wish someone could explain to me why if her and Justin Timberlake only have 4 minutes to save the world, why are they wasting precious time dancing through grocery stores?

· And speaking of JT, well any of you who read last year’s wish list, (and probably the year before), know exactly what my wish involving him entails!

· I wish I could guest star in an episode of CSI. Even if I just get to play the dead person they find in the opening scene. I’d love to lie on that table during the autopsy and start giggling when Medical Examiner Alexx Woods touched my forehead and said, “Poor girl. Someone was really angry with her.”

· I wish Jen and Angelina would just get it over with and handle this the old fashioned way. A break-dancing competition on the streets of NYC. Complete with a cardboard dance floor, a big giant boom box, Kangol hats, and parachute pants.

· I wish I could possess 1/10 of the strength, courage, perseverance, class, and selflessness that Kay Yow did during her amazing life.

· I wish Missy gets a chance to play overseas.

· Since we couldn’t stop it, I wish that Courtney Paris’s streak continues all the way to the National Championship game.

· I wish that Charlotte’s student section would come up with a more creative way to heckle me. Making fun of my name? Umm, yeah, I’ve never heard that before.

· I wish Theresa Lisch will…well, she knows what I wish. J

· I wish Hollywood would stop making movies out of bad TV shows. The Incredible Hulk? Miami Vice? The A Team? Are you serious? And while they’re at it, leave the remakes alone too. Friday the 13th 2009? Give me a break. An insane mass murderer in a hockey mask is the same story whether it’s 1980 or 2009.

· I wish Reid would get smaller pants and a tighter belt.

· I wish I would seek treatment for my addiction to reality TV. Every time I think I’m over it, a new show springs up. Maybe I can go on Intervention. That way I can get help but be on a reality show at the same time!

· I wish that we would stay healthy and committed and in Jae’s words Carpe Diem the rest of the season.

· I wish Jarietta gets all the sleep she needs.

· I wish my team would continue to ROOOOAAAAARRRRR as many times as possible. Led by AK, the meanest lion in the pride.

Lastly I wish for continued humility, sense of perspective, faith, and inner peace. And if all I get is that last wish, I’ll consider 2009 quite the success. Have a great start to your year everyone!
 

TRAVELING MUSIC

You get real silly being in gyms and rental cars all day. You start looking for ways to entertain yourself that don’t involve 16 year olds and basketballs. Here’s mine. Hope you’re entertained.

Recruits in Many Places
(Sung to the tune of “Friends in Low Places”)

I didn’t mean to cause a big scene
At the rental car counter that day.
But that boy was wrong,
Knew it all along
When he said “No reservations for Gray.”
“Listen my friend. Please try once again.
It’s gotta be in there somewhere.”
He apologized but the look in his eyes
Said, “Lady. I really don’t care.”

(chorus)
I gotta recruit in so many places
After so many days all the faces
Are blending in.
What city am I in?

I gotta recruit in so many places
After so many games
All their faces
Are getting tired.
And I’m getting wired.
From so many places…


Planes, no trains, automobiles. Marriott hotels galore.
Walk in the gym
Sit with the rest of them.
Dang! I think I’ve been here before!
That’s not the case.
Get that look off your face.
You’re just seeing the same kids again.
The big one’s legit. I hope we can get
‘Cuz that hole in our middle she’ll mend.

Eating crap in a box. I ran out of socks.
And I lost my car keys yet again.
If one more referee tries hitting on me,
Then “No Habla English” I’ll pretend.
The road’s unforgiving
But watching hoops for a living?
Man, my life can’t be beat.
10 games a day while collecting pay
All I’m missing is a pad for my seat!

(chorus)
Taking trips to so many places
Trying to squeeze my big butt in some tight spaces
On these airplanes.
But I won’t complain.

Eating fast food at so many places
By the end of the month
There’s no traces
Of how I used to look.
Threw away my fitness book.

Recruiting in so many places……


Welcome home everyone! Now go take a vacation! 
 


CAMP SHIMMY

Tick Tock. Tick Tock. Tick Tock. Hear that sound? It’s my maternal clock ticking away. It does this every year. Right after basketball season ends and I no longer have that day to day, (sometimes ALL DAY), interaction with my players, my mind starts to wander and I think about what life would be like with one or two of my own. I miss having them around. I miss the ridiculous things they say and do. I miss the ways in which they challenge me. I miss them. This gets that clock wound up.

The worst part about family reunions to me is the inevitable, “Are you dating yet? When are you going to get married? When are you going to have kids? After a while you’re going to be too old you know? Pretty soon your parts aren’t going to work and then what?” I love the BBQ. Love watching my drunken uncle dance. Hate the husband/baby questions.

It’s not that I don’t like kids or am anti-children. I have a whole slew of nieces and nephews that I adore and a godson that I love like my own. It’s just that I have made a conscientious choice to put my career first. I want to give 100% of me to my basketball team and I feel as if I’m not in a position to bring a child into this environment. We are still very much in the building phase of this program and I travel way too much and spend way too many hours at the office to do that. My dog even goes through spurts where he hates me. I can imagine how a child might feel.

However, about once a year I hear this annoying, yet intriguing ticking. It starts in my head and then moves down to my heart and it gets louder and louder until I can’t ignore it anymore. My schedule is more relaxed and I have more time on my hands and by May I’m no longer mad at the team and all the things they did, (Katie Paganelli), during the season that got me riled up. Instead I find myself chuckling out loud about their antics and that’s when I decide, “Yep. That’s it. I’m ready. I’m going to have me a baby!” Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock.

Then something happens. And I realize that maybe I’m not ready for kids. Maybe I’ll never be ready for kids. Tick tock tick tock…STOP!

What’s the catalyst for the sudden change of heart? What snaps me back into reality faster than a Slim Jim? Two words: SUMMER. CAMP.

We just wrapped up our third summer of camp a few days ago. It was by far our most successful summer to date. Our numbers were higher. The counselors were more energetic. The kids were, well, they were kids. Energetic. Passionate. Enthusiastic. Inattentive. Silly. Loud. Sweaty. Magnificent. Kids.

The first day of camp always goes something like this:

“Good Morning Campers!!”
Dead silence.
“I said, GOOD MORNING CAMPERS!!!”
Dead silence coupled with irritating glares.
“Ok. Let’s try this one more time. And this time maybe we need to add a sprint to help wake you guys up.”
“GOOD MORNING COACH SHIMMY!” Followed by dead silence and irritating glares.

For the next hour or so, camp resembles a trip to the dentist. I coax and plead with the campers to be enthusiastic about the process and occasionally I dangle a prize in front of their faces in order to get them to open up. I find myself running around like an idiot trying to get the little darlings to buy into this whole concept of having fun and letting loose. Eventually we start to rub off on them and it works. Then about halfway through camp, they start having too much fun. Giggling when they shouldn’t be. Yelling when they shouldn’t be. Running when they shouldn’t be. Pulling on my sleeve when they shouldn’t be. But do I complain? Heck no! It’s basketball camp for crying out loud!

Basketball camp allows me to act like a kid again. It allows my players to stop being cool for a few days and become silly, using their campers as an excuse to do it. Camp reminds me that you don’t have to be the next Candace Parker in order to have fun playing this game. More importantly, it reminds me that I don’t want children.

By Thursday I can hardly move, let alone jump up and down to do the camp cheer. My feet are on fire. My patience is non-existent. My hair is a mess. And everyone becomes Ashley or Caitlyn. Even if their name is Ayesha or Tasha. I reckon I feel a lot like a mom might feel.

Camp allows me to get my fix of motherhood for a week. I get to cater to bumps and bruises and stroke egos and say over and over, “Ashley. No.” I get to experience a young player make a lay up using the correct foot and get genuinely fired up about it. “YES! You did it!!” I get to high five and hug and feel the disappointment when a little one doesn’t get picked to demonstrate a new drill. (Most of the time the disappointment is caused by me.) There is no pressure involved with summer camp. Everyone plays the same amount of minutes. We eat lunch together on the grassy knoll. (Or cement stairs in front of the arena.) I learn new games and new chants and get to hear new jokes. I get updated on the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus and the latest preteen news. Yes, for 1 week, from 9-3 pm, I am a mom. Or as close to it as I will probably get.

Camp makes me want to call my mother and thank her. To mom’s everywhere, WOW! How do you do it? I hope there is a mom union out there somewhere and I hope you have someone lobbying on your behalf to get you a raise because I know you deserve it. I go home at night worn out but the great thing is, I go home alone. Childless. What’s been wearing me out all day is going home with you!

I need to go on vacation just to recover from camp. But the funny thing is, after about the third day after camp ends, I hear this annoying sound…tick tock tick tock tick

IN OTHER WORDS

All season long you’ve been entertained by the writings of two of my players, Hayley and Lauren. It doesn’t take much to figure out the differences between the two of these young ladies. It’s evident in their perspectives and outlooks and even their writing styles. It’s the difference between being a senior, (Hayley), and well, being a freshman, (Lauren).

All year I’ve read Lauren’s diaries, and although they are very well written, I’m not really sure what she is trying to say. I’m afraid that in Lauren’s attempts to say the right thing, she’s not always saying the right thing. The world according to my young freshman writer always seems to be covered in an optimistic & auspicious film. I applaud Lauren’s attempts to spare us from the sometimes, harsh reality of being a D1 freshman athlete but the truth is, sometimes its hard being a D1 freshman athlete, especially in a growing & building program like ours. Although it’s important to focus on the positive, it’s equally important to maintain your credibility in the process. In other words, keep it real.

So on this one, I’ve decided to act as an interpreter and break down what the budding Maya Angelou maybe really wants to say but is hesitant to say it. I’m giving Lauren free reign to speak her mind…through me. I don’t proclaim to be a linguist but I do a pretty good job of reading between the lines. And to the best of my ability, this is what I’ve come up with.

Lauren says:
“The regular season is over, but the journey continues.”

In other words:
“Whew! It’s finally over and I made it through my first year alive! Wait, what do you mean we have to do spring conditioning?!”


Lauren says:
“The journey to excellence is not confined to a season. The journey is the “commitment” to excellence.”

In other words:
“It’s a good thing my entire career won’t be judged by this season. Otherwise I’d be in trouble. I’ve got three more years to get this thing figured out!”


Lauren says:
“The mirror of D1 competition does not lie. We have beaten teams when a loss was predicted. We have also been defeated by opponents from “lesser” programs. We are a young team and we are a good team. Perhaps our biggest challenge during this journey is to consistently play well.”

In other words:
“Our record is what it is. We beat some teams we had no business beating and we lost to some teams we had no business losing to. We’re young but we’ve never used that as an excuse. We work hard but we’re inconsistent & that has been an issue for us.”


Lauren says:
“My freshman experience has truly been an education. The highs, the lows, the relationships, the classes, travel, and excitement helped make this a great season. Although I’m still a first year student-athlete, sometimes I no longer feel like a freshman. I feel like winning.”

In other words:
“This year…I got schooled! In between getting yelled at, going to class, getting yelled at, traveling all over the country to play hoop, getting yelled at, becoming a better player, and getting yelled at…I managed to still have a pretty solid freshman year. I’m still a clueless freshman but at least now I have a good understanding of what it takes to be successful at this level. Now I’m tired of losing, it’s ON!”


Lauren says:
“Folks, we are not done yet. You can count the wins, but don’t count us out. You’ll see…”

In other words:
“Look people, this season is over. However, we continue to improve as a team and a program and we’re going to get it done. Don’t hate.”


Nice job Lauren. I couldn’t have said it better!

SENIOR FAREWELL

We had our last home game last week. As with most colleges and high school programs across the country, the last home game of the season is the designated time to honor and celebrate your senior class for their contributions and accomplishments. Our two seniors this year had at times a tumultuous career at Saint Louis University, with coaching, teammate, and administration changes. They had to play their final three years for a coach that did not recruit them and they did not choose to play for. In their last two years they played with a rambunctious and outspoken group of freshmen & sophomores, which couldn’t have been easy. Both seniors brought something different to the table as far as personalities and on court strengths. Both left an indelible impression on this program in their own way. The following is my salute to Jackie & Hayley:

Senior Class of 2008…My wish to you would be to find new ways to challenge yourselves each and every day. Because a day without challenge & growth is a day better spent in bed.

My wish to you would be to continue to learn from your mistakes and become better women because of them. Because a day without learning is a day without growth.

My wish to you would be to appreciate each new day that comes your way. Because a day without appreciation is a day filled with regret.

Both of you, in your own way & by your own methods has taught me something about life, about challenges, about people, & ultimately about myself. And because of that, I value the opportunity that I had with you. In return, my wish is that in some way I have made a positive contribution to your life. If you do not think so now, my wish is that sometime, somewhere, and at some point, down the road, you will.

My wish for you is that you are leaving your college experience more rounded, more grounded, and more prepared for life than you were when it began. My wish for you is that you are equipped to not only live life as an adult but to contribute in your adult life.

My wish for you is that you would realize by now that the real world can often be cruel, unfair, competitive, & trying. Much like being a successful D1 basketball player. My wish for you is that you will fall back on your experiences from the last 4 years to help you overcome the challenges you will face as you move on to the next chapter in your life.

Please understand that the world can also be a wonderful, caring, embracing, & motivating place to be. But please, please understand that you will only get out of it what you put into it.

Finally…& most importantly, my wish to you would be to find your passion, if you have not done so already. Because ultimately, life without passion is life not worth living.

Senior Class I wish you the best. Your SLU family will always be here for you. College is supposed to be the best days of your life. I hope you feel they were.
 

I WISH...

In the mold of other obscure and unnecessary Holiday traditions, such as mistletoe smooching, re-gifting, and fruitcake, I bring to you Shim Shady’s Annual New Years Wish List. These are things that my alter ego, Shim Shady, wishes would happen over the course of the next year. Some may be a repeat of 2007’s wishes that didn’t quite happen, (for example, my butt never did stop growing. It just kept getting bigger and bigger so that’s definitely #1 on the list for 2008), but most are original. Enjoy!
 

Shim Shady’s 2008 Wish List:

· I wish Amy Winehouse would go to rehab and stay, stay, stay.

· I wish Anucha Brown would become the new GM and coach of the Knicks.

· I wish the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls would make a comeback...oh wait….they did make a comeback!

· I wish Demi would finally get bored with Ashton…and send him over to me.

· I wish Maureen Holohan would get the financial backing to make her wonderful movie. (www.mohostudio.com)

· I wish I would make up my mind…Curtains or Blinds?

· I wish my players would stay healthy.

· I wish Hope Solo gets another shot.

· I wish my seniors have the best year of their college careers.

· I wish Clayton would lose the pacifier.

· I wish I knew Victoria’s Secret.

· I wish the Billiken would get the respect he deserves…the little fella has earned it.

· I wish Shaquille O’Neal would join celebrity fit club.

· I wish Amy Klotz and Amanda Kemezys could dunk.

· I wish the people who say they’re going to come to our games would actually come to our games.

· I wish Britney Spears would…oh never mind. Don’t even get me started on her.

· I wish I could understand what the heck Bruce Springsteen is saying so I could possibly have a greater appreciation for his music.

· I wish for Kay Yow to continue to fight, win, and inspire many in the process.

· I wish I could dance. Then I could pursue my real passion: Justin Timberlake.

· I wish for an A.D. who doesn’t take himself too seriously but takes athletics and gender equity very seriously.

· I wish for more family night’s with Steph, Petra, Tony, JB, & Erin.

· I wish the NCAA would implement a coach’s dress code. No short tight skirts with an all male officiating crew.

· I wish I could bend it like Beckham.

· I wish iPods were waterproof.

· I wish I had friends named Will, Grace, Jack, Ross, Chandler, Monica, Joey, Rachel, & Larry the Cable Guy.

· I wish every official had the same angle on the calls that I have.

And last but not least I wish everyone a wonderful start to 2008! May all your wishes come true!.
 

THE TEACHER GOT SCHOOLED

Wow. For once in my life I’m speechless. I have nothing to say. No comebacks. No smart retorts. No witty one-liners. No well thought out passionate soliloquies. Nothing. Just me and my jaw dropped to the floor.

Coaches and Teachers often experience live lessons in futility on a daily basis. You do what you do everyday hoping, praying, wishing, willing that just one of “them” would get “it.” Oftentimes “they” get “it” when it’s all over and a little too late. But you take solace in knowing that although they didn’t get “it” when you needed them to, they eventually got “it” and someone will benefit as a result.

Today I received a journal entry from one of my players. Senior. Hayley Leake. I didn’t recruit her. She didn’t choose to play for me. Blew a knee out as a freshman. Played a lot as a sophomore because she had to. Recruited over her as a junior because I had to. Fought her way back into the starting line up as a senior because she wanted to & I needed her to.

Because we are struggling right now in the wins category, I expected a positive, cheery, “Hey..we’re almost there and just wait until conference starts and then everything will be great!” diary entry. I certainly wasn’t expecting what I received.

I wasn’t expecting to be impacted the way I was. I wasn’t expecting to feel the way I did while reading it. I wasn’t expecting to be motivated because of it. I wasn’t expecting any of it on any scale. Maybe it’s time I raise my expectations.

Check out her latest diary entry. You could learn something too.

 

THOSE WHO STAY WILL BE CHAMPIONS

October 5th, 1990

Hi Mom! I got your letter the other day. Sorry for not writing back sooner. I’ve been tired and a little busy. Thank you for the check. I’m going to buy a new winter jacket. It’s starting to get cold in the mornings and I can’t wear my high school letter jacket. I will get capped on. I’m laying in bed right now. I can hardly move. I don’t have to get up to run at 6 am anymore. I finally made my mile time. I missed it the first time by 6 seconds. I was so mad! I think I psyched myself out. When I made it I thought I was going to die I was so happy. All the girls on the team have big feet. I fit right in over here! We lift 3x a week & run & play 5 days a week. We do this until we start official practice. The other night I woke up in the middle of the night screaming in pain with a cramp in my calf muscle. I know you think I’m dramatic but it really hurt! The trainer said I have to drink more water during the day. I’ve never been so sore and tired in my life. Every part of my body hurts. I get yelled at & called stupid freshman by the upperclassmen. I keep getting lost on the way to class. I have a big bruise on my arm because the biggest girl on the team nailed me with a pick. She is huge. 6’4 and at least 190 lbs. Some days I just come back to the dorm and lay in bed and I feel like I can’t move. I’m mentally & physically exhausted mom. But you know what? I love it! I love feeling like this. This is what I thought being a college athlete would be like. I feel like I’m really doing something here. I’m being pushed and challenged and it’s so different than high school. I love this. Thank you again for everything. I can’t believe I’m in college. I can’t wait for you to see me in my uniform. I hope I get to play! Ok, I’m about to take a nap before Tara gets back from class. She talks so much I never get to sleep when she’s here. Thank you again mom. I love you.


Shim #33


This was a real letter written to my mother from me my freshman year at the University of Michigan. Once you get past the self-absorbed simplicity of it, you’ll see what my point is. Being a Division 1 athlete is hard. It’s challenging. It’s tough, both mentally and physically. And guess what? It’s supposed to be! If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. I asked my mom to dig this letter up, props to her for keeping it in the first place, because I wanted to know for myself how much times have changed since I had my first six am dalliance as a collegiate basketball player. What was confirmed to me after taking this trip back down memory lane was that not a whole lot has changed. The athletic gear is a lot nicer and more plentiful, the travel accommodations are vastly improved, and the coaching is a lot better, (at least in my case it is.), however, the intensity and challenges are still very much the same. And as you can see, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I know that my experiences as a college athlete were the best of my life and helped me to become the woman I am today. At Michigan there was a slogan originated by the football team but adopted by several of the other athletic teams. “Those who stay will be Champions.” I have always loved the way that sounded but I took it too literally. After my four-year career had ended, I found myself wondering where the heck was my championship. I stayed. I didn’t quit. I worked hard. I was named Captain and got my degree and did everything that was asked of me. Not only did I not have a championship, we didn’t even win a lot of games. I felt robbed. Years later I realized that I did become a Champion. As corny as this appears, I’m a CHAMPION IN LIFE.

I had a three-member freshman class this year. They were ranked in the Top 50 by some recruiting publications. I must have been really nice to someone at some point because there is no way this group should have been considered a Top 50 class. Not because they aren’t talented, quite the contrary, they are very talented, but what they lack, you can’t measure by a ranking. I’ll just put it this way; they aren’t the toughest nails in the shed. In fact, one of them lasted a few weeks before deciding that college basketball wasn’t for her. That didn’t entirely surprise me. What surprised me was that she was the one to quit first! I make light of the situation but in reality, this has been difficult for me to deal with. Whenever a player quits, especially one that you thought you knew so well, you can’t help but second-guess and question yourself. I did all that. But it wasn’t until reading the letter I wrote to my mother that I realized that I needed to stay the course and in the end, the ones who stay will be better off because of it. Just like I was.

How do I come up with a creative way to compel kids to appreciate and value the opportunity they have as a basketball player? I can’t. The reality is, I shouldn’t have to. But I will tell you this. WITHOUT AN ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIP I WOULD NOT HAVE THE LIFE I HAVE TODAY. Quite frankly, without a college scholarship, I don’t have a clue what my life would be like. But I can guess. And this is what I’ve come up with.

Without a college scholarship to play basketball at the University of Michigan, I would not have been able to afford college. Without the lure of playing college basketball, I might not have been motivated to ever attend college. Because you see, no one…NO ONE in my immediate family has ever graduated from college. Most of my family still lives in Flint, MI. Most of my family has either retired from General Motors, still works for GM or has been laid off from GM. My mother retired, after 31 years on the assembly line.

My mother left high school when she got pregnant with my brother. Education wasn’t nearly as important as survival in my family. For my brothers & me, graduating from high school was the expectation. Anything beyond that was a bonus. I know what it feels like to be picked on and made fun of. And I know how that can take a toll on your self-esteem and confidence. But I also know what it feels like to be the hero. To be the best at something. To win the big game or take the big shot. I know what it feels like to experience success and allow that success to affect you in other aspects of your life. I know that what I’ve done on the basketball court has instilled in me the confidence & the courage to stand before hundreds of people and speak with self-assurance & poise. The same confidence that I had on the FT line with 2 seconds left is the same confidence I took with me to my first job interview. (I missed those FT’s by the way but I’m still standing.) I learned how to handle failure & losses with dignity so when I didn’t get the job I interviewed for, I didn’t have a nervous breakdown because of it. The ability to lead and make decisions and run a program was actually honed in a locker room almost 20 years ago. This isn’t just about improving your jumper. This is about improving your LIFE!

Without my college scholarship, which provided me with far more than the opportunity to play basketball, I might not have gotten out of Flint. Traveled abroad. Own a home. Gone to a show on Broadway. Lived in Portugal. Tried sushi, gone to see Hilary Clinton speak, experienced the opera, (note I said experienced…NOT enjoyed!), know that Condoleeza Rice is not an Italian Casserole. I say this with almost certainty. I have to go by what I know. And what I know is that I am the only one in my family to have experienced any of these things.

Athletics has changed my life. It’s opened new doors to discoveries unimaginable to kids like me. I have two younger nieces that play basketball because Aunt Shimmy played basketball and went to college because of it. They come to visit me and they think I’m the richest woman in the world because I live in a house and have a lot of Air Jordan’s. They have told me that if they aren’t good enough to play at UCONN, they’d like to come play for me. (Personally, I don’t think they are good enough to play for me either!) The point is I have opened these doors for them. I’ve given them hope. And you, any of you who play basketball or any other sport or sing or write or paint or who has a knack for academics…all of you have open doors. Wide open. Are you going to stand there and watch it slam shut in your face or are you going to take a deep breath, exhale slowly, puff your chest out, hold your head high, and walk through to the other side? What will your letter home read twenty years down the road?
 
 

ARE YOU SERIOUS?

Whew! Another July bites the dust! It’s August 6th and that means only one thing. I’m finally off the road! I should be writing this from home but with the timing and luck that only comes to us Gray-Millers, (since I have two last names I’m twice at risk to fall victim to familial bad luck.), my air conditioning broke. So as happy as I am to be home, I’m trying to avoid being there as much as possible. Malls, movie theaters, and Applebees make good reprieves.

So anyway, I’m done with summer recruiting. It was great! I watched the four future Billikens that will make up our 2008 class quite a bit. That was exciting as they really had great summers and will make our fans and me very happy for several years to come. Got a chance to watch young players who I hope will become future Billikens someday. I can’t believe how talented, (and HUGE), kids are these days. What’s in the milk? I even caught up with a lot of my friends in this business. I met up with former teammates and opponents and even several coaches who recruited me and are still in the game grinding it out. The shirts are different colors but the names and faces remain the same. We just keep recycling ourselves.

It was while sitting on the sidelines and taking part in some and eavesdropping in others, that I made some observations. 1.) We dress funny. (Who was the wise guy that decided that dri-fit was an all purpose material? And yes I know I am one of the worst offenders but the recruits dig the funny pants. What can I say?) 2.) I think we take ourselves waaaaay too seriously. We’re basketball coaches. Not rocket scientists, (Just because you coach in the Ivy League doesn’t mean you actually could have gone to school there.). Not Pulitzer Prize winners. Not soldiers fighting on the front lines going to war every day, (Um that would be public school teachers.). We’re basketball coaches. I’m not sure when we decided we were more than that but somewhere in between our comfortable paychecks and our custom made striped pants, we decided we were. What happened to our sense of humor? What happened to the camaraderie that used to exist in this business? “What happened to us people???”

Me being me, I looked around the gym and I imagined what life would be like for us if we didn’t take ourselves so seriously. And this is what I came up with:

TOP TEN THINGS NOT OVERHEARD, (but wouldn’t it be cool if they were), IN A GYM IN JULY BY COLLEGE COACHES:

10.) Oops. I left my cell phone in my car and I’m NOT going to go back and get it.

9.) So, what was the last non sports/motivational/business model book that you’ve read?

8.) Cool blue and white striped pants! That girl’s got style.

7.) Oh, you got a commitment from that kid out there? I’ll stop calling her then.

6.) I finally cracked the Da Vinci Code.

5.) My A.D. offered me a million dollar contract. I politely declined.

4.) Man, that Geno is a great guy.

3.) Loafers without socks and dress shorts look hot.

2.) Have you been following the whole Paris/Lindsey/Nicole saga?

And the all time coolest thing you will NEVER hear a college coach say in a gym in July....

1.) It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.

There it is. My very own top ten. For anyone out there  offended by this list, that means only one thing. You’ve got to stop taking yourself so seriously!!!

Have a great rest of your summer everyone.

STRAIGHT ROAD TRIPPIN'

Now I know why they call it the dead period. I’m dead. I’m dead tired. I have one week to enjoy the afterlife. Then I have to resuscitate myself right fast, because it’ll be back to life on the road. For those of you thoroughly confused, this is July. Which is the craziest month to be a collegiate basketball coach, or a college prospect for that matter. This is the month that we live out of rental cars, suitcases become appendages, and you forget your hotel room number because it’s your fifth room in as many nights. Sometimes you even forget which city you’re in because after awhile they all run together. Portland? (Nope, this place isn’t as green.) Chicago? (Nope, this place isn’t as cold.) Atlanta? (Nope, this place isn’t as traffic congested.) Oh, then I must be in Kearney, Nebraska. (Um, nope…you missed that flight remember? The traffic in Atlanta inhibited you.) Man, I give up. All I know is that my butt hurts, my eyes are glazed over, I’m running out of underwear, and I miss my dog. Therefore, it must be July!

Please don’t misunderstand the context of this blog. I enjoy the month of July. I actually live for it. It is the opportunity for me to reconnect with coaching buddies and evaluate some of the best up and coming younger players in the country. I love watching basketball and that’s what best sums up the month of July: an opportunity to watch copious amounts of hoops. It’s also a month full of adventure and unpredictability. Let’s recap the first 10 days of my July adventure to date….

So far I’ve managed to miss two flights, have another two cancelled, spent the night on the airport floor, (wearing white linen pants I might add.), get lost…A LOT, leave my briefcase in a rental car, and get mistaken for being part of a high school girls soccer team from Nashville, TN while waiting at the airport. That was actually fun. It gave me a chance to learn new terminology like: “Dadgum”, “Right fast”, (see the first paragraph for proper sentence usage), and my personal favorite new word, “Kaint”. (As in, “I kaint believe I’m gone miss this dadgum flight again.”)

I also got my ride officially “pimped” thanks to the kind folks at Budget. I tooled around Atlanta in style one day in a neon green Dodge Charger Hemi with black racing stripes down the hood and chrome wheels. I might be the only Black woman to drive around the streets of Atlanta in a faux racing car straight out of a lost episode of the Dukes of Hazard. This is how the exchange at the rental car counter went:

“Ma’am, we’re very short on cars today so I am going to give you this Dodge Charger.”

“Um, ok. No problem. Well, it’s not the one that looks like it’s covered in anti freeze is it? The one that the Incredible Hulk threw up all over? The Shrekmobile parked outside? The Green Lant…”

“Excuse me Miss Gray-Miller. Are you done?”

“Sorry. Yes. I’m done. But really, it’s not the green charger is it?”

“Yes it is. If you prefer, I can give you a 12 passenger van at the same rate.”

“Umm…I’ll take the green car. Thank you.”

And so you have it. I officially became known as Shimmy in the Hemi. Things really heated up at stoplights. Inevitably, a car full of teenage boys would pull up alongside me. “Coooool Car Lady!!! Yea!!! Rev it up!!!” I fully realized that after I peeled off, I would leave them wondering amongst themselves, “What’s the Black chick doing in the cool Hemi with the racing stripes? And dude, did she just yell ‘Yee Haw” out the window?” That’s right fellas, there’s something unpredictable about a 6 foot Black Lady driving a neon green Hemi. Welcome to July!

So now I’m taking a dinner break before my evening games start. My dog sitter has just informed me that my beloved boxer mix has stopped eating. Apparently he’s protesting my absence. He’s so dramatic. (He get it from his mama.) I can’t believe I am getting a guilt trip laid on me by a dog. Well, lucky for him I’ll be home soon. The dead period, the five-day hiatus where we have to take a break from recruiting has begun. I will sleep in my own bed, catch up with my current team, pretend like I don’t see the mail piled on my desk, wash my clothes, and then head back out again for Round Two.

If the second go around is anything like the first has been, bring it on! I KAINT wait for it to begin!

 

ARE WE DONE YET?

Wow. Theresa and Maggie just submitted to me their final freshman diary entries of the year. I guess that means only one thing, that they are no longer freshmen. Chalk it up. Their first year and my second year is done. Finished. Written. Over. And I couldn’t be more proud of those two and the rest of the team for what they have accomplished this year. Maggie ended up being our leading rebounder and picked up a couple of important team awards at the end of the year banquet. She was co-winner of the team Coaches Award and she won The Billiken Award, (which is awarded to the player that demonstrates a potent combination of passion and work ethic and leadership and commitment). Maggie also earned our Strength & Conditioning Award. Theresa finished as our team’s leading scorer and earned All Conference Rookie Award honors to go along with her Co-Coaches Award and her 4.0 GPA. I feel like a proud mama when I talk about them and I have to restrain myself at times.

As far as team success this year, did we win the number of games we wanted to? Nope. We were 2 short of our goal. And when you take into account that we lost 4 games by 2 or fewer points, it makes that reality sting a little more. But I won’t allow 2 games decided by 5 total points hinder the success that we had this year. Nor will I allow a missed shot here or a turnover there negate everything positive that this team was able to accomplish. My players grew by leaps and bounds. I haven’t been easy on the returning players and I wasn’t necessarily kind to the 4 freshmen that I threw into the fire and depended on so heavily for leadership and production. I expected growth and results and I wouldn’t accept anything but that from this group and that is what they gave me, both collectively and individually. My team grew up in year #2 and because of that, we were able to accomplish a few things and experience a moderate amount of success that did just enough to tease us and dare us to do even more next year.

This past spring has been the best off season I have EVER been a part of in my coaching career. They are standing on one side. They see where they want to go. They want to be there. So they worked to get there. The near misses of today propelled this team to rise every morning and challenge themselves and each other to ensure that they will never come up short again. At least not 4 games and 5 points short.

In addition to Maggie and Theresa getting it done on the court and the weight room this off season, they, along with senior to be Hayley Leake, have been meeting with me on a weekly basis to work on leadership skills. We will be young next year. We’ll be even younger than we were this past year. But that’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. That’s a GREAT thing. Young means hungry (Lisch). Young means passionate (Hennegan). Young means impressionable (Klotz). Young means stubborn (PAGANELLI!!!). But more important, as the team motto says, young means having the opportunity to Start a Legacy.

Starting in July, the Freshman Diaries will be passed on to two of our incoming freshmen, Lauren Woods and Tatiana Ortiz. They’ve got big shoes to fill. Even though Lauren will deny it, I think their feet are big enough to handle it.

FROM A DOG'S PERSPECTIVE

I’ve got a great man in my life. He’s good to me. Keeps me warm at night. Gives the best kisses. Faithful, which is a rarity these days. He’s never in a bad mood. And he’s satisfied with just the tiniest bit of affection from me. I rub his belly and give him a pat on the head and he’s just fine with that. So what if he snores and I have to pick up after him from time to time? We have the perfect relationship. The thing I love the most about him is his consistency. He loves me unconditionally, whether I’m happy or sad. Whether I’m wearing make up or look a hot mess. Most importantly, he loves me whether I win or lose.

His name is Flynt and he is my 4-year-old Boxer mix. I bought him while in Arizona and he followed me to St. Louis. He wasn’t crazy about the snow initially, but he never complained. Even though I have to leave him for weeks at a time because of work travel, he is always ecstatic when I return. My players have fallen in love with him and they often dog-sit for me or just come over to play with him, (and give me a hard time about how long my grass is in the backyard.) His name is homage to my hometown of Flint, MI. I never want to forget my roots and he epitomizes my blue-collar birthplace. He’s full of energy and life and he definitely appreciates all the little things. The walks around the block. The dog biscuits. The games of fetch, (which usually consist of me throwing, him catching, and then me chasing him to get the ball back.). He’s a very appreciative fellow who loves the simple things life has to offer but I’d be remiss if I didn’t go back to the consistency factor. Like my family and friends in Flint, this dog cares about me as Shimmy from the Block. Not Coach Gray-Miller.

Case in point: We started this season with a bang. 5-0. Best start in school history in several years. I remember the evening we clinched #5 very vividly. We returned from a road game and I was on top of the world. We were 5-0. Wait a minute, maybe you didn’t hear me. WE WERE 5-0!!!!!! (See, my first year at SLU we won a total of 7 games so 5-0 was a really big deal.) I put my key in the lock, which is his cue to emerge from his resting place and race to the front door. When he saw that it was me, he went nuts. I thought to myself, “Wow. He’s really smart. He knows we’re 5-0.” Hey, I leave the TV on for him when I’m gone so I’m thinking maybe he caught the news or something. So anyway, I walk inside and he starts jumping all over me. At that moment I felt like the greatest dog owner in the world. “We’re 5-0 and my dog really loves me!”

Let’s fast forward to the middle of the season. We have some injuries and play some great competition and those days of being 5-0 are well behind us. In fact, we started a different kind of streak. Try 0-7. We lost games we shouldn’t have lost and with each loss, I’m sinking lower and lower. As a coach, the losses always hurt more and as the head coach, you start questioning every decision that’s made. Whether right or wrong, it’s just what you do. So we have lost the 7th straight and I’m returning home. I turn down my street half expecting to see a For Sale sign stuck in my front lawn. I begrudgingly walk up the steps and put the key in the door. And then it happens. Out of nowhere, Flynt comes tearing down the hall and starts jumping at the door. “Oh great,” I thought, “He’s been watching the news again. He knows. And he’s not going to let me in this house. My own dog has turned against me.” I couldn’t have been any more wrong. I walked in that house and that dog starts jumping all over, licking me and giving love like you wouldn’t believe. “We’re 0-7 and my dog really loves me!”

5-0. 0-7. Doesn’t matter to Flynt. All he cares about is that I rub his belly, take him on walks, and play with him. If only everyone in my life loved me that unconditionally.

I realize that this business can often be cruel and the people associated with it can often be described as bandwagoneers. (Did I just make that word up? Probably, but you know who you are.) I also realize that if my players or assistant coaches jumped up and down and wagged their tails when we lost 7 straight games, I would question their passion and commitment to what we’re trying to do. Therefore I realize the unconditional love I’m searching for might only be found in the canine persuasion. But wouldn’t it be nice if the next time we go 0-7, I could just rub my Athletic Director’s belly or pat the booster’s on the head and they would still find me as wonderful as Flynt does?.

SOUL FOOD

Last night I had Thai food with two of my freshmen. You know them, Maggie & Theresa. If you have taken the time to read any of their diary entries, then you know a little about them. You probably have figured out that they aren’t your typical wide-eyed, immature, goofy freshmen. In fact, they are just the opposite. Mature beyond their years, Maggie & Theresa are hard-working, introspective, intelligent, & well grounded.

Mags and T make up half of our heralded first year recruiting class. In building a program, as we are doing here at SLU, we knew that we needed more than talent. We needed special kids who would be able to provide leadership, discipline, & passion. We needed kids who wouldn’t be afraid to take the path least traveled. We needed kids who were good enough to go to other schools and be part of their history but who wanted to come to Saint Louis and be a part of making our history. It’s no surprise then that Theresa and Maggie were the first to call me and make their commitment to SLU.

I remember both of their phone calls and the details surrounding them with great clarity. Theresa’s came first. At the time, I was at the mall purchasing my first computer when my cell phone rang. I saw the name on the caller ID and was almost afraid to answer it. Of course I took the call because when your #1 recruit calls, you ALWAYS take the call. “Coach Gray. This is Theresa Lisch.” (She had this bad habit of always saying her last name when she called. As if I wouldn’t know it? Part of that unpretentious nature that I love about her.) “Umm, well I hope I’m not catching you at a bad time.” “Oh. Of course not.” As I was getting ready to hand over my life, er, credit card to the 17 old computer geek. “Umm, well, I just wanted to tell you that I’ve made my decision.” “Uh oh,” I thought. “Am I prepared for this right now? I’m already an emotional wreck because I was talked into buying software that I didn’t need. Can I handle this if she rejects me in the middle of the Apple Store? If she does, will it push me over the edge and force me to upgrade to the bigger, faster operating system with all the bells and whistles in an attempt to self medicate?” Yes. All these thoughts really did flash through my mind. Well, to make a long story short, Theresa told me that she wanted to come to Saint Louis University and right there in that mall, I screamed and danced and promptly, yet politely, was asked to excuse myself from the store until I finished my phone conversation. It was awesome! I then called all my assistants and my Athletic Director to share the good news. We had received our first commitment and damn, it was a good one!

Somewhere between the Galleria and my house, I settled down and instantly began focusing on our next “big one”. (Isn’t that what Head Coaches do? Not enjoy the moment?) That next “big one” would come a couple of months later. Like Theresa, Maggie took several visits and really did her homework before making a decision. As tortuous as it can be for me, it’s what I want from all of the kids that I recruit. That way, when they are being yelled at by me the next year and thinking, “Man. Why did I come here? This lady is crazy!” They will realize that they came here because it was a well thought out decision they had put lots of time into making. After the demanding July recruiting month, I was looking forward to spending the next 10 days out of cell phone reach, on a cruise through the Caribbean. I was really hoping to hear from Maggie (or Katie Paganelli) before my ship set sail. I spent the night before the cruise in Miami, FL hanging out with P Diddy and Shaq. Ok, ok. I spent the night before the cruise in Miami, FL hanging out in the hotel restaurant & catching a movie. While in the movie, I missed a call from Maggie. She left a message saying she wanted to get in touch with me before I left. Uh oh. Here we go again. “Do I call her back now or wait? What if she says, ‘thanks but no thanks.’ That ruins my vacation. What if she commits? That gets my vacation started on the right note. I don’t remember reading this chapter in my Head Coaching 101 handbook.”

Ok, so you know the story. I called her back and she said with such confidence and pride, “Coach Gray. I want to be a Billiken!” And the scream and dance that began in St. Louis two months earlier was duplicated and perfected in Miami, Florida on August 9, 2005. Not only were we getting two very good basketball players. We were getting two quality kids. Excellent students. Leaders. Winners. Passionate. Hard workers. We were getting the cornerstone of what we were building.

Fast forward to last night in the restaurant. My two prized recruits are now freshmen starters for us. The first two to commit are now roommates. Our leading scorer (Lisch) and our leading rebounder (Hennegan) and they are trying Thai food for the first time. And it’s hilarious. I’m having the time of my life talking to them and listening to them and watching them. We talked about everything. We discussed, life, the future, socio-economic issues, family, boys (of course!), who’s the neatest, who’s the best cook, who is most likely to get married first (basically boys again!). We talked about everything BUT basketball. That was the one topic that I think none of us wanted to get into. I got to know them better as people and they saw me as more than just their coach. It was an excellent break for the three of us as we are smack dab in the middle of our season. We ate Thai but it might as well have been soul food because by the time we walked out of that restaurant, I was grinning like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I just felt good. Good about our future and good about the kids that we have handpicked to be a part of all of this. When they made those phone calls to me almost two years ago, did I ever imagine that these are the types of kids we were getting? Yes I did.

I really did. Hey, I danced didn’t I?

2007: A COACH CAN WISH CAN'T SHE?

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I think they are asinine. Why wait for a particular date to resolve yourself to doing something that if it were important enough to you, you should’ve have been doing all along? However, I do believe in New Year Wish Lists. So I made one of my own. Well, I didn’t. But my alter ego, Shim Shady did. I’d like to share it.

Shim Shady’s 2007 Wish List:

¨ I wish that Bobby Knight would practice the same discipline & restraint that he is so phenomenal at instilling in his players.

¨ I wish that Donald Trump would get a new hairstyle. Better yet, just cut it off.

¨ I wish that more women’s basketball coaches would get million dollar contracts. (You can start with me.)

¨ I wish that the Billikens would reach all their team goals this year.

¨ I wish that people would stop asking me what a Billiken is.

¨ I wish that I had $1 for every time someone asked me what a Billiken is.

¨ I wish that my mom would actually use the running socks, walking shoes, & Mp3 player with the play lists, “workout jams”, “songs to get in shape to”, and “she’s a bad mama jama” that I bought her for Christmas two years ago.

¨ I wish that we would be able to keep our practice players.

¨ I wish that Eminem and Kim would get remarried.

¨ I wish that Brittany and Kevin would not.

¨ I wish that Tom Cruise would slowly go away. No, make that quickly go away.

¨ I wish that my players would stay healthy.

¨ I wish that my butt would stop growing.

¨ I wish that Pat Riley would make up his mind.

¨ I wish that my dog would learn how to do housework & start earning his keep.

¨ I wish that each of my players experience the emotion of cutting down a net.

¨ I wish that I’d make more time to play my guitar.

¨ I wish that parachute pants would come back in style.

¨ I wish I were a desperate housewife.

¨ I wish the WNBA would thrive.

¨ I wish someone would explain to me what a Buckeye is and why it’s a college mascot?

¨ I wish for upsets and parity and increased visibility for women’s basketball.

¨ I wish that movie theaters would have a frequent visitor’s punchcard.

¨ I wish that Vanilla Ice would make a comeback. Word to your mother.

Last but not least, I wish for health & happiness in 2007. Have a great year everyone!.

WINNING VS. SUCCESS

We’re on our way to Des Moines right now to play Big 12  power, Iowa State in a late morning match up tomorrow. Right now, as I write, we are 7-3, already having matched our win total of last year, & nearly doubling what it was 2 seasons ago. I’ve gotten a lot of congratulation emails & phone calls and the audiences I speak to at my speaking engagements are a lot more receptive these days. As a coach, it’s my job to win. And if you want to keep your job, you better win more than you lose. So would you think I was crazy if I told you that I don’t care about the wins nearly as much as other people seem to? Would you think I was a nutbag if I told you that I don’t look at myself in the mirror everyday and say, “Yeah! You ARE the woman!” Are you ready to have me committed when you find out that to me, winning does not necessarily mean success?

Don’t misinterpret me. I love winning. I really do. But I love being successful far more than winning because success stays with you a lot longer than a single win. There is a difference you know. Being successful means doing things the right way. And if you do things the right way long enough, the wins take care of themselves. In building a program, we talk a lot about establishing tradition and doing things, “The Billiken Way.” What exactly is the Billiken Way? The heck if I know. I’m making it up as I go along. I just know that there is a right way to get things done and a wrong way. The right way is with discipline, passion, hard work, and integrity. The wrong way is filled with short cuts. The Billiken Way is running sprints in practice and touching every line in the process and when one teammate misses a line, the whole team runs again. The wrong way is to overlook that seemingly minor transgression because it’s late into practice and we’ve been at this for a couple of hours and everyone is tired and really, “What’s the big deal anyway?” The Billiken Way is spending hours and days and weeks on the recruiting trail in gyms, schools, and counselor’s offices trying to find out as much as possible about the kids we are hand picking to be a part of our program. The wrong way is ignoring red flags that come in the form of bad grades, missed school, poor work ethic, and bad practice habits because, “I know but she is soooo talented and could help us right away.”

The hardest part about experiencing the moderate amount of success that we have thus far in a very young season is convincing our team that success is more important than winning. They are looking at us like we really are crazy. “Ok Coach. Let’s get this straight. We’ve never won here before and now we are but you’re telling us that none of it matters?” No, it matters. But what matters most is how we win. How we play. And how we conduct ourselves in the process. I want us to get to the point as a team where securing the victory isn’t enough. When we celebrate the “W” but embrace the challenge of working on the mundane details that will propel us to the next level.

I’ve said this before in so many different ways. Basketball is just a small part of the big picture. Basketball is a vehicle that my players use to prepare them for life. That’s why I take this so personal and seriously. I don’t want them trying to take shortcuts in the real world. I don’t want them quitting their jobs every time they are passed up for a promotion or anytime they are asked to stay late or work harder. And I certainly don’t want them feeling sorry for themselves anytime something doesn’t go their way or they are faced with adversity. It’s important that they celebrate triumphs in life and feel good about what they are accomplishing but only when they experience true success.

My staff and I don’t want to build a temporarily successful program. We want to do something that will be bigger than us and last a lot longer than our tenure here. We know that we aren’t going to be great from the start but there’s nothing wrong in starting to be great. The Billiken Way. Right here and right now.

NO REGRETS

A couple of weeks ago, our leading returning rebounder and a returning starter tore two ligaments in her knee, effectively ended her junior year before it even got started. Last year she was a captain for me until I removed her from that position in the spring. I didn’t feel as if she always put her team first. She took her captainship for granted & I didn’t think she was deserving of the honor of leading our team. So while she sat crying before our team scrimmage, I consoled her the best I could by telling her that by the time she was done, she would become the leader that I know she can be. Not exactly what she wanted to hear. She just wants to play. She doesn’t care about anything else right now but joining her teammates on the court and wearing that white and royal blue uniform in our next game. And right now, what’s running through her head is that she wasted an opportunity to make an impact last year. Now we are off to our best start in recent program history and she feels as if she’s not a part of it. She’s thinking about the fact that the opportunity she squandered may never come again. There is no guarantee that she’ll come back from this injury. There is no guarantee that she will ever play again. And if she does, there’s no guarantee that I wont have recruited right over her and that the voices of our evolving team won’t be louder than hers, minimizing her chances of ever being voted team captain again. Regret is the worst feeling you can have, and right now, that’s all she has.

Last year one of my former players from the University of Arizona died. Suddenly and unexpectedly, she died. She woke up not feeling well and the next day she was gone. Athletes die all the time. We read about it everyday and on every level. Rarely, very rarely is it the All American…the MVP…the glue of the team…the centerpiece. In this case it was. So I went back to Arizona and I sat at her memorial and I cried like everyone else. But I cried for different reasons. I cried because I never said goodbye. I cried because we weren’t speaking when she died. We were very close during my two years of coaching her, but towards the end of the last season, our relationship had grown tumultuous. I had become tired of her antics and mood swings and I started ignoring her and focusing my attention on other players. When I took the Saint Louis job, I had only a few days between telling the team goodbye and moving across the country. She wasn’t happy about me leaving and expressed that to me and she walked away. Just like that. I did not speak to or communicate with her again. So when I cried that day in the arena while a photomontage of her life flashed on the big screen, I was doing so out of selfishness and regret. I regretted that I didn’t tell her I loved her even though she could be a jerk sometimes. I regretted that I was holding on to a magazine with her on the cover with the sole intention of showing up at her graduation to ask her to autograph it for me while surprising her. I regretted a lot that day, and that hurt worse than knowing that I would never see her again.

You would’ve thought I would have learned my lesson well before she died. Four years ago, while at my last year at the University of Washington, I almost lost another player. She had a heart attack on New Years Eve and was in a coma for a couple of days. She pulled through, however. She received that rare second chance in life and we all received a second chance right along with her. A second chance to call up loved ones or people who have impacted us to thank them and tell them we loved them. Her near death experience was our warning to not take any of this for granted and to live each day to the fullest. And we did that….at least until we forgot.

I only know how to do things one way…and that’s with everything I have. I want to be the best at everything I do and I don’t know how to not live that way. Last year was the most difficult year of my professional life. I took over a program in disarray & my goal was to make it a winner. I thought that I could do it in one year. I worked hard. My staff worked hard. And the kids who believed in us, they worked hard too. But we still didn’t win the way I wanted. After our first game last year, I woke up physically sick. My body ached, my head hurt… I thought I had the flu. But I didn’t. I was just drained from my coaching style. We were literally trying to will those kids to victory. I was coaching them the way I played, with my heart and my soul, and trying to instill that same passion and fire in my players. The next day a reporter called me and told me that I should relax more during the games or I’d wear myself out. Throughout the year, other people gave me the same unsolicited advice. The thought being we weren’t going to win much this year so I should conserve my energy and save myself for when I can coach my own recruits. Hmmm…. I’m a rookie coach. I learn a great deal from those in this business that have experienced success at this level. So I made a terrible mistake. I listened. One game, I found myself sitting down most of the game and trying to remain as calm and demure as I could. I tried to be petite, (as petite as someone my size can possibly be), and lady like on the sidelines. We lost, as we were expected to do. The next day I woke up, well, physically sick. I felt even worse than I had after our first loss. Because the last time I woke up knowing that at least I gave everything I could to my team the night before and I did everything I could to help us win that game. This time I didn’t feel that way. I felt as if I had robbed my players because I didn’t coach them with that same passion and exuberance that I know comes natural to me.

I like to tell a joke that I heard only once but it left an indelible impression on me. After being told she only had 24 hours to live, a terminally ill woman was visited in her hospital room by an angel. The angel told her that God was going to reward her for all her good works and grant her another 40 years of life. She woke up the next morning to realize it wasn’t a dream and that her illness had been cured. She was so ecstatic that she had immediate plastic surgery and drastically changed everything about her physical appearance. She wanted a new face and body and look to go along with her new “life”. After leaving the hospital she was promptly hit by a bus and killed. Upon arriving in Heaven, she spied the angel and asked him why had he allowed her to die after promising her 40 more years on earth. After staring at her for what seemed like eternity the angel apologized and then admitted that with all the plastic surgery, he didn’t recognize her. And that is why he allowed her to die.

Why do I like that joke/story so much? Because it reiterates to me what I already know. “BE YOURSELF AND LIVE WITH NO REGRETS”. We have one sign hanging in our locker room. “When you walk off this floor, ask yourself, “Did I give everything I had to be the best that I can be?” If the answer is no, then you better get your butt right back out there. And that’s with anything in your life. Some of us have the opportunity of a lifetime. Youth. Talent. People who are supportive. Why waste it so that you can regret it later in life? Why bother going to class if you aren’t going to do the best job you can do? Why bother working out if you aren’t going to go as hard as you can and get the most out of it. Why bother being a friend to someone if you aren’t going to give the best of yourself to the friendship. What’s the point? This is what I learned that day: Regardless of who we play or how many of my recruits are on the team or what our chances are, I am going to be who I am and do it the way I do it. With Passion and fire and 100% of me.

In life you can’t half step. Nothing in life is guaranteed. Not a spot on the team. Not a scholarship. Not a position as team captain. Not your health…and certainly not your life. NOTHING IS GUARANTEED.

Live each day with passion. Play each day with passion. Work each day with passion. That’s the best thank you that we can give God for blessing us with the talent, our parents or guardians for supporting us and our coaches for giving us an opportunity. Let’s stop wasting it. Because then all we are left with is regret.

BALANCING ACT

I recently had an interesting conversation with a high school player. What she relayed to me during the course of our text message conversation had me up thinking most of the night. Three little words. One powerful sentence.

“Coach, I’m tired.”

She is a junior in high school and plays for a top ranked scholastic team and AAU organization. She is currently working out with both teams along with the obligatory conditioning, extra shooting, weightlifting, and the individual skill work that comes along with it. She is juggling basketball with a very demanding class schedule and also taking driver’s education. (Apparently only being able to drive to the hoop is not cutting it for her!) She has one day off a week and on that day, she is so exhausted that she only wants to sleep.

Now, are we supposed to feel sorry for her? I don’t think so, because ultimately this is what she has chosen to do. She wants to play a high level of college basketball and ultimately in the WNBA. Therefore, she is putting in the necessary work to reach her goals. However, what happens if she burns out before she even makes it to college? Who’s to blame? Her for having lofty aspirations and playing a sport she loves? Is it her family for supporting her endeavors and giving her permission to pursue her passion? How about her coaches for recognizing potential and not allowing her to waste a golden opportunity? While we are at it, should we blame a system that places so much importance on athletics and the prestige that comes along with it that we often lose our sense of perspective and sometimes, our minds!

This is a tough one for me because basketball is such an important part of my life. One of my mentors once said, “The key is finding what you are passionate about and figuring a way to make money doing it.” That’s what coaching is for me. It’s my passion, joy & my livelihood. But not my life, (Diener, stop laughing. It’s not.) If I lost my job tomorrow, (and after this column, I just might.), I would still love basketball and be involved in this game. However, I don’t wake up with hoop on my mind and I don’t dream about it every night. I enjoy other things. I pride myself on being a terrible guitar player and I love editing home videos for family and friends. I am a movie buff who will never be ashamed to sit in a theater alone to enjoy the latest release. I absolutely love music and musicals and live stage shows. I have no problem turning my phone off some weekends or choosing to not watch a basketball game on TV and sometimes I will even avoid having dinner on the road with coaching friends because all they want to talk about is, gasp, BASKETBALL!! I am not consumed by this game and I never want to coach players who are either. I wasn’t always this way, however. It’s easy to become so focused on what you love doing that it morphs into compulsion. Through trial and many errors, I had to develop a sense of balance in my life because it wasn’t healthy for me. I want my players to enjoy being an athlete and never dread going to practice, feeling as if it’s a burden. We work entirely too hard at this level to not enjoy what we are doing. Not to say we always have fun but those times when it isn’t fun, the love for the game kicks in and that is what compels us to push through.

I want to coach passionate and fierce competitors who have an innate desire to be THE BEST. Not just the best basketball player but the best student, the best friend, the best daughter or granddaughter, the best PERSON they can possibly be. Look at it like this, just because someone tells you they love you, it doesn’t mean they really do. And just because they never tell you they love you, it doesn’t mean they don’t. It’s the same way on the court. Just because you’re in the gym or office 24/7, that doesn’t prove you are passionate about the game and if you don’t live in the gym or office, does that mean basketball isn’t a priority? What you do should speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

I don’t know when our priorities changed. I don’t know when being a great basketball player became more important than being a great student or a great person or a normal teenager. Balance has been reduced to something you do on a plyometric ball instead of something we do with our lives. I don’t want to coach a bunch of burnt out kids and work with a burnt out staff. I want us to enjoy what we are doing and do it with a passion and fervor unparalled to none. I want us to do what we do because we love it and not out of obligation or a sense that we will be disappointing others if we did otherwise. Go to a movie. Read a book. Go play kickball with the kids down the street.

And when you’re tired, go take a nap. No guilt about it.

KEEPING IT ALL IN PERSPECTIVE

"Winning the game was a life or death situation for the team and coach. It was do or die when she stepped to the free throw line and she knew it. Afterwards she said that missing those shots was the lowest point of her life."

I know there have been times when I have felt like my total existence depended on whether or not my team won a game. "Life or death! Do or die! Kill 'em all!" Hmmm. Let's get real for a minute. Life is life and basketball is basketball. Contrary to what your T-shirt might say, life is not basketball. Your life cannot even come close to being limited to the confines of 94 feet of hardwood and painted lines.

If you don't believe me, ask the teammates of Alisa Lewis. Are you familiar with Alisa? She played for the Cal-Berkeley women's basketball team for two and one half years. To say she actually "played" for the team would be an overstatement. Alisa was definitely a member of the team, and was present for every practice and game. However, she never received much playing time during her tenure as a Bear. In fact, I don't remember coaching against her, although the newspaper listed her last game action as being against a team I coached at the time. Alisa Lewis died a few days after her last game. She woke up with a headache, went to the hospital that night when she felt nauseous, was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, and died. All this happened in less than a 24-hour period. It occurred too quickly for her teammates or family to even be aware of what was going on. Consequently, Cal was able to spend more time preparing for their last opponent then they did for the loss of one of their teammates.

I heard that between the memorial at Cal and her funeral back in her hometown of Spokane, nearly a thousand well-wishers gathered to pay their respects and say goodbye to a young woman who touched all of them in some way. I bet not one of those people talked about how many points Alisa scored against them or how many minutes she logged in a season. I'm going to go out on a limb and assume they spoke of her being an artistic, creative young woman who loved her boyfriend, her teammates, her family, and the color pink. I'm sure they talked about how optimistic she was and how she lived each day to the fullest. From what I know about Alisa, she was never driven by playing time or wins and losses, but instead by fulfillment of her own dreams and goals in life. She left an impression with her positive attitude and hard work. Did she impact others? I would say that the number of people who showed up to say goodbye to Alisa speaks for itself. I just pray that more than just my mom and the preacher show up at my funeral someday.

You might be familiar with Giuliana Mendiola. She's the brilliant guard who starred for four years at the University of Washington. She left an indelible impression on the record books. Scoring records and assist records and enough honors that could fill this entire blog. Upon graduating, she was asked to reflect on her collegiate career and I was amazed at what she chose to talk about. She didn't go on and on about any of her incredible on-court accomplishments. Instead, she talked about the night she and her teammates were there to save a distressed teammate's life. She performed CPR and, as a result, dished out the greatest assist of her career. That was a life-changing event for Giuliana. The record 43 points she scored in a single game was not. The loss she endured at her final home game on Senior Night was not. Saving her friend's life was.

A young man that probably few of you are familiar with knows first hand that winning a game shouldn't be about life and death. For Joe Kay, just surviving the win has become about life and death. Joe Kay was a Tucson, Ariz., athlete. He starred in volleyball and had accepted a full athletic scholarship to compete at Stanford. Kay was the hero in a high school basketball game a couple of years ago. Doing what every athlete dreams of doing, he hit the game winning free throws to upset the No. 1 ranked team. In an ironic twist on what should have been a momentous occasion for Joe, the fans stormed the court when the buzzer sounded and they trampled him. As a result, he suffered a stroke, which initially left him fighting for his life. It is doubtful that Joe will ever wear a Stanford uniform. In fact he had to re-learn how to perform tasks that you and I take for granted, like walking. The fate of the world didn't depend on whether or not Kay made those free throws. Just the fate of the game. One game. The outcome of which left him lying in a bed in Tucson, unable to walk or feed himself and probably wishing he hadn't practiced his free throws so much?

It is okay to be disappointed after a loss. You work hard for something and when you don't accomplish your ultimate goal, it's disappointing. Devastating? Momentarily perhaps-but life ending, absolutely not! It's great to be excited after a win. Believe me, I am the first one to pump a fist in the air or jump up and down after seeing a player or a team that I help coach hit a big shot or win a game. That excitement is the reward for your hard work.

What I am asking is that we all keep wins and losses in perspective. Coaches and players alike; we are all accountable. It's not the end of the world if you lose and it's not the greatest event in the universe when you win. So can we please stop acting like it is? There are far too many situations we have to deal with that really are a matter of life and death. I'm sure that Alisa Lewis and Joe Kay would agree.

AN OPEN LETTER TO PARENTS

Dear Parents,

Let me start by saying that I love the way you love your kids! I love the way you drive to the end of earth and back to make a two-hour practice in some obscure gym. I love the way you totally rearrange your schedules (and lives) so your daughter can play on the best darn select team this side of the Mississippi. I love the way you are your child’s biggest fans. No one loves your daughter more than you do. I know this. Trust me, all coaches know this. Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the flip side of your devotion to your future All American.

Coaches don’t always make the best parents (see Bobby Knight) and guess what mom and dad? You guys don’t always make the best coaches. I’m going out on a limb here, but most parents tend to be a bit partial. Let’s face it, you love your kids! I’ve thought about this subject a lot and as a coach I have dealt with it even more. I thought maybe I’d help you guys out. Are you the type of parents who are a coach’s nightmare or dream? Are you the supportive type or one of those other types? You know the kind. The meddlers, the whiners, the ones who think their daughters should not only play every minute but also have every play run for them and named after them. (Contrary to what some of you guys think, it’s not a good idea to have plays called Heather, Heather 3, Heather Post, Heather Zone, etc. Eventually the defense will catch on.)

Do your homework. Sound familiar? You tell your children this all the time. Take your own advice. Before allowing your child to play for a certain coach or team, ask around. Research this team. Maybe the style of the coach does not work for you or your daughter. The coach could be a screamer (Once again, see Bobby Knight), and you know that your daughter does not respond to negative coaching. Maybe your daughter only responds to up-in-your-face tactics and needs to be motivated that way. Does the coach play an up-tempo style of play? If so, realize that your speed-challenged daughter might not fit in with this team and thus not get the playing time you desire.

What I am suggesting is that you give your daughter a fair chance to succeed with her team and coach. The kinds of players we recruit are ones we think will strive in our system. It’s not fair to bring in a kid who might struggle with our on- or off-court teaching philosophies. There is a team and a coach to suit every type of player. As a parent, the most important thing you can do is help find the program that your daughter will excel in. This alone might alleviate potential conflicts.

Once you find that team, get to know the coach. I find that it makes it harder for parents to harass and threaten me from the sidelines once they’ve established a personal relationship with me. Take the time to talk to the coach about coaching styles and philosophies before you begin to take conflict with it. By doing this you will better understand where a coach is coming from and be prepared for the decisions that a coach makes in the future.

If you do have a disagreement or question regarding the coach and your daughter, please don’t make it a public affair. When a young athlete hears their mom or dad berating a coach or other players from the sidelines, it only has a negative effect. You are teaching your child that it’s OK to whine and complain to get your own needs met. And by making a spectacle out of yourself, you may be embarrassing your own child in the process. Wait until well after the game, like the next day, once you have calmed down and the coach has had time to process the game for his or her own self. During the game is not the best time to question why your daughter isn’t playing. I also would not recommend approaching the bench during a time out, jumping in the huddle, and yelling, “Put Deeanna in!!!” And it’s never a good idea to grab other players and tell them to pass your daughter the ball. All this does is cause conflict within the team. And when you do talk to a coach, remember, it’s not your team. It’s your daughter, yes, but not your team. Ultimately the coach has the final decision on all matters involving the team.

Mom and Dad, are you getting the idea yet?

Be involved with your daughter’s athletic career. Support her. Continue to love her. But trust in the coach that you picked for your daughter. Trust that we know what we are doing and that we are acting in the best interest of the team. Let’s not make this a personal issue against your child. By showing restraint when handling issues with your daughter’s coach, you are teaching her valuable lessons. And maybe by the time she does make it to college and it’s my turn to coach her, you will have already made my life easier!

Yours truly,
Coach Shimmy

 
 

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