My legs burn. Lungs dragging in the tepid air in this gym. I only have 5 seconds to catch my breath before sprinting back down to the opposite end of the court. No time to rest, just go…and deal with the breathing later. This is exactly where I want to be–in the moment.
We are running a drill meant to test defense for the fastbreak and to see who is in game shape. Three guys do the 3-man weave down the court and make the layup on the other end. As the 3-man weave starts, three other guys near the sideline sprint from the same baseline where the weave starts to the other baseline, touch the line, and start playing defense against the 3-man weave guys. The three original 3-man weave guys now play offense and bring the ball back down the court trying to score. The coach is right, this drill separates the men from the boys. After you sprint down and play defense on the way back, you have a small rest while another group goes, and then you’re up again. It’s the 5th sprint down, and I’m exhausted. You’re in shape, you can do this. Go, sprint, defense.
This past June, I went to the NBDL’s open tryout at Basketball City. Of the 200+ guys there, I was definitely in the bottom 10th percentile in terms of skill. Players were bigger, faster, and some brought their agents with them. I told myself: go out, play your game, and in the end know you tried your best and you walk away with a great experience. I left the gym feeling exactly that, no regrets. All the training I did the two months prior culminated into two 40-minute games in front of a smattering of coaches and scouts. I would be lying to myself if I didn’t think about how I wish I hustled more on a given play, or made a cut during another play, or made the extra pass to an open man. These types of regrets always flood my mind after any game, but I knew I had pushed myself as hard as I could that day, and the rest is out of my hands.
The following week, I went back to work, feeling relieved that I could lead a normal life again. No more working out every day, eating healthy, and staying in on the weekends. I had also been planning a drastic career change, so there were simply a lot of “life” things to sort out. Back to reality, I told myself, as I got into work the following Monday morning with a little spring in my step.
In the middle of September, I get a voicemail from the Director of Basketball Operations at the Sioux Falls Skyforce. I listened to his voicemail, and initially thought the message wasn’t even for me and was a mis-dialed number. The director said that some scouts from the Skyforce were at the NYC tryouts in June, and put my name on a list of guards they would like to see again at one of their upcoming tryouts. I then got an e-mail from this guy confirming the voicemail.
They liked my guard play? This can’t be right.
I was skeptical. The first few weeks after the NYC tryout, I received various e-mails from other D-League teams asking me to tryout again, but I could tell that these teams were just spamming all the players who didn’t receive an actual contract from the NYC tryout. We were simply put on various BCC lists as ways to generate a little extra revenue for the teams. This time it was different. It’s late afternoon at work, and I lean back at my desk which I will be leaving in a month’s time. This message is indeed for me, and still can’t believe that I made an impression–albeit a small one–on some random scouts.
That night, I realized that this was an opportunity that I had not earned or worked for, I simply got lucky. Perhaps it was that one drive where I got around my defender, or that one steal in the open court–where the scout happened to be looking and saw something he liked. Nonetheless, it was an opportunity, and I’d be a fool to not follow through. Someone is showing an interest in me, and that’s it. The next day, I called the director back, and ask for more details. He says the current Skyforce team is short on guards for the upcoming season, and I was put on a small list that they wanted to see tryout again if I was still serious about playing ball. After all their tryouts are over, they will pick a handful of players to join the team at training camp later in the year.
The Skyforce has tryouts in Minneapolis, Philly, Miami, Orlando, and Sioux Falls. The only location close to NYC is Philly, and the tryout’s on October 6th. I look at the calendar. Three weeks. Three weeks to shut out everything in my life again except training and hard work. I was just getting used to living like a normal human being, and initially shuttered at the idea of being disciplined again about my diet and workouts. Nonetheless, I was eager to get back into game shape again, and hopefully be even better prepared the 2nd time around.
I didn’t lift and condition as much, since I felt pretty confident about my strength and stamina, so I focused more on gameplay. I had just gotten a membership at NYU Coles where I could play pickup whenever I wanted, and started doing two-a-days as long as I could balance it with work which was winding down. I do light lifting in the morning, and then get in as many runs as I could in the afternoon when all the college kids got out of class and went to the gym. Following the director’s message, I focused on developing my guard skills, even though I rarely play this position on the court. I treated every pickup game I played, no matter how serious the other players took it, as doing that extra set on the bench, or sprinting those final 100 meters on the westside highway even though your body is completely drained. I wanted to play the game as hard as I could and with as much passion as I could put forth.
The night of October 5th felt eerily similar to a few months back, except I would be in Philly instead of NYC. I bought some groceries, made myself a simple lunch, packed my gear, and headed to the Greyhound at Penn Station. As the bus waded through the night, I started to contemplate what I was doing and where I was going. So many times in life, I feel like we just do things without really thinking through the consequences or the rationale behind what drives us. Why was I on this bus? Why was I spending a night in Philly at my friend’s place? Why is my body ache and sore all the time? All these questions started popping up as I had some time to reflect on what I put my body through the last few weeks.
I woke up the morning of the tryout not having gotten a lot of sleep since I crashed on my friend’s couch and my friend’s roommate came home around 4:30 in the morning and blasted Avicii in his room. I was cold, tired, and hungry. I found a local diner and loaded up on carbs before walking over to the gym. I thought about quitting. Those same doubts that overcame me before the NY tryout crept their way into my subconscious, and it became a fight-or-flight situation. As the imminence of an event you’ve been preparing for–whether it’s a piano recital or a date with that girl you met last week–gets closer, you are faced with what is real and what is not. I’ve trained, focused on gameplay, and already attended one tryout. These are the experiences I know are real and can rely upon when I enter this gym of 60+ star athletes. I think of this quote from ‘Coach Carter’ (which I have not seen) when I know I’m spent mentally and physically, but still have this inkling that I can do more and that it’s for a bigger purpose:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”
The doubts I have about my abilities don’t drive my actions. It’s the wavering faith in my true potential that scares me; since there are few times in my life when I’ve truly become vulnerable and laid everything on the line. Does it all really come down to a couple sprints, drills, and games?
What about the unreal? The things you daydream about while you’re at your desk? Those surreal moments at work when time pauses and you ask yourself, why is it that I am doing what I am doing? Getting the voicemail from the director allowed me to dream, if only for a couple minutes, about playing pro ball. If all the preparation leads up to the abandonment of what’s real, to this daydreaming of unrealized potential, I think the experience was completely worth it and I’d do it all over again. The other side of the argument is why even tryout if you already know that your chance of success is 0.00001%? It is an extremely rational and logical argument, but a very fatalistic way to approach opportunities in life. There were 60 of us cramped into this tiny gym on the 8th floor of the Sporting Club at Bellevue. Seeing the look of determination and anxiousness on everyone’s faces made me say to myself: I’m alright. We all came here because of a coach, a scout, or some other contact. We all were able to drop everything in our lives because of the dreams the tryout created for us and the opportunity to work closer to that dream.
Playing basketball has always been an irrational experience for me in terms of the injuries and time investment. That morning, being shoulder to shoulder with some of the most talented players I’ve ever played with, further reconciled why I continue to play this game. We can’t pinpoint why the game has brought us here, but we do know one thing: we are all alright.