Keep My Fingers Crossed

For 28 years I worried.  I worried about freshmen leaving home for the first time.  I worried about those freshmen having the right study habits for college.  I worried about roommates being compatible.  I worried about alcohol and drug abuse.  I worried about freshmen getting out of bed in time for classes and practices.  I did all that worrying about someone else’s child.  I worried about my freshmen basketball players.

I had a lot of experiences with those freshmen.  I won’t mention a single name because all these players turned out to be great people and the last thing I want to do is embarrass them.  I’ll bet they recognize I am talking about them.

One of my first major recruits found some crazy friends in college.  The one thing they all had in common was the party life of college.  That brings in alcohol.  I knew I had problems with my prize freshmen and alcohol.

During the early season, our team had a tournament in Hastings.  About an hour before the game, I found my prize freshmen fast asleep on a hard, wooden bench.  It was in the early afternoon and my player still suffered from lack of sleep and a hangover.

I wish I could tell you my guidance led to a successful college career.  That statement is half correct.  Sometimes you have to trust a person’s character.  My prize freshmen had a lot of character.  She had a great collegiate basketball career and an even better life after college.  My prize freshmen now has kids in college.  I wonder if she is worried any will take her path to success?

Early in my coaching career, I recruited a player that was considered a NCAA I-type player.  She was tall, quick, a great ball handler and an excellent shooter.  This player was going to take my team to the promise land of basketball.

Did I mention it was early in my coaching career?  I hadn’t quite figured out how to properly motivate my players to go to their classes.  I didn’t check with their professors nor did I do grade checks.  I learned my lesson with my NCAA I-type recruit.

Of course, it started with the party life of college.  Unlike my prize freshman that matured, this NCAA I-type player never grew up in college.  She played one unremarkable semester.  It took me a while to figure out that basketball was somewhere between fifth and tenth on her priority list.

When the dust had settled, my NCAA I-type player had flunked out.  She was gone but the education she left behind for her head coach would benefit me for the rest of my coaching career.  I never again assumed my players would go to class out of obligation to basketball.

I soon found that there was much more to worry about for college freshmen than party and academic pressures.  Sometimes the people you should be able to trust the most can be a danger to your college experience.

There was one particular professor that was respected on campus for his teaching abilities and his energy level.  In a time before sexual harassment was an open topic, this professor took advantage of some of his female students.

Two of those students happen to play basketball for me.  The first time it happened, the player had the courage to tell me.  Once word got out that my player was fighting back, the professor backed off.  I didn’t hear from him for several years.

Just by chance, another player told me about a couple of incidences with this professor she had in a class that semester.  She had filed a report to the President’s Office but was worried her complaint would fall on deaf ears.

The president of the college was a strong administrator.  I went in and told him about the first incident with one of my players.  By the end of the term, the professor was terminated.  Sadly, I worry how many of those incidences went unreported.

I once had a parent tell me he was sure his daughter, who was very shy, would be home in a month.  That student-athlete turned out to be my team’s all-time leading scorer.  I would like to take credit for this player staying in school.  In truth, the roommate she had assigned was perfect.  They became life-long friends.

I’ve had things go the opposite way.  My first year at Northwest, my best recruit went home after a month.  She had never been away from her parents.  The thought of staying in that resident hall with all those strangers frightened her to death.

Personally, I was lucky.  I had a great roommate and although we only roomed together that one year, we stayed close all through college.  Some of my friends had horrible experiences that drove them home.

Those first three weeks of college always were the most nervous time for me as a coach.  It gave you a sense if a player was settling into college life or if they were struggling with homesickness.

All this worry about my players for my 28-year college coaching career should have prepared me for my son, Sam, heading off to college this fall.  I have many of the same worries.  Does he have the right study habits?  Will he make it to all of his classes?  Will he get along with his roommate?  Will the party life of college become a factor?

I guess I’ll find out.  By the time I write next week’s blog, Sam will have spent his first 24 hours in a college dormitory.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.