(My full basketball story from it’s beginnings thru college — is covered in my first book “Buy A Game”)
I walked on to the team at Penn State Abington as a college freshman and played more minutes in one game than I did in 4 years of high school. I guess saying “walked on” would be a bit of an overstatement- anyone with an ounce of skill on that campus was on the basketball club. My talent alone carried me through preseason pickup games, which I could dominate without breaking a sweat. That fact led me to having really lazy practice habits once official teams stuff started. Coach Mo Williams was sure to let me know about my chronic lack of effort back then. But just on talent alone, there was no way I couldn’t have been on the floor (most of the time).
After the season ended, something very important- possibly life-altering- happened. When my classes were done for the day, I would always go into the gym and play in bullshit one-on-one, three-on-three, and roughhouse (this game may also be know as “21” to you, depending on where you’re from. Where I’m from the game goes to 45) with some of the worst “basketball players” you’ve ever seen (not enough interested bodies for full court, ever).
There was an older dude on campus, though, named Kabake (let’s call him K, because I don’t know how to spell his name correctly) who was from NYC. He could see my abilities were above average, even with the trash I was sharing the court with. Whenever I talked to him he would always get into stories about the street ballers from New York that were becoming legends just on word of mouth at the time (this was a year or 2 before AND1 really blew up and made street ball a cultural phenomenon and a brand). And, many days, he would come over to the court and insist that I come into this other part of the building with him. I knew about this part of the facility, had seen something similar (though quite small) in my high school, too. I just didn’t have much interest in using it. More to the point, I didn’t know what the hell to do in the area, even though I knew that using this room would help me in the long run.
This foreign area was called the weight room.
K gave me a good basis to start with and I ran with it, driving up to campus all throughout the summer (between my PT job at CVS) and getting it in (PSU Abington is a commuter campus, 20 minutes outside of Philly) with the weights and on the court. One day while working out, Coach Mo strolled into the building while I was on the court and gave me a two- minute pep talk, ending with him telling me I needed to get my mind right and work harder in order to help the team more the following season. I couldn’t have agreed more.
Little did he know (nor did I at the time), I wouldn’t play another game for Mo, or Penn State Abington.
One dreary summer morning on Abington’s campus, I walked into the cafeteria to grab some breakfast when some random, probably-too-old-to-be-a-student Black guy approached me and asked me what position I played.
“How do you know I play?”
“Hey, I’m just asking.”
I told him I was a guard-slash-forward, and he introduced himself as the head basketball coach at Penn State Altoona. I had never been to Altoona and knew no one there, but I knew that Altoona competed in the NCAA (Abington played in a conference of other PSU branch campuses, all with 2-year eligibility) at the Division III level. I also knew I wanted to get the hell out of PSU-Abington, which was a commuter campus and felt like an extra year of high school in many ways, and I was damn sure tired of living in my parents’ house. The transfer was an easy sell for Altoona’s Coach Macklin, done in a matter of days.
Music Of The Moment:
“Dynasty: Roc La Familia” Jay-Z
The off-season, when I got down to business of seriously working on my game daily– alone for the most part. And that very important weight room business I spoke of.
Abington is just a wack campus if you’re looking for the full college experience. With no on-campus housing, it’s as close as one can get to a community college without actually attending one.