I had a teammate at Penn State Altoona named Andy.
Altoona was my second college campus; I’d been recruited there after my freshman year at Abington. Though our coach Kenny Macklin had a full recruiting class, he was still required by NCAA rules (as all schools are) to hold open tryouts.
And Coach Macklin was holding some roster spots for a couple of these walk-on scrubs to make the team.
Three of them did.
Martin was a light skinned 6’1” freshman from New Jersey, who we’d later rename The Barber for simple reasons. The next school year, Martin was our go-to for haircuts. Martin did the honors the first time I cut my braids in my junior year, the day before our first home game.
Martin could not score or dribble and wasn’t athletic, but he had good body size and always hustled. If nothing else, he was a useful defensive body for practices. Halfway through the season, Coach Macklin told Martín that since Martin wouldn’t be getting into any of our games, his role would be to carry the video camera that belonged to the athletic department and film the games.
So, before becoming The Barber, Martin was The Cameraman.
Chris was a scrawny, brown skinned 6’0” maybe-guard/maybe-forward from… I don’t know where Chris was from. As a matter of fact, few of us knew much about Chris at all; the guy was a walking mystery.
Chris had an annoying, scratchy voice that became even more annoying and also high-pitched whenever he got drunk (which was often). Chris did a couple of skid bids in jail during the school year; after one such bid, he proudly announced that he hadn’t been sexually assaulted because “you have to take a shower every ten days — and I was in for only seven.”
Chris had gotten caught up in some credit card fraud scams, too. So his nickname was Credit Card.
Coach once took back Chris’ basketball team hoodie because Coch had seen Chris walking on campus with some girl who was wearing it; Coach didn’t like that. Chris has been forced to run suicides one day in practice for coming on the court with earrings in his ears.
One thing that wasn’t a mystery about Chris, was that he couldn’t play.
Like Martin, Chris couldn’t dribble or shoot; unlike Martin, he wasn’t even much of a practice body. Chris couldn’t pass or run or jump or anything. I don’t know how Chris even made the team. After the season ended, I never saw Chris again.
The third walk-on was Andy.
Andy was a 6’1” White guy from Pittsburgh with a similar build to Martin’s. Andy was a weightroom regular whose main value was that he couldn’t be pushed around on the court and he was diligent about boxing out. Andy was disciplined about always boxing me out during pickup games to keep me away from the offensive glass.
Like the other two walk-ons, though, Andy had very little basketball talent.
One day early sophomore season, I found myself talking amongst a few teammates. Someone mentioned the basketball team up at State College (Penn State’s main campus, where the D1 football and basketball teams played). Andy piped up that he didn’t think a D3 player — players like us at Altoona — could compete with, much less beat, a D1 player in basketball, such as the guys at State College.
I still remember how annoyed I was about Andy’s statement, even eighteen years later.
I could understand why a person like Andy thought how he thought. He was a walk-on player at a D3 school. I’m sure most of the students and fans on campus would have probably agreed with him. Hell, a fair number of my teammates agreed with him.
But I’ve never been the type to think this way.
While it’s a fact that D1 is a higher level than D3, and that those players were on scholarship and we weren’t, and that many of them had professional playing prospects against the (very) long odds stacked against any of us who would have even dared trying to go pro, my mentality has never changed —
Nobody is better than me until or unless they beat me.
A college player is above a high school player. And a professional is higher than a college player. And, while this was D1 vs D3, it was still college versus college. As a college player, I wasn’t bowing down — verbally nor mentally — to any other college player until or unless we settled it on the court.
A couple years later as a senior, me and a couple of new, like-minded teammates got to prove exactly why we thought how we did.
We’d travel up to State College every week and play pickup ball against whomever was in their gym. After a couple weeks of making noise in their Intramural Building (a huge, six-court gym where anyone and everyone on campus came to play pickup ball), word got around to the basketball teams up there that some players from the Altoona campus (our campuses were 45 minutes apart) had been coming in there wrecking shop.
Over the next weeks, PSU’s nationally-ranked women’s team showed up to play. Then the men’s team showed up. Friday afternoons at the IM Building in State College became an event— an event that we started, and we didn’t even go there.
Those weekly trips to State College (oftentimes more often than that, for parties, girls, etc) was one of the best parts of senior year.
Though Altoona did offer four-year degree programs, the main campus offered more of them. Many students who started their college years at Altoona would transfer to the main campus at State College for their final two years, so I had some friends up there and would often see familiar faces at parties and such.
One day while playing pickup against the D1 guys from State, I saw my former teammate Andy, watching from the sideline.
Andy had been right all along — about himself.
We played against some other D1 guys at other campuses that same Spring — read about how those game went, and what it did to and for me, in my next book Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life, coming February 22. Preorder Work On Your Game now and get these free bonuses today.