I’d arrived at Penn State Abington sight unseen, not even knowing who the basketball team coach was. All I knew were three things.
- I wanted to play on the team
- I was willing to prove myself
- All I needed to know where the gym was located, and I would do the rest
Tryouts at Abington were a mere formality; at a campus like this one (Abington was a commuter campus — no student housing — and consisted of basically of four buildings) the only people who tried out were players who were serious, and that fifteen of us comprised the team, pretty much. I don’t think anyone even got cut.
The season at Abington ended with a first round Playoff loss — I’d been a starter on the team for most of the season, despite my effort issues — and I was back in the gym, playing pickup ball with and against whoever came in there.
At that time, Penn State Abington allowed students to play only 2 years of sports, even though the campus offered several 4-year degrees (they expanded to 4 years of athletic eligibility and became an official NCAA Division 3 school for basketball a couple of years later).
Of my teammates that season, all the 2nd-year players knew their playing careers were essentially over: they’d done their two years of college ball and now it was time to be a regular student and get ready for the “real world.”
My freshman teammates, who, like me, had another season of eligibility ahead of them, weren’t as serious about ball as me. Though I had no idea — zero — of how it would happen, I harbored the idea that I’d play four years of college basketball, not just two. And I was serious about getting better.
So as soon as our season ended with that playoff loss at Penn State Mont Alto, I was right back in the gym working on my game.
I did so on my own volition, as this is what I assumed all basketball players did.
I was wrong.
After the season ended, I barely saw any of my teammates again. I was in the gym either practicing alone, or playing random games against even random-er students.
There was one guy on campus who’d taken a liking to me. He was a Black guy, in his early-to-mid-twenties (Abington had a lot of adult students) and I can’t remember his name, but he saw that I could play and that I had untapped potential that would never be tapped through messing around with the scrubs in Abington’s gym.
Though this guy wasn’t a player himself, he was a big basketball fan; he was from New York, and had grown up with several of the players whose names were starting to ring out virally through a new hoops phenomenon called streetball, whose popularity was growing via the spread of the And-1 Mixtape.
This older guy would see me on the court, dunking on some hapless, fat white kid, and pull me aside to join him where he spent most of his gym time: in the weight room.
I’d never spent time in a weight room before then, and still wasn’t that excited about it. But out of respect for the older guy, I listened and gave it a shot.
The alpha males in Abington’s tiny weight room were all early twenties, grown-men Black guys, and though I couldn’t even bench 135 the first time I tried, they took me under their wing because of my basketball talent.
There was a road game that freshman season when our coach put me in to guard some big, slow guy on the other team, probably their power forward. He sealed me off and scored on me twice in a row from right under the basket.
I knew I needed to get stronger, but I hadn’t yet done any strength training — which meant I hadn’t seen any results from it, which made me unenthusiastic about even doing it. It was a self-fulfilling cycle.
Thanks to those older guys, though, I kept showing up, and got stronger. Through March and April of my freshman year, I got acquainted with lifting weights. Lifting was the only thing that ever took me off of a basketball court, and was well worth it.
Thanks to the weight room and the Wendy’s Dollar Menu food I ate every day coming back from campus, I gained significant muscle that offseason, power that served me well for the rest of my playing days.
How did the weight room play a role in the rest of my playing career, and what did it do to build the Mental Game that I teach now? That’s all in my new book, Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life. Preorder it now and get all my free bonuses.