How To Be Ready When Your Number is Called

In Blog, Discipline, Mental Toughness
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The next time you see an Instagram video of someone dribbling a basketball around folding chairs, think of Rafer Alston. Rafer is better known as ‘Skip To My Lou’ or just ‘Skip,’ and is The Godfather of modern streetball.

Skip came to national recognition after the And 1 company began distributing a VHS mixtape of playground highlights. These highlights took place mostly in New York, and Skip was the main character in almost all of the highlights; so much so, that the VHS came to be knows as the “Skip Tape.”

Any basketball fan in their 30s or older knows the Skip Tape.

But Skip’s career in basketball didn’t end on some playground.

Rafer Alston played college ball. He played at a Junior College, and then at Fresno State (same school as current NBA All-Star Paul George). Alston then played in the NBA for several years, with his best seasons happening between 2003-08 in Miami, Toronto and Houston. Alston was a point guard during Dwayne Wade’s rookie year with the Heat.

But there was one thing I heard Skip say, on ESPN’s Streetball TV show, that I’ve always remembered him for.

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Many streetball players became household names amongst basketball fans in 2000-06 time frame. Naturally, many of those players felt they could make the NBA too, like Skip had made it. The only thing was, none of them was too keen on, you know, asking Skip how he did it.

On one ESPN episode, Skip talked about this to the camera in a confessional. Paraphrasing, Skip admitted that he knew the other players all felt they could go to the NBA just like he had – yet none of them had ever asked Skip what steps they should take, which camps to attend, whom to contact, anything. The main reason for that was those guys’ egos.

Then Skip said the thing I’m writing this about.

“They don’t have any idea how hard it is to make it there. They don’t know how hard it is to be the last man on the bench on an NBA roster…”

I’ve been the last man on the bench of teams before. And it’s not as easy as waving a towel like many fans think; you could wave a towel for the right amount of money.

At the end of a bench, you have to practice just like the guys who know they’ll be playing in the game. You travel to the games and go through warmups the same as everyone else. All this in preparation for the game. But come game time, you sit on the bench and never take off your warmup clothes.

You’ve been a damn good player everywhere you’ve been. You had to be, to even get to the pro level. And now you’re in a position you’ve never been in, as the cheerleader no one knows. You can’t develop a playing rhythm, since you rarely play – and if you do, you have no idea when or for how long.


If something unexpected happens – and injury, someone’s sick, an ejection in the second quarter – your number is called. And you’d better be ready to play. Your job depends on it. If the star player has a bad game, he hears it from the media and fans, and makes plans to double down on his performance the next game.

When the end-of-the-bench guy has a bad game, the team finds a new end-of-the-bench guy. You literally can't afford to have a bad game. Click To Tweet

Are there strategies for staying ready when you never even know when or if you’ll get a chance? Of course there are.

  1. Prepare mentally as if you’re the star player. This is the hardest of all, because if you think consciously about it long enough, you know you’re telling yourself a lie. But it works – IF you can manage it. Besides, it only takes a split second for you to actually become the needed player if the guy ahead of you can’t play for whatever reason. You’re perpetually on-call, mentally. Do not underestimate the challenge this presents. Bulletproof Mindset provides the foundation for getting there.
  2. Create your own “games” if you’re not playing in the live games. When I was never on a team where I knew my playing time would be unpredictable, I started using what I could predict – practice – as my game. I knew I’d be participating fully in practice. So practice became the game for me, and kept my mind sharp (again, infinitely harder than being body-ready).
  3. Rehearse what you see as if you were playing. Ask yourself if you could’ve closed that sale the same way. Or how you would’ve run the offense against the defense you’re seeing.

Remember, your mind doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality. You can get and stay ready at any time. Don’t allow your mind to go soft, feeling sorry for yourself and daydreaming. Be a professional – meaning you’re always prepared to deliver, no matter what.

That’s what Professionals get paid for. Get 30 Days To Discipline and get your focus in order ASAP.

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