Around this time every year in high school, me and my best friend Mario would get the keys to Loyola’s gym from Coach Jackson.
During lunch we’d shoot free throws and see who could make the most in a row.
At night while our friends were at parties, we’d go to the gym and play a game we made up called Jimmy Cotton, where you could only advance to the next spot on the floor if your shot went through the hoop without touching the rim.
Basketball season had started, but we still couldn’t get enough of it. There weren’t enough games or practices to give us what we needed.
My friendship with Mario blossomed for a number of reasons. The main one, in my mind, was our shared work ethic. He was the only person I knew who was also obsessive about being on the basketball court and getting better.
Though I spent so much time in the gym, I still look back on that time and wish I would have given more.
I gave everything I had physically. Mentally, I was pretty weak.
When I talk to young basketball players today, I always try to help them realize how important this time is to them.
In my time overseas, I saw in China and Spain a legitimate minor league for basketball. What I mean is, high school basketball wasn’t the end of competition.
There are some leagues here. I’m currently playing in SPAR’s league.
Though the competition is good, and people come to the games, it’s not quite the same as packing a gym for a district game against a rival.
Which is why I wish I would have cherished my time as a high school athlete more.
I played college basketball and can still say, high school basketball was the most exciting time of my athletic life.
Basketball is an easy sport to watch. It’s quick, it’s over in a reasonable amount of time, we can see the players’ faces, and it’s usually a concert of athleticism.
Get to as many games as you can.
At the Lakeside tournament a few weeks ago, I was encouraged to see the gyms packed with fans. That’s the way it should be.
I’m aware that football is king, especially in Louisiana and extra-especially in Louisiana small towns.
But basketball is, well, better.
The season is still early, but student sections should already be planning color schemes and researching opponents’ social media accounts for taunts.
Players: don’t get bogged down in the repetition. You won’t experience anything like this again.
My coach in high school was former Sibley great Willie Jackson.
He got under my skin, and I annoyed the heck out of him.
We both learned so much from each other. He learned from me that the three-pointer is your friend. He learned better ways to communicate with his players.
I learned the value of hard work. I learned about the old school. I learned that even as the best player on my team that the game didn’t owe me anything.
Coach Jackson was able to apply what he learned from our time together to the next group of players at Loyola, and they went on to make a run in the playoffs.
I took what I learned and applied it to playing at LA Tech.
I wish I would have listened more to that man.
The older I got, the more I realized how right he was.
That’s why I tell players now: listen to your coach. They want to get the best out of you.
I wish someone had given me that advice back then. That the world isn’t out to get you. Just get out of your own way.