Little did I know that when I started my coaching career it would take me to gymnasiums all over the country. As a head college basketball coach, I have expanded my gym list tenfold, as I have spent countless hours driving all over the east coast, Pennsylvania, Ohio, DMV, etc. seeing prospects.
From carpeted middle school gyms in Providence to Big 10 Arenas in Iowa, I have coached in tons of gyms just about everywhere (Phog Allen is still on my bucket list!). No state is too big; no court is too remote.
However, some of my favorite moments are on the blacktop of the outdoor courts I grew up on. As a South Kingstown, Rhode Island native, I was fortunate to have access to Wakefield School, Tuckertown Park, Potter’s Woods, Old Mountain Field and my personal favorite, the Damn Street Courts.
Little did I know that all of my time spent by myself working on my game was really just preparing me for when my playing career ended. When I went to college, I missed the orange ball bouncing so much that I decided to get into coaching immediately. I have spent nearly half my life coaching at this point and the rest they say is history.
I tried to instill this same love for the game with all of my players. Some had the itch more than others but I was fortunate to coach some wonderful young men and women during my various coaching positions.
Yesterday, I was blessed to make the drive to see one of my favorites, Kate LaBelle get married to Mike McCord. During the drive to Lake George, I started thinking of all of the time I spent with her and others getting them one-on-one workouts at the aforementioned courts. The hours are countless.
I used to tell my players that “nobody cares about you on a Tuesday night in the summer, but you!” When their friends were off having fun or lounging in an air conditioned room my players were working on their game. It was a sacrifice. But the sacrifice paid off in the form of an affection for the game. It was a sacrifice for me too I suppose. However, it was an investment in my future as a coach and it was a chance to build unbreakable bonds with some tremendous people.
I coached Kate at the AAU and High School levels. She was always one of the hardest workers I have coached. Her passion, enthusiasm and her ability to overcome adversity (ACL injury) have undoubtedly helped to shape her approach towards life. They are forever linked.
Kate went on to be the captain of her High School basketball team and she then played at the NCAA Division III college level for Springfield College.
More impressive than the love for the game was the love that she displayed teaching children. Kate honed her leadership skills at the beautiful Silver Bay YMCA, where her wedding was held and where she eventually met her future husband. Kate is now a teacher and middle school head coach in Vermont. Very fitting.
To see former players grow up as responsible adults, contributing to society is truly a rewarding experience. I joked with some of the staff at Silver Bay that I wrote Kate a letter of recommendation for her job there so I kind of played match maker. Honestly though, that is not the case.
The real truth is that Kate made great decisions and maximized her potential to EARN where she is. However, I tend to believe that some of our workouts/practices may have helped her achieve this success.
I’m glad that I had the opportunity to make “the drive” yesterday. I would not have missed it for the world. July recruiting can be a “grind” as many of my colleagues complain or boast (…that is another subject for another blog). However, nothing would have stopped me from attending. All of my hard work getting to where I am coaching is just so I can make “the drive“. Without the opportunity to make “the drive” you have to ask yourself “is it even worth it?”
The fact that my players remember the lessons learned and time spend together almost a decade after I last coached them is flattering to me. I never thought I would have this sort of an impact on my players. It is truly an honor.
Coaches teach their players to drive middle or drive baseline and score it. However, as coaches “the drive” is the real reward.
I feel as though I will have many more graduations and weddings to attend, and many more letters of recommendation to write.
The players I have coached truly are family. They don’t have to tell me that and I don’t have to tell them that.
“The Drive” says it all.
Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo