Developing my skills as a basketball player in my driveway was something that I enjoyed from the time that I got my first basketball hoop at the age of 8. I can remember it well, it had a bright orange Kent logo as the square, with a white plastic backboard, unlike the common glass backboard that I have in my driveway at my own house today. The driveway was unpaved, filled with rocks and dirt that turned to mud when it rained. It was years until my dad decided he would black top our driveway, probably because the rocks in the driveway had already unknowingly helped me develop my ball handling skills!
I can remember in 9th grade, a bunch of us sleeping over at a friend's house, playing basketball outside until it was early in the morning. It was over Christmas break and we had one of those unseasonably mild December days. So, we took advantage of it by playing 2 on 2 for hours that night, under the bright moonlight, then got up the next morning and went to basketball practice! As a real young kid, I will never forget going to the Community Building with my dad to watch him play in his men's volleyball league. During breaks in the action, I would scoot across the court and shoot a couple of shots before the next game started. Then my dad would always spend some time working with me and shooting around after their games were over and we would then go down to the local VFW for a soda and some chips. I remember those memories like it was yesterday.
As a kid growing up, my dad was in charge of organizing the Windber Rotary Basketball Tournament, held every year just after Christmas. Today, the Rotary Tournament is the longest standing boys high school basketball tournament in Pennsylvania. He always spent countless hours planning and organizing the event, it was important to him because it was the Rotary's biggest fundraiser, which put money back into the community. My favorite part about the tournament was when I would have the chance to shoot around on the court before the teams arrived as my dad worked to get everything set up. Not only did I get a chance to shoot on the court, but I was allowed to use the game ball, which as a young basketball player was a huge deal for me. That was the same ball and the same court that the players, who I often times admired, were going to be using.
Then of course, you always could count on the Friday night pick-up games with the older men at the Community Building. There was nothing better than having Kevin Charney (who was much younger and athletic at the time) blocking your shot or a John Fuschino stealing the ball off of you, which made you go home and work on your dribbling before bed to make yourself better and promised yourself to never let that happen again. A lot of times, the next morning we would get back up and head back to "the building" for Saturday morning pick-up with many of the same "older guys". We spent hours on Saturday morning just playing pick-up games and when it got close to lunch time, we took shots from half court to see where we were going to go and eat lunch. First person to make a half-court shot, got to choose the place we were going to eat at. My friends and I spent a lot of time growing up, playing at "the building". We would pay our two bucks at the front desk, have some change left over for some soda, take our ball and play all day, whether it was a Saturday afternoon following our youth league games or morning and afternoons over Christmas break, we would play, play and play some more. That gym used to be full of kids, any age, high school, junior high or elementary age kids, even college aged kids when they were home on break. The high school kids always ran pickup games on the good side of the gym, while us younger kids watched closely, those varsity players we pretended to be, run up and down the court.
Those are just a few memories I have of spending time with my friends in the gym, on the playground or on the driveway, doing what I love to do...play basketball! Did spending all this time get me to the NBA? No, in fact it didn't even get me the opportunity to play college basketball. But, what it did get me was the opportunity to compete as a team member in some great games against other great players in front of some big time crowds. It produced championships and most importantly helped me to continue the great winning tradition at Windber High School. It produced great memories! To reach greatness, as a team member and as an individual, you must first be willing to outwork your opponents.
Where has that gone? There are no longer Friday night and Saturday morning pick up games with the older guys. No more Kevin Charney's blocking shots or John Fuschino stealing passes. Very rarely do you see a group of kids or even a single kid shooting at the Delaney Court hoops. The West End School hoops are long gone and the East End school hoops have been replaced with a parking lot for the local library. You no longer see kids bouncing a basketball as they walk through town. Kids are now riding their bikes, grasping their handle bars with two hands! It used to be that you learned how to ride your bike with only one hand on the handlebar. The other hand was always used to hold your basketball!
Growing up as a kid, I was often reminded by my father that "there is always somebody else out there whose working harder than you.", he would say with his soft voice. It always frustrated me, it didn't matter how long I would shoot jumpers in my driveway, whether it was in the heat, in the rain or in the cold, snowy weather, he would always make that same, "Mr. Miogi" like remark to me and nothing more, he would just walk away as I stood there frustrated and puzzeled, just waiting for him to give some kind of positive acknowledgement! An "atta boy" or "nice job, son" was all I was ever looking for. I would constantly think to myself, "what's it gonna take to please him?" Then, the next day I would go a little longer and a little harder, forcing myself to make more free throws in a row before allowing myself to quit.
It was not long after my father passed away, that I realized what his intent was when making that comment. Although I did not understand it at the time, I have come to realize that he knew exactly what he was doing! I wish I could thank him today! His simple little, soft spoken quote was making a huge impact on me, not only as a young basketball player, not even as a basketball player...period. He was making me a better person, preparing me for life! He was helping me establish a good work ethic, helping me set goals for myself, helping me reach higher and not allowing me to settle for being average! He distintively taught me that when you want something in life, you must work hard for it. I still get chills thinking about it and only wish that he was here for me to thank him!
Some other thoughts on Gym Rats:
- You want to be a great basketball player? Someone once said, "you become what you think about most of the time." Become a gym rat!
- Kentucky Head Men's Basketball coach, Billy Gillispie on gym rats... "Gym rats help the team take another step. Basketball is a long hard season, and a year-long situation. If one or two players want to spend the majority of their time in the gym, then before you know it three or four guys will always be in the gym, then six or seven. When this happens everyone improves and becomes a much better player. No matter how much work you put on those guys, they want more. It sends the message of commitment to everyone on the team. The title of a gym rat is earned over time because it's an important title."
- Memphis Head Men's basketball coach, John Calipari on gym rates...As much as the team can accomplish at practice, Calipari knows his players need to get into the gym on their own and work on their games.
“Some guys are getting the message, but that’s something everybody will need to pick up on eventually.” Because sometimes, the most important work for a team with title aspirations gets done when nobody — not even Calipari — is watching.
- "There are some things that are common to all gym rats. They are tougher than nails. Gym rats get knocked down, but they always get up quickly; almost as if they're made of rubber. All gym rats play defense like it's a personal challenge of their manhood. They slap and scrap and claw like fighting birds at a cockfight."
Here is an article written by Randy Brown titled, "Where Have All the Gym Rats Gone?"
With the advent of technological advances in our world, our lives have become easier and more comfortable. Each year ushers in a new throng of new products and upgrades that advertising tells us we must have. Technology has impacted the sports world in hundreds of ways. Some would argue that these advances have both helped and hindered the sports we love. In this article I will focus on the dwindling interest our younger generation shows toward the greatest game on earth.
As I drive up and down the street in my neighborhood I see many basketball hoops on both sides of the street. Some are nailed to the garage or sunk in yards of concrete. Most are part of a fancy system that includes a goal, pole and base. Many of them can be adjusted by a 5 year old from 10 feet down to their preferred height. These units are easy to set up and available at almost any superstore or internet web site.
From the number of goals that line the streets of America's towns and suburbs, you would conclude that kids love playing basketball. Back yards are void of soccer goals, goal posts, or baseball fields. From what I see, basketball is the only game in town. Am I right or am I wrong?
For some reason these goals sit alone and unbothered in driveways up and down the street. There are very few kids hoisting shots toward the shiny orange rims. Not in the the fall, not in the winter, not in the summer. A few shots are taken in the spring when its easy to be outdoors in the fresh air. All of this leads me to ask the perplexing question, "Where are all the gym rats?"
Our world has made being a kid quite an undertaking. Electronics have taken over the lives of our youth. Cell phones, iPods and Playstation have captured the imagination of an entire segment of America. Is this bad news for our younger generation? Some would argue these worldly improvements are part of life. Those of us who love the game of basketball disagree.
Shooting hoops in the driveway always gave me a great sense of freedom. The ability to shoot for hours alone represented a lot of my time as a young player. With sadness, these days I rarely see this kind of expression of love and freedom. It hurts to know that kids are paralyzed in front of the LCD screen, computer flat panel, or Madden 2007. What happened to shooting the shot that wins the imaginary NCAA tournament, State Tournament, or NBA Title. Isn't it fashionable to dream anymore? Are we living out these experiences through a video game or other lifeless channel? What happened to the dreamers in our world?
Maybe it's my stubbornness or traditional approach to the game. Maybe it's because I dedicated my professional life to the game James Naismith invented. Or maybe it's because I see too many kids without this level of love for basketball. An empty heart has no love for anything. Whatever the reason, I find myself asking the same haunting question, "Where are all the gym rats?"