Basketball is life. A phrase uttered by many who have fallen in love with the game over the years and one I feel rings 100% true. Basketball has always held a special place in my heart, as it is the one thing that allowed me to be a part of a community no matter where I lived. See as a child my family moved often, a result of my step-father being a part of the Air Force and then my mother returning home following their divorce. With the constant movement I had to constantly build new friendships. Basketball allowed me to do that. The beauty of basketball is that it’s a universal language. When you step on a court the only thing that matters is whether or not you can play. For a kid dealing with constant change it was always the one consistent thing; If I go to a court I’ll find like-minded individuals.
Those who aren’t a part of the game see basketball as just that a game. What they are missing is all of the real world lessons an athlete learns from participating. The game teaches you more about life than anything you learn in a classroom. You learn things such as; communication skills, leadership, importance of teamwork, conflict resolution, dealing with adversity, value of hard work, empathy, commitment, value of roles, community involvement, and responsibility among other things.
Sports, especially basketball, have always held a special place in my heart. As many who have played the game as a child my first dream was to play in the NBA. I remember being 5’2 in 3rd grade and seeing Mugsy Bogues playing thinking if he could be playing at the same size I could. While that dream passed with time, my desire to be a part of the sport never waned.
My first team was during that 3rd grade year in a recreation league at the Air Force base. We had just moved to Colorado from Utah and my mom said she signed me up as a way to meet more kids. Reflecting back I don’t remember much about the team. I can’t tell you if we won or if we lost. Couldn’t tell you how many points I scored or who my teammates were. As my mom tells the story she says that after the first day she thought there would be no way I’d be playing basketball. The one thing I can remember is I absolutely loved playing. I remember loving being a part of a team.
We moved from Colorado to Florida after the end of 5th grade. In Florida I joined both soccer and basketball teams but it was basketball that still held my passion. At the time I was already 6’ tall but I hadn’t had any real coaching up to that point. My coach that year was awesome. Looking back I believe he is the person who planted the seed in me to want to coach myself. He did so much to integrate me into the group and make me believe in my ability to play the game. After our recreation season ended he invited me to join in and play on the area travel team as well. I was absolutely thrilled to be a part of the team. Even though he let me know going in I wouldn’t see much time I was still glad to be a part of that team.
I never did play much with that team. Even being the 14th or 15th guy on that team I never once missed a practice or a game. Thinking back it didn’t even come to my mind to be anything other than grateful to be a part of the team.
After 6th grade ended we once again moved. This time back to Maine. As a kid I was absolutely devastated. I had made some really great friends and enjoyed where we were. Moving from a warm large community where my high school had hundreds of kids to a cold weather state where my new school had 70 total people K-8 was not my idea of a great time. Once again though basketball came through as a savior for me.
By 8th grade I thought I had this basketball thing all figured out. I believed I was the best player around and I may have been in my small pond but I got a few humbling reminders that year. Playing in the city recreation league I found there were other athletes who were faster, stronger and better than me in my own area that I had never had chance to play against. Yet this didn’t deter my confidence in the least bit. I still believed I could play with anyone and our recreation team winning the championship further empowered that belief.
That lead to my school league season. To start the season our coach made it clear that the five athletes who worked the hardest would be starting game 1. Even knowing I was the best player on my time I worked my butt off. The day before our first game, coach lined up our team and said first five guys to make the free throw will start tomorrow. I missed mine and subsequently watched as five other guys hit theirs before I got a second chance. Instead of celebrating my teammate success or accept my failure in seizing the opportunity I got mad at the coach for saying one thing and then completely throwing that out the window. I had this argument with the coach not only in front of my teammates on court in practice but again the next day in the classroom with the coach who was also our teacher. One of the other players ended up giving up his spot for the game but looking back I missed the big picture on this one.
That season wasn’t done teaching me about the game. Late in the season we were entrenched in a close game against an opponent who we had handled easily on their home court earlier in the season. Our coach called a timeout in the fourth quarter and coming to the huddle I was barking orders at some of my teammates. They were barking back and we spent the timeout bickering about what we needed to do. The coach, who was unable to get a word, immediately subbed all 3 of us out who were arguing. He made us watch as we relinquished the small lead we had and the game went into overtime. He wasn’t done there as he made us watch the first half of overtime as well. The message was well received.
We ended up winning the championship that season. Never again was our huddle disorganized nor did we argue with the coach. We also didn’t get rattled in close game situations after that. Looking back I believe the move to bench us that night is what allowed us to succeed.
My life education, via basketball, continued into high school. As a freshman I came into the year with unwavering confidence. I 100% knew in my mind I was one of the best players. After a fall full of open gyms in which I held my own against anyone who came I fully believed I would be playing varsity. I got the invite to try out and after the three day tryout had my meeting with the coach. Going into the meeting I felt positive I was going to be part of the varsity team. The coach sat me down and informed me I would be starting on JV. My confidence bubble popped. I couldn’t figure out how I didn’t make it. I started questioning my ability and it affected my game in the early part of the season.
Later that season we were playing an away game. I had gotten over my early season slump and had been playing relatively well. At the start of the fourth quarter the coach pulled me out and told me to head to the locker room. This was it, my big moment. I was being swung up where I belonged. I ran to the locker room and reported to the head coach that I was there and ready. He looked at me and said “Hey Chris, we need your jersey. Andy forgot to bring his to the game.” Well that didn’t go as planned. Unlike the previous let down though, I laughed this one off.
Sophomore year provided some of the hardest lessons sport has to offer. Before the season began several players from the previous years Eastern Maine runner up team were suspended due to rules violations. That left our team with 2 starters from the previous years team, 1 player who had played significant minutes, 2 guys who were near the end of the bench, and 2 sophomores (one being me) who had only played JV as our top 7. While inexperienced as a whole, the team took on a bulldog mentality. We leaned heavily on the 2 returning starters for a majority of our points, the rest of the team embraced a hardnosed defensive.
This combination proved to be very successful as we found ourselves in that seasons State Final game after having comeback from fourth quarter deficits in each of our four playoff games. In the final we were leading by 1 point with only 1.4 seconds left and had the ball out of bounds. Inbound the ball and we win the game. Sitting on the bench, with the gold ball within reach, I was ready to rush the court. After the timeout where our coach drew up what we were going to run, players returned to the court. Immediately two players from the other team shadowed one of our players trying to force him into the corner. As the ref handed the ball to our player to take out he blew his whistle. I jumped up in excitement thinking it would be two free throws for us and the ball due to a dead intentional foul on the other team. The ref came to the table and announced “technical foul, Calais, 2 players standing out of bounds.” We were deflated. The other team got two free throws and the ball. They sunk both and won the game by 1. To this day it’s the one game I haven’t rewatched that I have video of.
As a team we never reached that level of success again in my two remaining years in high school. Failing to make the tournaments my junior year and losing in the quarterfinals my senior year. It wasn’t for lack of talent as during those two years we had games where we beat the number 1 teams each of those year on our home court. Our biggest issue was we didn’t like each other and never gelled as a team. It was a very disjointed locker room and everyone was playing for themselves. During one preseason tournament we left one player behind at the tournament location. There were even fights on the bus and in locker room during the season. Recently speaking to a former teammate he agreed that we beat ourselves by not coming together as a team those two years.
I started college at the University of Connecticut. This was 8 hours from my hometown and there was no one else I knew who was attending. Fortunately I once again had basketball to count on. From the first day and nearly every day that followed I spent my free time at the recreation center playing basketball. It was here I met all my best friends from college. Here where I was reminded that, on a basketball court, the only thing that mattered was whether or not you could play. Those that could play would get picked to join in on teams and those that couldn’t or who didn’t know those playing would be forced to wait.
When I entered college with little idea what I wanted to do as a profession I was introduced to what seemed like the greatest major ever, Sports Management, as a sophomore. The thought that I could be involved with sport as a job was perfect. At the same time I found out there was also a Coaching major as well. Even better, I could get paid to teach the game that I loved so much. At that time I had already been coaching for two years at the recreation level and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather spend my time doing.
In a meeting with the advisor of the program, he made it pretty clear that without playing at the college level it would be next to impossible to get a position at the college level. So I decided I’d stick to Sports Management. That way I could still be involved with sport and I could coach in my free time. From there I started with job in Community Recreation, then went to Club Sports, and currently in Student Affairs doing leadership development and training. All the while staying involved in the game of basketball coaching various youth teams during the winter season and AAU teams during the summer.
Coaching youth basketball was a great experience. It was here I began to develop my coaching philosophies. I got to understand how to work with parents, and how to be very intentional with what I communicated to players. I learned how to maximize space and keep practices active. Some season my team won a lot of games other seasons we did not but I believe each season was a success. Each of the players showed improvement from seasons beginning to end. In fact of the 7 years of coaching at the youth level one player sticks out in my mind today. At the start of the season anytime he caught the ball, whether it be in practice or in a game, he completely froze. He wouldn’t move, dribble, pass, do anything but completely freeze. Talking to him to try and figure out why he had that reaction he explained he was afraid to make a mistake. I encouraged him to try and assured him mistakes were ok. Mistakes were signs of growth. By the end of the season he was regularly attacking the basket off the dribble. It was one of the greatest things to see as a coach.
The opportunity to coach AAU continued my development as a coach. This was the first position I was hired for. A pair of fathers were looking for someone with a deeper basketball knowledge than they had to lead their sons AAU team and they chose me for the job. It was a great group of players. They were a highly motivated group as none had made their varsity team and they wanted to develop to have the chance to play in the following season. We did not have any size, our tallest player being only 6 feet tall and in most game we were less talented than our opponents but we refused to accept defeat as inevitability. I never allowed them to accept anything less. They responded well by giving 100% in every game we were in.
The hustle and hard work paid off as we were able to regularly play with teams much more skilled than us. A great example of this was our first tournament to our last tournament. In our first tournament we played a team that ultimately won nearly every tournament that summer. They beat us the first game by 40+ as we couldn’t break their press. When we played that same team later that summer, we lead at halftime. We beat their pressure so well they stopped pressing and while we ultimately lost the game we played with them all the way to the end.
In 2013 I was able to secure a position as Assistant Varsity Head Coach and Head Junior Varsity Head coach at my High School alma mater. Working underneath the most successful coach in Calais High School history, Ed Leeman. I was able to learn so much more about what it takes to coach a successful program. Ed knew every play the other team was going to run before we played them, he knew star players tendencies and strengths and knew how to take it away. He also knew what buttons to push with his own players to get their best.
Ed stepped down in 2014 and I was able to take over the program the following year. What transpired over that year, cemented my belief that there was nothing in the world I needed to be doing other than coaching basketball.
In 2015 we were able to capture the State Championship. It was the greatest moment I had ever experienced. Seeing the joy and excitement on the players realizing they had achieved their life long goal was the most rewarding thing I had experienced. It was followed by one of the biggest let downs I had ever known. Following the game the realization that the season was over was truly depressing. I had to go back to just being the Outdoor Adventure Center Coordinator and Assistant Director of Residential Life.
That feeling sat with me for a long time. Made me think long and hard about what my passions were. During the summer of 2015, as I was teaching a course talking about dreams, goals and achieving them, it hit me that I needed to chase after my own dreams. It was in that class that for the first time, since that meeting with the advisor in the Coaching program, I openly told people that my dream was to be a college basketball coach and that I would achieve that goal within three years.
It was such a great feeling to say it. From there I began the planning process of how I was going to make it happen. I continued to work diligently at my position in the college, taking on more projects that involved developing leadership, communication, and teamwork. I made an effort to attend new basketball camps and coaching clinics and took in several college practices leading up to the high school season. Through this experience I was exposed to PGC basketball, whose philosophies and way of teaching the game fit my own personal philosophy perfectly.
I’ve been a part of several other ventures in the basketball world. In the summer of 2015 I was Co-Director of the East Coast Games basketball tournament, a U13-U18 basketball tournament held in Saint John New Brunswick that brought teams in from around Canada and the United States. As part of that I helped organize the first ever cross border team, combining some of the best players from Downeast, Maine and New Brunswick.
For the past two years I’ve been able to be one of the voices on the Saint John Mill Rats. A member of the National Basketball League of Canada. Doing both play by play and color commentary for various home games. It has been a great opportunity to see the game from a different lens.
Following the high school season, I officially decided I was going to take a leap of faith and chase my dream. I will be leaving my position at the college at the end of the school year. This summer I will be a member of the PGC Basketball team, doing camps across the nation hitting 12 different cities over 12 weeks. The road once the summer is over isn’t yet visible but I am confident it will find me coaching the sport of basketball as a profession at the end of it.