In life, things work on in a weird ways. This happens to be the story of one odd thing that ended up shaping my life for the better:
As a basketball player in eighth grade, I was decent. I would have great games, and I would have mediocre games. There wasn't much in between. Looking back on it, I think because I grew so fast, my body's coordination was not able to catch up how tall I was getting, thus making me a loose cannon. It was really hard to predict how well I'd play on any given day.
Lucky for me, I was feeding into Northgate High School where the head basketball coach, Frank Allocco, had just guided the school to a State Championship. I went to his basketball camp for the first time that summer, and promptly won Most Outstanding Player in my age division for the first week of camp. This probably set expectations high, and Coach Allocco was looking to see how quickly I could make an impact on the Varsity level.
What ensued was many months of pushing me to limits I was definitely not comfortable with. The problem was that people were telling me to do things that I would literally try my hardest to accomplish. Unfortunately, I hadn't "grown into my body" and I wasn't able to be as consistent as The Program needed me to be. I was relegated to playing on the Freshmen team- at least to start the season. With the expectations out of whack, I became disenchanted with the whole situation. I approached the Freshmen coach, Coach Strawn, about quitting.
He said, "Tony, give it one year. If by the end of the year, you still want to quit then you can walk away with no problem."
It seemed like an easy idea. I knew his militarily run Freshmen team wouldn't be easy, but I hated the idea of actually being a quitter, so this seemed like a way to mentally ease my way through the whole process.
What ensued was one of the hardest years of my life. Maybe there will be another post about it, but it brought me to the brink most days.
On the practice before our last Freshmen game, I revisited the idea of walking away.
"Coach, you said that I should give it a year, and if I still feel like quitting, then I could leave without any judgment. Well, I don't want to take someone else's jersey during Spring and Summer league, so I think it's time for me to give it up."
To which Coach Strawn replied, "Are you sure? You've made a lot of progress. Do you want me to talk to Coach Allocco about it?"
"No, no," I said. "I'd rather leave Coach Allocco out of it."
Sure enough, the next day I was cornered by Coach Allocco, Assitant Varsity Coach Sullivan, and Coach Strawn. My back was to the back-side of the bleachers forming one wall, and the coaches formed the other three.
Coach Allocco started in. "Tony, after the Freshmen season, we'd like you to be a part of the Varsity team."
I looked at Coach Strawn... I was set up. And yet, as far as set up's go, this is more of a reward, right?
Coach Sullivan (three ways of describing him would be: scary, awesome, close-talker) prompted me. "Tony, this is a huge honor for a Freshman, would do you think?"
Uncomfortably, I said the only thing I could think of. "Yes. Of course I'd love to join the team."
Like the garbage pit from Star Wars: A New Hope, the walls made of coaches, stopped and backed off. But I was now committed to another month (three years?) of hoops. That year, we won the North Coast Section Championship beating San Ramon, we won the NorCal Championship at Oakland Arena beating Woodside, and eventually lost at Arco Arena to Tayshaun Prince's Dominguez Hills in the State Championship.
By the end of the experience, I was hooked. I'm not sure if I could mentally deal with the amount of effort the coaches asked of us, or if I was just impressed by the post-game sandwich spread that they had at Oakland and Arco arenas, but either way, I knew that I wanted to stick with basketball. This is definitely one of the most difficult and rewarding decisions I ever made.