This week marks the final five days of the spring semester. Bleary-eyed college students wander around campus, finding fresh air and caffeine from the Student Union in order to stay awake as they study for finals. One of my favorite memories as a college student was the moment I walked out of the last final exam. I would immediately jump in my car and cruise campus, mocking the poor students still facing dreaded tests. If I had Friday finals, one of my least favorite memories was being mocked by my buddies who had already finished.
Another event this week is the final time the coaches will visit with the players before the summer break begins. Some will stick around a month or two for summer school. A couple have jobs in Maryville and will stay all summer. Others will head for their home towns for three months of home-cooked meals and jobs to earn a little spending money. By July, their parents will be so sick of them, they might even return to campus early. This is my 26th year for final meetings. I have grouped the type of players that reluctantly come to my office for the last time during the school year in five categories.
Before I set off into paragraphs descriptive of past players, you need to know that none of these labels fit this year’s players. This has been a great group to coach and just to be around each day. I will miss them this summer and anticipate what they can accomplish next winter. However, after all these years, the players’ attitudes at this final meeting become predicable. So predicable, I can even label them. I’ll start from the top and work my way down the scale.
THE STAR – Every team has a best player or two that stands out for her accomplishments on the court. There’s not much you can say to this player. As a coach, you pat them on the back, tell them to keep working hard, and don’t get in any trouble. You can remind them of the perils of laziness, but deep down they know you need them. They can probably lie around all summer eating donuts and still be your best player. You don’t really need to relate how much they accomplished and how much they will still achieve, but you better do it anyway. Even the STAR likes to hear it. So I label this group of players, “I KNOW BUT TELL ME ANYWAY,” players.
OVERACHIEVERS – These players provide my favorite meetings. These athletes are not real skilled, but they run through walls to earn the right to play every Wednesday and Saturday nights. It’s fun to tell the overachievers what they have accomplished. It’s sometimes hard to imagine them getting much better, but you tell a little, white lie and say stardom lies in front of them. As a coach, you boast about their hard work, the way they dive after every loose ball and how they rescued the STARS during the few times the STARS fail. This player will listen attentatively, turn red from embarrassment and thank you for your kind words. I label the overachievers the, “AW SHUCKS,” players.
GRINDERS – When a grinder comes into your office, you almost flinch by how the conversation will turn. As a coach, you’d love to tell all your players that whoever works the hardest will play the most. The hardest workers will be the STARS. It will all pay off in the end. Unfortunately, that would be a big, white lie. There are some players who could pitch a tent in the gym and never be a great player. Every year, my team has three or four potential grinders. You tell this group at the final meeting if they work harder than anyone on the team, do everything but build a campfire in the gym, get stronger and faster than an Olympian, you might play as a senior. That’s really painting an unattractive picture. Unfortunately, potential grinders very seldom become real grinders. The most successful grinder I ever coach was Worth County’s April Miller. She turned herself from a poor shooting, average ball handling guard into a very good point guard. She slaved through four years of very little playing time. Finally toward the end of her red-shirt junior year (her fourth year), April entered the starting line-up. She never gave up the starter’s role her senior season, which resulted in an MIAA Conference Tournament Championship. I don’t know if April scored a single point in the championship win over Southwest Baptist. However, I will tell you that I was as proud of April as any player I have coached. We even named a post-season award in her name. The only thing you can call a grinder is a GRINDER.
UNDERACHIEVERS – Of course, the opposite of an overachiever is an underachiever. These are the final meetings I really dislike. They say hate is too strong of a word, but my feelings toward this meeting may be just that. Underachievers are usually freshman or sophomores. They usually can run, jump and shoot with the best players on the team. However, for different reasons, they are not the best players on the team. They probably will never rank as STARS, OVERACHIEVERS OR GRINDERS. This meeting is crucial to the future of an underachiever. If they listen to what you have to say, realized they are on their last chance, and start to work like a GRINDER, they have a chance. I really dislike (hate) to tell you that most underachievers stay underachievers. I don’t know if it’s wax in their ears or they just think the coaches are horribly wrong, but the underachievers stay that way. Just like with potential grinders, underachievers have a chance, but few take that chance. I won’t give you any names like I did with April Miller. I’ll let them identify themselves. Most of the time, the underachievers have excuses why they didn’t do better. With that knowledge, I will call them, “IT AIN’T MY FAULT, COACH,” players.
CAREER DIRECTION CHANGERS – This final group of players are attending their final meeting of their lives with an athletic coach. I always say that college players don’t quit, they just change career directions. Most of the time, I hate to see these players go. They usually practice hard, are great on the bench and make excellent teammates. Every team needs this type of player. It’s not hard to imagine these players don’t like their role very much. It’s nice to be called a great teammate, but it’s not much fun getting up and down from the bench to greet players coming out of the game. They want that playing position and it’s just not in the cards. There is one consistent characteristic about career direction changers. Hardly any of them come in for their final, admitting they aren’t talented enough to earn playing time. That’s why I label these players with my favorite player quote, “MY HEART JUST ISN’T INTO BASKETBALL ANYMORE,” players.
Remember, these labels DO NOT apply to any current players. Someday, we will stick them with a label. However, over the past 26 years, I have seen a lot of STARS, OVERACHIEVERS, GRINDERS, UNDERACHIEVERS AND CAREER DIRECTION CHANGERS. I always will remember them fondly. They did have to put up with me for a full basketball season, didn’t they?