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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Strength in numbers can also have a down side -- SUNDAY CARDINAL COUPLE


A high school junior, on top of the world because of the clamorings and wooing of major colleges, makes a decision. It's been a long process...with many people involved. The endless texts, calls, friendly persuasion and sage advice. 

"I've decided to attend (fill in the blank) ! 

Immediately, the fan base, coaching staff and local media responds like Pavlovian dogs...showering praise on the player, the brilliant coaches and merits of the school. The love affair is in full bloom. The player works diligently over the next year and a half...honing their game to meet the expectations of their future coaching staff. Develop this hand, work on this move, perfect this skill...all while trying to make your last year at your high school memorable. Keeping the grades up. Staying focused on multiple aspects of your life. 

Then it's time. Dad or Uncle Dave helps you and mom load up the mini-van, tearful hugs and goodbyes when the last chair or article of clothing is put into the new residency and you're at your new home...for four a different city, with unfamiliar surrondings and faces. 

People are talking about you in print, on the huddled masses and over the airwaves. Let's call our protagonist "Bouncy". Can Bouncy take over for this graduated senior? Can Bouncy provide needed strength in this position? Is Bouncy the best thing to hit the campus since the invention of the laptop? 

Bouncy works with the new teammates. There are skills and drills to learn. New personalities. New responsibilities. You've just finished your high school classes and now your enrolled in college and taking classes.

Those fun summer days from high school are gone. No club travel or hanging out with your peeps at the mall or by the lake. You're getting up 500 shots a day. Lifting, running. Competing.

Soon enough, it is practice time. You start to comprehend that this isn't going to be a 32 minutes a game, 25 points a night year for you. There is bigger, faster, better and more experienced in front of you. You're giving it your all and it just isn't quite good enough. The coaches who wooed and courted you are now demanding, critical and impossible at times. 

It is competition and you're not in the lead.

The season starts. You find yourself in a "mop up" role. Getting off the bench for minutes if your squad is up by 25 or down by 30. Maybe a brief few minutes if someone gets into quick foul trouble. Your still working just as hard in practice. Dealing with everything. Trying to fully embrace the "team" concept. Bouncy loves the teammates, the roaring fan base and the travel. Bouncy has problems with 3.8 minutes a game, though, as the team heads into conference play. 

Bouncy wants to play. The minutes aren't there. Bouncy remembers the recruiting madness and schools clamoring for Bouncy's skills. Bouncy sees that "Directional School" is suffering at the very position Bouncy plays and the thought process begins. 

The season ends. The coaches talk and evaluate. Bouncy is informed that there probably won't be much more...maybe less playing time next season. "Coach Champion" has a top five ranked recruiting class coming in...Coach is telling it like it is. Either improve, relegate yourself to a backup role or try your fortunes elsewhere. 

There are some, but not many, players who are fine with a backup role in college for four years. Friends get in your ear and tell you this, or Uncle Dave think you'd be better off, closer to home and "Directional School" was 7-21 and needs to replace five graduating seniors. Fans wonder if you're the most likely to transfer and why you'd even consider coming back next season.

Bouncy is trying. Bouncy isn't good enough.

Players come, players go. A coach's nightmare...among the many they have each having a roster so depleted by injury or other circumstances that they cannot compete effectively. Coaches recruit. They are paid to produce. They look for numbers. They expect hard work, all the time, from each and every player...regardless of playing time, stats or personal beliefs. 

Bouncy decides to leave. We see it at the end of each season and almost every school out there. Players want to play. Equate it to shopping. If you go to a store where the lines are long, no one is there to assist you and you can't get what you are looking eventually end up going to another store. 

Sometimes the final chapter in Bouncy's book is uplifting. Bouncy ends up somewhere where the minutes, the opportunities and the recognition happens. Someone writes a "feel-good" story about how Bouncy "finally found a home" at "Directional School" and they had a winning season. Or, Bouncy's clutch play helped them win the conference tournament or beat the arch rival. 

Sometimes the final chapter is not so positive. Bouncy goes to "Directional School" and blows out a knee. Gets in with the wrong crowd and is asked or decides to leave the roster. Finds their role at the new school the same as at the old school.  

In the end, it is all about the competition. Coaches want to coach. They need to win in order to keep coaching. They need to play their best players...their best fits to win. There is pressure from the athletic directorship, the fan base, the parents, the media and multiple other sources.

Strength is numbers is usually a good thing. Sitting Bull and Santa Ana would agree. For some, though, it is a learning experience. Winning is the objective. Participation hugs and trophies are a sham. And, if you aren't playing or move along or get asked to leave.

In pick up games...the winning team yells out "Next?". The losing team moves off the court and hopes to do better next time. It's a matter of skill meeting satisfaction. The best survive and advance. 

The lessons learned in college can last a whole lifetime. There are winners and losers. There are good days, bad days and going stark mad days. 

There is, though, always a future. A new path to try. The decision, in the end, no matter what it is...comes down to this. At the end of the day, if you can look in the mirror and reflect that, despite whatever were being is something that can never be taken away from you. 


Yesterday's THE CARDINAL COUPLE RADIO HOUR rebroadcast is now on the SoundCloud and can be heard at the link below. It was a fast-paced hour of discussion and Worldwide finally aced the quiz. Believe it or not, fall sports are rapidly approaching. WE can't wait! 




  1. Paulie, this is one of the best articles, I have ever read. What a piece of art. I suggest that you might want ot submit this somewhere. I was wet-eyed. They are stories that bring joy and those filled with melancholy. Well done.

  2. You are one heck of a salesman and that's not meant derogatorily

  3. Thanks guys. It was once of those stream of consciousness moments. Glad u enjoyed.


  4. U just told my story from my time in hoops a lot better then I could of I had a happy ending. A lot dont


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