October 17, 2008
Towards the end of my freshman year in college, I started earning a few more minutes on the court. I had so many DNP-CD’s that I was content to even see 40 seconds of garbage time. But that 40 seconds turned into 3 or 4 minutes a couple times by season’s end, and it gave me confidence going into my sophomore year. Then Leon Powe showed up and I was back to square one.
When we had our first practice of the season, Coach Braun announced the 'Blue Squad' (the first team), and the 'Gold Squad' (second and third team). He then, in an unprecedented move, announced another team, which was handed a set of thin mesh, black, football looking jerseys. I was on that last team. Out of 17 guys (including walk-ons), I might have been number 17. My teammate David Paris, asked me why they "gave us these grimy jerseys."
Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we took it as a mission to prove every day that we belonged on the blue team. Since they gave us grimy jerseys, I wrote "GRIMY" on the side of my shoe is huge letters so that I would be reminded that when practice started, it was time to get grimy.
The 'Grimy' team KILLED the first team every day in practice. We talked trash, we played hard, we would even say things like "give us our minutes!" after a big play. It was crazy, but it worked. We motivated ourselves and got better. Still, we didn’t play. I started writing GRIMY on my shoes (I wore the same pair all year) each time I didn’t play.
One day, Coach Braun asked me why I had the word grimy written all over my shoes. He liked clean shoes, and mine had GRIMY on them in about 12 different spots at this point. They were nearly black. He wanted me to get some new shoes that were clean. As a defiant 19-year old, there was no way I was going to change my kicks. They got darker and darker 'til there were almost 20 GRIMY's on those bad boys. Meanwhile, we kept beating up on the first team in practice.
When I finally got to play real minutes, I never looked back. It was then that I became the player that I am now. I motivated myself to improve and it worked.
Playing in the D-League provided a different kind of motivation. I spent the last two years playing every game with the mindset that if I just did well enough, on any given day I could be called up. There were days where it was harder to get up for practice than others. Carlos Powell would ask me straight up:
"Do you want to get called up or not? Because in the league you better practice hard."
That was all the motivation I needed to pick it up.
My short term goals included wins and losses, but the reason I played was for that feeling of working towards something greater. Even just a taste of that next level would be the greatest reward. It would be a justification for making the decision to live in North Dakota and get paid in KFC gift cards.
Two games into this season and I’ve noticed a difference. Yeah, the rules are weird and the key is jam-packed, but that has nothing to do with it. Out here, there is no higher motivation, at least not an immediate one. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, nobody is. So the hype has to come from within each player to play hard for them self.
Well, I have a new motivation. See, for whatever reason, our coach feels that I’m not ready to play significant minutes. He’s the coach, it’s his call, and I can’t argue. I mean shoot, the guy has been to the French League Finals four straight years, and our team has serious talent at every position. But it’s a new thing for me. I haven’t played this little since I was a sophomore in college.
In two games I’ve played at total of seven minutes, good for the lowest on the team. With these figures staring someone in the face, they can do one of two things: be content with collecting a fat check each month (yes, it is quite fat) for very little no work, or take pride in their ability and their long term goals and work that much harder. I’ve decided to take the latter option. I can’t control if coach puts me on the court or not, but I can work, and get better, because truthfully, Europe is not my goal. For many players, a European career is great, but for me it’s a pit-stop turned reality check. My goal is to return to the U.S. BETTER than when I left it and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
I guess it’s time to get GRIMY again.
Rod Benson is a Cal grad and former D-Leaguer who plays for SLUC Nancy, the reigning French league champion. When he's not busy getting grimy, he blogs one or two times a week on Ball Don't Lie. Read his archive, pay a visit to TooMuchRodBenson.com and always support the Boom Tho movement.