I Used to Love Him: From a Player’s to a Coach’s Perspective – The Finale
“Can I kick it? Yes, you can! Well, I’m gone!”… Now, don’t get me wrong, I know kids will be kids; rather, teens will be teens. And we did have some great times with the girls; we would horseplay with them, practice with them (to help make them better and because we would always be short-handed) and we would would discuss what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of them wanted to be accountants, veterinarians, as well as pursue other professions. So, we stressed how important it was for them to be respectful and to put their best foot forward in the classroom.
Again, I can’t speak for Coach K, but coaching brought about mixed emotions: I was fresh out of graduate school transitioning into corporate America – or the “real world” as it’s so often referred to – so I was still figuring out the woman I was and the woman I wanted to become. It’s tougher than people realize to be yourself and have fun, as well as be an authoritarian at the same time. On one hand, you’re relatable to the girls because of the small age difference; on the other hand, the small age difference causes both the coaches and players to get beside themselves.
Even though the girls didn’t know our exact ages, they knew we were young; so, sometimes they got too comfortable. On the flip side, K and I didn’t just see the girls as our players, but as our little sisters: we loved them and wanted to see them do well. But, when your little sister gets out of line, you want to jack her up. Then, reality kicks in – they’re someone else’s child, you’re the child’s coach and you can’t jack them up… I learned this the hard way. Lol.
Nevertheless, K and I still wanted to show the parents and players a token of our appreciation for senior night (the last home game of the regular season where the 8th graders are recognized for their service as a student-athlete). We only had two 8th graders so K and I wanted to honor all the girls. We were last minute pulling things together, and I’ll take most of the blame because K mentioned it early in the season, but I put it off. We were running out of time and we didn’t have a clue of what to get the girls that was within our budget and that would be ready by senior night. On top of this, K grew ill and informed me she was going to miss senior night. Not only were we going to be empty-handed, but I was going to look bad by myself. Lol. Oh, but God worked it out like he always does!
A few weeks prior, the girls had taken individual and team photos, but the photographer didn’t know if he would have them ready in time – he surprised me with the photos the day of the game; the athletic director had some blank certificates that I had signed to go with the pictures; and, the AD covered the cost of having food catered so we could feed the players and their parents… Ayyee, God is good!!
Although I wanted things to be a lot more organized as far as presentation and everybody being on the same page, everything still went well. However – being that we had a long break before the championship tournament and it was the last game the 8th graders would play in that gym – I expected a better performance than the girls put out. Granted, I allowed players like Jamie and DJ to play sooner and longer than they usually did due to it being senior night, so I’m sure it disrupted our normal rhythm. But hey, a win is a win and we finished the regular season 14-0.
But, the celebration of this small accomplishment was dampened by the news SP shared with us in the locker room following the game. She informed the team it would be her last because she was moving to Atlanta over the Christmas break. I thought to myself, “why would she tell me this right now!?” Better yet, “why would her mother do this right before the championship tournament!?” Once Hart left, SP was our x-factor; she was athletic, hardworking and a great young lady. Now, her mom was willing to work with us for the most part: she was at the parent meeting, didn’t mind helping to feed the girls before a game and she respected what K and I was working to instill in the girls. But, she had her flaws too. I would call her about practice, go over every detail and she’d still have SP late, or I’d have to call and remind her what I had already told her the previous day.
I remember calling her during a Sunday practice and she said, “Oh, I forgot. What time does it start!?” I replied, “It started at 3 and it’s 3:30 now.” I couldn’t do anything but laugh. But, I gave her the benefit of the doubt because besides SP, she also had three younger sons that ran her crazy! Whenever she dropped off or picked up SP, they would come in the gym full of energy. So, I didn’t blame the mom, because she probably did forget. It was SP’s responsibility to remind her mother because she knew what time she had practice. On the flip side, I did blame SP’s mom for making the decision to move when we only had two games left! I was also upset that the tournament wasn’t before Christmas break so something like this wouldn’t happen, because we were already falling a part. It was a struggle to keep things together for a week and the league chose to extend the season into mid January. That was and still is the dumbest thing that could’ve done. Smh.
Yeah, I know, it wasn’t the league’s fault we had so many issues and it was selfish of K and I to want a parent to put her life on hold for a tournament. I remember breaking the news to K. It hurt her more than it hurt me. We were practicing over the break and she asked where was SP. I didn’t tell K initially because she already didn’t feel well and I didn’t want to worsen her condition, and SP’s mom said she would allow her to stay with her grandparents until the tournament was over. Again, I had a conversation with SP’s mom the weekend prior to us starting practice for the championship tourney. I told her the days and the times and she said SP would be there. SP didn’t show for the first or second practice, and that’s when K asked where she was. I just knew SP’s mom would keep her word so I didn’t bother saying anything to K, but at that point, I had to spill the beans.
K asked me to call her and find out what was going on, but I had made up in my mind I wasn’t calling or begging anyone. We were undefeated, preparing for a run at back-to-back county championships, and if parents didn’t value and understand their daughters had the chance to be a part of something special at that point, it made no sense to beat a dead horse! I told K she could call, but she insisted since I had a communication degree, I was better fit to call like I had been doing all season. I was always left to do the dirty work. Smh.
Call me a sucker, but later that night, I ended up making the call. Lol. I was curious to know what happened myself. What’s so funny is SP’s mom told me, “I thought about you the other day”… Obviously, she didn’t think about me enough to call and let me know what was up. She decided to go ahead and take SP with her because her aunt said it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave SP behind. First of all, SP wasn’t going to be with strangers, but with her grandparents and it was only for a couple of weeks. Second of all, who is her aunt to tell her what to do and come between what we had going on!? Psshh!!
Nah, it was time for me to get serious and be an adult. That was something I couldn’t control. The right thing for me to do was to thank her for allowing me to impact her daughter’s life and wish them the best moving forward. I haven’t spoken with SP or her mother since – I plan to reach out soon – but I hope all is well with her, Elle and Hart (haven’t heard from them either). I pray they’re growing into the young ladies God has called them to be.
Of course more tragedy had to strike. We were down to eight players but Jamie never came to practice (why would preparing for the championship tournament be any different? Lol), basketball often took the backseat to praise dance practice for DJ and TT suddenly had a bad case of “stroke” throat as she called it. Lol. Even if Jamie showed up for the tournament – which she did – she wasn’t playing anyway so that didn’t bother me because she couldn’t help us. TT probably was sick – never saw a doctor’s note – but I think she was scared knowing she would have to play big minutes due to SP’s departure. DJ really upset me because she had some great practices leading up to the tournament.
She was getting offensive rebounds, laying great defense and that’s what we were going to need from her. She could’ve been a lot better if she had dedicated more time to basketball. We only had about a week left and she still wouldn’t make basketball a priority over praise dancing after she had spent most of the season in a cast for a freaking finger! She just showed up one day with a cast, K didn’t bother to ask for the doctor’s note and until this day, I still don’t know what led to her needing a splint or cast for her finger. It’s likely the injury stemmed from volleyball season, but she still manged to make it to praise dance practice with the cast.
Then, she pops up sick two days before the tournament. Her mother said she had been vomiting the night before so she took her to the doctor, and she tested positive for Walking Pneumonia!! Wait, there’s more… but the doctor said she would be cleared to play the same day of the championship!! I really was offended that her mother tried me to even think I would believe some nonsense like that. But, I didn’t refute it, I said Ok and I was done with that conversation. Here’s the icing on the cake though, she missed the first tournament game, which was a large victory for us, but showed up to the championship; she had the nerve to tell me, “My mama said I can’t play” (where’s an Emoji when you need one). So, I asked her, ” Well, why are you here?” and she gave me this blank look and I told her don’t even worry about answering. I was too focused on the game to entertain foolishness. I was numb to the BS and I was focused on the ones who were ready to ride.
Bottom line is she was scared just like TT was, but at least TT dressed out with her “stroke” throat. I shouldn’t have even let her come to the locker room or sit on my bench. But, K and I let a lot slide because we believed we could be disciplinarians and win at the same time. We gave those girls chance after chance and they steadily took us for granted. But heck, if we had dismissed them from the team, we wouldn’t have had a team. We didn’t want to give up on them because that was the easy thing to do.
Most teams get better as the season progresses but we got worse. The coaches wanted it more than the players and that was the problem. K and I gave them the keys to winning before the game, and let them know Prairie Cove were coming to play because we had already beaten them twice. Furthermore, K and I watched PC play in the semifinals the night before, and they battled back from down at least 10 points against Brick Yard City to win the game. PC played with grit and heart, and those girls earned the right to be in the championship game. They came out on fire, while we came out flat. PC killed our 1-2-2 defense because the guards weren’t moving their feet and the post players just let the girls lay the ball in.
With SP gone, K-Mc started and NP slid to the post position with Arie. K-Mc picked up too quick fouls because she decided to reach instead of moving her feet on defense. We brought TT in and moved NP to the guard position and she got into foul trouble. In addition, TT and Arie were getting out-rebounded on offense and defense. We were already struggling to find offense and we had to sit NP after she picked up her third foul midway through the 2nd quarter. That really hurt because she was having the best offensive game she’d had all season. It was usually DG keeping us in the game, but it was NP this time.
Then, DG catches an attitude because we took her homegirl out the game. She was playing lazy and throwing up bad shots, so we called a timeout and I got onto her. She had the nerve to say, “you’re the one who took NP out the game and now I don’t have any help.” I replied, “she has three fouls, do you want her to foul out in the first half!? Why don’t you step up and lead your team?” After the timeout, she was still playing sluggish and so was the team. To make matters worse, TT was setting picks on her own teammates on defense and allowed the other team to score. It’s like she forgot who her teammates were.
She got so frustrated that she slammed down the ball and got a technical foul with about 1:30 left in the first half. K was heated and wanted to put NP back in the game but I told her we just had to eat that one so we could give ourselves a chance in the second half. We couldn’t afford NP picking up her fourth that early in the game. I was pretty upset at TT as well because she might as well had dressed out with the other team as many points as she cost us! At halftime, we were down 27-18. DG was still pouting and some parents had to give her a pep talk. I wasn’t entertaining that mess so I went on to the locker room.
I was highly upset and even went off on DJ because it was cowardly of her to bail out on her teammates the last game of the season and she was the start of the meltdown. K told me not to waste our halftime addressing her but I have to say what I feel right at that moment! Then, DG’s mom came to the locker room to calm her down. The made me more mad because we hadn’t had parents in the locker room the whole season. Once she was done talking to DG, she tried pep talking the girls, but I told her if they didn’t want it, there was no use in her trying to pump them up. We asked her to leave so we could talk to the girls and make adjustments. Everything we said PC would do, it did and if the girls wanted to win, they were going to have to fight for it. PC believed they could win and those girls weren’t going to just lay down because we had beaten them before. This was the game that really mattered.
Second half, we came out clicking on all cylinders. DG’s game had picked up, NP was still hot and we made enough stops to get back into the game. But, just as things started to look bright, NP picked up her fourth foul midway through the fourth. K and I didn’t want to do it, but we had to put TT back in the game. As long as we could keep it close, we go do offensive and defensive subs with TT and NP throughout the fourth quarter. We did this and it worked for the most part. We cut PC’s lead to six points with a little over two minutes left to play, and we had the momentum on our side.
Then, DG had the wind knocked out of her and had to come out. K and I had to keep the girls composed because we didn’t know if DG was going to be able to get back out there. But, the girls held their own without her and chipped into the lead even more. DG checked back in with about 1:30 left to play and we managed to cut the lead to one point. Then, PC started to hold the ball. Although some people may have questioned our decision, we didn’t foul right away because our girls always buckled down on defense and got the clutch steal… we did with about 5 seconds left. NP pushed the ball as close to our goal as she could and K called a timeout. The fans thought it was over but we still had 2 seconds to inbound the ball from the side and get a good look.
K told me to draw something up and my mind was blank for most of the timeout, and so was hers. Lol. Towards the end of the timeout, I came up with a sideline circle play that allowed DG to catch the ball on the run and get a clean look at the goal; she missed it and just like that, it was over. The final score was 37-36, the same as when we defeated PC at its house earlier in the season; this time, we were on the losing side. How ironic is that?
Everything we had worked for was washed down the drain. The hopes of being like Nick Saban and Alabama football getting my fifth championship and our “Sweet 16th” victory in 2016 was “dead… gone!” #InmyNickSabanvoice; instead, I was left frustrated and upset… like an entrepreneur surrounded by those with an employee mindset. #catchthat
After we lost the game, I emphasized to the girls how disappointed we (Coach K and myself) were that they didn’t come ready to play when everything was on the line. Their mentality and how they approached the game had an L written all over it. K didn’t say much because her voice was pretty much gone. But, I wasn’t the one to give a pitty party. Yes, I was proud of what we were able to accomplish in spite of all of our circumstances and with little preparation, but I wasn’t proud of the way we lost. I went down the line and pointed out the things each person did wrong that cost us the game.K and I probably could’ve made better time and score decisions towards the end of the game, but if the girls had cut down half of their mistakes, we would’ve won by 10 instead of losing by one. As much as we like to harp on it, one play doesn’t necessarily determine a game.
I was so heated, I put DJ out of the locker room; I didn’t want to see her face. Then, Jamie had the nerve to cry. Lol. I had to laugh! I said to her, “what are you crying for? You haven’t even been here. You ain’t grinded with these girls so you don’t have the right to cry!” And I told the rest of the girls they shouldn’t be crying either because they didn’t give it their all out of the gate. Heck, K and I should’ve been the ones crying. In practice, when K and I went against the girls, they would talk smack and play hard against us, but went and punked out to PC. It was baffling to us. What really got me was the effort (granted they made a run in the second half). How could we play so piss poor in the championship game against a team who had it out for us because we had owned them all season? Over and over again, I expressed to the girls how hard it was to beat a team three times. I know this from first-hand experience. Let’s take a trip back down memory lane:
My senior year in high school, I was a defending three-time 4A state champion going for the rare 4-peat. The Game and I shared some awesome moments and created some wonderful memories during this time. We renewed our vowels every year; and to “dress it up and make it real for me,” he gave me a new ring every year – you couldn’t tell me nothing! He had me on my Jill Scott-ish… living my life like it was Golden, so Beautifully Human like that Spring/Summer Feeling… you know that “I just wanna be loved like everybody else does” kind of feeling… but soon and very soon, it wasn’t hard to tell that I was chasing Fool’s Gold… where there’s greatness, there’s always a nemesis.
Ramsay High School, which hailed the No.1 player in the nation and a great supporting cast, moved from 5A down to 4A; The Rams swept us in the regular season and had us on the ropes when they defeated us in the 4A area championship. Each time my team played the Rams, the point spread shrunk but we still came up short. My squad lost other games but beating the Rams meant the most because they stood in the way of us winning another championship. Ramsay tried to end Midfield’s dynasty, but I wasn’t going to allow that to happen on my watch. We may have lost some battles but as the leader of my soldiers, I couldn’t cope with losing the war.
Midfield and Ramsay went head-to-head one last time in the regional final at Alabama State in Montgomery. Everybody knew the winner of that game would go on to win the 4A state championship. Ramsay had already had it all: No.1 team in 4A and the No.1 player in the country who was also the 4A player of the year, a McDonald’s All-American and she went on to play in every all-star game you could name. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, check out one of my previous pieces, “For the Love of the Game: the Journey to Playing Overseas.” http://wp.me/p4cFCW-fK
The Rams also had two other players that went on to play at division I universities, as well as a head coach who is now coaching in the SEC. They had it all and all I wanted was for my team to win its fourth championship in a row and to complete arguably one the best title runs in Alabama high school girls’ basketball history. I remember being in one of the greatest spaces I’ve ever been the day of the regional championship. I was focused and so were my teammates. I remember being in the locker room at Alabama State telling them I never knew what it felt like to be sent home early and we weren’t going to experience that; we weren’t going home because we weren’t going to lose the game, period. I was serious and if my team had any doubt before that, it was dead at that point.
As much as I struggled from the summer of my junior season and throughout my senior season (The Game and I were starting to grow apart), as much as he had abused and injured me, played a huge part in me having low self-confidence and being depressed, caused my mother and I to bump heads because I resented him while she favored him, as much as I was tired of the pressure I put on myself to live up to the hype of signing with an SEC university because I thought that was best move for Game and myself, and as much as I wanted to quit him for all the stress and agony he brought into my life, I knew I owed it to my teammates to step up and be the leader that I should’ve been all season long. As crazy as it sounds, the hurt and the struggle brought out the best in me. A star is usually born after a woman has been scorned. For example, Mary J. Blige and Keyshia Cole have always made their best music following bad relationships. Lol.
So, believing in each other, along with our best team performance, one of my best individual performances all season and a perfect game plan from our coach, we got it done! We executed so well because for us, that was the championship game; we were the defending champs, but we were the underdogs. So, it felt good to finally beat a team who had dominated us all season. It felt like B-Rabbit in “8 Mile.” We got tired of choking and realized it was time to unleash the giant we had within us the entire time. It didn’t matter who the opponent was, my squad was gone eat! Lol. Ramsay was Papadock and it was the battle everybody wanted to see. We flipped the script on Ramsay in the same way B-Rabbit flipped the script on Papadock; Ramsay ended up chocking just like he did. It wasn’t a one or two point win, but a convincing, 14-point win. “We ripped em baby, ripped em!… Now, who’s afraid of the big bad wolf!?… Forget Cranbrook!” Ha! You had to see the movie to catch that. Nonetheless, my Lady Pates went on to win our fourth-straight 4A state championship:
This is why I was ticked off during the first half of our middle school championship game, when DG was pouting about us taking NP out due to foul trouble. I was upset because as the point guard she wasn’t aware of the circumstances of the game, but I was even more upset that she would say something so detrimental during the game. First of all, a leader never speaks negatively about his or her teammates no matter what the circumstances are or no matter what he or she may feel. During this situation, she should’ve been uplifting her teammates letting them know she believed in them and we were going to win the game. A leader makes his or her followers believe in themselves even if they previously had doubts. A leader gets their followers to do things they didn’t previously believe they could do.
My senior season, we had eighth graders on the team, girls who had never played basketball or organized basketball and we lost numerous times, but I never said to my coach or my team “I don’t have any help.” If I had looked weak or spoken any ounce of doubt in that final game against Ramsay, we wouldn’t have won. I wanted the eighth graders to be able to say they won a high school, state championship in middle school; I wanted the girls who had never played before to know what it felt like to win; most importantly, I didn’t want to end my career as a Lady Patriot empty handed! I dedicated that season to my late grandmother, Lila King and late uncle, Michael King (two family members I lost within a week’s span at the end of my junior year before committing to Mississippi State), and I wasn’t going home without attaining everything I set out to attain. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just get the job done!
Coach K and I tried to mold DG into a leader all season but she just didn’t get it. Leaders may be born, but I believe leadership can be learned and grown into over time. I was already aware, but during that championship game it was more obvious that DG was like Carmelo Anthony – a prolific scorer that handicaps her teammates rather than making them better. Now, you may be thinking, “Brittany, she’s only an eighth grader.” I’m so over coaches, parents and whomever else using age as an excuse or a crutch for these kids. It’s not a barrier in the Bible and it shouldn’t be a barrier in any arena of the world.
If we want to be realistic, college coaches start recruiting players in the eighth grade and sometimes at younger ages. DG’s problem -like many other players who are good at a young age- is she has too many people around her who are constantly telling her she’s good and making her feel like she’s needed. For these reasons, she doesn’t work hard because right now she’s better than many other players her age, and she’s not always respectful because she’s used to having things her way. Her mother is a huge part of the problem as well, because she knows her daughter is good and she uses it to her advantage but in the wrong way. She feels entitled because of her daughter.
I’ve witnessed this first hand. From age 10 to 12, I played AAU with the same No. 1 player in the country I defeated to win my 4th straight state title and another player who won a couple of state championships of her own at the now 7A Hoover High School; she was also an All-American at Auburn and went on to play overseas in Spain. See “In Tanner’s Words: The Journey to Playing Overseas Part II.” http://wp.me/p4cFCW-iL
Almost our entire team went on to play at division I and division II universities. We finished in the Sweet 16 10U, third in the nation 11U and fourth in the nation 12U; we had an all-star team to say the least. But, where our coach went wrong – I’m sure he can attest to this – is when he allowed parents to help coach. He opened the door for egos to grow bigger than the team. Parents started realizing how good their daughters were and everyone wanted their child to be the star of the show. After an impressive three year run, the team broke up.
If we had stayed together through high school, we would’ve been the Twister Elite team with all the sponsorships, everybody probably would’ve signed to a major DI school and we would’ve been in the same discussions as the premiere AAU clubs such as the Southeast Elite, Tallahassee Essence, Boo Williams, Tennessee Flight, etc. I was a top player on the team but I didn’t care about recognition. My mom would be upset with me for not shooting the ball more, but, I’ve been about winning since the beginning; when you win, everybody on the team gets recruited. College coaches love winners whether you’re a starter or the sixth man. Our parents didn’t see it this way; they were more about their child scoring all the points than the scholarship offers that were to come. In general, if parents were more humble, their kids wouldn’t be so hard to coach.
But, I can say that K and I felt more appreciated when NP’s parents shook our hands and thanked us for all we’d done after the championship game; K-Mc and Faye’s parents did as well. I started to feel a little better about myself until I realized that I had to take DJ and TT home because their parents had already left to head back to the school to pick them up. The boys were playing in their tournament at a different location, and since we only had a handful of girls, we didn’t bother inconveniencing the bus driver to come back and pick us up; we only had one bus for both teams, of course. K lived near our tournament location and our school was in route of my home. Yet again, I got a raw deal!
However, if DJ and TT’s mom had been around more during the tournament, they would’ve known that the their children were to ride home with them after the game. I felt the same way Cleo did when she was mad at Stony on the “Set It Off” film… “I didn’t wanna give them no ride.” TT literally threw the game and DJ sold us out. But, I had to be a mature adult and take the girls home (I should’ve asked one of the parents who were there. Lol). The ride was silent for the most part, but before I dropped them off, I let them know it was a learning experience; if they planned to be student-athletes in the future, they would need to do better. On the other hand, I did tell them I loved them and I wished them the best.
K-Mc and Faye’s parents have asked if K and I plan to coach next season. God gave me His grace and mercy to be able to do it this past season due to the circumstances, but I know I need to focus on my career at this point in my life. It was a great experience and gave me the opportunity to have the best of both worlds: a player and a coach’s perspective. My respect for my middle and high school coaches has grown tremendously, because they dealt with a lot. Plus, they were men dealing with teenage girls so it was much tougher for them.
However, I enjoyed investing in the girls in the same way someone invested in me when I was their age. My basketball career didn’t end in the best way, and I couldn’t tell you the last time I picked up a ball before I started coaching; so, I was able to rekindle the flame I had with The Game. It felt good to just play ball without the politics, without someone telling me when and how to do it and without it feeling like a job. When I practiced with the girls I felt free and confident, attributes I lacked for a lot of my athletic career. Once things hit rock better between me and The Game three years ago, I finally muscled up enough courage to walk away in spite of what my family or friends would think; we had reached our peak. This time around, the signs came early; so, I’m wise enough to walk away before I get myself in too deep… again.
Although we had our ups and downs, The Game has taught me a lot: I got attached to him at a young age and he led me to meet life-long friends, travel the world, receive college degrees loan free, serve my community and do many other things I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for me giving him a chance. I’m thankful for him helping mold me into the woman I am today. Although I love him and his daughters, it’s time for me to move on, pursue other passions and enjoy a life outside of the one I had with him… But, “he will always be my first love.”
Common – “I Used to Love Her”
A Tribe Called Quest – “Can I Kick it?” (In memory of Phife dawg)
“8 Mile” film – starring Eminem
“Set It Off” film – starring Queen Latifah as Cleo and Jada Pinkett Smith as Stony
Jill Scott – Beautifully Human album; other songs – “Golden,” “Fool’s Gold,” “I Just Wanna Be Loved,” Spring/Summer Feeling
Avant – My First Love
Author’s Note: Often, players are caught in a tug of war between what their parents and coaches say and usually they believe what their parents say is right… The arena of sport is a lot like money (ironically, money is what drives sports today). Money isn’t evil, but when the possessor’s heart isn’t in the right place, that’s when it becomes evil. Sport isn’t evil, but the people involved in it and around it have corrupted it so much that it’s not the enjoyable game it once was. Please don’t allow the content of this series detour you from the message. In response to the backlash Chris Rock received for his opening remarks at the Oscars, Steve Harvey said in order for comedy to be effective, 90 percent of it has to be true. Similarly, in order for writing to be effective and enact change for the better, it has to be true, controversial and offer perspective. In fact, the truth is controversial and if it’s not exposed, people are not moved to change for the better.