Burch in the paint pt. 1
By Ethan Burch, Sports Editor
As a senior shooting guard for my hometown high school basketball team, I enjoyed playing for a team in front of my friends and family. I played at local Towns County High School, and the Indians were never really known as a Georgia basketball powerhouse. I recall my last game – a region tournament game against Lakeview Academy where my 16 points and defensive play earned me Player of the Game honors in a losing effort. So far as I knew, this was the last basketball game of my very young career. In short, if someone would have asked me a year ago today if I had plans to play college basketball, my answer would have been a definitive “no way.”
It seems that nothing is set in stone.
As north Georgia was facing an unseasonable – and unreasonable – amount of snow and ice, I received an equally improbable call from Young Harris College men’s basketball coach Pete Herrmann about a roster spot. Having shifted my attention from student-athlete to student-reporter in college, the call was a surprise. Nonetheless, I found myself reporting to practice at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, January 7. On that day, I became a paper Mountain Lion — a sports reporter who doesn’t just write from the sidelines, but writes from the court.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write about what it’s like to play college basketball by providing you with an inside look at the first men’s basketball team at YHC since the late 1960s. The idea for this article came from the book Paper Lion by George Plimpton. Plimpton was a writer for Sports Illustrated who, in 1963, decided that he would try out for the Detroit Lions of the National Football League as a backup quarterback in order to tell a story of what it is like to be a player in the NFL.
Consider these articles as a “behind the scenes” look at what goes into the making of a college athlete. This story is not being written to mimic the lives of college basketball players – or to suggest that anyone with “hoop dreams” can walk onto a court and compete. Instead, this is my way of showing respect to those who are able to balance the rigors of college athletics and college classes; that is, the true student-athletes. The following is the first entry of many in my quest to become a paper Mountain Lion.
Thursday, January 6
It is the morning after a game, and I am on an assignment to interview Young Harris College Men’s Basketball Head Coach Pete Herrmann. Keep in mind that Herrmann has coached at programs such as Navy and the University of Georgia. I enter the room and come face-to-face with a coach that has led NBA all-stars such as David Robinson.
The only thought in your mind is do not screw up and ask the right questions. What happens when, instead, he asks you a question that you think about as a child or a student-athlete in high school, but never thought to hear at this point in college?
The question, can you play for the team? My answer, anything you want. It was there that an interview that I was conducting for a career in broadcasting and journalism turned my role to college basketball player for the remainder of the season.
Of course I knew that playing in college would be no easy task. I had played from the time I was a child up until my senior year in high school, but never was I recruited to play at a higher level. However, a lack in depth on the Mountain Lions roster opened up a spot that Coach Herrmann chose to offer me.
So I did think about it. I thought about the large time commitment that I was making, but in the end I felt that it was an opportunity that I could not pass up. To play a sport that I love in college, to gain experience that would potentially help me down the road as a writer or broadcaster, and to play under a coach that has developed so many talented players were too many reasons to not pass on this.
This decision is one that was not only difficult for me, but for all college athletes. In many cases, college sports fans only see the athlete that plays on game day. Being a college athlete is much more than that, though.
The college athlete is on the road for nearly three days out of his or her week. For YHC basketball players, the trip usually begins at 1 in the afternoon and the bus returns at midnight. Where in this span do the players have time to work on school assignments? There is the dilemma that student-athletes face.
Though I did think of this time commitment that playing basketball would bring, I didn’t realize just how much work it would take to juggle all of the tasks until I joined the team. After I thought out the decision that every student athlete has to make, I informed Coach Herrmann and began practice the next day.
My feelings were still uneasy, though. The coaching staff was very courteous and highly appreciative, but how would the players respond to my joining the team? These guys had been battling all season to upset teams, fall in close losses, and come away with tight victories. I did not want them to think that I was simply waltzing in and expecting to be part of their team immediately.
As intimidating as it was to practice amongst the college’s best practice players, I stepped in and began to participate in the drills. In doing this, I noticed just how much work these guys had put in to their games. From lifting to individual workouts, the time that each player had spent practicing showed during these drills. As practice concluded, we made our way to the film room. These sessions are developed to help game plan for the upcoming opponent. Studying game film is yet another way that student-athletes must prepare themselves for competition.
After practice, I made my way out of the gym with thoughts of what I had just experienced fresh on my mind. I learned that day that playing college basketball was no simple act, and that my teammates are a great group of players. They came to YHC for the opportunity to win games under Coach Herrmann, and that was a goal that they were set on accomplishing.
The following day would feature a home match-up against Berry College. Not only that, it would be my first college basketball game. This would begin my run at college basketball. How would I fare against the Vikings in the Valley of Doom?