When Christopher was in 7th grade and we were discussing his future plans, he stated his goal was to play basketball in the NBA. I’ve always tried to encourage my children to pursue their dreams, but I’m also a realist. As I pointed to myself, all 5 feet tall and zero inches, I responded to his goal by stating, “I know you love basketball, but let’s face it. You probably will never make it to the NBA. I mean look at me. Being tall isn’t in your genes.” I know you don’t have to be a giant to play the game, but size is an important factor. For a few seconds, I regretted what I said and in that moment, I was hands down the worst mother in the entire world–a mother who didn’t support her child’s dreams. I was a DREAM CRUSHER.
Before you judge me too harshly, I didn’t end the conversation there. I encouraged him to hold on to that dream and to continue to strive to be a professional basketball player, BUT, I also said he needed a back-up plan, just in case. Some critics may think that my honesty was wrong. Maybe it was, but as I look back on my own upbringing, I’m very thankful my parents didn’t create a false reality for me to live in. ( I was going to switch the words around so I didn’t end that in a preposition, but “a false reality in which to live” just sounded a little haughty for this down and dirty discussion on parental decisions/mistakes).
Sorry for that interruption…My parents were honest, and at times it seemed brutal, but they prepared me for life. I wasn’t continuously told that I was the smartest girl in the world, or that I was a “pretty, pretty princess.” (I’m thankful for that, because at a young age, I was more interested in being Batman than a Princess). Anyway, instead of focusing on outside things, they tried to build up in me the things that were inside. My mother once honestly stated that I wasn’t “the belle of the ball, but I wasn’t a wallflower either.” I was encouraged and taught to always be nice, and kind, and thoughtful, to have good manners, and to study hard, and set goals, and “to major in something that didn’t require a lot of math.” Those kinds of pretty things…Pretty simple. Pretty attainable.
As I ended the conversation with my own child, I suggested that if basketball was truly something he wanted to be involved in during his adult life, then he should do something related to the sport, just in case he couldn’t play professionally. So, as a Sports Management major at A&M, he did just that and began chasin’ the dream.
I need to backtrack for a second and tell you that Christopher was a great basketball player. He and his team won the state championship in 2006, and returned to Austin for the finals in 2008, and lost in a very frustrating game that we choose not to discuss very often. After that game, I remember swiftly leaving the Erwin Center, as my mother struggled to keep up. My pace was quick and I was on a mission. I wanted out of there, and I didn’t want to look back. I won’t go into the details, but it was a very disappointing showing, and not everyone came to play. It was on that day that I had to teach my mom a few things I’d learned as the wife of a basketball coach and a player’s mom. You don’t talk about it after the game. There is nothing you can say that will make it better, or change the ending, so you say nothing. NOTHING. You don’t rehash, and you don’t do all the “what ifs.” You. Don’t. Talk. At. All. I’m sure my mother was appalled at my lack of response when I flew by people who said, “Good game, we just came up short.” My response was simply a blank stare and forward momentum as I continued my march to the parking lot. “Good game, my ass!” is what the unladylike heathen in me wanted to say, but in keeping with my basketball wife/mom knowledge, I bit my tongue and forged ahead.
It shouldn’t be surprising at all, that Christopher is a fierce competitor, but he wasn’t upset about the loss. He was MAD. Again, not going into any details, but on that day, there was an “I” in team, and not only was the word misspelled, but it cost us the chance at another championship. As I acted like the poor sport of the neighborhood, who “packed up her toys and went home,” I thought that Christopher’s basketball career may have ended, along with his dreams, but I hoped, and deep down inside I knew that high school wouldn’t be the culmination of his best days. I felt sure that the best was yet to come, and looked forward to watching that unfold.
And I was right. As a freshman, CRK (because it’s easier than typing Christopher, and today, I don’t feel like referring to him as Chris) met with Billy Gillispie, the A&M basketball coach at the time, as he was looking into becoming a manager. When he realized the amount of time required, he opted out, because he wanted to be sure and make his grades. And he had a plan…
In the spring of his senior year, CRK did an internship with the Business division of the A&M Athletic Department (his minor was business, so this was a great opportunity). He worked part-time there, and had some extra time on his hands. CRK talked to Coach Kennedy, the head basketball coach in 2012, and began “interning/volunteering” with the team. There are too many stories to go into, but Christopher became an important part of the program. When I asked what his endgame was, he simply replied, “I want to be someone they can’t do without.” CRK had read a lot about Buzz Williams (who had been an assistant under Coach Gillispie and at that time was the head basketball coach at Marquette.) Buzz did whatever it took to get his foot in the door, and it eventually paid off (pretty cool that he’s the new head basketball coach at A&M).
Christopher performed all sorts of duties related to basketball, and also some not-so-ordinary things like house-sitting/dog-sitting for coaches, taking coach’s kids to t-ball practice, or soccer, or making sure they got to dance class. He programmed new phones, and synced them to cars, picked up coaches who drove up on medians and got stuck, helped change flat tires, and house-sat some more. And he made himself someone they couldn’t live without. After he graduated, the business division of the athletic department hired him part-time and he continued his voluntary role with the A&M basketball program. After a year, CRK was approached about a permanent position on staff. We were all beyond excited. The proposal made it all the way to the “big guns,” and then was rejected by the compliance committee. If CRK was hired, it would make the boys’ program have one more coach than the girls, and due to Title IX and what-not, this didn’t happen. We were disappointed, but in true CRK fashion, he didn’t let it get him down. He has always been like that. You lick your wounds and move on.
Not giving up, Coach Kennedy asked CRK to be a grad assistant and the rest is history. He continued all the things he did (actual team-related things) and also helped the coaches and their families in any way he could. During games, he kept stats (and I’m not sure what it was actually called, but he kept track of “rally points” or “good sportsmanship points”). During the game, he marked it down when players supported each other, through high-fives, fist bumps, cheering, etc….) What a great idea! It showed the support others had for their team-mates, and it showed those who weren’t as supportive.
As his graduate assistance-ship was coming to an end, an exciting thing happened. The team was playing in the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City (when they beat Northern Iowa after being down by 12 points with 44 seconds left). That was exciting, but what happened the next day, changed everything. SFA’s basketball coach was hired by Oklahoma State, and we knew Coach Keller (A&M assistant coach) was in the running for the SFA job. Throughout his tenure, Christopher and Coach Keller had become very close, and Keller always said, “When I get a head job, I’m taking you with me.” Long story short, Keller was hired and CRK became the director of basketball operations at SFA (my hometown!).
What a blessing! And to know Coach Keller and his family is to love them. I’m attaching a link that explains more about his coaching career, and a great loss he endured. Keller always says it’s why he does what he does. Sure he wants to be successful as a coach, but he also wants to make a difference in his players’ lives. This is a long read, but so worth it http://www.espn.com/espn/eticket/story?page=110126/OklahomaState
I could write for days about the lessons that our family has learned through the sport of basketball, and I could write for more days about Christopher’s journey. His love for the game, his well-thought out plan, his work ethic and kind personality have taken him far. He has met incredible people, and has seen the world. While at A&M, he traveled to Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Greece, and Italy. While at SFA, he has been to Hawaii, Ireland, and is currently in Spain. This fall, his journey will take him to Cameron Indoor Stadium. When CRK was in 7th grade and I crushed his dream about the NBA, he was a huge Duke fan, and who doesn’t admire Coach K? It has always been a dream, and on all of our bucket lists, to watch a Duke basketball game in Durham. We’ve seen them play in other venues, but I’m sure there is nothing like watching them play at home. And now, not only do we all get to experience that, but Chris Keith, director of basketball operations at SFA, will be sitting court-side, and will get to shake Coach K’s hand.
I know there are people out there who don’t like sports, and don’t understand the craziness of supporting a team and living for a specific season. Having lived in a world of sports, it’s hard for me to understand those who don’t understand. I can’t imagine not being a part of the “crazy,” the ups and downs, the fickle nature of it all. There are heartaches on and off the field and court. There are always stories behind the scenes that motivate and propel both coaches and players. And there are always lessons to be taught and learned. I think that’s what I like most about sports. There is always a lesson and always the opportunity to overcome; to redeem yourself; to make a difference.
I’m not sure where Christopher’s dream will take him. Will he become an assistant coach, or will he remain in his current role? Will he climb up the coaching ladder, and one day be a head coach? At this point, I have no idea. But I know he has a plan. And I know that whatever he chooses to do, he will give it his all. Because that’s who he is.
At the age of five, Christopher began sitting on the bench next to his dad, keeping stats in a basketball book.
(How appropriate that “No Limits” is on the back of his little t-shirt…)
Almost 25 years later, he’s doing the same thing, with the same interest, excitement, and flair. His view has changed a bit, but he’s doing what he loves, and livin’ his dream. So there! I may have hurt his feelings for not supporting the whole NBA thing, but I didn’t crush anything. There is no “give up” in Christopher and I look forward to seeing where this journey takes him. And the best thing about it is, I know that not only will he excel in what he does, but he will also keep making friends and connections, and most of all, he will keep making a difference.
So, here’s to my son, CRK! We are proud of you, and love you.
Keep cuttin’ down those nets!
“The invention of basketball was not an accident. It was developed to meet a need. Those boys simply would not play ‘Drop the Handkerchief.”
— James Naismith