The Richmond Register

February 11, 2014

OVC BASKETBALL: ‘The grass is always greener ... only if you water it’

By Deverin Muff
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — In one of my earlier columns, I wrote about the hard work and commitment it takes to be a college athlete. One thing giving college basketball a bad name is the sheer number of players who transfer to new schools, year-in and year-out.

There are lots of reasons why someone would transfer to a new school. Some of the reasons are legit, such as a family member is sick and that player wants to move closer to home. However, most of the time players transfer because of personal reasons, like they’re not getting a lot of playing time in their first few years.

The thought of transferring enters almost every college player’s mind at least once during his or her college career. The transition from being the “top dog” in high school to being the “little pup” in college is often difficult for players to handle.

During my redshirt year, I had three of my teammates transfer away to different schools. It’s really tough when that happens because you start to develop these strong family-like bonds with your teammates, and then suddenly they’re gone — mostly because they wanted more playing time.

I decided to stay — and I’m glad I did — because that spring when people were transferring, I decided that this whole basketball thing is not about me anymore, it’s about the team. To become successful at this level takes time — players have to mature and learn to play as part of a team.

Every Division I athlete likely dominated in his or her high school. When you get to college, it’s the rare athletes who continue that level of success on their own. Most athletes have to adapt to a new role.

I remember my freshman year, Coach Neubauer called us into his office and told us, “You all will have to learn your roles. Some of you will learn yours faster than others, and some of you will probably learn it too late.” I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time, but I do now.

Being a team has never been more important than it is in college basketball. Every player has to be on the same page. There is absolutely no room for selfishness or thinking about yourself.

Coach does a great job with reminding guys on our team that it’s not about them. He often refers to us as a “band of brothers” and asks us what can we do to help out our team get one more stop on defense.

The success of our team last year (and hopefully this year) wasn’t an overnight thing. To be great like we were last year, the other players and I had to lose our sense of self and instead become great teammates.

Being a great teammate isn’t just about the people on the floor playing a lot and scoring most of the baskets. One of the best teammates I have ever played with in my life is Ryan Parsons. Parsons is a walk-on, which means he probably won’t play as much in most games, but he understands what makes our team go, and he makes a huge impact for us.

If you notice during games, Parsons usually sits near the front of the bench by the coaching staff. Usually on a bench, the players who sit near the front of the bench are the ones that have been in the game or who will get in the game soon.

The reason why Parsons sits on the front of the bench is strategic — and genius, in my opinion — and completely Parsons’ own idea. He told me he wants to be locked in to the games, but even more so when our team is in the midst of a drought or scoring run. He is the energy guy — the first person to get up and cheer on his teammates, or sense when the bench needs to get fired up.

Even Coach knows how important Parsons’ role is. Sometimes, if the team’s struggling, he’ll look down the bench to Parsons and give him this look like “Hey, come on, Parsons. Let’s get these guys fired up.”

Parsons understands what it takes to be a great team. He understands his role and is a huge part of our success every game.

Understanding your role is probably the most difficult thing to learn when coming into college basketball. But when it clicks for everyone is when special things happen — like the success we had last year.

The players that leave early miss out on what it takes to be a great team. They all missed out on the development — how we became a good team last year and how we became, as coach is fond of saying, a “band of brothers.”