Hello and good day!
When I was in middle school, I played on one of the best club basketball teams in the country.
We weren't nationally ranked, but we dominated the number one ranked team in the nation when they came to our city to play in a tournament.
Most of the kids on our team came from low-income families and we didn't have the funds to travel around and play in national tournaments.
Because of the neighborhood I grew up in, I was the only white kid on the team.
If I have one regret in life, it's that I didn't play basketball in high school and college.
After my parents got divorced when I was fourteen, things went off the rails for me.
I was a really good basketball player.
The high school coach used to watch me out on the blacktop playing pickup games after lunch. I was better than most of the varsity players and coach begged me all the time to come out for the team.
But I didn't have the discipline to be on a team at that point in my life.
This is the kind of thing you hope you can impart to your children.
If they are naturally good at something, you'd love to see them go all in and give a great effort.
Life's biggest regrets are missed opportunities.
You never get a chance to go back and relive your youth.
Anyhow, I want to tell you about our coach.
His name was coach Marlon. He worked a pest control job during the day.
We knew that because he came to practice in the evening in his pest control truck and he had to change from coveralls into basketball coach attire. He was heavy set, had a nicely trimmed black goatee, and black corn row braids that always looked freshly braided.
With sneakers and basketball shorts on, he had an overdose of swagger.
That was the interesting thing about coach Marlon.
I could imagine him during the day visiting houses, spraying crawl spaces for roaches, setting rat traps, and taking away wasps' nests.
Nobody pays too much attention to their pest control person.
They knock on your door, let you know that they've arrived, tell you what they plan to do, you nod, they do their thing, and then they knock again when it's time to leave so that you can sign paperwork. What's what coach Marlon did all day.
But at night, on an outdoor inner city basketball court, the sky newly black, the air cold, tall court lights shining white, coach Marlon had a whistle in his mouth.
He yelled at us over the sound of our sneakers squeaking on the blacktop.
"Faster! Faster! Faster! We're the fastest!"
That was his word. Everything had to be faster.
Coach Marlon was a top high school basketball player in San Diego when he was young. He blew out his knee senior year and had bad grades.
He went on to have three kids with two different women and wasn't married to either of them when I knew him. He packed on weight and settled into doing pest control.
When the club I played for was established, the founder of the club looked Marlon up. They'd played ball together in high school.
The club president had gone on to play hoops at Dartmouth while Marlon languished in San Diego.
That's how coach Marlon got back into basketball.
"Listen up y'all. We're going to be the best conditioned and fastest team in the city. I don't want to hear any bitching or crying or complaining ever. You start complaining and you're gone. All I need is five players. I don't need all thirteen of y'all. Now line up."
Half our practice every night was running sprints.\We didn't even touch a ball until our shirts were soaked through and our eyes were burning with sweat.
"Listen up. We're a layup shooting team. I don't want to see anybody throwing up lazy jump shots. Do that and you're on the bench. We press. We pass. We rebound. We defend. We take layups all day. And we run. We never stop running. I'm telling y'all right now, we are going to run teams off the court."
And that's what we did.
We full court pressed.
We exhausted teams in the first half and in the second half we dominated.
If coach Marlon ever saw our effort slipping or that we weren't taking the game seriously, he'd call a time out and make us run sprints in front of everybody.
We were up by forty once and I was on the line shooting free throws.
In between shots, I made a joke to one of my teammates and we both started laughing.
I made both free throws, but it didn't matter. I heard coach Marlon yell on the sideline. "Timeout!"
After I sank the second shot, we all ran towards the bench, but before we made it back, coach Marlon was pointing at the baseline.
"Get your little smiling butts on that line."
He'd brought his whistle with him to the game. He blew and we ran.
When the first timeout was over, he called a second timeout, and we kept on running.
One of the real blessings of being on a winning team when you are young is that you learn early what it takes to be successful.
You also end up with a sense that you have the potential to win any contest you find yourself in, if you are willing to try hard enough.
But the biggest take away from my time with coach Marlon is that most people have a super ability.
I don't know what coach Marlon is doing now.
I hope that he is coaching basketball and being paid for it.
He was uniquely good at teaching a group of young men how to win.
None of his pest control clients, nor probably the mother of his children, and probably not even he himself, knew he had that in him.
Yet he turned out to be one of the best youth basketball coaches in the entire country.
For certain nobody would have guessed twenty years ago that my brother Brian could move out to the northern Peruvian jungle and build a cacao buying and processing operation.
In retrospect, it's obvious that nobody else but him could have possibly done that job.
That kind of thing is Brian's unique super ability.
I'm running out of space for now.
But I leave you with this.
If everybody has some kind of a hidden gift in them, that means that everybody you see today will have something great inside them.
Wouldn't it be fun to try and figure out a few people's special talents?
Thank you so much for time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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