Whether it’s high school basketball or cheerleading or the school play or the dance recital, there’s something scary and equally exciting about a tryout. Even the word “tryout” sparks a bit of anxiety. It’s the youthful version of the audition. It places people in a position of authority and can crush dreams, inspire greatness and introduce politics simultaneously.
Now that I am assistant coaching high school basketball I have a different appreciation for tryouts. I am on the other side of the curtain. I can respect the fear in the young players’ eyes, the worry they have about doing well and the power that the coaches have when making decisions about who makes the team.
When I flashback to my first tryout I was in 8th grade and I had just started playing basketball. I was pretty terrible but for some reason I thought I could dribble. I got cut.
And the funny thing about it is that I wasn’t upset. I was so driven to make the team and it had very little to do with basketball. All of my boys were on the team. In fact, anyone that was popular was on the team. It was like a rite of passage for any dude in Philippa Schuyler middle school with some type of social status to play on the basketball team. We only played about three games, with the student-faculty game being the biggest event of our season. Making the team was truly imperative for me.
With that said, I marched in Coach Davis’ office and demanded that I be on the team. I tried out as a forward and I told him I may be better suited to play guard. So he let me try out again and ultimately I made it. I did it. I didn’t accept no for an answer when I was probably not good enough to make it.
A year later I tried out again but this time I was a freshman at Brooklyn Technical High School attempting to make the J.V team. I didn’t even imagine trying out for varsity. I played all summer in preparation for that moment, but to be honest I just didn’t know how to play. I watched guys play in the park and I emulated them but no one taught me how to shoot, I never did a dribbling drill, and I had no idea how to play defense. I was 5’7” and frail. The only people I knew that were trying out with me was my boy Kijana who lived around my way and he was much better than me. And my other boy Steve who went to junior high with me was also at the tryouts. Steve was taller and bigger than me, he was also better than I was and he didn’t seem scared at all. To make matters worse I was unsure about what to wear to the tryout. I remember Coach Davis saying that he knew Mr. Rock, the JV coach at Brooklyn Tech so maybe it made sense for me to wear my Schuyler jersey at tryouts. Nah that’s thirsty…I thought to myself. I decided to wear the t-shirt from a tournament I played in over the summer thinking that would show that I had some experience.
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