Over the course of the next week or so, I have decided to take the time to recap the most memorable experience of my life. I will be doing a full, round-by-round review of my thoughts, sights, and opinions of the NCAA tournament. Here is my fifth one: Pre-Wisconsin and The Media Storm.
I have decided that there was too much information from after the Arizona game to put into one blog so I have decided to break it into two separate blogs so I can speak more personally about the few days in between.
After the Arizona game, I knew how crazy my phone would be blowing up, but I severely underestimated how bad and annoying it would be. Without looking at anything, I threw out an instagram post out of pure excitement. After hitting the media stand and celebrating with my teammates, I was able to look at my phone and my initial thought was "damn it."
I had over 200 text messages. If anyone knows about texting in that situation, you would realize that the number doubles if you respond to every single text because it warrants the person to send another one. 200 turns into a minimum 350 if you start responding to them all. I had to ignore many of them. I didn't want to, but I also didn't want to be on my phone all night.
Before the game, I was at around 8,800 twitter followers. After the game, that number had risen to about 14,000 during the game. And everyone and their sister had tweeted at me so I didn't even bother to go through them all.
My instagram post that I had thrown out there apparently gained some traction and I jumped from a little over 2,000 instagram followers to nearly 11,000.
FaceBook friend requests were probably the most annoying thing. I had to go through and deny or accept people on FaceBook (because I have OCD with those kind of things... they have to be answered). I am not joking when I say it took me an hour just to do that.
This was all nuts to me. But, it didn't end there.
Sidenote: I am trying to tell my story here, and in no way, shape, or form do I intend for any of this to be taken as cocky or self-centered information.
What I didn't realize is that my story needed to be told in a sense. I was a relatively unknown, 7-foot, goofy, white kid who hardly played for 2 years then all of a sudden lead his team to a Final Four. That is news worthy.
I would like to take a moment to tell my journey as a basketball player. These are the things that I would rather write about than talk about because they make me emotional.
My basketball career began in a gym at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. My mom was the head women's volleyball coach and my dad was the head women's basketball coach. I spent all year in that gym. I would take basketball's from their equipment room and run to find an open hoop. If I couldn't find a basketball, I used a volleyball. In that gym, I made my first layup, my first jumpshot, my first three-pointer, my first half-court shot. That gym will always have sentimental value to me.
At this point in my life, I was old enough to learn things about my dad's basketball career. He was fortunate enough to have a career overseas that lasted for a long time. At 59 years old, he still plays basketball on a consistent basis. To say the least, he loves basketball. He instilled that love for the game in me at a very young age. One thing my dad was never able to do was make the NBA. He came close on a few occasions, but never made it. I have had this dream since I can remember that I want to fulfill that legacy and make it to where he wasn't able to.
I played in my first game at the Lisle Park District in 4th grade. I can still tell you who was on my team. It was during that time where I learned how to shoot. We had a ratty, old hoop in our driveway that I am fairly certain my parents took from someone else's trash. Ever summer, a beehive would form behind the backboard. Shooting the ball from close meant a close call with a swarm of bees. So naturally, I would shoot from far away, let the ball land, then sprint and go grab it and run back to my spot. Every once in a while, a bee would get me, but it never stopped me from shooting.
From there, I began playing AAU basketball on the DuPage Running Rebels, a team that was formed by a few of the dads in our friend group. We were good, but as we got older, teams got better than us. By high school, the team was done, but I have so many great memories from that team, and I formed friendships that will last a lifetime.
As a high school freshman, I was put on the sophomore team. I rode the pine the whole year. I was a gawky 6'3 kid who only shot threes. I would have benched me too. After that year, I tried out for an AAU team named the Illinois Wolves, in which I was one of the first people cut.
My sophomore year, I played a lot more on the sophomore team, but I still only shot threes. I was 6'5-6'6 by that time, and if you look at old photos, I was the 3rd or 4th tallest kid on the team.
My varsity career was something I will never forget. I grew to 6'9 by my junior year and about 6'11 by my senior year. My team went 55-5 and we were the best team in the state of Illinois high school basketball to never win a state championship, and I will argue with anyone about that.
Still after all of this, I was an unknown kid who got offered by few schools. Wisconsin was the best opportunity for me and I jumped on it. For years, people told me I wasn't tough enough, wasn't fast enough, didn't have enough moves, couldn't jump high enough to be effective at this level. That even carried on at Wisconsin. Not many people had high expectations for me. I had the highest expectations of myself. To all those people who told me I wasn't good enough: Thank You.
Flash forward to now, I believe that I have exceeded all those expectations. Media took ahold of that concept and ran with it. My days began consisting of morning class, to practice, then to 2 hours of media. I am not complaining about that, but it was crazy. People were calling my dad, my mom, my sisters, my best friends, my friend's sister's best friend's sister's brother-in-law to find something out about me. At one point my dad asked me to stop allowing people to call him because he couldn't get any work done.
I am not gonna lie, all the attention was nice for once. Before this, I hated media because I always felt like I was saying something wrong, but at this point I was able to tell stories and have conversations with people who I dreamed about talking to. I mean Charles Barkley wanted to talk to me, and gave me an awesome shoutout on his Coaching with Chuck segment.
I am so fortunate and blessed to in the position that I was in. Now that the storm has settled, and my name isn't being thrown around amongst people on TV, I can appreciate how amazing that situation was. I mean I talked to Charles Barkley, and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated with my brotha-from-anotha-motha Josh Gasser.