10 Unexpected Lessons From High School Basketball



1. “You can’t make a chicken salad without the chicken”

As a member of a high school basketball team, it’s almost guaranteed that your coach will repeat strange catch-phrases with such hilarious frequency, that they’ll inadvertently become a running joke amongst you and your teammates. These phrases don’t necessarily have to be grounded in any sort of reality — they simply have to sound like things someone might say.

2. (Reasonable) bullying is necessary

I graduated from high school in 2008 — an era in which parents were always outraged for no reason, but didn’t have the viral video/social media wrath to take down coaches for being honest with their precious, future-underachieving children.

I’d be very interested to know if any high school coaches have changed their tune (namely, gotten less intense) given the viral age we live in. One expletive-ridden, minorly abusive tirade caught on film, and your career could be over.

Bullying is obviously a huge problem in high school, and coaches certainly aren’t exempt from line-crossing verbal assault. But if you’re signing up to play a competitive sport — with tryouts, and peers who’d do anything to take your spot — you kinda sign away a small portion of your dignity. You’re here to win, you’re here to become a man (or woman), so god forbid someone digs into you a little bit.

3. Hard work isn’t always better than talent

My high school team wasn’t very talented. Our best player wasn’t really a basketball player — he was a soccer and lacrosse stud, who needed a winter sport just to see if he could sleep his way into becoming a three sport All-County athlete. Because of that, he didn’t treat basketball as the year-round commitment that the rest of us did. But he was so good, the rules didn’t necessarily apply.

Had he pursued basketball more seriously, he would’ve eventually hit a wall that his disgusting athleticism wouldn’t’ve be able to fosberry flop over. But he didn’t. And for the purposes of what we were trying to do, it didn’t matter.

4. …But Don’t Be A Dick Wolf

*Don’t be a celebrated executive producer of Law and Order. If you’re doing that and still in high school, this is a major problem.

But really — as eye-rolly as it sounds, attitude is huge. The aformentioned Jim Thorpe on my team may have missed a few practices, but when he was on the court he gave it his all. Had he not (and had he continued to play the whole game), we likely could’ve had some Cady Heron-esque locker room tension.

5. Training yourself not to laugh is a very important life skill

I spent 100% of our halftimes staring at a fixed point on the ground, knowing that if I caught anyone else’s eye I’d burst out laughing. Those halftimes have proven to be very valuable.

6. Part of the fun is intensely hating it

I don’t know a single person who played a competitive high school sport and didn’t spend a significant chunk of their time aggressively despising everything about it. My last game as a high school basketball player was one of the most memorable moment of my high school career, sports or otherwise.

Such bliss. I was a little sad, but such bliss.

7. You learn about silence

Top 3 worst silences:

  • Death in the family silence.
  • National tragedy/harrowing event silence.
  • Losing a game you shouldn’t’ve lost and then going on a long bus ride home silence.

8. Tell people about your cool story

Nowadays (I’m 24), someone bringing up high school basketball usually means they’re about to tell a story that gives them cultural credibility, and/or furthers their hopes of sleeping with someone in the room.

For instance, on of my brother’s friends sometimes artfully recalls the time he made a 3-pointer over Kevin Durant. When he’s pressed further, he’ll usually admit that it wasn’t necessarily over Kevin Durant — rather, he was the closest guy to him, and Kevin Durant half-heartedly put his hand up several feet away.

So, did he shoot a 3 over Kevin Durant? Of course he did.

9. Adapt To You Environment/Rick Ankiel

Rick Ankiel was a Cardinals pitcher, who you may remember inexplicably lost the ability to throw strikes. Ankiel, admirably, managed to stay relevant in baseball and became an outfielder. As of today, he’s one of two MLB players to have won 10 games as a pitcher and hit 50 home runs. The other is Babe Ruth.

Throughout my entire youth, I was a point guard. My idols were Charlie Ward and Marc Jackson, and my value-add was essentially knowing how to run and manage an offense. I was never a great shooter, but had a high enough basketball IQ and “nose for the game” that I always got by.

Going into senior year, I was tapped to be our backup, possibly third string point guard — I had grown a lot in a short period of time, and my dribbling skills hadn’t necessarily caught up. I wasn’t thrilled about being a role player, but looked forward to making snide bench comments with the other somewhat-used reserves.

Then, during a summer game, our power forward came down with an injury. Our backup wasn’t there, so we had nobody to play the four. Kind of wanting to play the post, I volunteered to bruise and bash down low.

I played the 4 the rest of the summer, and ended up being our starting power forward. I wasn’t necessarily good, but I was serviceable — positioned myself for rebounds, surprised defenders with some loopy low post moves, and accrued quite a bit of fouls. This whole thing definitely sounds self-congratulatory, but the point is that you don’t have to be trapped into one lane. Rick Ankiel it up and stay relevant.

10. Saturday morning egg sandwiches

8 am Saturday Morning practices were nothing short of torture a minor inconvenience that was very easy to complain about. After practice, a few teammates and I — more sore than a post-2000 Al Gore — would celebrate with gigantic hungryman egg sandwiches.

There are very few things in life that beats the payoff of those hash browns. You had the potential of the weekend, mixed with the deservedness of prior accomplishment, mixed with the fact that you were probably gonna go home and take a nap. It was heaven with hot sauce.