Archive for Sunday, October 23, 2005

Newell: Whatever happens, at least I’m in better shape

October 23, 2005

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Journal-World Sports Writer Jesse Newell is preparing himself for tonight's walk-on tryout for the Kansas University men's basketball team. The following is his fifth column before the tryout.

I've kept hearing one thing over and over from my friends since telling them about my decision to try out for the KU men's basketball team.

"You're going to throw up," they tell me.

I was never quite sure if this was said out of concern or amusement.

I decided to ask assistant coach Tim Jankovich during our interview if this was something I needed to be worried about.

"It definitely is," he told me, "depending on how much you've been playing and how hard you've been playing."

Was he trying to scare me? I'm not sure. But let me tell you, it worked. Boy, did it work.

This became my major focus during training: to try to prepare myself not to throw up.

Conditioning was one of those areas I could control. With a few hours a day, I can't increase my vertical jump 10 inches. But with that time, I can get my body into better playing shape so that fatigue will not be a greater opponent than the athletes I compete against.

I kept with a training regimen, faithfully going to the student recreation center to run for a couple of hours each night.

Two weeks and 41â2 pounds lighter, I am ready for my shot.

A fish out of water?

There also was sentiment among my friends that I would not fit in at the tryouts.

Somehow, because my abilities are limited in basketball, they thought perhaps this would make it so I would feel like an outsider.

Thing is, I have had experience with basketball in the past.

I did play middle-school basketball in Emporia. It's not significant that I was TECHNICALLY the trainer and really only allowed to play when we were up by enough points to not blow the game. Or that technically my dad was the basketball coach.

I still did play. And from that experience, I learned.

But there's something else. Just because I might not be the most talented at basketball doesn't necessarily mean I will be out of place on that court today.

In fact, I might belong most of all.

You see, growing up I was going to play for Roy Williams and be a Jayhawk basketball player. That was always the plan. Scholarship or not, I told my parents to be ready for that day when they could come and watch me play at Allen Fieldhouse.

But, as we all know, dreams fade. We grow up. We discover the restrictions our bodies place on us.

And sometimes, if we're lucky, we become sports writers, allowing ourselves to remain a part of our passion even when our physical abilities don't allow us to compete.

Something to believe in

There were times growing up when people would ask me why it mattered so much - why KU basketball was such an important part of my life.

I still remember the day my mom came home after Kansas' loss to Rhode Island in the 1998 NCAA Tournament. I was so upset that I stacked everything that had KU or resembled a Jayhawk outside of my room. I then taped a large poster on top of the painted Jayhawk on my wall. She tried to not laugh at me. She tried hard to understand.

But many don't. There's something about the connection one creates with a team growing up. It's not just the team any more - it becomes a part of you as well.

And because of this, for one day, perhaps I will be exactly where I belong.

Maybe I feel this is my way of giving back. After expecting so much from the teams, perhaps this is a way of returning one-millionth of the effort that I had watched for so many years.

Maybe it's my way of going back - of taking all the passion I've had for Kansas basketball and attempting to let it through in one two-hour period.

Whatever the case, I know today I will be exactly where I'm supposed to be. I've waited a long time.

I will still be 5-foot-8, the short white kid without much of a shot and without much of a chance.

My friends worry about that 22-year-old fitting in.

I'm just hoping the 7-year-old comes out.

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