The 2017 Sports Emmy Awards, which was held at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City Tuesday night, featured some of the best talent in sports television today, including ESPN, NBC, FOX, and Turner Sports.
At the ceremony, I had the opportunity to catch up with some of the biggest names in sports and media, including former New England Patriots linebacker and three-time Super Bowl champion Willie McGinest, five-time MLB All-Star Frank Thomas, and civil rights activist Dr. Harry Edwards, who’s worked as a staff consultant for the San Francisco 49ers and Golden State Warriors.
Checkout snippets from our interviews below.
Dr. Harry Edwards
Q. What are your thoughts on the state of the NFL and NBA when it comes to the diversity in management?
A. Well, I think this is always an evolving situation and one of the things that we’ve learned dating back to Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, and much less Jackie Robinson, is that there are no final victories.
It’s always an issue of adjusting to the latest set of circumstances and reactions to those circumstances.
I think both leagues are going to have to get smarter. They’re going to have to learn to manage and deal with the impact of social media, which is the greatest driving force in social change in history. And unless we do that, it’s going to turn into chaos.
Both leagues are poised to get out in front of this thing. Whether or not they’ll actually have the intellectual dexterity and the mental facility to get out and do it the way it’s supposed to be done in this age of instant communication to millions of people simultaneously is another question.
Q. What’s your million-dollar advice for athletes coming out of college getting ready to embark on their NFL journey’s?
A. Be professional. Take pride in your work. It’s a huge business and it will go on with or without you. So, make your decisions and understand that you’re in a unique position.
There are certain things you need to do while you’re in position. You need to go out and be the best football player you can be for the organization. Also, you have to understand that there are a lot of kids and young people that look up to you and admire what you’re doing.
You’re under a microscope, so everything that you do is going to be watched, scrutinized and criticized. So, be professional, make good decisions and work harder than anybody around you.
Q. How soon do they need to start thinking about what their lives are going to be like after the NFL?
A. Soon because it’s not promised. You’re one injury away and the average career for an NFL player is 3 and a half years. So, things come and go pretty quickly and if you’re not consistently taking care of yourself or playing at a certain level, that can be it for you.
Guys go through things. It happens. Guys retire after a couple of years. So, you have a choice everyday to make sure you’re doing something positive that’s giving you the power to keep you going. So, if it doesn’t work out, you have another plan in place.
Q. What can we do to make sure that more young kids of color grow up playing the game of baseball? How do we make sure the diversity in the sport continues to improve?
A. I really think that we should get our kids to go to more camps because the camps right now are craving for kids 7-12. We have to get our kids involved early because if they start at 13 or 14, it’s not going to happen.
He was one of the most prolific basketball players to come out of Baltimore. Among the many Division I options that were on the table for him, he chose to take his talents to Syracuse University where he averaged over 17 points and over 7 rebounds a game, setting a record for 3-pointers made (90).
Drafted by the NBA as a 2008 first-round pick, he kicked off his NBA career with a 40-point debut in the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas, before going on to spend the first four years of his professional career with the Sacramento Kings.
These are just some of the accolades for Donté Greene. Perhaps though, the most imposing thing about this young brother is exactly what the title to this story says; “first-class character” and “undeniable talent.”
It’s that combination that separates Greene from the pack.
I’ve come across so many people who have had off-putting experiences with athletes, whether it was because of their character or something else. That’s why it’s important for us to highlight those athletes who exemplify great character, a heart for others, and who represent positivity.
That’s who Donté Greene is.
Greene has done an amazing job at taking the “highs with the lows,” as he would call it.
Perhaps though, the most imposing thing about this young brother is exactly what the title to this story says; “first-class character” and “undeniable talent.”
What are those highs and lows for Greene?
Well, his career hasn’t necessarily been a walk in the park. The Baltimore breaded professional ball player has dealt with his share of adversity, and believe it or not, it started on the night of the 2008 NBA Draft — a night where he was expected to be selected early in the first round. Instead, he was snagged as one of the last few picks in the first round.
Greene used that as motivation though, as he put on the most impressive showing in his Summer League debut, proving to his fellow athletes and to coaches that he belonged in an NBA uniform.
From there, his NBA journey began, but it wasn’t too long after that when Greene would face adversity again. This time though, it was a move from the NBA to the NBA Development League (D-League). This move came after he set on the bench for most of his rookie season.
While some players would have assessed the situation, viewing it as a major set back, Greene did just the opposite. He viewed it as an opportunity to help his organization and get better in the process so that when he did get an opportunity to move back up, he’d be ready.
Greene put on a show during his brief stint in the D-League, and days later, he was back in a Sacramento Kings uniform. After that, he would experience the business aspect of basketball, as he was released from the team in 2013, ultimately bouncing around the league a bit before ending up overseas.
According to Greene, landing overseas was probably the hardest thing he’s had to deal with, but not only for the obvious reasons of being on the outside looking in as far as the NBA goes. The thing that hurt him the most about the transition was being away from his family, specifically his kids who mean the world to him.
Well, another transition could be approaching for Greene if he continues to have success overseas. That’s a turning point that the Orangeman says he’s ready for, considering he hasn’t laced up his kicks for an NBA game since 2013.
Greene says he doesn’t take his position in life for granted though and that he’s had a lot of time to mature as a player and as a person, even though his children know him to be a “big kid,” always leaving a favorable lasting impression on those he comes in contact with.
Greene is the perfect role model for other young and older athletes out there today, as he exemplifies a love for the game of basketball and a level of character that keeps him involved in the community and grateful everyday for the opportunity he’s been given to provide for his children.
Checkout our exclusive interview below and CHOOSE TO BE INSPIRED.
Q. Something that most people might not know about you. You were born in Germany, which I believe had a lot to do with your mother working for the National Security Agency (NSA), at the time. Tell me a little bit about that.
A. My mom worked for the NSA 13 years before she had me. Germany was great! I lived there until I was four years old and then came back for another year between the ages of 12 and 13. Living overseas helped me become more cultured. Living among different nationalities and lifestyles…I thought it was cool. Looking back on it, I’m glad it worked out the way that it did.
Q. You were selected in the first round of the 2008 NBA Draft. The one-and-done notion is something that’s received a lot of attention for years now, especially after years of seeing guys go to the league straight out of high school. What influenced your decision to leave Syracuse for the NBA after your freshman year?
A. I went into Syracuse knowing it was a possibility for me to get drafted after one year. I just wanted to go to school, work as hard as I could and get better. After my freshman year, I knew I had a child on the way and a family to take care of. So, the decision was a no-brainer for me. My dream was within my reach, so I had to take it.
Q. You’re widely known by your fan-base for the five seasons you spent as a Sacramento King. A lot happened during that time, including a short stint in the D-League in 2009. Can you explain what those five years meant for your basketball career and what you learned about yourself during that time?
A. It was great for me. I love Sacramento as a city and the fans really took me in. Great family town that loves their basketball. The D-league helped me get my game back on track after sitting for half my rookie year. It was actually a lot of fun playing with guys who had been pros for a minute trying to get a look in the NBA. But for my career, it helped me see the business side of being a pro, learning the ends and outs of everything.
Q. You represented the USA twice (2006 and 2007) in the FIBA games. What was it like playing in the FIBA games?
A. It was a blessing. To be able to walk out there with that USA on your chest and represent your country was a great feeling. Also, the traveling part. We were in Serbia for about two weeks, having a blast sight seeing and experiencing a different culture. Playing against younger players, who I would see later in the NBA, was crazy! Definitely a trip to remember.
Q. You actually attended school in Japan when you were younger. Do you recall what that experience was like?
A. Japan was beautiful! When my mom told us we were moving there, I didn’t know what to think. Would I like the food? Are people going to speak English? Once I got there, I realized they knew more about the American culture than I did. My three years there was great though. I still have many friends from my early school days who I’m in contact with.
Q. You won a gold medal in the 2006 FIBA games. How special was it to win a gold medal while you were still in high school?
A. Very special! Not everybody can say, “I won a gold medal for my country doing something I love.” It was a tremendous honor and something I will never forget.
Q. Donté, you went on a tear in your freshman year at Syracuse, averaging over 17 points per game and over 7 rebounds per game. You started in all 35 games and you also set a record for 3-pointers made (90). No wonder you were a first-round pick following that performance. How did it feel to add your name to the elite list of players to come through that program, specifically Carmelo Anthony who also grew up in Baltimore and played at your alma mater, Towson Catholic?
A. It was a dream come true. When I started to take basketball seriously at the age of 13, all I wanted was to get a scholarship at a big-time school and make it to the NBA. Now, to follow behind Melo was the icing on the cake. Even though I didn’t kill like he did, I got my name in the record books and I can always call myself an Orangemen.
Q. You scored 40 points in your NBA Summer League debut. Explain your mindset going into that game, a game that set the tone for the start of your NBA career?
A. I had probably the biggest chip on my shoulder out of all NBA rookies. I was predicted to go mid-first round and slipped to the end of the first round. I wanted to go out and prove all those NBA teams wrong that looked over me. I wanted to show that I was here for a reason and that I belonged in the NBA. And that’s what I did, haha.
Q. You might have been sent to the D-League for a few games, but after some great performances you were brought right back up. Explain how you were able to succeed in the midst of that adversity.
A. When I got down there, I didn’t look at it as a punishment. I looked at it as a reward for me sitting on the bench knowing I could be out there helping my team. I went down to the D-League to have fun and get better. What made it easier was I was with a great group of guys who just wanted to play ball and win. We did just that.
Q. In the last three years, you’ve bounced around a bit from the NBA to overseas play. What has that experience been like for you? How have you handled the ups and downs and remained positive through it all?
A. For me, I think it’s helped. I’m definitely more mature. I had some growing up to do and I believe I’m on the right path to step foot back in the NBA and be successful. You have to understand that life is full of ups and downs. You have to take the highs just as good as your lows. Only worry about what you can control and leave the rest to the big guy upstairs. Believe in yourself and anything is possible, as long as you put that work in.
Q. Where are you in your professional career today? Do you have plans to try to get back in the NBA, or are you focused on dominating the league you’re in now?
A. I want to get back in the NBA. I think it’s time for me to come back home and hoop…but just trying to prove myself all over again. Being in Dubai for two years kind of hurt me. I have to go out, put the work in and show what I can do.
Q. You’ve always been a humble person and a guy with a lot of character, which is why I’m not surprised you’ve experienced success in your life. Speaking of which, you have children who are very near and dear to you.Talk about how having your kids has changed your perspective on what success means and on life in general?
A. My kids are my EVERYTHING!!! I do this for them. I always wanted to be the young cool dad, and to be fair I’m the biggest kid you might meet. When I’m on the court and I might need a little pick me up, I think about them to get some energy. When I’m overseas and missing them like crazy, I’ll tell myself it’s for them to have a better life. It’s not just about you when you have kids, and I’m blessed to have my little ones.
My man, thanks for taking this interview and for being so open about your journey thus far. It’s crazy to think that just years ago, we were in open gyms on the same court and walking the Towson Catholic hallways. I always respected your character and your talent of course. Made it easy to root for you to win in life bro and that’s exactly what you’re doing today. Continue to set an example for those around you as a great father, a guy active in the community, and as a pro athlete putting in the work on the court. Welcome to the Intern Media family. Your story has just been added to the Intern Media wall and we’re family bro, so you already know the support will continue. Be blessed fam.
The beautiful thing about the life that God gives us is that we’re all born with gifts, talents and a since of uniqueness. What we do with that is entirely up to us, but I want to personally thank you, Mr. Ali, for showing me that I can do more than just exist on this earth. I know that I can change the world because of strong public figures like yourself.
You paved the way for so many members of the black community and beyond with your dedication to the sport of boxing and more importantly with your courage as an activist, as you took advantage of any and every opportunity to express your racial pride as a black man, resisting white domination during a time when racism was blatantly prevalent in our society.
Your greatness both inside and outside of the boxing ring will never be forgotten.
You did more during your time on this earth than simply exist. You spoke out, stood for what you believed in and mastered your craft, inspiring the world.
And even as your illness grew over the years, you didn’t lose that smile. You didn’t abandon that charisma. You continued to be that same Muhammad Ali that my uncles, my father and my grandfather loved many years ago and still love to this day.
You’re gone too soon, but I appreciate the legacy you leave behind. My prayers are with your family. God bless you champ.
In the video that follows, fans honor the life and legacy of Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali on the day of his funeral.
Just in case you’re wondering what it’s like to attend a conference like Collision as a member of the media, here you go.
First things first. For those media professionals like myself who truly love what we do and don’t view this as a job, it all starts when we receive word of the invite. The feeling that runs through our bodies and the way that our eyes light up, it reminds us that we’re in the right profession.
It doesn’t end there though. There’s a crazy level of preparation that comes with a responsibility like this; an endless amount of complex reading, grueling writing and research sessions, interview preparation, video preparation, and a test of your overall creativity.
It’s almost like being a professional athlete. You don’t just show up to the “game,” put your uniform on and walk onto the court or field for the opening whistle, tip or kickoff.
As a media professional, you must arrive to the scene hours in advance just like some of the worlds greatest athletes.
You have to be mentally and professionally prepared to not only do your job, but to also look for opportunities to develop a career-changing story or a career-changing moment for yourself, for your represented platform and most importantly for your audience.
It’s this level of preparation that sometimes has me feeling like that NBA superstar arriving to the arena in my Johnston and Murphy shoes, tailored fit suit, Ralph Lauren backpack, and my studio Dre Beats headphones, of course.
Maybe the brief description that I’ve just provided you with will have you thinking about that reporter, journalist, or camera man the next time you’re watching a sporting event or attending one of America’s fastest growing conferences in the future like Collision.
In the event that this write up crosses your mind, just think about the thousands of media outlets out there today who are dedicated to bringing you and millions of others the very best media coverage day in and day out.
Intern Media is dedicated to doing the same in its own uncommon way, focusing on the established individual and the individual in today’s society who’s lacking a voice.
Thanks again to Collision, a technology conference colliding the tech world with prominent sponsors and some of the most profound media outlets around the world today.
In the game of basketball, a lot of the time, we’re only accustomed to seeing the end result; the game or a player’s performance.
We’re not always able to see the blood, sweat and tears that’s poured out onto the basketball court in the offseason when individual players and teams are preparing for their respective basketball seasons. We don’t see the ups and downs that a player or a team goes through over the course of a long season.
Just think about that for a second. What if we were able to see more of those moments?
For the basketball fans of the world, we already have an appreciation for what we see from top athletes like a Lebron James or a Stephen Curry.
So, just imagine how much greater that level of appreciation would be if we had more access to what’s going on behind the scenes.
What if we could witness Curry get up over a thousand shots a day?
What if we could witness Lebron’s three-part workout, consisting of sprints on the track, weight lifting in the weight room and then skill work on the basketball court?
These are the things that we don’t get to see.
Well, that’s what a guy by the name of Brian Macon allows us to see. Brian started playing the game of basketball at the age of six and he never looked back.
He’s now an elite basketball skills trainer based in Florida, responsible for a lot of the growth seen in both young and adult basketball players today.
Brian’s approach is the same for everyone that he trains, providing them with a level of training that is considered beyond the times, so to speak.
This is something that I’ve been able to witness on his social media platforms, a hub in which he posts a lot of his training videos.
He’s definitely taking advantage of this evolution of technology by putting eyes to the impact that he’s having on athletes as well as showcasing his knowledge of the game.
For Brian, it’s about packaging his work just like it is for the average journalist.
Brian’s not only preparing for an endless amount of training sessions or putting basketball players through workouts. He also has those moments captured on video and then edited in a way that the viewer finds the content to be very fundamental and consistent.
However, even with putting that additional work in off of the court, who seems to get the bulk of the credit, if not all of it when you think about a player’s talent?
It’s the player, of course. However, if there was a league or a broadcast that highlighted the trainers that stand behind these elite and most-improved athletes, we might actually see the tables turn a bit.
If there was an outlet dedicated to the journey of the trainer, hypothetically speaking, then I’m sure Brian would find himself showcased, as he’s having quite the impact as an important piece to Handlelife.
Handlelife is a sports training and lifestyle brand that focuses on motivating athletes as well as everyday people to work hard at perfecting their crafts.
Brian is a great representation of those grueling training sessions, the ups and downs that come with being an athlete, and of a game that is constantly evolving.
Brian grew up playing basketball and reached the collegiate ranks, making a name for himself in the sport. As a student athlete at Miami-Dade College, Brian found himself ranked top 5 in the nation in assists. And that was just after two seasons with the team.
Brian also helped lead his team to a conference championship. After receiving those accolades at Miami-Dade College, Brian took an onward and upward move to Boston University.
At Boston University, Brian continued to be a floor general, leading his team in assists and becoming a co-captain after his first season with the team.
Brian’s career on the court might have ended after an ACL injury, but he didn’t let that stop him from continuing his love for the game, this time in a different facet though.
Brian decided to make the transition from player to trainer shortly after the injury, taking his personal experiences and years of knowledge to the up-and-coming ball players out there as well as those developing at the collegiate and professional ranks.
Today, Brian is one of the most pursued basketball trainers in the South Florida area and he’s managing Handlelife’s Florida division.
I have a lot of admiration for the empire that he has helped build, one that led him to working with two of my good friends, Paul Easton and Aaron Walsh of Drills And Skills Basketball.
As a basketball player myself and as someone who played from the age of six all the way up to the collegiate level, I can honestly say that behind every great athlete is a dedicated and highly-skilled trainer.
For many athletes out there today, that’s who Brian is to them and I’m proud to now have him apart of the Intern Media family.
Go to the next page of this article and checkout my interview with Brian as we went in depth with his history as a former player and now as a trainer who’s experiencing a lot of victories in his life.
These victories are not necessarily games won though. Instead, the victories that Brian is experiencing today has everything to do with the lives that he’s impacting with his elite training methods.
In life, most people appear to be content with latching onto something that’s already built up and has proven success in a community, state, or the world at large. Few people are willing to start their own empire and work towards building it up, one brick at a time.
As a matter of fact, have you ever found yourself in a certain establishment not even giving thought to how it reached such a level of success?
A similar question can be posed when it comes to the sports world. How many times have you found yourself caught up in the hoopla surrounding a star athlete or program?
Just remember that that athlete or program didn’t just step onto the scene one day already exemplifying success. No, instead they put the hours, days, months, and years in to get to the point of notice.
As you can see, I like success stories that start from the ground up and for that same reason, I have such a high level of admiration for what two of my friends are doing right now.
Both Paul Easton and Aaron Walsh are building empires surrounding the game of basketball, a game that has brought me so much joy over the course of my life and it’s done the same for them and continues to.
Allow me to start with my friend Paul Easton, the Founder and CEO of Drills and Skills Basketball, a basketball training platform providing players of all talent levels with elite training and development.
I had the pleasure of meeting Easton when I stepped foot onto Marymount Universities campus in Arlington, VA back in 2010. At the time, he was working as part of the universities security team, but he didn’t allow that to keep him from his love for basketball as he coached at a local private high school, Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School, as an Assistant.
From there, he moved onto a head coaching position at a high school in Maryland that was looking to grow their basketball program, and Easton had quite the success in doing so.
However, there was something that must have been pulling at Easton because he decided to start training players for more than just his love for working with passionate athletes. He wanted to take it a step further.
How’d he go about doing that?
Easton turned his love for training and working with athletes into a career path and even beyond that, a way of life, something that’s working out greatly for him thus far. He started his own platform, Drills and Skills Basketball, in order to develop ball players of all talent levels, furthermore proving why he’s one of the premiere basketball trainers in the states.
Little did he know that his platform would inspire people like Aaron and I to start our own movements as well.
From the training aspect to the social media marketing piece to what this platform simply represents, Easton is building something special and as he would put it, “changing the game,” which is going to eventually propel he and his platform to a level where only some can dream of going.
I chose to highlight Easton for the simple fact that beyond what he’s doing as the Founder of Drills and Skills, his platform has inspired me to continue to work around the clock with my Intern Media platform.
It’s amazing how two separate fields of interests can collide like that, right?
Well, that’s what’s happening here, and this is only the beginning.
Some might ask why I chose to make this selection for Intern Media Week a joint venture.
For those that are curious, I did it because Aaron Walsh’s new endeavor has a lot to do with Paul Easton.
Walsh has been apart of the Drills and Skills movement since the beginning given not only his relationship with Easton, but his passion and knowledge for the game of basketball. Ever since I’ve known Walsh, he’s been one of the hardest workers on the basketball court that I’ve been around.
Playing with him in college not only pushed me to work on my game outside of practices and games, but it also raised my level of competition when we went head to head in practice or the average pickup game.
Walsh is one of those guys who’s going to go out there and leave it all on the court no matter what’s at stake and he’s now able to preach that same mentality to younger ball players on the rise.
However, don’t think because Walsh is no longer playing under the whistle means that he’s not still living out that same passion on the basketball court.
Walsh applies that same mindset to what he does as a trainer and coach today, demanding effort and an eagerness to learn from the kids and adults that he’s working with. And it’s working out quite well for the Prince George’s County native.
Right now, Walsh is furthering his education at our alma mater, Marymount University, and also working on campus. But that hasn’t stopped him from dedicating himself to something that will be lucrative down the line and it goes to show how much he believes in creating and also impacting the lives of others through his passion.
Intern Media is all about providing others with a platform for their stories and highlighting great work and I can honestly say that both Paul Easton and Aaron Walsh made that very easy for me in this write up.
I’m not only honored to be able to share my thoughts on them in front of my following, but I’m also honored to be able to call both of them good friends of mine.
If you or someone you know is serious about the game of basketball and wants to grow in their skills and nurture their talents in a positive and hard working environment, these are the guys to connect with, hands down.
Intern Media is happy to present to you Paul Easton and Aaron Walsh of Drills and Skills Basketball as part of Intern Media Week.
“The smallest player in the prestigious 89-year history of the Globetrotters, the 1.55-metre guard – or five feet two inches in the old language – defied the odds to showcase his talent with the greatest exhibition team on the planet.” ~ Lee Gaskin of The Canberra Times (from a June 2015 interview with Mr. Hall)
Jonte Hall, also known as “Too Tall” as a member of the world-renowned Harlem Globetrotters, experienced what some would call a rough patch, just several years ago. In his late twenties, Hall was working around the clock in pursuit of his dream; to play professional basketball one day.
However, at that time, Hall’s window was not just closing, in the eyes of some it was actually shut as he found himself working overnight shifts, buffing floors at office buildings in Baltimore County.
I don’t say that to degrade anyone that works in that field, but for Mr. Hall, I believe anyone would be able to understand my point just by reading the title of this piece; hence the Harlem Globetrotter reference.
Anyone who’s able to attain such an accomplishment was obviously not meant to spend the rest of their life or career cleaning office buildings.
Nonetheless, that’s what he was forced to do just years ago because like everyone else in America, he had bills.
We’ve all been faced with that reality, right?
That moment when reality sets in and the ways of this world put us in a position where we have to make a choice, it’s either our dreams and aspirations or doing what we have to do to put food on the table. It’s not a fun position to be in and Hall is very much so in touch with that feeling.
At that time in Mr. Hall’s life, I had the rare opportunity to be caught up right in the midst of his setbacks as well as his victories. As a matter of fact, there were some nights when I was the person that my good friend called upon at the end of those late night shifts, when he needed a ride home or just someone to talk to about everyday life issues.
I still remember those conversations that we had like it was just yesterday when Hall would tell me about his workouts on the vacant floors of those office buildings.
Here’s a guy that would take his lunch or dinner breaks for that matter and spend them on those vacant floors doing basketball drills as well as strength and conditioning workouts. As prize fighter Floyd Mayweather Jr. would put it, that’s that “hard work and dedication!”
I know what you guys are thinking.
What a story, right?
A young African American male from Baltimore, experiencing humbling times several years back, but now has ‘Harlem Globetrotter’ next to his name. That’s definitely a story worthy of radio or television time.
However, while that’s quite the success story, it goes so much deeper than just that. What I just mentioned only scratches the surface for the great life that is Jonte Hall.
Hall, 32, might have come up in a tough environment at a young age, but thanks to a loving mother, a few mentors along the way, and a good head on his shoulders, he didn’t allow himself to be defined by what was going on around him. Instead, he demanded for others to define him by his quality of life.
Hall fell in love with the game of basketball at a young age and as much as some people will try to act as if a sport is not a true passion to have, they’re wrong. Sometimes something as simple as a sport can save one’s life by keeping them focused and out of trouble on the day-to-day.
That’s the reality for many young black males coming up in environments like Baltimore City and surrounding areas where trouble can frequently find you.
That’s something that the game of basketball did for Hall, even in his twenties. While some believed his dream should have been put to rest at a certain point, thank God Hall stayed the course and kept his goal in the forefront of his life.
After all, anyone can decide to hang up their dreams after being hit hard by the hand that society deals us, but it takes a special person to stay the course for that special day when they can now wake up and live their dream.
That mindset is what catapulted Hall into becoming a member of the Washington Generals, an American exhibition basketball team that you’ll always see on the same court as the Globetrotters, in a losing effort that is, and if you have any knowledge of the Globetrotter history, you’d know that I say that in all fun. The Generals gave Hall his first opportunity to showcase his talents as a basketball player on a national stage and before he knew it, he was signing his contract with one of the most historic basketball platforms in sports history; the Globetrotters of course.
Since then, he’s been traveling the world with the Globetrotters doing what he loves to do and putting smiles on the faces of thousands in the process.
Hall’s testimony speaks volume to what the Bible says about faith, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Sure, you might fail or better yet fall in the midst of following your dreams, but just like in a real dream, you can also get up, dust yourself off and keep moving onward and upward.
If Hall would have decided to stay where he fell, then his testimony probably wouldn’t have the impact it has today and he wouldn’t be waking up doing what he loves on a daily basis, able to touch lives beyond just his hometown.
I selected Hall for Intern Media Week, not only because he’s like a big brother and close friend, but also because his story deserves to be spread to others. His life is a representation that not every sports figure or celebrity figure changes for the success and the fame.
I’ve known Hall for years now and I can’t lie about the fact that he’s literally the same humble and positive guy that I met when he was an average guy walking the streets of my hometown. Instead of allowing his success to change him, he’s decided to change the perception of those who are famous and successful in the entertainment world.
That said, it’s my honor and privilege to be able to highlight someone that’s been a big brother to me and a supporter of my endeavors. And I’m confident that his story will leave you wanting to know more about this deep and talented brother, Mr. Jonte Hall.
Back in early November, I had the great opportunity to do a story on my friend and basketball coach at Crossroads College, Coach Rich Westerlund. This came as a blessing because I hadn’t known Rich for that long. I met Rich while working Five Star Baltimore’s basketball camp for two summers.
Not only is Rich a very talented young basketball coach and basketball minded individual, but he’s also a great guy and I respect the character that he has exemplified in my time knowing him, which made this story even more of an honor.
When I interviewed Rich, he shared with me the ups and downs of his coaching career. It just so happens that the ups carry a lot of weight in Rich’s case. He’s found himself in the history books on a couple different occasions. The first came in the beginning of his coaching career when he became the youngest high school basketball coach in the country. The second came when he took the job as head coach at Crossroads College. It was there that he found himself in the history books again as the youngest college basketball coach in the country.
Both of those great moments share a common denominator. They both started off with their share of stresses and adversities. However, the great thing about Rich’s story is that he and his team prevailed in the end in both cases.
How ironic is it that Rich and his team find themselves in another tough circumstance in his second season as head coach? I won’t “sugar coat” the fact that both Rich and his team aren’t having the success this season that they had in the second half of last season as they went on to win a championship after an 0-13 start.
They are experiencing some of the same rough times that they did in the beginning of last season, but that won’t stop them from fighting. If it’s one thing that Rich has instilled in his guys, it’s a mentality of fighting – fighting through the hard workouts, the tough losses, the post-game speeches and the naysayers.
This is why I have all of the confidence in the world in Coach Rich and the Crossroads Men’s Basketball squad that they will leave this season better than they entered it. After all, greatness is not defined by those who respond well during the “ups,” but it’s defined by those who respond well during the “downs.” I have confidence that Rich and the Crossroads College Basketball Program are the kind of individuals that take pride in their attitude and mentality in the midst of the “downs.”
I’m pushing for them to prevail and I encourage those who read this article to do the same. 2014 is no longer here, but a sketch of 2015 is only in the making.
(Coach Richard Westerlund – All the way to the right of the photo)
by Karl Nelson, II “Intern Media”
If you enjoy “Cinderella” stories, then you might want to know a thing or two about Richard or “Rich” Westerlund, the Head Men’s Basketball Coach of NCAA Division II team, Crossroads College. When it comes to sports, Rich has experienced his share of minor setbacks for what most would call major comebacks.
Unlike most college coaches, Westerlund didn’t walk into the job with four years of college basketball on the resume or a ton of accolades to go along with it. He played just one year of basketball at Lancaster Bible College, but four years of soccer and baseball.
How rare is that? Here, Westerlund had four years of on-the-field experience in soccer and baseball as well as accolades, but he chose to become a basketball coach.
Believe me, you’re not the only one that thought Rich was making a mistake, but his love for the game of basketball and passion for it kept him from listening to the sideliners and naysayers.
Not only did Rich accept the challenge, but he’s also developed a niche for coaching the game that he grew up on. He’s currently overseeing two teams, a JV and Varsity team, at Crossroads College and all eyes are on him and this program after winning a conference championship last season. A season that was full of distractions from Rich stepping on campus as the youngest college coach in the country and then his team having a 0-13 start to their season.
It was my pleasure to hear directly from Westerlund as he shared his trials and tribulations as a coach up to this point and talked about where his passion for coaching in the classroom that he calls the “basketball court” comes from.
Rich, you played four years of baseball and soccer at Lancaster Bible College, but just one year of basketball. Most people would ask why coach basketball when you have a stronger “playing” background in those other sports. What do you say to those people?
“I have been asked many times, ‘how can you coach basketball and only play one year?’ In fact, some people said I couldn’t be a college basketball coach without playing in college. I simply told them my passion and love for basketball is why I chose to coach. I have always had a passion to learn and teach the game of basketball. I loved the gym and the atmosphere around the game. This is not to say other sports don’t have the same classroom, but I love how the court and the game can be such a valuable classroom of learning for the student-athletes.”
Your first coaching job was with Hartford Christian Academy. You got this job at 19 years old. That made you the youngest high school coach in the country. What did that feel like? What were some of the challenges? Were there things that went better than expected?
“It was definitely an awesome feeling. I honestly didn’t understand the significance of it at first. I was so confident in myself and believed in the group of guys that I had that I felt like we were bound for success immediately. A lot of that came from my youthful zeal.
“The challenges were (1) developing a culture. The program hadn’t had success in a long time and we wanted to change that. We wanted it to be a winning program. We started teaching our guys how to win and preached the importance of making basketball a priority, not just during the season but also the offseason. (2) The age difference between my players and me. I was not their friend I was their coach, so developing that authority was definitely a challenge early on. 3) The parents were a challenge. Many parents felt like they could talk to me on a different level than most coaches and question all my decisions because I was young. Losing compounded much of that because I brought in a completely different brand of basketball that the school really had never seen. There wasn’t much that went better than expected other than the fact that I learned so much.”
Now, Rich, in your first year at HC, your team goes 6-22. Tell me about that. That’s obviously not what you planned on happening or wanted to happen. What was that offseason like? At that point, I’m sure you risk having players lose faith in the program, parents want to add their two sense and you have a school that just hired you. What was all of that like?
“Yeah, absolutely. That was a hard season, but I remained confident in the vision I had set out for the program. I believed in what we were doing and I just kept preaching to the guys about buying in. So, yes we did lose some players. We lost about five from the year before, but I knew that I wanted guys who wanted to buy in to the new direction of the program.
“I had a group of freshman my first year that I moved up to varsity at the end of the year. I knew they would be the core of our resurgence and we built off of that. In the offseason, we made it clear that if you didn’t come to workouts and open gym you weren’t going to make varsity. We set up a point system for workouts, open gym, and camps. We consistently had more guys coming to summer workouts and we bonded in the gym. So, we really started developing as a team. I challenged the guys to be hungry and said to them, ‘Why can’t we be that team that takes this program to the next level?’ They really took hold of that.”
You talk about changing the culture after a rough season with hopes of turning things around. What was the culture change and how did you go about it?
“Well, it started with the commitment. If we wanted to take this next step as a program, we needed a higher level of commitment from each player, coach, and manager. We also talked about the work ethic. How can we be successful if we weren’t willing to put in the work that successful people put in? We coupled that with more familiarity with our system. It really allowed more guys to understand what we were trying to do and see that it was attainable. They really started to believe. I just really focused on investing in each guy. I knew if they believed in each other and me, then that trust and loyalty would ultimately lead to success.”
Obviously, the culture change worked wonders for you and your team following that tough year. Your next two seasons as head coach were day and night in relation to your first year. What did you learn about yourself in that time?
“Man, I learned a ton. I learned that I really didn’t know anything! Haha. In all seriousness, I realized my knowledge of the game had to improve in all facets. So, I really worked hard in studying film, offenses, defenses, and other coaches. I looked at philosophies. I tried to coach as many games in the off-season as I could, so that the game could slow down for me. I really focused on trying to become a student of the game. I learned from so many of my mentors and coaches that if you want to be a great coach you have to be a great teacher. So I worked hard in learning the game, so I could hopefully teach it effectively to my guys.”
Let’s fast forward to graduation. At that point, you had three seasons as a head coach under your belt and a championship. Now, you’re 21 and looking for college coaching jobs. God blesses you with a full-time opportunity as a head coach at Crossroads College just before your 22nd birthday. This once again put you in a rare bracket as the youngest college coach in the country. You must like being a loner in a good way (lol). Now, this program had its challenges right out the gate. How did you establish yourself once you came on the scene?
“Well, as soon as I got the job, I knew I had to recruit hard. So, I first contacted the returners to start building relationships with them and then I worked hard to put together a team. So, I guess you could say the first way I established myself was by being a relentless recruiter.”
Your team starts off 0-13 in your first season on the job. What was going through your mind at that point? I’m sure that had to be a trying time for you.
“Well (laughs), there was not a lot of sleep those first two months. A lot of people doubted whether or not I was taking the program in the right direction. I even had some players who were losing faith. Losing seems to do that. Losing is hard. I would always question how can I do this better. I was lucky to have great mentors pouring into me saying, ‘You’re fine. You’ve done this before. Stay true to yourself.’ So, I did just that. I stayed true and knew the direction I wanted to take and believed we could still develop into a solid team.”
Your team might have set records in your third year at Hartford Christian, but you had a new team that had a thing for breaking records too. After a 0-13 start, you guys go on to not only make the playoffs, but win a conference championship. That’s mind boggling and surreal to some people. How’d you guys manage to pull that off? What’s your secret? (Laughs)
“There really is no secret man. I always tell my guys our standard is not the scoreboard. Our standard is making sure we’re playing at our highest level and that we’re doing our job at the highest level we are capable of. Ultimately, if we do things the right way, then the results will take care of itself. Our guys really just bought in and started to gain more chemistry. First semester, there was not a lot of continuity due to the guys that we had to dismiss from the program. Second semester, it was a smaller group, but it was a group that wanted to come together.”
You’ve been a pretty busy man, I must say. You’ll be overseeing two teams this year, a JV and a Varsity squad. You told me that this group you have coming in accounts for some of the best talent the program has seen in recent years. Talk briefly about what this offseason was like. How’d you all make this happen?
“Yes, very busy, but I love it! Well, this off-season I knew we were only returning four from last year’s squad. We had some more guys we had to weed out that didn’t fit our mission and vision. Over the course of the year and the offseason, I really worked hard in putting together a strong recruiting class that could really take the program to the next level. I found guys that I like to call culture changers. Really the reason it all happened was just relationships. I fostered great relationships with all my guys and ultimately they believed in me and believed in what we were trying to do at Crossroads. I am very fortunate they did.”
Aside from your impressive success through so many adversities, what I admire the most about you is your passion for coaching and the ultimate impact you’d like to leave behind. Let’s talk about that. You voiced your gratitude for your parents, coaches and players who have helped you along the way. What kind of impact do you wish to have moving forward? What’s your “big picture” goal with your coaching career?
“Man, just to have the platform that I have is a huge blessing. I am very grateful for all the opportunities that the Lord has blessed me with just from coaching this game. I am just looking to impact lives, one life at time through building relationships. If I can influence just one life or make a difference in one life, that’s a win for me. I just want to continue to be a positive influence on the student-athletes I get to coach and have coached.
“I am so fortunate I get to have a voice and the opportunity to speak into young people’s lives. I can’t tell you the kind of impact I want to have, I just want to continue to touch and influence lives. I am blessed that my classroom where I get to teach influence is on the basketball court! My big picture goal is I ultimately want to be a Division I head coach. I would love to impact the game of basketball in a way that legendary guys like John Wooden was able to. I would love for people to say Richard Westerlund impacted the game of basketball. In reality, as long as I am impacting lives, then I am doing what I set out to do.”