What’s up, Memphis? I wanted to introduce myself to y’all, but I didn’t really know how to start this letter. Anybody who knows me knows that talking about myself isn’t really in my comfort zone.
So I’m gonna tell you about a treadmill. It might not make sense right away but hopefully by the end of this letter it will, and maybe you’ll know a little bit more about me.
I spent four years at West Virginia, playing for Bob Huggins. It’s no secret that Coach Huggins runs a tight ship. And when I say runs, I mean runs.
The secret was treadmills. We learned to be afraid of them.
See, it was like this at West Virginia: The only thing that mattered to Coach was that we played harder, every single play, than the other team.
And the treadmill was our punishment if we made a mistake in practice. If your guy was able to dribble to the middle of the court while you were guarding him, you had to get off the court and get on the treadmill and run 18 mph for 45 seconds. Right on the side of the court. Allow an offensive rebound … you’re on the treadmill. Let your guy drive past you. Treadmill. Turn the ball over. Allow an uncontested layup, miss a box out, lag getting back on D … you’re running.
Nobody could avoid the treadmill. And the first treadmill in any given practice … it isn’t too difficult. But the thing is, as soon as your 45 seconds are up, you’re right back in the action — and you’re going up against fresh legs. So now you’re even more likely to make a mistake. And another mistake means you’re right back on the treadmill. Coach’s whole philosophy was about maintaining focus, minimizing mistakes and working hard. He wanted to make sure that no matter who we were up against, we were not going to be the first ones to get tired.
I think that’s why Coach and I got along from the very beginning.
I remember when he first scouted me at an AAU game my senior year of high school. It was an 8 a.m. game. I wasn’t being recruited by that many D-I schools, even by my senior year. I remember that after the game he told me he liked me because the other guys on the court looked sluggish — but not me. He told me that he thought I was quicker than people gave me credit for, and that he was impressed that I got my hands on a lot of balls. I had been the top scorer in the game, but he didn’t talk about that at all.
No coach had ever talked to me about deflections. Huggins was different. I liked him right away. And when he gave me an opportunity, I jumped at it. That was all I needed.
Parents always have that one weird thing they do. For my dad, it was that he tended to repeat himself.
Reinforcement is what he might call it, but man … he just repeated things all the damn time. And you know, when you’re a kid that kind of stuff can get annoying. Before Coach Huggins and his treadmills at West Virginia, there was my father and his repetitions back in Maywood, Illinois. It was treadmill philosophy before I knew anything about it.
Like, let’s say during a particular high school game, maybe I’d get called for two or three reach-in fouls. That’d be all I’d hear about until at least the next game.
“You’d better quit reaching!” he’d say. “You look like a damn fool out there.”
We could have won the game, I could have been the leading scorer, could have hit the winning shot — it didn’t matter.
“I saw you reachin’, boy! Reaching in like some kind of damn fool.”
All week. On and on. We could be eating dinner and not even thinking about basketball.
“Dad, could you pass the rolls?”
“Oh, pass the rolls? I’m surprised you’re not reachin’ for ’em! Damn fool!”
No time was really off-limits for talking about hoops. When he wasn’t lecturing me for reaching in, or calling me a damn fool, my dad would try to remind me that somebody was always working harder. I was never going to be the biggest or the strongest guy, he said, and if I wanted to play basketball at the highest level then I could never become satisfied with my game. The minute that happened, he told me, that’d be it. So any weakness that he found, he let me know. Right away.
It was all love, but we’d get into it sometimes. Those father-son moments. We’d be at the gym, working on floaters or something. I’d miss a few in a row, and he’d be telling me to put more arc on the ball. Eventually I’d get so upset that I’d whip the ball as high as I could over the backboard, and then storm out of the gym. When stuff like that happened, he’d make me walk home. We’d always reconcile later the same night — talk it out like men, and then be back at it the next day.
But my father made me the player I am today. He made me care about every little detail of my game, and he also taught me why each detail was important. My drive, work ethic, and basketball IQ all come from him. He asked a lot of me, but he and I both knew it would take a lot to succeed at the next level. I remember during my junior year of high school I came up with what I thought was a great strategy — where I’d only go hard against a guy if he was a star college recruit, or if I’d read about him in the newspaper. Once my dad figured out that I was only putting up big numbers against the better teams, he was upset.
“You think colleges will want you if they see how you play against weak players? Why don’t you guard the bad ones like you guard the good ones?”
I said something about wanting to save my energy, about not wanting to get tired.
That was 100% the wrong answer.
The way my dad looked at me after I said that, it was like he didn’t even have to say anything. I could just tell.
He was going to make sure I never got tired playing basketball again.
So when I got to West Virginia, I knew Coach Huggins was going to be testing me the same way. Every time I stepped on that treadmill, I told myself, Don’t fear it. During those 45-second sprints, I was always thinking of the future.
Every 45 seconds mattered. Every 45 seconds made me a better player. All those mistakes in practice, and all of that conditioning, is how we won a lot of games last year. It’s how we came back from 18 down against Missouri. It’s how we got to the Sweet 16.
I know people talk a lot about my defense, and I’m glad that that part of my game has gotten recognized, but I also want everyone to know that there’s a lot more to me than that. I’ll be ready to lay it all on the line from Day One because I’ve been overlooked and criticized on the basketball court my entire life. By everyone. I wasn’t ranked coming out of high school. Four-year college guards aren’t supposed to be make it at the next level, right?
I’m ready to come out and prove all the doubters wrong — one more time. All I’ve ever needed was a chance. And now, Memphis, you’ve given it to me. So I want to say thanks to my dad, to my family, and to Coach Huggins and the rest of my West Virginia family.
And thank you, Memphis, for believing in the new guy. I’m coming with that treadmill mentality.