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The Young Bull

Apr 14 2017
Photo by
Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune
Photo by
Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune
Collin Sexton
Pebblebrook High School
Apr 14 2017

Y el MVP del Campeonato Mundial FIBA U17 es … Collin Sexton!”

I look up with my head turned sideways.

Did they just say my name over the P.A.?

I look around from the stage set up on the court in Spain where we had just been given our gold medals, and everyone in the arena is staring back at me.

I guess they did say my name.

Then one of the guys on Turkey’s team, which we had just defeated to win the FIBA U17 World Championship, comes over and whispers in my ear:

“They said you’re the MVP.”

Oh snap, for real?

I guess it makes sense that winning the MVP was an unexpected because just me being on the team at all was pretty unexpected. I wasn’t one of those kids who had been building up buzz since the eighth grade. In fact, only a few months before I won a gold medal, I wasn’t really on anyone’s recruiting radar.

I only got my Team USA invite two weeks before training camp. Just getting an opportunity to try out was a cool accomplishment, but it wasn’t something I let myself get too excited about. I didn’t want to just be a guy who got a look during camp. I was determined to force the coaching staff to take me to Spain. I wasn’t out there just to prove I belonged — I knew I belonged. I wanted to prove I was the best.

So I put in the work. Three times a day–intense, intense workouts. And when I showed up for camp, even though not many people there had ever heard of me, I acted like I belonged. Because I did. And I proved it in Spain.

As it turns out the MVP of el campeonato mundial gets a watch — a pretty dope watch actually.

I was proud of that. I had worked hard to earn that. But I didn’t let myself get too high.

Because my dream has never been to just to make a team or win a watch or even be considered one the best high school basketball players in the country.

No, my dream has always been much bigger than that.

Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire

Unless you’re a high school hoops junkie, you might not have heard of me before, so here’s a basic rundown of what you should know to catch you up. (You guys like SparkNotes? I love SparkNotes):

  • I have an older brother named Jordan who can hoop, but we haven’t played one-on-one against each other in years. We can’t. We’re too competitive. Every game we played eventually ended in a fight. It was safer for both of us to just not play each other.
  • You can’t follow me on social media. Don’t have it. In my opinion, it’s a waste of time. Likes won’t make you better at anything.
  • My nickname is “the Young Bull.” Watch me play and you’ll understand why.
  • I don’t take charges anymore. Maybe I will again someday, but I haven’t since 7th grade, when I was practicing with Kobi Simmons (who’s now balling at Arizona) and I stepped up in the lane to take a charge only to get dunked all over. That was a lesson learned.
  • I’m a big trash-talker — but usually it’s not to get in anybody’s head. In fact, a lot of the time it starts with me talking to myself out loud. If I’m not playing well, I’ll start with something like, “C’mon man, make the shot! This guy can’t guard you!” This will usually lead to players on the other team hearing me and jawing back and then it’s game on. But still, it’s never about them, it’s about me and how I’m helping my team. If I make a bad play, I’ll let myself know about it. And if I make a good play, yeah I’ll dap myself up.
  • Some people might call me a late bloomer, but I’ve been working on my game since I was three years old. My dad’s an AAU coach, and before I was strong enough to shoot a basketball, he had me running drills until I was exhausted. Everything I know about hard work comes from my parents. They always saw my potential, even if the rest of the world didn’t catch on until a little later.

There’s more, but those are the basics.

Growing up, like plenty of kids, my idol was Kobe Bryant. He was the guy whose YouTube highlights I would always watch. It wasn’t just his game that drew me in, but also his attitude. It was clear that he was just an extremely competitive person. Basketball was just how he chose to express it. I liked that because I’ve always been the same way.

People define my story as “the kid who went from unranked to five stars” but I’ve always viewed myself as on a certain track to get to this point. Basically, I’m pleased with the results but I’m not surprised by them. Because they aren’t an accident. I didn’t average 30 in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League last year because I suddenly learned how to score. I played well because I go to the gym every night and I don’t leave until I’ve made 300 jump shots.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: While other people might think of me as a late bloomer, that’s because they haven’t seen the work I’ve put in my entire life. In my mind, I’m right on schedule.

The EYBL tournament was where I kind of burst on the scene as a recruit. After it was over, I started picking up offers from all around the country and that’s when Team USA came calling.

A lot of top guys start getting calls from coaches from the time they’re in ninth grade, so relative to that, the recruiting process was something kind of new to me. I’ll admit it was cool to have famous coaches come out to watch me play, but there was another part of me that wasn’t really buying into it. So much of it seemed superficial, with a lot of programs just telling me how great I was. But that kind of stuff has never interested me. Like I said, save your likes and retweets.

Avery Johnson was different.

He didn’t tell me how great I was. He didn’t promise me playing time. In fact, it was the opposite. He promised me accountability. If I didn’t put in the work, if I didn’t do the right things, he would bench me. That’s what I wanted to hear from a coach: straight talk.

This is a guy who played 16 seasons in the NBA. He’s won championships. He’s coached All-Stars.

So when he tells me that he knows what it takes, he’s not just saying it. He’s lived it. And he understands that it’s really, really hard to make it. What I appreciate most about Coach Johnson is that he’s not going to make it easy on me. He’s going to push me hard so that I can one day achieve the same things he did. And that’s why I committed to play for him at Alabama.

O.K., hold up, I already know what you’re about to say.

“Alabama, man? That’s a football school.”

Yeah, I’ve heard of them. If I was just committing to a brand or a logo, maybe I would have picked differently. But my choice was about more than that.

Of all the colleges I visited, Alabama felt the most like home. I think any person who’s decided between different colleges understands that feeling when you walk onto a certain campus and immediately the vibe just feels right.

Yeah, I know that Alabama isn’t known as a basketball school, and that everyone thinks the SEC is a football conference. That’s changing though. Everyone just saw Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida play in the Elite Eight. The SEC is starting to make some noise on the basketball court.

And now, I think they’re about to get one more dominant team.

I’m excited to come into Tuscaloosa — as part of a great recruiting class — to try to bring energy back to Coleman Coliseum. I want to bring that noise you hear at Bryant-Denny indoors. Just imagine that. I want everyone to be excited about watching Alabama basketball. Yeah, football isn’t going anywhere, but basketball at Bama is on the up, y’all.

Tide fans: How does this sound — an SEC championship and an NCAA tournament bid.

Yeah, it’s been a long time since either of those have happened, but those are my goals. If I can help make that happen, the individual goals I have for myself will also fall in line.

Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

Last year, my team, Pebblebrook High, lost in the Georgia state championship game by eight points.

I was heartbroken. I’ve never been good at losing, but I took that game personally. All I could think about were all of the plays I could have made that would have swung things the other way. I replayed the mistakes in my head over and over.

I usually talk to my dad before games to get his guidance and advice, but after games, the only person I want to talk to is my mom. To her I’m not an NBA prospect or even a basketball player. I’m just her boy.

After that state championship game, my dad went to bed, but Mom stayed up and listened to me talk all night long. She might not have said 10 words the whole time, but she listened to me as long as I needed her to — even though she had to wake up at 5 a.m. to go to work.

I’m still learning how to deal with disappointment. I’m not naive enough to think my career is always going to stay on this same trajectory. This past year has been an absolute blast, but at the same time, I get that the hard part is just beginning. The All-Star games, the gold medal, the dope watch — all of those things are great — but let’s be real: Nobody who has realized their full potential is remembered just because they were great in high school.

So I’m writing this not to tell my story, because it’s just getting started.

I’m writing this to let everyone know that it’s going to be a great one.

Collin Sexton
Pebblebrook High School