It’s been a little over two weeks since our staff was officially let go at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. And with the added difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have begun to realize that I may not have a job in college basketball next year.
I have sat on a college basketball bench for the last 10 years. I’ve coached at the Division II level and in Division I women’s basketball, but the bulk of my experience comes from coaching Division I men’s basketball.
This is a scary time for everyone and the unknown is always difficult to deal with. But I have made a decision to use this time to become completely open and honest with myself and the people around me.
Those are two words that 10 years ago I wasn’t sure I was ever going to admit, let alone say out loud. I always thought I would “die with the lie.” That is how I approached so much of my life, to keep it a secret, to never let anyone know that side of me, to hide and bury all those feelings.
That was my plan. I threw myself into my career. I worked hard to climb the ladder, learning as much as I could as quickly as I could. And always looking for the next opportunity. From my alma mater Edinboro University in Pennsylvania to Miami (Ohio). Then from Miami to Youngstown State and finally to the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Each stop taught me more and more, and the crazy thing about it was it never felt like work. I am 29 years old, and I haven’t “worked” a day in my life.
I learned at a young age that life is about people and the relationships you build with them. I got into coaching because of my high school coach. He was also one of the more popular teachers at my school because he was younger and could relate to the students.
We would work hard in his class, but he always found ways to have fun, and make us laugh. He gave me an opportunity when it came to basketball and pushed me to be better than what I thought I was capable of being. He was the first person outside of my parents who saw potential in me.
Because of my experiences with him and my teammates, I became hooked on the idea of becoming a coach. I wanted to find ways to impact other people’s lives the way that my coach impacted me. After all, I have come to understand what the definition of “coach” really means: to move a person or object from one point to another — move your players forward and make them better.
So as I chased the dream of becoming a basketball coach, I found myself getting lost in my work. I didn’t think about being gay or that part of me as much. I didn’t date, I didn’t talk about it, and it got to the point that I almost began to believe that I could shut that side of my life “off.”
I became very good at what I do. When other coaches on the staff would go home at night to their wife and kids, I would stay at the office. I would keep working, keep learning. This helped my career, but I didn’t realize the negative effects it would have on my mental health.