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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Back to the Future with Mr. Boseker

July 26, 2012

I had a passion for playing basketball for as long as I can remember.

I endured endless hours of practice, rain or shine. I relished clearing the court of snow during the winter months because no one else was interested in playing, and I had the court all to myself.

Practice consisted of never-ending last second shots against imaginary opponents from all corners of the court. As the hours ticked by day-after-day, night-after-night, month-after-month, I had one thought in mind.

If I was practicing at that moment, then and there, and my imaginary future opponent was not, when we finally met on the court, I would have the advantage.

Those long, lonely hours of practice did prepare me for what would later become part of my personality, someone comfortable being alone.

Nonetheless, I knew I had a gift. I could play basketball with the best of them, and whenever I stepped onto the court I was ready to play.

So it was stunning news to find myself being cut from the eighth grade varsity basketball team at Medina Junior High School in Columbus, Ohio. During the two-day tryouts I had performed remarkably better than anyone else, but still, Coach James Boseker had not seen fit to put me on the team.

I didn’t let it go without a direct challenge. I confronted him about the reasoning for my being cut. He said I was too short, and he referenced the fact that my older brother (who attended the same school) was also short.

Maybe it was the times or maybe it was me, but I accepted his reasoning. I went on to play Intramural basketball, and of course, my homeroom team won the Intramural championship.

The following summer my family moved to the suburbs of Washington D.C., where without question, I was a fish out of water. I was from “a flyover state,” far from the status and sophistication of Washington D.C.

I was out of place and uncomfortable in these new surroundings so ninth grade at North Bethesda Junior High School did not start out as a happy experience. I spent most of my after-school days alone, and reverted to what I did best, endless hours of practice on the basketball court.

There was one difference, I was getting taller, over 6-foot at this point. Ninth grade basketball tryouts would also be different. I was superior to the other boys, and easily made the team.

We enjoyed a great season, and won the conference championship. I ended the season as the team’s leading scorer, and voted Most Valuable Player.

Fast-forward to the future, and my playing days continued through high school where I also won honors as one of the state’s best players, and again, voted the team’s Most Valuable Player.

I was recruited out of high school by colleges far and wide, and had upwards of 20+ full scholarship offers, ranging from perennial NCAA powers Kentucky, North Carolina State, New Mexico, Purdue, Virginia, Jacksonville, Rutgers, and others, large and small.

I selected the University of Miami (Fla.), and was excited about becoming a Hurricane.

For the senior trip before graduation, many of us decided to attend the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend. Driving to the speedway would take us directly through my old hometown of Columbus, Ohio. I had some unfinished business in Columbus, and I was determined to see it though.

As we traveled on Interstate 70-West, through Columbus, we detoured to Medina Junior High School. I wanted to pay a visit to the varsity basketball coach, Mr. Boseker, who cut me from the team four years earlier.

We arrived at the school, and classes were in session. I found Mr. Boseker in the gym, and while he was surprised to see me, he remembered me well.

I took delight in summarizing my high school basketball season outside Washington D.C., and told him I would be entering the University of Miami (Fla.) on a full basketball scholarship that coming fall. He was sincerely proud to hear the news.

He then honored me by saying something I did not expect to hear, “I made a mistake back then. I should not have cut you from the team,” he said.

With that admission, and those words, Mr. Boseker taught me more than he could have on the basketball court.

I never forgot it.