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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Cut From 8th Grade Basketball Wasn't the End

June 18, 2014

As a boy growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I had a passion for playing basketball.

I endured endless hours of practice, rain or shine. I relished clearing the court of snow during the winter months because it gave me the court all to myself.

My practices 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 were practicing at that moment, and my imaginary future opponent was not, when we met on the court, I would have the edge.

Those long lonely hours of practice prepared me for what would later become part of my personality; the ability and comfort of being alone and staying focused on a single goal.

Nonetheless, I had a gift. I could play basketball with the best of them, and whenever I stepped onto the court I was confident and 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 the Linden section of Columbus. During the two-day tryouts I had performed remarkably better than anyone else, but still, head 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 his reasoning for cutting me. He said I was too short, and referenced my older brother (who attended Medina earlier and was also cut from the basketball team during tryouts.)

I disagreed but accepted his explanation. I went on to play intramural basketball and my homeroom team won the championship.

The following summer my family moved to the suburbs of Washington D.C., where coming from Ohio, I found myself to be a fish out of water.

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 however, 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 basketball 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 high school graduation, my friends and I went to the Indianapolis 500 over the long Memorial Day weekend. Driving to the speedway would take us directly through my old hometown of Columbus, Ohio. I had some unfinished business and I was determined to see it though.

As we traveled along 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 had cut me years earlier from the junior high basketball team.

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 career outside Washington D.C. and told him I would be entering the University of Miami (Fla.) on a full basketball scholarship in the fall. He was sincerely proud to hear the news.

He then honored me by admitting something I did not expect to hear, “I made a mistake when I cut you from the team. I should not have done that," he said.

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

I never forgot it.