64 live D-1 college basketball games in 62 days. 18,246 miles driven. 98 different teams seen in 59 different venues in 24 different states. 21 conferences were represented. This started exactly 2 months ago, December 28th, 2022. And every single game (except one in Cameron Indoor, couldn’t say no), has been to represent the little guys. The small and mid majors. The one bid leagues. The teams that are playing an entire season so maybe, just maybe, they can play their best basketball for a week at the right time and hear their name called come Selection Sunday. But for every team in that conference except one, they’ll fall short. If they don’t accomplish what they set out for, they better love the journey while they’re at it, and in this blog I’ll do my best to explain mine. I’ll try to answer the question most of you that have followed are thinking, “What the hell? Why?”
I wish I could say to you I hated my journey and had to make a change. That would’ve made things much easier. But that’s not the truth, I liked my journey. I really liked it. I worked in sales as an insurance broker which sounds monotonous and boring but wasn’t. The essence of my job was meeting new people and trying to win them over. I love doing that. I had a couple of coworkers my age that I became best friends with. I had fantastic mentors above me to learn and grow from. I was making good money for a 26-year-old and it didn’t hurt matters that my wife was kicking ass more than I was in her career. I thought to myself, this should be the least I’ll ever make in life in this job, and my wife and I were more than comfortable. Is this what life’s about?
Sales taught me so much in just human interaction. The first lesson was before I even started full time. When I was an intern I heard a presenter say everyone gets anxious when they initially meet someone new. We all want to impress and commonly we think it’ll be by being funny or saying something knowledgeable. We put pressure on ourselves to bring something to the table. But have you ever heard someone walk away from a conversation and say, “I can’t stand that person. They let me talk about myself the whole time.” It forever changed my approach to people in life.
No matter how successful or how small someone is viewed externally, we all have the same internal battle. Even if others think great things of us whether as a person or through our accomplishments, we all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and be proud, or at least tolerate, the person that we are being and becoming. It’s a tough life without that. Some masquerade it in different ways than others, but this is the reality for us all. We all have the same basic needs. We want to feel heard, seen, cared for, loved, and respected. Every move we make is for more of one of those aspects, if not at a bare minimum, stability.
I grew up in a family where sports were king. My mom was the daughter of the youngest coach in Oklahoma High School football history to win back-to-back state titles. My dad was the son of a former division 1 basketball player and a coach himself. My life revolved around sports and I had more of a chance of making it in other ones, but basketball was my life. My thought process as a kid was to make the NBA. If Plan A didn’t work, I’ll go D-1 and parlay that into a coaching or analyst/commentator gig. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, well I put those in. And it wasn’t enough. So of course as a 19-year-old without the leverage of proving my work ethic as a D1 basketball player, I went with the safe route. I’ll go figure it out in business.
But then as a 26-year-old that itch I’ve always had in me was still bugging me and wouldn’t go away. The itch would just irritate me more over time. And finally, I had enough and just said screw it, I’m going to treat that itch. I can always go back to this life I liked. Sales is sales. Once you can prove you can do it you have marketability. I’m taking that leap of faith, and I’m betting on myself.
That’s a very condensed version of how I got to what I’m doing today. In my journey, I’m trying to capture small and mid-major college basketball in theirs. It’s taken me all over this great and beautiful country. I don’t know how I’d even begin to describe to you what I’ve seen. Drive through the Allegheny Mountains listening to Charles Wesley Godwin sometime. You need to see The Blue Ridge mountains that John Denver sings about or where the Shenandoah River switches to the Potomac. Appalachia country is so stunning it’ll make your head spin.
The people interaction has been much more incredible than the views. I’m from the heart of Native American relocation, and very proud of my Cherokee heritage, but I know people look at me and see white. I’ll forever appreciate the culturing experiences as a kid from rural Oklahoma going to HBCU games at North Carolina A&T, Howard, Coppin State, or in Itta Bena, Mississippi. I love how kind strangers have been. I’m a man of faith and know without a doubt God has been over every step of this journey. I’m so thankful for the people He’s put in front of me to meet as I hop from city to city to talk ball, their college or just life in general. I’ve watched fans go at each other's necks for 40 minutes of basketball, then congratulate each other after a hard-fought game and wishing each other the best the rest of the way. Meanwhile, an intense basketball story is playing out in front of my eyes night after night.
Yet no one seems to care about these games until Mid-March when one gets hot and makes a run. Cinderella we call her. Was St. Peter’s only playing a high level of basketball in March? Of course not. But there was still just an average of 526 people at their home games. Why is that? Outside of the Power-6 and the main 5 Mid Majors (AAC, A-10, MVC, MWC, & WCC), only 1 conference of the other 21 has made an at-large berth in the last decade. So the selection committee has essentially told 21 conferences, no matter what you do in November-February, it won’t be enough. Winning your conference tournament is the only way you’re getting in. Knowing that, as a coach and a team, what would you try and do? Peak and play your best ball by March.
Across the country, over these next 2 conference tournament weeks, we will see that journey conclude for many. All the practices, bus rides, team dinners, and going to war each night to compete and get better will be over. Some for their careers. Let’s take it even further back than the first time they stepped on campus. The individual work put in as a kid to decide to be great at something. To work hard enough to be able to call themselves a division 1 athlete and accomplish it. The parents and family members that have sacrificed their time, money, and energy to watch their loved one succeed and grow in something. It’ll be over.
Let’s face reality for a second. They’re all going to fall short. Not just these teams that fail to win their conference tournament, but even our greatest stories. Dunk City and Florida Gulf Coast won their conference tourney and won the first weekend as a 15 seed. But the Sweet 16 was their end road. St. Peter’s took it a step further but bowed out in the Elite 8. What if it’s a Loyola Chicago run to the Final 4!? That’s where their dream died. One of these Cinderellas I’m covering will make a run, it’s nearly inevitable, but so is the inevitability of the run coming to a close. Will that make it all not worth it? ABSOLUTELY NOT. They’ll have the journey to look back on, learn from, and be proud of for the rest of their lives.
Yes, the run will end, but you better believe I’m going to capture a high level of basketball being played and the emotions of it all while I’m at it. These kids have worked too hard, and frankly are too good of basketball players for it not to be showcased or supported and that’s what I’m trying to fix. I’ve got 64 videos and counting to prove it. They deserve to be seen, heard, and felt respected before just March. We are a society that is all about the big moment and the championship games, but in the journey is where the real beauty lies. There is so much more to their story, and I’ll do my best to tell and show it. If you see me at some point along the way, please say hi, I’d love to talk and hear your story as well.
Our journey coming to a close is inevitable too. At some point, we’ll fall short or at least not be able to go any further no matter what we accomplish. Whenever my personal journey in this adventure ends, I know I’ll be able to look that person in the mirror and be proud of what I’ve done. Are you going to love and be proud of your journey? Because that’s exactly what this life is.
To follow along with Coleman's journey. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter, and listen to the 25 Whistles podcast.