So you could argue that this guy might belong more on the Not quite top 40 countdown because ultimately I didn’t accept his influence. At least not in the way that Could have profoundly changed my life and made at least my more moderate wildest dreams come true. But even though I didn’t take him up on the offer, just the fact that the offer was made for me to reject and the subsequent ramifications has had innumerable implications on my life.
Jeff Reinland is the long time basketball coach at Walla Walla Community college. I will spare you rehashing his bio and resume. Suffice to say he has been doing his thing well enough to have done it at the same place forthe last 26 years.
Growing up I was familiar with him. I had gone to basketball camps at the community college. He had come to career day when I was in high school. Coach Michels is still listed as an assistant coach on his staff to this day.
Now at this point in the countdown I have made it abundantly clear what kind of a basketball player I am. So that makes my experience with coach Reinland even more profound.
In 2000 I was a student at Walla Walla Community College. Even though I had gotten accepted into every other college I had applied to, I went there against the advice of everyone I know for 3 reasons.
The first reason was purely economic. Community college is much more affordable than the Jesuit Universities I had applied to. And I had no idea what I would major in so I would be be taking nothing but general education classes to beginning with anyway. Also it turns out WWCC is like the Harvard of Community Colleges. Seriously! So why not save some me cash, stay home and secretly plot and scheme for reason number 3.
Reason number 2 is still painful to admit even 20 years later. Actually it’s more like 34 years later. As I mentioned in my posts about my best friends Casey and Carlos, I was held back in kindergarten. Yes that’s right I flunked my holding scissors point down and not eating paste exams. Ok, not really. I was held back because I was not “emotionally mature enough to matriculate.” In other words I was a baby. And holding me back did nothing to improve that, because I would go on to be an even bigger baby in 1st grade. But the point is by the time I enrolled in college for the first time, I had been waiting for 14 years to make up the year of school I had lost. This is the one time in my life that I have had total and unwavering focus. And that focus was on graduating ahead of the class that left me behind in kindergarten. And that is exactly what I did. Through a combination of taking and extra class each semester attending summer session, I graduated in the fall of 2002 from Washington state University, at least a full semester ahead of the rest of the Walla Walla Catholics Schools class of 1999. That is still today the most meaningful accomplishment in my life. (I know, that’s sad. And a bit pathetic.)
As much as reason number 2 was a bit of a mild revenge fantasy come true, I felt it was necessary to justify reason number 3. Reason number 3 was (because all roads lead to Rome) to play college basketball. Again I knew what kind of player I was. But like I said in the Freaky Freddy post, in my mind I just wanted a career in basketball. And all I really needed to have a career in basketball was to say I had played some kind of college ball. It could be juco ball. That was fine. I could even be a bench warmer. I just needed the experience of being on a college team for a couple seasons. That would be all the credibility I needed.
But, again, because I knew what kind of a player I was, I felt I couldn’t pursue basketball as a realistic profession. I feared what people would say. Let’s just say I felt like I actually had more credibility saying I was moving to LA to begin an acting career than of playing college basketball.
And naturally if I had said I wanted to move to LA to be an actor people, well meaning people who cared about me, like teachers , counselors, and family members would most likely advise me to take the prudent approach of getting a college education to fall back on before selling out to dreams of stardom.
So that is what I did. And after I graduated in the Fall of 2002, I was secretly ready to finally sell out to basketball in a way I had never fully allowed my self to do before. I established a daily routine that involved working out in the morning at the YMCA and then working out again at DeSales with my brother after school. I was doing targeted knee and ankle stretching exercises each night to try and prevent any of the previous types of injuries I was prone to.
In my mind I had put in the work and had earned a college degree. And I had done it faster than I was expected, and had graduated early and therefore had bought myself a year and a half on my standard college timeline to devote myself fully to basketball.
The problem was I was trying to do this all in secret. So to the rest of the world it was just a murmured chorus of “When is Tony going to get a job?” But I was too afraid that everyone one would just tell me to “grow up and forget about basketball.” After about 2 months the murmured chorus became direct questions. So I pulled out the classifieds of the Union Bulletin, found a job fitting my speedily earned college degree, met a guy for an interview at Coffee Perk, and was offered a job in advertising sales the next week, and turned it down. I also had my first interview at Gilbert auto, which may or may not become relevant in a future post.
I was definitely at a crossroads. My back was against the wall. I had been in contact with coach’s at other schools in the region. I had reached out to some community college by Seattle. I had a conversation with the coach at Clark college and he invited me to come to some open gyms they were having. But I no longer had the luxury of exploring options and finding the best opportunity and then a way to take advantage of said opportunity. I had to manufacture an opportunity right now, where I was at, which was Walla Walla.
So I jumped in my dad’s Mercury Sable, I blared my Angry White Boy mix tape, drove to the Dietrich Dome, and knocked on Coach Reinlands door.
Coach Reinland works with college students everyday. It’s his job. It’s his profession. He’s successful at it. He probably likes it. But in m mind I was storming it it he governors office to beg for a stay of execution. And I sounded like it. I frantically tried to explain my situation and wanted stated I wanted to play on his basketball team. At the end of my spiel, he looked at me somewhat quizzically and said “you have a 4 year degree?” I interpreted his quizzicalness slightly wrong and I replied by assuring him I had never played any college sports so I still had 4 years of eligibility. At that point he said come back at this time tomorrow and I could run in some scrimmages. Basically he was offering me a prolonged try-out. This was manna from heaven. It was obvious from the players on the court at that moment and his invitation to come back at the same time tomorrow that I was actually delaying him from the scrimmages that were supposed to happening right then. My first instinct was to say “I’m ready to play right now," because I was rocking my shorts under my jeans as alway and of course I was wearing Nikes on my feet like I did all the time anyway. But he had just given me explicit instructions to “come back tomorrow” so I didn’t want to push my luck.
That was a Monday about the 2nd week of Mach. A week and a half ago this team had concluded its season with a loss in the NWAC tournament. The players in the scrimmage the coach was getting ready to go to were in mid season form. I had been trying to get stronger in my 2 a day workouts, but I had largely ignored cardio, other than chasing my own rebound as I worked on my shot. I had been trying to get stronger and a better shooter, and by the amount of weight I was putting up and the number of jumpers I was making in my work outs I was successful. But in terms of size, speed or conditioning, I was still slow weak and winded.
I showed up the next day and the first thing coach says to me is “He sure is a skinny guy.” After about 2 minutes I was exhausted and I was just hanging on to not get embarrassed too bad. Luckily most of the other players ignored me anyway. They were concerned with taking it to each other, not embarrassing the new guy.
The 2nd day there was a high school recruit playing as well. My competitor instinct told me to go after him. If I could just make a play or two at his expense: block his shot, get a steal from him in the back court, cut back door on him for a bucket or just cross him over once and get past him, coach would naturally compare the two new guys in the gym that day and if I could do anything to show up the guy coach already knew he wanted, then I would look good in comparison. But although I may have competitive instincts, I lack the ability to execute them, and honestly me and the recruit were never really matched up one on one. I did play better that day. I got some easy buckets and I lasted about 5 minutes before I got exhausted.
The 3rd day I started out on fire, and I played really well for 10 minutes. But then the last 3 days caught up with me and fatigue set in. I was toast, and actually had to sub myself out. The first time in 3 days That I had to do that.
This day coach called everyone one to the center and started running the players through conditioning tests. He said “Tony you don’t have to do this,” and again my competitive instinct said, do it anyway because I actually was decent on the shuttle drill, even though I knew I sucked at the baseline to free throw defensive slides. But my exhaustion had set in and I decided not to have my “Rudy” moment then and there.
I should have gone full Sean Astin right there. But I didn't.
After the conditioning drills coach Reinland called me up into his office. I knew this wasn’t good. He asked me how I felt the scrimmages had gone and if the other players were treating me well. I stated that all the players had been cool, and that I felt I could play with them, that I wasn’t out of my league at this level of competition, I just was out of shape. He then agreed that yes I could play with them, but then quickly explained he already had a lot of guards and I wasn’t going to beat out existing players with established roles on the team, and given that I didn’t have any need to take undergraduate classes, he would hate to have me enroll in classes with the hope to play basketball only to be cut come October.
If I hadn’t of always been expecting it to go this way, I would have told him how I had graduated early specifically so I could go back and take that chance. I would have told him I was planning to go back to school for graphic design anyway. But I was so focused on the thought “my basketball career is official over” that I didn’t even try. I didn’t want to sound even more desperate and pathetic than I already had. He was obviously trying to spare my feelings and save me some grief both now and in the future, and I appreciated that. In that moment I knew as soon as I walked out of his office I was never going to play meaningful basketball ever again, but I couldn’t bring myself to contradict him. He did have a lot of guards on this team. It was likely I’d be cut in October. WWCC didn’t offer graphic design degree at the time. I didn’t know what argument to make that didn’t sound like kicking the inevitable can down the road which he was obviously trying to avoid. So I just sat there. Waiting to be excused from the office/banished from basketball for good.
But then coach said something I didn’t expect.
“You have a College degree. If you can get a teaching certificate I can make you an assistant coach.”
That’s right, all the credibility that I was seeking to obtain by just being on a College basketball team, he was will to grant me, if only I could fulfill legal requirements for teacher certification required if a state institution like the community college. That was why he had been asking about the 4 year degree. Not because of eligibility concerns but because it opened up other paths to where he knew a person like me wanted to ultimately go.
This was unexpected. This was new.
This was unknown, and uncharted territory, I had never really considered going the teacher/ coach route.
I was stunned. This felt like a life-line, but I didn’t know what it was attached to.
Obviously Getting a teacher certificate requires a certain educational requirements and student teaching experience. I had majored in Communication. Not English, or Math, or Science. I didn’t know if I would have to get a whole new degree or what. I knew in certain rural principalities like anywhere for 40 miles outside Walla Walla you could get an emergency teaching certificate because of teacher shortages. Could I do that and teach middle school social studies in Prescott and then be able to be coach Reinland’s assistant coach?
I went home that day feeling less dejected than I had expected. But it was the beginning of the NCAA Basketball tournament and I was being tortured by March Madness.
Given the circumstances I chose at that time to try and take Reinland’s words as a the death knell to my basketball career and try to move on with my life. I wasn’t going to wade deerr into basketball, I was going to take the opportunity to cut bait with the silly little game that occupied all of my free time and find my real purpose or calling amongst the things that truly matter in life. And I was purposely misconstruing his words into the authority that had official d flared me a basketball failure under the old adage “those who can’t, teach.”
Needless to say that did not work out at all.
But my decision to do so, as a direct result of Coach Reinland and how he dealt with me, led to a sequence of events that completely reshaped my life into its present form.
So for better or worse (and we will never know for sure) coach Reinland is one of the 40 Greatest influences of my life.