The first run that wasn’t in a backyard I can remember is with my dad at age 11. The neighborhood we lived in was your standard suburban idyllic subdivision of sorts, except ‘suburban’ in this case meant ’90 minutes southeast of Nashville’ and ‘idyllic’ meant ‘had about 15 feet between houses instead of 1.5’. It was this neighborhood with rolling hills and on a bicycle, you could at least momentarily feel like you were hitting NASCAR speeds on the downhills.
I remember that run because there was no part of the downhill that felt like NASCAR speeds. It all felt so sluggish, so weak, so pathetic. Almost 20 years later I can chalk that feeling up to “literally had never run a mile before” but at the time it was about as discouraging as it gets. You’re searching for answers, and the only answer that comes up is “I cannot.”
I’ve been thinking about that day a lot lately. Since the calendar turned to August I’ve been training for my first marathon. It’s been going well, which is a nice thing to report. The crazier thing is how…fine everything feels. There have been runs of 14, 15, 17, and 18 miles. Last week was a 36-mile week, the longest I’ve ever done. This week’s long run is only 13 miles, which is hilarious to type out.
All of this is not a humblebrag, not by any means. There are far faster, far better, far more entertaining runners out there. I am more likely to never be the outright winner in a race I enter than to do so. That’s fine. A while ago, this stopped being about winning everything and more about finding all of the little wins that pile up over the course of days, weeks, months, years. There have been a lot of those lately.
Formative moments like that run at age 11, then, must be a little win. It felt terrible at the time, but so do some of the ones I do now. It felt embarrassing, but so did my Knoxville half-marathon performance last fall. They were all little, painful wins in their own way. That’s something I can feel a little more comfort in knowing now.
For the last couple of months, I started shooting basketballs left-handed. There is not really an appropriate way to communicate to you how alien this feels. I am right-handed; I write right-handed; I perform basically every necessary life skill right-handed. I have shot a basketball right-handed from the first time I picked up a basketball. I am not really great at it, but I can hit a lot of threes in a controlled setting and I am an average white pickup basketball player with my right hand.
The problem, of sorts, is that I have zero ability to finish at the rim, convert a floater, or do much of anything other than dribble with my left hand. A left-hand layup is doable but not consistent; everything else was more or less off the table. I simply never gave it that much thought, because 1) I went professional in something other than sports 2) See previous. I’ve never had much a reason to change that until a couple of months ago, when we bought a house with this in the backyard.
The outdoor basketball I use is a faded Wilson Evolution that has a leak somewhere which causes me to have to pump up the ball every two days. The rim is something like 10 feet, 8 inches, AKA not standard height. The setting is always open to weather conditions, which may include any of the following: rain, wind, excessive sunlight, or excessive darkness. The ‘court’ is an 18′ x 9′ poured pavement that offers zero chance of a corner three and requires me to step into the grass to practice any sort of deep shot.
This has been my oasis in long days, my home of homes. It is where, a few weeks ago, I began taking left-handed jumpers. Left-handed hook shots. Left-handed floaters. Left-handed free throws. And yes, left-handed layups. The feeling of the shot release has gone from feeling completely alien to at least feeling tolerable. Every day feels a little bit better. It’s gone from something that seemed kind of impossible to something I look forward to every single time I step outside.
Because of another thing that happened in my life recently, that has proved notable.
I woke up one day in early August and felt worse than I’d felt in a long time. Not like a real sickness, but a collection of fatigue, exhaustion, nervousness, a headache, etc. One’s first thought in these times is always COVID-19. I tested out of it multiple times. Then I wondered if it was an iron deficiency, which is common in runners. It was not. I kept trying to find answers, when the answer was staring me in the face the entire time. It has been for years.
I’ve talked in the past about mental health and my relationship with it on this very website. The problem is that I am very open about it yet am quite bad at recognizing when my own mental health is no longer in a great state. In early August, a whirlwind of things was occurring all at once. We went under contract for a house after a year-long housing search. I’d taken on a new position at my day job in the spring and the responsibilities were ramping up. Our calendar was packed with an immense number of events. School was back. I still wasn’t sure if this website would exist in a few months. Truthfully, I didn’t want to write about basketball anymore.
All of this, for whatever reason, hit at once. It is inarguably a lot. For three weeks, I woke up every day with my heart racing and my mind spinning about what could possibly come that day. Focusing proved impossible. I frequently drifted in and out of conversations with friends that I’d normally have no problem participating in. I no longer wanted to do basic things I enjoyed: playing basketball, going on walks, even simple discussions with others. As you may or may not have noticed, I haven’t written anything on here since late July. That was because I couldn’t figure out what was wrong until the proverbial ‘check engine’ light came on and was highlighter orange in my face.
In mid-August, I did the thing that people always tell you to do that is far easier said than done: I got help. I went to my doctor, had a heart-to-heart with her for 45 minutes, and cried in a strip mall medical clinic as we came to an agreement that medicine might help. (Without going into much detail here, it has.) For the first time in four years, I started seeing a therapist again. I began sharing what we worked on together with my wife, which has helped us grow even closer through our own individual battles. It is a genuine blessing that it’s all worked so positively in such a short time.
I am sharing this now because of two things:
- It is deeply important to me, and to the future of my writing;
- I have learned that it can be helpful for others to open up about their own experience, simply because it proves you are not alone.
To make myself work again, I had to change what I was doing and accept that things couldn’t be the way they’d been. It was imperative to reach out into a new, uncomfortable place and understand that I simply had to go for it, be there, and trust the process. To hold on and realize it can, and will, be okay.
In some aspect, this feels like a massive breakthrough.
These three separate stories are just related enough that I can squeeze out a narrative and a reason for you to be reading this post. The running helps me see the little gains and wins. The left-handed shooting helps me remember that progress is not linear, some days are going to be better than others, and that is fine. The counseling – and yes, the medicine – is like the best of both.
It all had to come together for me to be back here, once again, for another season. Not in a life-or-death sense, no; just a “do I want to keep doing this” sense. I bounced back and forth between running it back for another year or calling it quits, at least publicly. This project has, in earnest, gone for four full seasons. A fifth was going to require a change of some sort. In the last year, I got a promotion at my day job, bought a house with my wife, moved, and went through the loss of one of my closest companions. To keep doing all of this for $0.00, or just above it, is no longer sustainable.
The previous paragraph is not a complaint. This being free, or pretty close to it, was more or less by design. I’ve never sought to make writing about Tennessee basketball a career, because such a career has an unfortunately hard and low ceiling. There are very few college programs, maybe six or so in all of America, that could sustainably support a year-round beat writer that doesn’t have to pivot to football or baseball coverage out of season. Tennessee is not one of them, which is fine.
However: what if Tennessee basketball is enough, in a part-time gig sense? The question bugged me for months and months until I finally gave in to figuring out the answer, which I arrived at after a lot of discussions with friends and trusted agents. I can’t and don’t want this to be my job. That being said, I’m happy to continue making it a passion project and a worthwhile hobby.
That leads to a three-part announcement:
- I will be writing about Tennessee basketball, and college basketball as a whole, for the 2022-23 season.
Self-explanatory. All of the stuff you guys seem to like – the previews, the weekly game recaps, national posts, etc. – will be around. I will still refuse to do podcasts unless I know you personally, because there are far too many podcasts in existence and you do not need another one about Tennessee athletics.
Here’s the catch.
2. After this post publishes, the writing I do will no longer be at this website. It will be at a paid newsletter.
3. There will be a further announcement about that on Monday.
For the 2022-23 college basketball season, most of the work I do will be behind a paywall on Substack. I’m making it an affordable one and will work as hard as I can to make it a place worth your time, money, and interest. I think I’ve done that here, but such a model is not really workable on WordPress, so elsewhere we go. It’s just a website, anyway.
As mentioned above, I spent the full offseason trying to figure out if this was worth attempting to push forward. There’s a draft on this site with a similar word count that will never be posted, because that version was the explanation for why this project had to end. On Labor Day weekend, watching football, I realized something: I can’t quit it. Not just basketball; I can’t quit Tennessee as a subject. Not yet. Not now.
The point of all of this: I love what I do. I want to keep doing it. I cannot keep doing it for free, which is okay. That’s a change I can accept, and one I’m willing to make. It’s the change I sought all offseason, and the answer I was most comfortable with arriving at. This is a little win that I hope becomes a bigger one in the long run. I hope you’ll be willing to join me for the ride.