“When your fun becomes your focus you are now following your passion path”
Some find their passion later in life while others are fortunate enough to to experience it throughout childhood and into adulthood. Basketball was it for me from a young age. Getting to see my father play and go to practices and games with him was the end all for me. My punishments were geared towards not being allowed to go the gym with my dad. I had my gym bag packed and I was always ready to hit the court.
As I got older I always thought to myself that I needed to have my focus and then I could have my fun. My focus was my job and my fun was working with talented basketball players. All of the sudden things got flipped when my fun became my focus and without realizing it I was on my way towards my passion path. Once this epiphany happened I couldn’t ignore it.
I started to devise a plan to make my passion into a business and one that could support my family. The first big thing would be to convince my wife that the nice, stable life I had been providing would be no longer. I wanted to enter into a market that was in its infancy known as player development. I would go on to play professionally in Puerto Rico and come back to a busy summer filled with camps and training. The money I made by playing ball and having my summer filled up would give us a 6 month window to try to make it work. If it didn’t work I promised to go back to pharmaceutical sales and thankfully I didn’t have to make good on that promise. I was certainly fortunate to have such a supportive wife and I was grateful to build a following while I was making money in another field. I realized that most people who take risks are either unprepared, desperate or deft who believe in themselves. If you consider yourself as part of the deft or talented group then that puts you in a very small category of people out there. The competition on the risk side is filled with 2/3rds of those unprepared and desperate which are never great factors for success. In business, more times than not desperation leads to bad deals because there are no other options. The fear of failure and other potential negative outcomes won’t allow most talented individuals to take a chance. The other 1/3rd working from a leveraged standpoint who follow their passion puts them into an even smaller sample size of real competitors.
Once I followed my passion path and set up the business I started to separate myself from the small competition that was out there because I was all in. I could focus my energy on the brand, website, locations, etc. When people asked what I did I wasn’t saying I was a pharmaceutical sales rep anymore and I do basketball training on the side, I could now say I run my own basketball training company. That showed pro’s to parents that I believed in myself and that I believed in what I could do for them. The whole landscape changed for me at that moment. If you ever have the chance to follow your passion path it is worth giving it a shot. If you are into something then the odds are that others are as well and their will be a market for what you have to offer. What is your passion path and will you follow it? The time is now!
For those of you who only know me as a basketball trainer/coach then you may not know that I had a few Muay Thai fights for kicks (pun intended). Muay Thai is is a beautiful martial art that is also one of the most vicious and street applicable. Muay Thai fighters are some of the best conditioned athletes in the world. This is why I decided to start taking classes. I wanted to cross-train for basketball as well as learn how to defend myself better. Muay Thai comes from Thailand and is also known as “the art of eight limbs” because of the ability to use your fists, elbows, knees and shins. There is also clinching and the physical conditioning needed to withstand the pace of a fight and the ability to take the various shots that will come your way. Muay Thai is rich in tradition and learning about another culture through this fighting style has been a great bonus.
Two weeks into taking classes I was presented with my first sparring session. Needless to say I wasn’t ready. I still didn’t know how to properly defend any type of kick and I wasn’t in great fighting shape. I was told I would be sparring with one of the fighters in the gym who had a fight coming up in a few weeks. The guy he was fighting was was about my height and build. This fighter sparred at 100% because he felt it was the best way to prepare for competition. He was skilled and strong. At first I wasn’t scared for my safety as much as I didn’t want to do something by accident that could hurt him going into his fight. The bell rings and the Thai music is playing and I am light on my feet. I am moving like a boxer looking pretty for the first 5 seconds until I circle left into one of his full blast right leg, low kicks. That’s going to leave a mark! Remember, I don’t know how to protect myself from the kicks. A few seconds later he low kicks again and I bend down and drop both of my hands to protect my leg. That is the worst thing to do. A few seconds later he fakes the low leg kick and I drop my hands again and he hooks me in the temple. For a moment I black out from the punch he threw but I didn’t go down. My corner is yelling for me to keep my hands up and to punch. I last the round. There is one more round left and at this point I am punching and kicking as hard as I can. I don’t remember much about that round except I survived. I had a major dead leg and walking was going to be a chore. I got credit from the fighter after. He said he knocked out the last 2 guys in sparring and that our Kru (teacher) was not happy with him. At this point I either had to ask for my money back and quit or learn quickly how to defend myself properly. I was athletic and had the heart I just needed the technique so I decided to stick it out.
After years of learning and sparring I decided it was time to fight against an opponent. Once I declared this as my intention I knew the training would ramp up, the diet would have to change and my mentality would have to transition from gym member to fighter. It was time to face an opponent from another gym that I didn’t know and test my skills. No false success, no holding back on punches or kicks, no simulation and no unwarranted praise. You either can or you can’t.
The walk is really the walkout that all fighters do leading up to the fight. This is the moment of truth when doubt starts to creep in or when calm confidence takes over your soul because you know you put in real work. The truth lies in the way you work. Emotions don’t last but your preparation will during a fight. Most people will never experience this walk to the ring but in life there will be times for you to take the walk. That walk will be different for everyone. This is the time where you are fully engaged and no longer pondering, considering or rationalizing. The walk isn’t the fight but its the approach, the movement headed in the direction of taking care of what scares you or challenges you. The win is in the walk. It’s deciding to go ahead and not let fear of anything stand in your way of what you want to try or what you want to become. I know there is something you have wanted to try or need to address and today may be that day to take “the walk”.
I have told my ear story as I lectured at basketball camps over the years. I talked about having over 10 major inner ear surgeries and what I had to go through, what I did and what lessons I learned. I had a very rare and aggressive type of growth called a cholesteatoma. The cholesteatoma crushed all of the bones in my middle ear and was so big it almost got to the right side of my face.
What I had to go through……
Non surgery time I would deal with chronic ear infections, a lot of antibiotics and trips to the ear specialist. Nothing was worse than the visits to the specialist where they would stick metal utensils in my ear the length of a kitchen knife and vacuum out debris and fluid from the infection. The pain from these visits would get so bad that as an adult I had asked for a surgery so that whatever was being worked on each visit wouldn’t have to take place anymore. I would get major dizzy spells and had a hard time hearing what people had to say to me in public settings.
I can remember playing in the pre-season NIT with a major ear infection with fluid draining out of it during the whole game. We were playing for the first time that season on the road in a hostile environment and I was off-balance and dizzy. Not a great combination for a high level athlete involved in competition. I can remember Coach yelling to get my attention and teammates hitting me and pointing in his direction. A few times I was asked if I was alright and what was wrong with me? No one ever knew the extent of discomfort I was feeling or the secondary opponent I was facing while I was playing. I would yell at my teammates to call the screen out only to find out later that they were calling out the screen the whole time. The same thing happened during my second amateur muay thai fight. Another infection! I had prepared so hard, I lost over 30lbs and I had my team, family and friends all in attendance to watch me perform. Fortunately I won and can tell the story now with no harm caused. I would never suggest going into any competition let alone a fight with an ear infection and your equilibrium being off. Competing in this condition is something I had overcome before so I went ahead with it. Maybe it added to my unorthodox style haha.
Surgery time was normally waited on until after basketball season. The first stage was to remove the cholesteatoma. I couldn’t go to school for a month and I couldn’t play basketball for 3 months. The following year was the same recuperation time but the surgery was to try and restore the hearing. After surgery my head was bandaged very tightly and the right side of my head was throbbing. I would get really sick from the anesthesia and would have problems walking on my own for about a week. I had a drainage tube that would have to be taken out and cleaned up and stitches behind my ear where they opened me up to get to the middle ear. Packing would eventually come out from the ear canal and again those office visits were not pleasant.
What I did……
During the recovery I remember coming up with drills that I would do when I was ready. I remember watching videos of my favorite players and studying their moves and movements. Visualization and imagination were my best friends at this time and kept my my mind sharp. The major story I tell is of me going into my basement when I was ready before I got cleared to run and I would work on my stationary ball handling drills. I would normally put on a mix tape filled with my favorite songs. I would average 3 songs straight where I would freestyle with my handles and then take a break for a song and then do it again for 2 more sets. It was tiring and it was fun. I pushed myself because I knew it would keep my skills tight.
Appreciation-One time I was paired with another child while I was in the hospital. My parents got to talking to his parents and were informed he had been in the hospital for months, he was very sick and on an IV to get his nutrients. I remember thinking at that moment that I would have the chance to go back and compete again without restrictions. I vowed that whenever I could compete that I would be the hardest working player on the court. I knew that if that kid had the chance to run and play until exhaustion that he would. It motivated me to not take anything for granted. I wanted anyone who was not in the position I was in to enjoy watching me play with passion and heart the way I know they would have if they had the opportunity. To this day one of my favorite quotes was coined from this experience.
“Appreciation for what you have will make you fight harder to keep it.”
Compassion-My self esteem would be affected at times. I would get made fun of because one of my ears stuck out while the other was pinned close to my head after surgery. Head on pictures would show the big disparity. I learned how to roll with the punches and be quick with some of my responses. From this experience I learned how to treat people. I learned to accept others differences as gifts they had to offer the world from being boring and plain. Even with my insecurities and difficulties I was still considered a cool kid because of my ability to play basketball but I never thought I was better than anyone else.
To this day I still have issues with my ear but not as bad. I still don’t hear very well on my right side. The phone will always be on my left ear and I won’t hear you in a public place if you are to my right. As a father, husband, son, friend, coach and trainer I have found the value of appreciation and compassion. These two lessons I learned can be added to how you go about things in your daily life or professional life that will drastically change the way you approach people and situations. Ultimately, finding other ways to grow when you are held back will only help you expand your game even more. I hope this blog rings loud and clear to you the same way it did to me.
“I was who I was before anyone recognized it and I am who I am even if no one acknowledges it.”
This is a quote I came up with that was based off of some of the principles Coach Jay Wright instilled on my teammates and I while he coached at Hofstra University. He would always explain that if you were prepared and had success that people and opportunities would come in abundance. He said, don’t seek out a mentor. Your efforts and attitude will be noticed by a person you respect who will want to mentor you. It’s a natural progression that many try to force and end up pushing away those they want to attract. Another major thing coach was adamant about was to let your work do the talking. When you are great at what you do you don’t need to tell people. People will tell you that you are great, they will promote you, hire you and pay you to be a part of their team or organization.
Another one of my quotes that is a branch off of the principles Coach Wright taught is, “when you do things the right way it takes longer to succeed but it lasts longer when you do.” For me doing things the right way meant giving my best effort whether I had an NBA All Star in the gym or a 5th grader who was trying to learn the game. It meant being consistent with my attitude and approach. It meant not doing business just to do business. No side deals, no false promotion of players I trained, etc. Oh, and I loved what I did for a living. I loved the people I trained because I worked with players not based on what level of player they were but the type of people they were. Through this philosophy I had built a family atmosphere where fun work was accomplished, meaningful conversations were had and lasting relationships were forged.
Over the years Coach and I have always kept in touch. When Coach would ask how business was I would always say it’s going good and I am really enjoying it. I never wanted to brag about what was going on because that is what he had taught me. Early on I felt like I was doing some revolutionary things that were helping all of my players at all levels. I envisioned Coach looking at what I did as a nice way to stay involved in the game, training kids. I wouldn’t expect him to compare me to the great player development coaches in the Nation. I was still evolving and the true measure of greatness is consistency over time so I had to keep working.
Finally, Coach started hearing about my work from others. First he heard about my workouts one summer with Jameer Nelson at a small catholic school gym, 5 minutes away from Villanova. A few years later, yes, years later, he started hearing about my pre draft classes. After a class that had 3 lottery picks my name was really out there. I got a call from Coach in the summer of 2013. This was a call I wasn’t expecting. He wanted me to come to Villanova and talk about joining the staff. I was so happy doing what I was doing that the thought of coaching never even entered my mind. I went and visited and I loved what I saw, felt and heard while I was on campus. I just wasn’t ready to make the commitment. My family never thought about moving and my friends, trainers and clients would have been blindsided. The timing wasn’t right.
What this meeting did was open my eyes that the work I was doing with my team and with our players was being recognized and appreciated. It also opened my eyes to the possibility of taking my strengths and incorporating them into a team setting. There were two things coach said to me on that day that stand out and became true. The first thing he said was that he wanted to win a National Championship at Villanova. The second thing he said was that regardless of me taking the position that in a year or two I would be in the NBA coaching. This is why I say Coach Wright is a major reason I ended up taking the Orlando Magic job. From lessons learned during my playing days, to learning how to deal with difficult times or success, to priming me to think about an exit strategy for my business, to having conversations with my family, it all stemmed from him. Thank you Coach! I will continue to follow your lead and stay true to the process and myself without concern for recognition or acknowledgment.
After Wally Szczerbiak was selected 6th overall in 2000 by the Minnesota Timberwolves he was on his way to a successful and lucrative career. Wally came back to Long Island in the off season to run with the same summer league team we had been a part of and he asked if I could work him out. I didn’t take the request lightly. I was a year younger and fresh into an industry that wasn’t really cultivated yet. He trusted me to put him through workouts that would help him become a better basketball player. His fans nicknamed him “Wally World” and Wally invited me into his world so I could help him focus on his individual skill sets. Once he improved he could become a more efficient player and help his team. He was focused on what he felt could help him. That attitude helped me grow as a player development specialist and provided me with my shot to be considered a pro-level trainer.
After a few years and many hours in the gym, Wally became an NBA All-Star in 2002. My friend and client was considered one of the best players in the world and I had a part in that. Wally and I shot an instructional video after that season and he gave my first, meaningful testimonial. He stated, “I have worked with Jay for years and he helped me become an NBA All-Star.” We continued to work together and I watched as his talent and work ethic was rewarded with a $65,000,000 plus contract.
7 years after Wally had entered the NBA, made his mark and made his money, he was still trying to stay sharp and grow as a player. It was the summer of 2006 and I had established a strong following in New York. I was running a number of camps and clinics for kids of all ages. I decided to run a skills clinic specifically for High School girls, soI rented out a gym for 2 nights. For 3 hours each night, I would help the girls learn as much as they could in the allotted time. This was an individual skills clinic and it was not about competition. Players from all over New York came and I was excited to see players I had worked with, as well as players I would meet for the first time. A coach informed me that a very talented player was going to be coming and he was looking forward to hearing what I thought of her. The first night of any clinic is always hectic. I had to get my equipment in, registration forms ready, make sure the court was clean, banners were up, etc. At the venue, it was show time. I was talking to parents, coaches and players and collecting money. The atmosphere was electric. The gym filled with the sounds of bouncing balls and I was making my way around, interacting with as many people as I could. Just before we got started, one of my trainers came up to me and told me that a player had come from 1hr and ½ away to get to the gym and only stayed for 5 minutes because the girls weren’t on her level. This was the girl I kept hearing about? I couldn’t believe that she wouldn’t give the clinic a chance.
The next day, I got a call from Wally. He was looking to get a workout in that evening. I told him I was running a girls’ clinic. He asked if I’d be doing freeze pull-ups, step-backs and bully’s. I told him I would be, but reiterated that it was a high school girls’ clinic. He said, flat out, “I don’t care.” Later that day, Wally came to the gym with his NBA ball in hand. He was laced up and ready to work. I watched as this 6’8 NBA All-Star stood in the middle of a line of 7 girls who were 5’0 to 5’8 and waited his turn.
Wally showed me that no one is ever too good. He didn’t care about the bells and whistles or what players were in the gym as long as he was getting his work in. The best players and best people don’t get caught up in the fluff. The words “I don’t care” held a completely different meaning after our conversation and I am forever thankful to him for that.