My bittersweet transition from Georgia Tech to the NBA

January 23rd  |  

I always hear people say that college is or was the best time of their lives. It’s that time to enjoy being young, to enjoy life right before the big responsibilities hit. I didn’t get the opportunity to experience college for very long. After a few short months at Georgia Tech, I moved on to the pros. I know I made the right decision, but sometimes I feel like I missed out on the whole college experience. I didn’t really expect to go so quickly, and to be honest, it kind of caught me off guard. My dreams were within reach. But I never imagined that transition would be so difficult.

My adjustment to college was rough at first, but when the opportunity to go pro came up, I was finally getting the hang of things. The weather had gotten warm and I was feeling more comfortable on the court. I was starting to have more fun and get used to being away from home. I had friends around campus and great teammates. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t expect to be regarded and scouted as such a high pick, so it was a crazy twist to reality. I’d always wanted to make the NBA. It was my dream. Then all of a sudden, people were telling me I’d be the fourth pick if I entered the draft.

During my rookie year in the NBA, I watched my friends on the 2003 Yellow Jackets team go on a phenomenal run to the Final Four. When I’d been on the team the year before, we weren’t that good. We were a very young team, just trying to figure out how to work together. So needless to say, my experience on the court wasn’t always very much fun. It wasn’t fun in my rookie year either. Don’t get me wrong—it’s amazing playing basketball. But being 19 years old, playing and interacting with grown men with families wasn’t fun all the time, especially during a grueling 82-game season. That mixed with Toronto’s freezing winter climate made me miss my buddies back at Tech even more.

I remember watching them beat Kansas in the regional finals to clinch the Final Four bid. Seeing my former teammates—my friends—hug and smile while they cut down the nets was surreal. I couldn’t believe they had accomplished what they did after our rough season the year before. I used to talk to my old roommate, Jarrett Jack, about what was happening on campus and the experience of March Madness. He made me feel like I was there. I was happy for my friends—and I was sad because I wanted to be there, too. I didn’t expect to feel that way after accomplishing my own dream of making the NBA. But we weren’t having a very good season in Toronto at the time. I was running into the rookie wall constantly and I was tired.

I wasn’t used to the demand of being a full-time athlete at that level of basketball. I remember not being able to sleep because I was thinking about that three-hour practice that was going to be insanely hard. The body soreness, the injuries. It’s a part of basketball, but crossing over into a different level is tough. The better the talent gets, the more demanding it is on the body and the mind.

In the transition to the pros, you go from playing about 35 games a year for your whole life to playing 82 games plus preseason. You’re on the road a lot. You start forgetting your room number because every hotel looks the same. It’s just the consistency of the games. Playing every other day is a grind. Plus, you’re used to being the best wherever you play, so it’s humbling when you realize an NBA veteran is so much better than you are. Guys are stronger and tougher in the NBA and at the time, they were beating me down every night.

I look back at those times as growing pains that ended up helping me build resilience and strength. In the moment, I was feeling sorry for myself. I wanted badly to be with my friends and have fun, to make that run for a college championship with them, but that wasn’t my reality. I had to be happy for my friends and keep working on my end to be a better professional.

At the end of the day, I looked at my options. I wanted to be in the NBA. I wanted to pursue my dream. It was my choice. But sometimes just for fun, I think about how it would’ve been if I’d stayed in college.

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